Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 10, 2014

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

From My Shelf

Conquering the Universe

When my husband and I got married, he had little to no opinion about the wedding planning. There were two items on which he wouldn't budge, however, both related to Star Wars: the wedding cake topper (Han and Leia) and the music that played as we entered the reception (Main Theme). Since then, we've amassed quite the collection of Star Wars goodies, including a mass of books that resides between some awesome Star Wars bookends:

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn: The Expanded Universe (EU), as the collection of books, TV series and games that accompany the movies' story is known, includes a staggering array of Star Wars novels. For anyone uncertain of where to dive into this universe, Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy is worth checking out. Heir to the Empire is set five years after Episode VI, and the trilogy as a whole set the stage for the continued expansion of the EU.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher: Less serious, but still just as much fun, are the myriad books that riff on the Star Wars theme: Doescher's novel presents the story of Episode IV in iambic pentameter; follow-up titles (The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return) move through the original trilogy in the style of the Bard.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor (see our interview below) is the most recent addition to our shelves, and one that should quickly find its way into the hands of any fan at any level, from the newest Star Wars lover to a card-carrying member of the 501st Legion. Taylor's account is packed with trivia, history and anecdotes about Star Wars and how it has been shaped by its immense body of fans. Perfect while we wait with bated breath to see what Episode VII will deliver. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

The Writer's Life

Chris Taylor: The Mysteries of Star Wars

chris taylor
photo: Lisa Keating

Originally from the U.K., Chris Taylor moved to the U.S. in 1996 and became a senior news writer for a year later. He then worked for Business 2.0, Fortune Small Business and Fast Company. He now lives in San Francisco and is deputy editor for Taylor has been writing about Star Wars since 1999. His new book is How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise (Basic Books).

Obviously, you're a Star Wars fan from way back, right?

When you go on a lot of Star Wars podcasts, the first thing they ask is when did you first encounter Star Wars? I had a really hard time answering that question until I started combing through the literature and found a book called Star Wars Year by Year; in it, there was a picture of a box of British cereal called Shreddies. I had such a strong memory of that, and I realized that came out in 1978, which was four years before I saw the original movie. There I was, rubbing those little transfers onto a cardboard Death Star. I realized I must have gotten the whole story of Star Wars four years before I saw the movie. I think what happened then was I got the comic books--more specifically, the comic annual where they collect all the comic books of The Empire Strikes Back. So, I read Empire first. I did it completely out of order--even more out of order than the saga is supposed to be. I was collecting the figures by the time it aired on TV.

I watched the original movie on VHS when it first came on British TV. I think that was the fall of 1982. I got used to the commercials kicking in after the Tatooine sunset, and just watching that over and over again. I'm pretty sure I watched that tape about 50 times.

That really didn't destroy your experience of the story, did it?

I think it's sort of impossible to destroy your experience of the story. That's one of the fascinating things about it--you can spoil the plot of the story by knowing that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, but it doesn't matter. I wrote in the book how Star Wars is the one saga for which it is perfectly acceptable to issue the biggest spoiler of the tale and talk about it in everyday conversation. Nobody bats an eyelid.

Everyone knows it.

Everyone knows it, even the people who haven't seen it know it. And it's still okay. It's weird that Lucasfilm will sort of officially still not recognize this. I talk about Pablo Hidalgo's big speech to the Disney conference in the last chapter. He's like, "Believe it or not, I'm not going to give the big reveal of Empire." He's sort of talking through the history of the saga, so his official position is a bit weird. But everywhere else, everyone talks about it. Everyone knows it. It's impossible to spoil. We all get the spoilers in utero at this stage.

Is that a monetary thing, a way to keep a lock on the money that gets made? Or is it a trickle down from the creator?

It's trickle down from the creator, I'm pretty sure. It's about control. It is partly a monetary thing, but it's also a mystique thing.

It probably comes across in my book that the mystery of Star Wars is one of its most important elements. And without that, you don't really have much excitement. The more that was revealed about the backstory and the prequels, the less we liked it. We like to make up Star Wars stories in our own heads. We argue about the official stories that came forth after Timothy Zahn. We like the mystery. So they are partly preserving that mystique, but they are also very definitely wanting to control everything about the legacy of Star Wars. I was hugely surprised to discover when Lucasfilm was bought by Disney that there had not really been a complete history of the franchise. I thought, why is this? Then once I started discussing the topic with Lucasfilm, I was like, okay, that's why. George Lucas has a long history of wanting to tell his story his way exactly. And he has some, I'll say, not quite historically accurate versions of the story.

Have you had any interaction with Lucas?

No. We've crossed paths a few times. I was at various events like the opening of Lucasfilm headquarters at the Presidio [in San Francisco]. I think there might have been a short interview after that that never went anywhere. I never did anything with that. You see him around the Bay Area, and certainly if you hang around San Anselmo, he's a local character. But, no, he very much keeps himself to himself.

He's a really introverted guy. He said once he did three interviews a year, just so he didn't appear to be a hermit. He definitely doesn't cooperate with books. He was so burned by the Dale Pollock biography [Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas] that he never wanted to cooperate with one of those again, so I had a losing hand. One of my favorite phrases that a Lucasfilm employee came up with to describe him was "Geek Dad." He's sort of like a nerdy, quiet, introverted, geek dad.

Who created our entire cultural viewpoint.

Almost by accident. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Jesus Jackson

by James Daley

In his thought-provoking, suspenseful debut novel, Jesus Jackson, James Ryan Daley deftly combines 14-year-old Jonathan Stiles's quest for answers about the circumstances of his older brother Ryan's death with a search for answers of a spiritual nature.

Jonathan's first-person narrative allows readers to discover the answers right along with him, and to unlock the mysteries of the book's two central journeys in surprising and meaningful ways. Few YA novels attempt to take on the questions so central to adolescence--whether or not to accept the religious beliefs of one's parents, and even whether or not God exists. Daley probes these questions responsibly and intelligently in a story that poses high stakes for its central character.

"When I first saw Jesus, he was standing like a statue on the fifty-yard line of the high school football field," the book begins. Daley's bold statement works because he follows it with humor: "Now I know what you're thinking, but stop right there. And trust me: This guy was totally Jesus.... The only difference, as far as I could tell, between the Jesus on the football field and the one hanging on the cross in the school auditorium, was his clothes." The author hooks readers from the start, laying the foundation with the essential elements of the novel: the Jesus figure and the question of whether or not he's real, football (in which Ryan is "a veritable athletic god"), and the question of trust. As readers go on Jonathan's journey with him, we--and he--discover the limits of what he knows.

When Jonathan first meets Jesus Jackson on the football field during his first day at Saint Soren's Academy, it's just hours after Ryan's body is found at the bottom of a 60-foot ravine. Jonathan's day had not begun well, and only grows worse. For starters, as he entered morning assembly, someone accidentally knocked Jonathan down, and he exclaimed, "Jesus F---ing Christ," which astounded all of the students at the Catholic high school except for the perpetrator: Henry Sun. That's how Jonathan discovers that Henry is a like-minded atheist--or at least, a doubter. After lunch, the two go exploring together in the woods at the edge of the school grounds and discover a quartet of football players surrounding a textbook with a dusting of white powder. Henry yells, "Drugs!" and starts to bolt, but he and Jonathan are pinned down by Alistair St. Claire and another football star. As Alistair brings Jonathan to near unconsciousness, Ryan appears, "dazed and flushed as if he'd just been crying or running or both," realizes that Jonathan is the one under Alistair, and hauls off, swinging his fists into Alistair's face, stomach, ribs and throat. He pauses to say, "Jesus, Jonathan. Take your little friend and get the f--- out of here." That's the last time Jonathan ever sees his brother.

Daley moves fluidly from Jonathan's search for clues to his brother's death to flashbacks of when Jonathan was nine years old, and Ryan informed him there "was no such thing as God." The brothers had embarked together on a quest to discover the world's religions. "I don't think I'd ever considered the fact that there are people whose idea of 'god' was different than my own," Jonathan realizes. After their parents' divorce three years ago, Ryan was the only person who remained consistently there for Jonathan. Now Ryan is dead, and Jonathan is left without anything to believe in and no one to look up to. However, he does believe that Alistair has some part to play in Ryan's death.

Jonathan's parents, while physically present, succumb to grief, searching for their own answers. Daley succinctly captures their unavailability: Jonathan can't bear to be around his "grieving mother's mania," and his father picks him up in a jet-black 2011 Porsche Boxster convertible that "was like everything else about him: loud, fast, and slightly uncomfortable."

When Jonathan returns to school, everyone is saying "he's with God now," and implying that Ryan was a believer. Did they know something Jonathan didn't know? Tristan, Ryan's longtime girlfriend, reveals facts that surprise Jonathan, and he begins to question how well he knew his brother. Jonathan enlists Henry to help him in his detective work.

Jesus Jackson, "spiritual contractor" (as his business card reads), always seems to show up at the exact right moment with just the right question. Who is Jesus Jackson? He's not a Christ figure, and sometimes even seems like a bit of a charlatan ("100% faith guaranteed/ Call for a free estimate!" his card proclaims). Yet he always appears to know just what Jonathan needs to ask himself. Can Jesus be trusted?

As Jonathan tries to make sense of his relationship with Ryan and Ryan's death, he also embarks on a journey to understand himself and what's important to him. He develops a friendship and flirts with romance.

Daley crafts an honest exploration of faith and doubt, intimacy and alienation. He leaves readers with a sense of hope, as Jonathan gains a deeper understanding of himself, and begins to learn some self-reliance where he had always relied upon Ryan. This is a writer to watch. --Jennifer M. Brown

Poisoned Pencil/Poisoned Pen Press, $10.95, paperback, 278p., ages 12-up, 9781929345069

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

James Ryan Daley: Exploring Doubt and Faith

James Ryan Daley was raised Catholic, just like his 14-year-old narrator, Jonathan Stiles. Like Jonathan, Daley began to doubt the teachings of the Catholic church, and he was surprised by how few books for young people dealt with that issue. Jesus Jackson is his debut novel. He and his wife and two daughters live in Newport, R.I.

What were the seeds of the idea for Jesus Jackson?

It really comes out of my experience with and feelings about doubt and faith and God and death, and all the things I've been thinking about since I was a teenager. Deciding I didn't believe in God was, for me, a quick and easy thing. It sounded like it was just a story. But learning to live with that story, or the absence of that story, has been a lifetime experience.

There's not a lot out there that discusses that. Okay, so you've given up this faith, what do you do now to organize your life, your philosophy? How do you conceive of your future and faith without this ideal to latch onto? I always had an imaginary Jesus friend I would talk to--even after I stopped believing in the actual Jesus. I remember very specifically going to work eight years ago--I was working in Manhattan at the time--I was on the subway, right before my wife and I got engaged, having this imaginary conversation with my imaginary Jesus friend, and I thought, "I should write a story about this, a person who has this imaginary Jesus friend."

The Jesus character is so compelling. He is both archetype and everyman, charismatic and down-to-earth. Was he modeled on a specific person?

It is more of an archetypal spiritual companion. In one sense, he's wise and looking out for Jonathan's best interests, and on the other hand, he's trying to sell him something. A cynical atheist teenager is likely to relate to him. The character himself rose out of that--someone who would fulfill that role of being a spiritual mentor, but for someone who doesn't believe in God or anything spiritual. I didn't want the reader to trust him. Even by the end of the book, it's still in question how trustworthy his intentions were. Part of the experience I'm trying to convey is that searching for some guidance outside yourself is not necessarily helpful.

Jesus Jackson is omnipresent, yet he won't solve Jonathan's problems. Still, he asks the right questions to get Jonathan thinking.

Absolutely. The progression of Jonathan, especially through the back story, is he starts out believing what his parents tell him to believe, and comes to the conclusion that that's not real. He and Ryan look to replace that with something else. In many ways, Ryan himself becomes the replacement for Jonathan's need.

When Ryan dies, Jonathan needs something. What do you do when you have this need for something spiritual, and yet you cannot accept that any of these spiritual ideas that people talk about are true? How do you resolve that? I think Jesus Jackson is a manifestation of a bridge for him, from the loss and desperation to a place where he can come to understand that he can find that for himself.

The priest in whom Ryan confides also serves as a cathartic character. He, too, provides no answers but rather frames the questions for Jonathan. Do you see that as the role of faith? To give seekers a framework in which to search for answers, rather than to provide them?

I wanted the priest to be in many ways a positive character. I didn't want the story to get confused with people getting angry with religious clergy or figures in general. I think there's a lot of that out there, where people direct their feelings of doubt and anger at God at their representatives. I was an altar boy at one time, and everyone was very nice. I wanted to draw that distinction. Jonathan's not a believer, but he doesn't have to be anti-religion.

On a deeper level, I do think that the priest and the police officer, for that matter, do offer truth to Jonathan, even if they're not giving him the whole story. Like the priest, [the police officer] believes things that Jonathan doesn't believe; they both have something to offer. After there's this giving up of the belief, often there's a reaction against those beliefs. Ryan takes up a much stronger viewpoint against religion. I think people can get stuck there. I didn't want Jonathan to wind up there.

I remember my mother telling me at one point, "Rebelling against things is just another way of being controlled by them. If you say black whenever someone says white, you're still being controlled by them." That was a powerful idea to me. I wanted Jonathan to not be in a place of rebellion against religion, or defining himself and his beliefs as the antithesis of these other beliefs.

Questions of faith and doubt are common in adolescence, yet very few people have the courage to write about it--at least for young adults. Did you have any trepidation about tackling this theme?

It didn't cross my mind that I should be concerned, until it came time to publish the book, because these questions of search and introspection completely framed my adolescence, and never really stopped. My bigger concern was, if you're going to write for teenagers you have to be very, very honest. They will not accept platitudes or you trying to feed them your philosophy about how they should be. My only concern was, am I being honest with myself enough to be honest with them. That's why Jesus Jackson helped because I could have all these conversations in my head about what do you really believe. Kids in that place in their lives, you can't gloss over these things, you have to get into the nitty gritty of it.

I rewrote a lot of those conversations between Jesus Jackson and Jonathan, when Jonathan says what he believes and Jesus questions him. That works as a way to conceptualize the idea, but that's not as hard as giving the line about why he's upset, where Jonathan says, "I don't care where he was then, I want to know where he is now." That's the heart of it, that's what we all want to know.

It's painful to observe Jonathan's gradual realization that he wasn't as close to his brother as he had imagined. Readers discover this, along with Jonathan, through his flashbacks to when he was nine, and he joined Ryan on his quest as a seeker. How did you come up with this structure?

That came very early, when I started writing it. I believe one of the reasons I wrote it that way was that I thought it was important that readers get to know Ryan. The other is that the journey, the progression of belief and doubt that Jonathan is on, begins far before the action of the story. If he decides that he doesn't believe in God when Ryan dies, that changes the direction of the story. I think it's a cliché for describing how other people come to a place of believing their religion isn't true--because God let this terrible tragedy happen.

Jonathan had long since given up the idea of God. Now it's time to put that choice and belief system to the test. That's one of the hardest things to live with and think about, when you don't have that belief system. For me, some of the hardest times dealing with belief is when my daughter, who's six, and inquisitive, asks about death. What would happen if her mother died tomorrow? I don't have an answer. I can't say we'd be in heaven looking down on you, because she knows I don't believe that. Does this work as a structure, for the way I look at life and death? I confront that in a more significant way when that belief is already embedded and in place.

The structure takes the form of a two-pronged mystery: 1) how did Ryan die but also 2) how did Jonathan become so distant from Ryan? Did those two strands evolve together? Did one grow out of the other?

I think that Jonathan trying to figure out who his brother is and how he became so distant grew out of his looking for the circumstances of Ryan's death. It's a dual mystery between everything in Jonathan's head mirroring his search for the mysteries of life.

As the book progressed, he looked to Ryan for those answers. Jesus Jackson was the spiritual guide he had after he gave up God. The search for deeper meaning also becomes an analogy for what happened between the two of them--how Jonathan wound up in that place of being without a brother physically and also the comfort and faith that his brother gave him. It tied together so closely with his questioning of faith. That was an important part of the mystery. --Jennifer M. Brown

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Favorite Books of Tolstoy--and Marilyn Monroe

"Tolstoy's reading list: essential books for each stage of life" was featured by Brain Pickings, which noted: "At the age of sixty-three, in a letter to a friend, he compiled such a list of the books that had most impressed him over the course of his life."


"The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe's Library: How Many Have You Read?" asked Open Culture.


Flavorwire recommended "10 dark, creepy children's books every kid should read."


"Books' best bakes: cakes in fiction from Dickens to George R.R. Martin" were featured by the Guardian, which noted that "baking in fiction has been used to symbolize everything from death to sex to female identity."

Book Review


There Must Be Some Mistake

by Frederick Barthelme

When Wallace Webster is eased out of his partnership at a Houston design firm, he's at an awkward age--too young to pack it in, too old to start over. His response is to retreat to his condominium in a "spectacularly kitschy" Gulf Coast town. The nearly constant presence of attractive women in his life--from his platonic relationship with Jilly, a coworker only slightly older than his daughter, to his fitful affair with Chantal White, a sexy restaurant owner with a dark past--somehow fails to brighten his mood.

Life at Forgetful Bay Condominiums is anything but placid. One resident dies in a car crash, and Chantal is tied up by an intruder who covers her with blue paint. That's only in the novel's first 15 pages, before the mass mailbox thefts, the nude dancer in the driveway of the homeowners' association president and a suicide. One can only imagine the residents' dismay at what a character calls an "appalling parade of unlikely events." The bizarre happenings at the sleepy condos highlight the disconnection from neighbors that's become one of the defining characteristics of modern life. More than that, Frederick Barthelme (Waveland) suggests, is how unknowable, and truly strange, the lives of others often are.

Even as Wallace leads a life that can be described only as adrift, he never wanders off onto irony's seductive path. There Must Be Some Mistake might have foundered in a sea of cynicism, but in the end Barthelme manages to salvage something that looks suspiciously like a glimmer of hope. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A wry look at contemporary America through bizarre events and characters at a Texas Gulf Coast condominium.

Little, Brown, $25, hardcover, 9780316231244

The Figures of Beauty

by David MacFarlane

For centuries, Carrara marble has been associated with opulence and beauty. Quarried from the mountains of northwest Italy, it is the raw material of the world's finest architecture and sculpture. "Michelangelo's mountains" are at the center of The Figures of Beauty, David Macfarlane's ambitious novel of fateful connections--and missed connections--across continents, classes and generations. It is primarily the story of Italian sculptor Anna Di Castello and Oliver Hughson, the adopted son of Canadian schoolteachers. Oliver, a young, Rilke-reading, straight-laced man from small-town Ontario, falls for Anna, an older Italian artist who smokes a spliff with her morning coffee, swears like a stone cutter and enjoys lusty mountainside sex. After four months of bliss, the cautious Oliver returns to Canada, leaving behind Anna--and, to his later surprise, a daughter.

Giller Prize finalist Macfarlane (Summer Gone) is interested in much more than a coming-of-age romance in Tuscany, however. Narrated by Oliver and Anna's child, The Figures of Beauty traces the history of Carrara marble and the dangers of its mining; the challenges faced by artists like Michelangelo who attempt to chisel delicate curves from the hard, white stone; the provincial limitations of rural Canada; and the basic human need to connect with family and community. Nonetheless, it is the brief romance that drives the narrative. As Oliver writes to his newfound daughter, "I only made one serious mistake in my life…it is up to all of us to know what we most love... youth is no excuse for turning away from it...we cannot always be reasonable." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kansas.

Discover: A multi-generational, intercontinental story of love, art, fate and Carrara marble.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062307194

The Devil's Tub: Collected Stories

by Edward Hoagland

Acclaimed nature writer, essayist and novelist (Children Are Diamonds) Edward Hoagland has also written some fine short stories. Thanks to The Devil's Tub, readers can now enjoy 10 specimens of his short fiction previously left languishing (some for more than 50 years) in the back issues of such magazines as the New Yorker and Esquire.

Prior to attending college, Hoagland worked at a circus for two summers, and three of these tales draw on those years; the best of them shares its title with the collection. The "devil's tub" (or Wall of Death) was known to attendees of fairs and carnivals of yore as a rickety, cylindrical wooden "tub" that motorcyclists nosily and speedily circumnavigated. Jake "Pappy" Thibodeau "occupied the saddle of a cycle as another man might loaf in an easy chair." Now in his 50s and weary from years of risking his life, his trip is winding down. It's a poignant, tour-de-force portrait of a man, his family and the world of sideshows and carnies.

"Circus Dawn" also captures carnival life as it tells the story of Chief and Fiddler, caretakers of the big cats. Animals feature prominently in Hoagland's stories beyond the big top as well. In "The Final Fate of the Alligators," Arnie Bush kept a pet alligator in his New York City apartment, but it has outgrown the bathtub. Now what? From a lonely man looking for love at Coney Island to a man who hides from a grizzly bear in a beaver's dam, "desperate as a hooked fish," Hoagland's characters are always sympathetic, decent people, memorably drawn. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: The beauty and elegance of a popular writer's little-known short stories.

Arcade, $24.95, hardcover, 9781628724486

Mystery & Thriller

The Boy Who Drew Monsters

by Keith Donohue

Jack Peter Keenan has always been an odd boy. Even before the accident three years ago, he was not exactly normal. Now almost 11 years old, he doesn't go outside, ever. As Christmas approaches, there are strange happenings afoot: things that go bump in the night, apparitions in the snowy roadway, screams of people who aren't there. Jack has begun drawing monsters. His parents, Holly and Tim, are increasingly worried.

Holly renews her relationship with the church; when she seeks answers, the local priest and his Japanese housekeeper pelt her with tales of shipwrecks and spirits. Tim resolves to work harder with his son. The parents of Jack's one friend, Nick, take off for the holiday, leaving him to stay with the Keenans in their remote Maine beachside home, in the snow and bitter cold. As Jack's drawings multiply and the howls outside grow louder, readers will wonder if he's withdrawing, abandoning reality (and pulling Nick and the Keenans along with him), or if somehow his interior landscape is populating the outside world.

Multiple mysteries enliven the terror of The Boy Who Drew Monsters, which becomes ever more disturbing as the source of danger comes gradually into focus. In his sensitive, incisive treatment of Jack's behavior and its effect on his family, Keith Donohue (The Stolen Child) explores the challenges of mental disorders, but suspense and a bright thread of terror evoke the very best of the horror genre. Just as a Maine winter chills the bones, this singular little boy provides a satisfyingly frightening story. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A terrifying, enigmatic and ever-accelerating story about the power of imagination.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 9781250057150

Biography & Memoir

Facing the Music: My Story

by Jennifer Knapp

In 1999, a rowdy college student from Kansas burst onto the contemporary Christian music scene to win Nashville's prestigious Dove Award for New Artist of the Year. Jennifer Knapp's guitar rock grafted into the growing renaissance of gospel music, offering an alternative to mainstream music for Evangelical youth. After three more years and two more albums, however, a burnt-out Knapp--decorated with chart-toppers, Dove Awards and Grammy nominations but frustrated by moralism and hypocrisy--walked away from the business with a firestorm of speculation burning behind her.

Facing the Music is Knapp's introspective, touching account of her volatile upbringing, self-destructive youth, humble Christian conversion and runaway stardom. She elaborates on her musical hiatus, reconciliation with her sexuality and her very public coming-out as a lesbian. While unabashedly honest, Knapp offers past antagonists grace by focusing more on her own internal struggles. Few names are dropped; one standout, however, is Katy Hudson, a young musician Knapp mentored while they toured together. (She goes by Katy Perry now.)

Knapp stays the swirl of gossip that has plagued her career without being vituperative. Her 2010 comeback album, Letting Go, added a new dimension to her work: she began presenting Inside Out Faith, events meant to establish room for LGBT people of faith to tell their stories. Whether her music is a touchstone for the reader or not, her journey is one of hope, resilience, passion and faith. Much may have changed since she entered the limelight, but Knapp powerfully expresses the importance of standing for what you believe. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Recording artist Jennifer Knapp's candid reflections on her Christian faith, prominent career and coming out of the closet.

Howard Books, $24, hardcover, 9781476759470

Health & Medicine

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal, from Boston surgeon Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto), displays the precision of his surgical craft and the compassion of a humanist in a frank and often emotionally powerful examination of the burden of mortality.

In this multifaceted study, Gawande aims to help both doctors and patients "figure out how to face mortality and preserve the fiber of a meaningful life." It troubles him that medical training and rapidly improving technologies often frustrate those goals, resulting in care that "fails the people it is supposed to help." Most crucially, he points out, physicians need to do more to equip elderly and terminally ill patients to make difficult decisions about their own course of treatment.

Though Being Mortal is a persuasive work of medical journalism, it takes an intensely personal turn when Gawande describes in painstaking detail the final illness and death of his father from a spinal-cord tumor. In a narrative that often attains the force and beauty of a novel, he explains the myriad choices that helped the family shape his father's path, not to a "good death," but instead to the end of a well-lived life, as in each of his father's last days he "found moments worth living for."

Only a precious few books have the power to open our eyes while they move us to tears. Atul Gawande has produced such a work. One hopes it is the spark that ignites some revolutionary changes in a field of medicine that ultimately touches each of us. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A surgeon's passionate argument for rethinking the common approach to treatment of the elderly and terminally ill.

Metropolitan/Holt, $26, hardcover, 9780805095159

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging: Embrace & Savor Your Next Chapter

by Ron Pevny

Every day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. In Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, Ron Pevny provides concrete ways to make retirement an even more meaningful time than the years that came before, persuading readers that fulfilling emotional and spiritual needs is as important as tending to physical and financial security.

During his 50s, several events turned Pevny's focus toward "conscious aging," especially a request to create a program to help with the rite of passage into "sage-hood" and a heart arrhythmia caused by a tumor in his lung. The health crisis provided a sense of urgency and led him to found the Center for Conscious Eldering in Durango, Colo.

Pevny believes aging can accentuate the best or the worst in an individual, and aims to help readers clarify their purpose in order to live with intention rather than simply out of habit. Throughout, Pevny draws on well-established archetypes from Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, and each chapter focuses on a different way of starting this journey: experiencing nature, resolving regrets, asking for and accepting forgiveness, releasing the past, building a legacy and so on. At the end of each chapter, Pevny includes a "Story by the Fire," highlighting how a person successfully navigated the transition to retirement. In addition, concrete exercises and recommended resources guide readers to continue down the path begun with this book, which Pevny proposes is "not another academic work. Instead, I hope to offer you a guidebook to support your journey toward conscious elderhood." --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Why the sunset years may be the most rewarding yet.

Beyond Words, $15, paperback, 9781582704388


Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer

by Margaret Webb

Margaret Webb (Apples to Oysters) was a successful young athlete and an active adult, but never suspected she might be a marathoner. Staring down her 50th birthday, she became curious about what she could accomplish. She knew there were competitive women runners several decades her senior; could she join their ranks? Older, Faster, Stronger covers what Webb calls her "super-fit year." And as her subtitle states, the lessons she shares are valuable for men and women of all ages, in any sport.

With the luxury of being able to devote her time and energy primarily to training, Webb engages expert nutritionists, personal trainers, coaches, sports psychologists, aging specialists, physiologists and laboratory researchers. She has her maximal oxygen consumption tested (twice); adds cross-training, gym time and track workouts to her running schedule; travels; and brunches with world champion septua-, octo- and nonagenarian women. She sets goals: to qualify for the Boston Marathon under the fastest women's standard (the qualifying time for 18-to-34-year-old women) and to be competitive in the half-marathon at the World Masters Games.

Webb is meticulous in applying her results stringently to her own life and documenting them for her readers. Her research appears thorough, although the more fastidious reader may be frustrated by the absence of citations. Older, Faster, Stronger is packed with statistics and studies, but is well explained, so the reader will find the science easily digestible. Athletes of any sex, age and discipline can benefit from--and be entertained by--Webb's approachable investigation of becoming faster and stronger into advance age. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An amiable and instructive memoir about achieving and maintaining competitive fitness at any age.

Rodale, $15.99, paperback, 9781623361693


Miracle Dogs: Rescue Stories

by Liz Stavrinides

Miracle Dogs, which combines Liz Stavrinides's professional career as a photographer with her personal passion for animals, is a testament to the healing powers of canine companionship for both dog and human--and the perfect gift for any dog lover. Stavrinides shares the stories of 50 families who rescued dogs from shelters, the streets, the sea and even the AKC show world, including celebrity pet owners like Chevy Chase and his golden Labradors, Chris and Cody; Hoda Kotb and her cockapoo, Blake Charlie; Jamie-Lynn Sigler and her Havanese/terrier mix, Bean; and Lance Bass and his Australian shepherd/beagle mixes, Lily, Foster and Dingo. But the majority of the entries are about people who are stars only in the eyes of their pups.

Most of the stories are unequivocally positive, but some of the striking ones involve dogs with special needs who required incredible dedication to heal, like Jax, a spaniel/dachshund mix that needed spinal surgery and now runs four miles a day with the help of cart, or Princess Fiona, a poodle mix that required a lens implant in order to see. Anyone who has experienced the world of animal rescue knows that while this vocation reinforces how resilient, forgiving and extraordinary dogs are, at times our regard of humanity drops precipitously. However, Miracle Dogs is not only a celebration of the goodness of canines, but a reminder of the many kind-hearted people in the world, too. A box of tissues is mandatory while reading Miracle Dogs, but the tears are nearly always happy. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Why more and more dog lovers are turning away from pet stores and breeders and embracing the rewarding world of animal rescue.

St. Martin's Press, $21.99, hardcover, 9781250045775

Art & Photography

Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them

by Wendy MacNaughton, Isaac Fitzgerald

Tattoos themselves, whether the art is visible or not, are commonplace enough, but we seldom hear the stories that inspired them. For Pen & Ink, Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed Books editor and co-owner of The Rumpus, collaborated with illustrator Wendy MacNaughton to give us exactly what we wonder about every time we see a stranger's interesting body art.

That isn't to say everyone in here is a stranger: there are literary marvels Cheryl Strayed and Roxane Gay, former gang leader Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, illustrator Carson Ellis and more. The tattoos and their stories are as often delightful as they are heartrending. Most succinct is the text from warehouse manager Siobhan Barry, whose toes read pizza party. "I really f*cking love pizza," she explains. Other stories are much more involved. Writer and public speaker Mona Eltahawy had Sekhmet, Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex, tattooed on her wrist after her capture and violent interrogation while on assignment in Egypt, "to both celebrate my survival and make a mark on my body of my own choosing."

Beautifully illustrated, Pen & Ink pairs stories with 4-color drawn facsimiles of the tattoos. It is more than a keepsake for tattoo enthusiasts; it is an artifact of diverse, deeply human histories, like the cave paintings of Lascaux or an illuminated manuscript, a compilation of intimate knowledge we can only hope to see continued in the future. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A fully illustrated collection of rad tattoos and the stunning stories that inspired them.

Bloomsbury, $22, hardcover, 9781620404904

Children's & Young Adult

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

by Katherine Applegate, illus. by G. Brian Karas

This charming and moving picture book tells the real story of the gorilla that captivated readers in the Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan.

Katherine Applegate's text reads like poetry: "In leafy calm, in gentle arms, a gorilla's life began." Brian Karas (Tap Tap Boom Boom) shows an expressive young gorilla, with his mother holding him close. In a haunting spread, readers look up through trees in Central Africa that nearly block out the sky, and an airplane travels through a small opening in their leafy circle: "He did not learn about humans until it was too late." The artist places readers inside a dark crate with Ivan, with only cracks of sunlight, and at his exit in an urban area with smoke spewing from a nearby factory. The humans dress Ivan and his baby gorilla companion like children, and feed them ice cream. But soon Ivan outgrows his childlike qualities--and size: "A cage in the mall became Ivan's new home" for 27 years. A 13-year-old Ivan stands, looking out at a human father and his two children. "In the jungle, he would have been ready to protect his family," writes Applegate, "But he had no family to protect." It is perhaps the most poignant moment in the book.

Applegate's spare text gives readers just enough grounding to follow Ivan's journey, while Karas's artwork fills in Ivan's emotional life through the gorilla's engaged expressions and body language--no image more triumphant than Ivan's release into Zoo Atlanta. A heartfelt tribute to a magnificent animal. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The story of the Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan for a picture book audience.

Clarion, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780544252301

The Badger Knight

by Kathryn Erskine

National Book Award–winner Katheryn Erskine (Mockingbird) again displays her skill at telling a story through a narrator's particular perspective.

In his first-person account, Adrian explains that he's nicknamed "the Badger" because of his pale, ghostlike appearance and tendency to smudge his eyes to cut the glare from his light skin. At 12, he is small and sickly, and generally not well regarded in his village: "A few people say being tiny and white as an angel is a good omen, but far more say I'm evil." Readers will recognize his dream of becoming an archer and famous knight as unrealistic. Invading Scots threaten the lives of those in 1346 England. War entices Badger with thoughts of escaping the farm and becoming a hero, but when he follows his best friend, Hugh, to battle, he learns peril is not reserved for the battlefield alone: his journey is fraught with more danger and adventure than he'd imagined possible. Badger discovers a world in which truth is not black or white, but instead rather like his smudged face: "I think of what I always believed to be truths... and how all these 'truths' aren't real at all."

Adrian compensates for his feelings of insecurity with his Badger persona, which gives him strength. His story remains the journey of all children who struggle to find their place in the world. The vocabulary-dense historical setting may be challenging for new chapter book readers, but those willing to use the book's glossary will be rewarded with a rich medieval tale. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: A boy journeys across England to battle the Scots in an adventure-filled 14th-century tale of redemption and friendship.

Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9780545464420

The Farmer and the Clown

by Marla Frazee

Marla Frazee (All the World) begins her wordless masterpiece at sunrise, as a farmer sets out to work.

He takes pitchfork to hay. The furrow on his brow echoes the furrows of his field; his long white beard comes to a triangular point. The muted palette plays up the brown of the earth, the gold of the hay, the stark-white clouds. He takes a break to stand, pitchfork in hand, and watch a circus train--a spray of colors moving on the tracks abutting his farmland. The double-page image accentuates the seemingly endless horizon line. On the next page, something falls from the train, and the farmer drops his pitchfork in surprise. In two side-by-side framed images, Frazee charts the farmer's approach and zeroes in on the clown-child left behind, who gives the bearded man a wide smile.

The farmer takes him by the hand--the red upward-pointing clown hat the perfect yin to the yang of the man's downward-pointing snow-white beard. He gives up his bed, and even makes funny faces to cheer the little fellow. The next day, as they set out for a picnic, the train returns, and readers know they must part. But oh what a moving farewell the clown gives his farmer, with the unfettered affection of a child. As the train pulls away, we see that the farmer has given the child a memento. And the farmer has gained something, too. In 32 pages, Frazee takes us on an emotional journey that neither farmer, nor clown--nor reader--will ever forget. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A wordless emotional journey that begins with a life-changing meeting between a farmer and a clown child thrown from a circus train.

Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781442497443


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

by Natalie Jenner

Dear Reader,

EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE was the hardest book I will ever write, and the most rewarding. I packed everything I could into this book: love and conflict, faith and religion, censorship and resistance, art and moviemaking, fashion and food, cameos by favorite actresses and characters from my earlier books, and above all Rome, my favorite city in the world. I hope that my novel gives you the entertainment and inspiration that nourished me throughout its writing.

Email with the subject line "Every Time Was Say Goodbye Sweeps" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Gratefully yours,
Natalie Jenner

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
May 14, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Happily Ever Maybe
(A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella)

by Carrie Ann Ryan

Dear Reader,

What happens in a bodyguard romance when both characters are a bodyguard?

All the heat and action!

I love writing workplace romances because things get tricky. And when a one night stand ends up burning up the pages, things get... explosive.

Gus and Jennifer are fiery, kick-butt characters that made me so happy to write.

I hope you love them!

Carrie Ann Ryan

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Happily Ever Maybe (A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
February 13, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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