Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 4, 2014

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

From My Shelf

Age-Appropriate Reading

When Simon and Garfunkel were considering old friends sitting on their park bench like bookends in 1968, I was 18 and devouring Graham Greene's The Quiet American for the first of many times.

We return to certain authors as to a familiar hearth (and like fire, the best can sear as well as warm us). Greene is one of those writers for me, as are Walker Percy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joan Didion, Thomas Merton, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

And May Sarton. I first read The House by the Sea when I was in my early 30s. She seemed to be speaking to me directly. Now the voice living in those pages and I are about the same age ("I can't stop doing what I have always done, trying to sort out and shape experience."). Her power is undiminished.

New editions by kindred reading spirits are like renewed conversations with old friends:

I met John Berryman's poetry in a college class, where His Toy, His Dream, His Rest was a required text ("I always wanted to be old. I wanted to say/ 'O I haven't read that for fifteen years' "). To mark the centenary of his birth, Farrar, Straus & Giroux has just published The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems, and is reissuing 77 Dream Songs, Berryman's Sonnets, and The Dream Songs.

Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder (Counterpoint) welcomes me back to Snyder's world, which I entered in 1971 when I bought Riprap, & Cold Mountain Poems for $1.50.

Donald Hall's Essays After Eighty (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Dec. 2) is an eloquent and bracing reminder of just how essential this man's voice and hard-won perspective have been in my life.

I was Romeo's age when I first encountered Shakespeare; now I'm closer to Lear's. If I'm any wiser (the jury is still out), it's only because of a select group of age-appropriate writers who continue to guide me on this journey. --Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Joe Hill: The Horns Dilemma

photo: Shane Leonard

Joe Hill's second novel, Horns (2010), is the story of Ignatius Perrish, a young man who's been accused of killing his girlfriend. After going on a particularly epic drinking binge, he wakes up one day to find devilish horns growing from his head. Worse still, anyone he comes into contact with tells him their deepest, darkest secrets--secrets he really doesn't want to hear. But to find and punish the true killer, he must listen to the people he least wants to be brutally honest with him: his family.

Horns is now a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, in theaters now, and available on iTunes and other video-on-demand services.

Where did you get the idea for Horns?

My answer on that isn't terribly sexy. Because you want to have this one jolting moment of inspiration where the whole thing kind of came together, but the truth is that Horns is my third attempt to explore one particular concept. The first was an epic fantasy novel called Fear Tree. Fear Tree was a kind of Tolkien-esque thing. But the hero was a blind man who had the psychic power to guess whatever scared people the most. And the book became a huge international bestseller... in my imagination. In real life, I was never able to sell it. This was a book I wrote well before Heart-Shaped Box. There were still a lot of things I needed to learn how to do. I needed to learn some things about economy. I needed to learn how to write dialogue. I needed to figure out how to write a story where the ambitions of the story scaled to my abilities.

Heart-Shaped Box came out [in 2007], and it was this huge, huge hit. Bigger than I ever imagined. It came after years of trying to break through. I had sort of done this thing with the pen name where no one really knew about my family or about my dad, Stephen King. I was trying to break through on my own merit; that turned out to be really hard.

I bet. What came next?

Eventually I sold a book of stories to PS Publishing in England. When Peter Crowther bought it, he didn't know who I was related to, he just really liked the stories. But that came after years and years of rejections and three novels that I wasn't able to sell. So, then, Heart-Shaped Box was like a 10-car pileup of all my daydreams. I know it's really clichéd to have that second book slump, but I kind of froze. I went through this tremendous period of joy and excitement and freedom, and then massive collapse. It was like I couldn't figure out how to write.

I just felt devastated. I had no idea how I'd managed to write Heart-Shaped Box. I felt like I couldn't do anything, except I had a comic book going [Eisner Award winner Locke & Key]. And the comic book made me feel happy. The comic book felt like a success. But I couldn't figure out how to write.

So, then I started writing a book called The Surrealist's Glass. And it reused many of the ideas from Fear Tree. It was about a guy who had a lens, a little monocle that he could look through that would show the secret truths of things on the other side of the glass. It would reveal people's secrets. And the only problem with that book is that it really sucked.

That was the only problem?

Yeah, other than that, it was fine. It was just unreadable crap that had no heart. I actually didn't quite finish it. I got about 480 pages in, and then I scrapped it. And then I just had this quiet week when my head went still, and I relaxed a little bit. In the course of that week, I wrote the first hundred pages of Horns.

I felt like I suddenly had discovered what the story had always needed. It needed what every story needs: it needed the devil. You don't really have a story until the devil walks onto the set. Once I knew the story was about the devil, it flew together pretty quickly. It was a hard book to write. I wasn't in a great state mentally or emotionally.

It's an unhappy, paranoid book written by an unhappy, paranoid man. I'm very proud of it; but for me, when I go back to it, it's kind of like touching a scar.

In some ways I like the movie better than the book because the movie is fun and free, and I have a little distance from it. I'm glad Alexandre Aja, who directed it, didn't try to make the movie the book on a screen. I think the best thing about the film is that it has a real breakthrough performance from Daniel Radcliffe. The main character in the book goes through so much emotionally. So much loss. So much grief. So much pain. He goes through madness. He experiences glee, delight, revenge--all that stuff. And Daniel Radcliffe managed to bring all those things to the screen and make it look effortless.

Dan is a guy who, above and beyond Harry Potter, has worked really, really hard to master his craft. He really loves acting. He loves doing voices. He loves to impersonate. He was exciting to work with, and I love what he did.

What was your role in the production process? What were the cool things you got to do?

The coolest thing was they let me put on the horns. I'll have to put up pictures on the web at some point. The special effects guys brought me into the trailer and they said, "We haven't tested the stages of horn development yet. Let's test it on you." And you kind of get used to walking around with them until you get to the drive-thru window at McDonald's. The woman is staring through the window at you, and she's spilling your Coke....

What else did you do on the movie?

I'm an executive producer, but I don't really know what that credit means. I don't think there's anyone who has an executive producer credit who actually understands what the nature of the job is. I read over the script and shared my thoughts with them. And sometimes had arguments. I won some arguments, and I lost some arguments.

The one thing you hope for as a writer is when they adapt your book to the movie screen, they won't spread shame all over the book. In this case, I feel like artistically I hit the jackpot, because they made a really great film--something that's really fun to watch that I think a lot of people are going to love. But artistically hitting the jackpot isn't the same as commercially hitting the jackpot. You can't control whether or not something is going to be a hit. You can exert a little control over whether or not something is good. But in this case it worked out; we wound up with something really good. At least I think so. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

The Happiest People in the World

by Brock Clarke

In a madcap, international adventure, Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, asks what would happen if one of the happiest people in the world--a Dane--was forced to flee Denmark and reinvent himself in a small town in upstate New York. Clarke's answer will make readers laugh, scratch their heads and maybe even investigate their high school guidance counselors a bit more closely.

Following the 2005 strife involving political cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad printed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, cartoonist Jens Baedrup receives an assignment from his editor at the Optimist, a small weekly paper in Skagen, Denmark. "Draw a cartoon depicting in some way or other the controversy." A naturally positive man with no strong feelings about the controversy, Jens isn't sure if drawing this cartoon is such a good idea. But ultimately he decides it is his job and everything will be just fine. He is mistaken.

Two Danish Muslim teenagers happen upon Jens's cartoon in a discarded copy of the newspaper. They are angry about the drawing and feel insulted by Jens and the Optimist. Their answer is to burn the newspaper office and Jens's home, "Though their anger hadn't made it clear to them that when burning down occupied buildings, killing someone [is] always a possibility."

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service decides to make that possibility a reality and, for his safety, Jens Baedrup is declared dead in the house fire. He bounces around Europe for a few years with a minder and then Locs, the agent assigned to him, decides--contrary to her superior's orders--to send Jens to Broomeville, N.Y. What the agent doesn't tell Jens is that Broomeville is the city she fled when her lover, the town's high school principal, left her to stay with his wife. Seeing a way to reconnect, she calls on him to give Jens a job. Thus, Jens becomes Henrik "Henry" Larsen, a high school guidance counselor.

As Henry settles into his role as school guidance counselor, he learns the idiosyncratic characteristics of American life: "...that American sports talk radio announcers liked to say about something, 'There's no doubt about it,' before then expressing their many doubts about it; that American political commentators liked to preface their comments by saying, 'No offense,' before then saying something offensive... that Americans were very impatient people with very short attention spans; that Americans believed as long as they were inside their trucks they were invisible... and that in general Americans thought their trucks were magic."

The new guidance counselor's appearance in Broomeville is the first in a series of events that shake up the sleepy little backwoods town. Soon after his arrival, Henry's predecessor dies from what the coroner is calling a self-inflicted gunshot wound even though her brother denies she was suicidal. Henry falls in love with Ellen, the principal's wife. And finally, a mysterious Dane, Søren, shows up looking for Jens Baedrup. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to most of the town, a CIA training school is recruiting the young outcasts of Broomeville, who meet regularly at the town diner.

In Skagen, Muslim teenagers drop a literal match on the gasoline that ignites Jens's home and destroys his life. In Broomeville, Clarke flicks a figurative match at the  accelerants--a questionable suicide, a volatile marriage, a stranger and spooks--priming the town. Not only has Clarke relocated his happy Dane, he's given him flames to juggle but no juggling lessons. The result can only be spectacular.

The Happiest People in the World is a wacky spy novel full of ingenious commentary devices. Pithy statements throughout--"You miss a lot when you spent so much time looking through binoculars"--offer up insightful advice as well as thematic acumen. Clarke isn't wasteful in words, imagery or plot devices. Down to the smile or frown on Jens's face and the clocks on Doc's diner wall, every detail plays a significant role.

Cultural differences come into play when the Danes can't fathom committing a murder with a gun or the Americans can't easily buy one in Denmark, when the Danes won't rent a car over taking mass transit because of wastefulness, and most especially when there are communication barriers. But Clarke illustrates just as clearly that communication missteps or omissions between people sharing the same language and culture can destroy families, friendships, businesses. If communication doesn't work, nothing works.

The espionage format is the vehicle that provides an element of suspense and a swift plot pace, but readers are more likely to anticipate the characters' next debacle rather than their next crime. In other words, think Maxwell Smart rather than James Bond.

The Happiest People in the World isn't a book that easily fits into a neat marketing category but it does offer plenty to appreciate--a little happiness for all kinds of readers in the world. --Jen Forbus

Algonquin , $24.95, hardcover, 9781616201111

Brock Clarke: Still Figuring Out Happiness

Brock Clarke
photo: Selby Frame

Brock Clarke is the author of three previous novels, including the bestselling An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, and two story collections. He is a professor in the English department at Bowdoin College, and lives in Portland, Maine.

In retaliation for a cartoonist's depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, a young Muslim man burns down the cartoonist's house. This image of fire isn't a new one in your writing. Why that m.o. this time around?

Wow, I really have to stop having people burn down houses in my fiction. Because it's not as though I'm even aware that I'm doing it, again. In this case, it just seemed like a natural, familiar, plausible form of violent protest and payback, in the way that, oh, egging or toilet papering the house would not have. But I swear I am not a pyromaniac in real life. It is not a fetish of mine. Which is possibly why I keep returning to it in fiction, fiction being a chance to, in some form, inhabit the lives of the people you are not.

Neither Jens Baedrup, the cartoonist, nor his assailant personally feel very strongly about the motivations for their actions; rather, they feel it's their job to act. Do you think this is a common issue in the world today?

I don't know that it is a common issue today, and if it were, I don't have any grand theories about why it is a common issue, and what to do about it. I do think, in the case of Jens and Søren, that it's almost as though their actions and reactions are locked in: of course Jens would draw this cartoon, because it is his job and he can't (or won't) imagine how or why anyone would react negatively to his cartoon. And of course Søren would be infuriated by Jens's inability or unwillingness to see things from the point of view of people who might react negatively to Jens's cartoon. And of course in expressing his fury, Søren wouldn't carefully consider the possible consequences of his actions, and how he might then later regret them. There are other options, is what I'm saying, and if it's true that all my fiction is about people who don't see their other options until it's mostly too late, then I guess that must be in reaction to some of the common issues in the world today.

The reader sees the book's opening event through a surveillance device in a moose head in small-town bar, but the audio is broken. This mirrors the novel in that much of what transpires is inside characters' heads, putting the other characters at a disadvantage. The breakdown in communication creates great conflict for the plot, but did it also dictate your point of view?

This is a terrific question, and I'm going be begin by answering it in the most knuckleheaded way: I've always wanted to write a novel in omniscient third person. And I tried to write both my previous two novels in that point of view, and failed dramatically and immediately, and that led me to try again in the first person. But ironically, the first 20 pages of The Happiest People in the World were initially in first person, in Jens's point of view. But they didn't work, they were already too limited, too static, and I knew then that if this novel was going to work, then I would need to see things from several characters' point of view, both because I thought they deserved their own points of view, but also because through the omniscient third person, we'd see all the things that they didn't know--about themselves, about each other. Which is one of the things I've always loved about the novels written in the third person (say, the novels by the great Muriel Spark), and which is also why I always wanted to write one. Plus, as you say, this is a novel in which secrecy and duplicity is so important, and it seemed to me the omniscient third person was the best way to emphasize and dramatize that secrecy and duplicity.

When Jens goes to Broomeville, N.Y., to assume his new identity he becomes a high school guidance counselor. You gave him this job because "who knows, exactly, what those people do?" We might say that about a number of jobs, so what made you infiltrate the mysteries of the American high school?

That's true: I'm fascinated by jobs, because I haven't had many of them. The minute I start actually doing them, I find them far less fascinating. But anyway, it's true that high schools have an outsized importance in small towns. They employ lots of people; lots of people have an attraction, or a revulsion, to those schools that long outlasts their time as students there; the town's social life--in the form of high school sports especially--revolves around the high school. It's not as though I set out to write a novel set, largely, in a high school, but I thought one of the best ways to see a small town is to see it from the point of view of people who taught, worked, ran and learned (supposedly) at the town's high school. And I thought, in a novel populated by spies, it would be great to house them in a high school, which is an institution famous for its extreme sense of secrecy and paranoia.

There's a scene in the novel where the high school band plays Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." This could be the theme song for the book. Was that something you thought of prior to starting or did it occur as you were writing?

It occurred to me when I was writing it. It probably occurred to me when I was sitting in my older son's middle school band concert. It's such a sweet thing, watching this child who you love play a brass instrument in the company of other parents watching their own sweet kids whom they love play brass instruments. A sweet thing, but also a wistful thing, because you know that once they get the hell out of middle school they're never going to want to play a brass instrument again for the rest of their lives. And I thought, while I was sitting in the audience at my son's school band concert, that that sense of sweetness, and wistfulness, and longing, fit the mood of the book, and I would have to write a scene like that. As for "Wish You Were Here," you're right that it could be a theme song for the book. If there is a sadder song out there, then I do not want to know what it is. I'm pretty sure that particular Floyd classic was not in my son's school band's repertoire. But it should have been.

Jens goes into hiding in a small upstate New York city where he actually sticks out. Why not a larger metropolitan area where he would have had more chance to blend in?

Because I'm a firm believer that you should never give a character what he wants. And what Jens wants more than anything else is to blend in. And so I thought I'd put him in a small town, which would make it pretty much impossible for him to get what he wants.

You've said, "Living in a place requires some sort of lying to one's self in order to live there." In what way does that play out for you in The Happiest People in the World?

I don't remember saying that, but it sounds like something I would say, plus I don't know why you'd make something like that up, so okay, I'll pretend remembering saying that. And I think it does matter to The Happiest People: because when you move to a place, you have to lie to yourself and say, or think, Things were not so good for me in the place where I just lived, I did not like the person I was in that place. But this new place is different, and surely I'll be different there, too. Jens/Henry tells himself this lie, and so does Locs, and so, in different ways, do most of the other characters. You have to lie to yourself when you move to a new place, or when you try to start over in the same place. It's usually a short-lived, futile lie, but it's a necessary one.

The spies have a cultish feel--they gather up the outsiders/outcasts and give them a family, a unit to which they can belong--was that the aim?

It was. For me, the novel is about family, and spies are the most extreme of family units: cliquish, secretive, cultlike, protective, vindictive, self-destructive, full of love except for the moments when it is full of loathing. 

You visited and loved Denmark then were upset by its portrayal when the cartoonists' scandal occurred. What made you love the country and why do you think people are found to be the "happiest" there?

I actually wasn't upset by its portrayal. I was upset, of course, with some of the cartoons and also with the violent reaction to the cartoons. But mostly, I was upset with myself: because I'd fallen in love with the place, thinking it was different (more enlightened, more peaceful, just plain happier) than other places, only to discover that it was a place much like other places, and that I was a naïve, wishful-thinking fool for believing otherwise.

But I did love the place, in part because it seems so unlikely. I mean, other than naming it the happiest place in the world, who ever talks, or thinks, about Denmark? I certainly didn't, before I went there, and this is one of the reasons I loved Denmark more than, say, northern Italy, another place I greatly enjoyed visiting: because everyone loves northern Italy. You're supposed to love northern Italy. But Denmark! Who knows how you're supposed to feel about that place! Which is why, in part, I loved it so much.

What's one element of the Danish culture you feel Americans would benefit from embracing?

The Danes often will say, in greeting one another, "Hi hi." As though one "hi" just isn't friendly enough. God, I would love it if we did that in America. Although I can imagine it would take some getting used to here. The first people who tried it might get punched in the face, or shunned.

Happiness, according to Brock Clarke, is what?

A warm gun? A cold open-faced sandwich? I'm still trying to figure that one out. Maybe the next book will have the answer. --Jen Forbus

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Dorothy Parker Quips as Motivational Posters

Buzzfeed imagined "if Dorothy Parker quips were motivational posters."


Bon appetit! "The dishes 16 writers would bring to a literary potluck" were cooked up by Mental Floss.


Bustle recalled "7 things only kids who practically grew up in a library can understand."


The Literary Starbucks tumblr "supposes a world in which legendary writers and fictional stars frequent the coffee chain in which many of their works are now read," ShortList observed in sharing some favorite orders.


Dubbing it "the ultimate young adult playlist," the Guardian featured its picks for the "top 10 songs in teen novels."

Great Reads

Rediscover: West with the Night

The news that a piece of Amelia Earhart's plane may have been found on an island in the Pacific made us think of that thrilling time when women aviators were regularly setting new flying records. (Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were lost in 1937 as they attempted to fly around the world). Beryl Markham was another glamorous, celebrated flyer of the era; born in England, she grew up in East Africa, was a racehorse trainer, a bush pilot and the first woman to fly solo from Europe to North America. She recounted her flights and her life in a wonderful memoir, West with the Night (North Point Press), that was originally published in 1942 but flew into oblivion. Four decades later, it was rediscovered thanks to a contemporaneous mention by Ernest Hemingway. In a letter to a friend, he wrote after reading the book that Markham "has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl... can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers... it really is a bloody wonderful book." He was right.

Book Review



by Ottessa Moshfegh

Describing his late companion, of whose murder he has been accused, the titular sailor in McGlue complains, "He was just a student of misery. He had this idea that there was something like grace and victory to be found in ... choosing the worst." If one can study misery, Ottessa Moshfegh offers a master class with her debut, winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose. Whether or not doom is chosen, the narrative proves there is, in fact, "something like grace" in watching it unfold.

Inhabiting the mind of a tortured character has the potential to be torturous, but Moshfegh--whose stories have been published in the Paris Review--unspools luminous, capable prose. In his first-person account of the days leading to his murder trial in 1850s Massachusetts, McGlue manages both drunken shambling and balletic grace as he waxes poetic about his adventures with the late Johnson, whom he may or may not have stabbed to death. Memory is suspect in the wake of innumerable flagons of booze and a head injury that won't heal.

The novella's most heartbreaking element, played like a card trick at the end of a high-stakes game, is the hint at a love affair between the duo. On a ship where one man is called "Fagger," McGlue and Johnson still play at heterosexuality, masking their revulsion during group visits to the whorehouse. The reader doesn't want for opportunities to wince; in a book this brutal, there are plenty, but the brutality is underpinned by exquisite prose, and a writer's empathy for a character awaiting his condemnation. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: A brutal tale of a sailor--accused of murder--whose childhood traumas and alcoholism refract his memories of the past.

Fence Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781934200858

Lizzy & Jane

by Katherine Reay

Elizabeth Hughes, who has achieved modest fame as a New York City chef, rarely visits her family in Seattle after her mother's death from cancer. When a cooking slump (and the surprise arrival of a new assistant chef) coincides with her sister Jane's chemo treatment, Lizzy reluctantly heads home. Although she's glad to see her father, it doesn't take long for the friction between Lizzy and Jane to start a fire. Named for Jane Austen's Bennet sisters, they've been at odds since their mother's illness, and Lizzy wonders if her presence at Jane's house is helping or hurting.

Casting about for a way to be useful, Lizzy hits on an unusual project: cooking meals for cancer patients, using surprising flavors and textures to appeal to taste buds ravaged by the disease. Lizzy finds willing customers among Jane's fellow patients and even meets a kind, attractive man. And though her situation back in New York is far from perfect, she's not sure she's ready to leave and build a new life for herself on the West Coast.

With the Bennet sisters as a starting point, Katherine Reay (Dear Mr. Knightley) weaves in references to Austen's other works and explores the strength of family ties in the face of great pain. Although Lizzy narrates the book, the story also belongs to Jane: both sisters must come to terms with their fractured relationship, grief over their mother's death and the future possibility of deep love and great heartbreak. Packed with descriptions of mouthwatering meals, Lizzy & Jane is a wise and winsome novel of food, family and new beginnings. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A story of classic literature, unusual cookery and the complex relationship between two sisters named for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet.

Thomas Nelson, $15.99, paperback, 9781401689735

A Bollywood Affair

by Sonali Dev

As intricate as a henna tattoo and as sweet as gulab jamun, Sonali Dev's debut novel takes its inspiration from the world of big Indian cinema. Mili Rathod of Balpur, India, has waited 20 years for her husband. Married at age four to 12-year-old Virat (and then separated when his family moved away), her beliefs in tradition and destiny have left her pining for their reunion. After her acceptance to an international study program in Michigan, Mili resorts to writing a letter asking her absent husband to claim her.

Bollywood director Samir likes his women without strings attached, but he would do anything for his family. When his brother Virat--who is now married with a baby on the way--receives a letter claiming his childhood marriage that he thought had been annulled years ago is actually valid, Samir offers to go to America and talk the girl into bowing out of her claim. He expects a gold digger but instead finds idealistic, tender-hearted Mili, who injures herself in their meet-cute of mistaken identity.

Seeing Mili as the cure for his writer's block, Samir pretends to be her new neighbor. Under the guise of helping while her ankle heals, Samir remains close to his muse--he'll tell her everything once his script is complete. Soon, however, Samir is cooking for Mili, taking her to a lavish wedding and falling in love. As the lies mount, he wonders if she can forgive him for the truth.

With a setup as far-fetched and irresistible as that of a classic Bollywood musical, this witty confection is sure to delight. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A heartwarming romance that, although set in Michigan, captures all the glamour, mix-ups and humor of a classic Bollywood film.

Kensington, $15, paperback, 9781617730139

Mystery & Thriller

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries

by Otto Penzler, editor

This isn't a big book; it's a huge book. Edited by noted mystery anthologist Otto Penzler and boasting more than 900 pages with an old-fashioned, two-column layout, The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries compiles 68 of the best of the best. Many of the stories are classics (and worth reading again), but there are a number of writers here whose stories aren't well known, so there's much to discover.

Penzler organizes his tome in nine themed sections, including stabbing, vanished people, shootings and stolen valuables. One story stands alone in its own section, un-categorizable: Martin Edwards's "Waiting for Godstow," a curious tale about a detective, Godstow, who doesn't even realize he has an impossible crime to solve. Each story is accompanied by a short, informative introduction with an author bio and piquant critical notes: Jacques Futrelle's "The Problem of Cell 13" is a "masterpiece"; Lord Dunsany's "The Two Bottles of Relish" was chosen by Ellery Queen as one of the 10 greatest mystery stories ever.

Among the many authors demonstrating their locked-room prowess are Stephen King--with "The Doctor's Case," a Sherlock Holmes pastiche--MacKinlay Kantor, P.G. Wodehouse and Dashiell Hammett. This is the ideal bedside book for mystery fans: packed with short, challenging tales of murder and deduction, easily consumed before the eyes flicker. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: This unparalleled anthology collects the finest stories that delve into solving impossible crimes.

Vintage, $25, paperback, 9780307743961

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

by Patrick Rothfuss

Fans waiting for the third installment of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles (which began with The Name of the Wind) may be surprised to find this companion novella doesn't continue the main series' story arc.

Even though this isn't the hotly anticipated third volume, it's best not to miss out on this delightful, focused narrative about Auri, the mysterious waif who lives under the University (which the protagonist of the main series attends). Auri lives in what she calls the Underthing, a series of twisting passages and unused, abandoned rooms. She has a magical talent that plays out like obsessive-compulsive disorder. Every discarded thing she finds in the Underthing has an ideal place and position. Auri can detect each object's feelings and desires and has made it her duty to ensure all is in its proper place. She spends her days connecting with these silent castoffs and helping them find their own special spots to be.

She's also waiting for "him," an unnamed hero fans will recognize as the series' protagonist. This sense of anticipation evokes its own rhythm, underscoring Auri's daily routine. This is not an epic novel full of heroic deeds, but rather a soft, gentle tale of a young girl with a specific, burdensome talent and who must follow her compulsions. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is ideal for fans looking better to understand Rothfuss's world through a lovely, peaceful story of a young woman with a rich inner life. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A sweet and oddly affecting tale of an emotionally fragile yet fiercely talented young woman trying to find her own place in a limited world.

DAW, $18.95, hardcover, 9780756410438

The Peripheral

by William Gibson

William Gibson, author of the seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, once again drops readers into a future multiverse that boasts plausible, disconcerting advances in technology. On what should be a simple surveillance job in an immersive video game, Flynne Fisher accidentally witnesses a murder. She doesn't know it, but the game isn't a game--it's actually a future trajectory in Earth's history. Unidentified future entities with meddlesome and sometimes malicious intentions have tapped into Flynne's world via an undisclosed link in cyberspace.

It's only when people begin dying in Flynne's present time that she realizes she hadn't been in a game after all. To save their present from these interlopers, Flynne and her friends interact with a variety of good and not-so-good people in the future through robot-like entities, which are accessed in Flynne's time line via headsets printed with 3-D printers. Suspense builds in both worlds as people in each time frame try to avoid being killed.

In this rapid story that bounces from the near future to the distant future like a time-traveling Ping-Pong ball, money flows readily from one world to another, tattoos scuttle about on the skin, some people have double irises in their eyes and Lego pieces are cybernetically enhanced to move on their own. Gibson's details are sometimes sparse and his occasional odd turns of phrase might leave some readers confused, but for those willing to persevere through the vague (and sometimes quite complex) spots, the story succeeds in showing what might happen if humans stay on their current trajectory of drug use, medical manipulations, greed and hunger for power. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: William Gibson shows us a sleek, multifaceted world where corrupt and powerful entities control the present and the past.

Putnam, $28.95, hardcover, 9780399158445

Biography & Memoir

The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins

by Robert B. Baer

Former CIA operative Robert B. Baer, whose memoir See No Evil inspired the George Clooney thriller Syriana, blends memoir and geopolitical analysis into a comprehensive guide to the world of political murder. The Perfect Kill is organized into 21 laws for the successful assassin, covering everything from the act itself (the importance of vetting accomplices and using terrain) to its moral implications (the victim should really deserve it and his or her death should save lives).

Baer uses "good" and bad assassinations as examples, though most of the book revolves around his own harrowing experiences as a CIA agent in Lebanon during its civil war. He spent much of that assignment hunting (and, he speculates, being hunted by) master Hezbollah assassin Imad Fayez Mughniyah, alias Hajj Radwan, whose bombings drove the United States military out of Lebanon in the 1980s. Baer moves between other shady people and dangerous assignments, including a potential plot against Saddam Hussein in post-Gulf War I Iraq gone farcically awry, but his nemesis is never far from his thoughts. Radwan's own assassination in Damascus in 2008 was a fitting end and, Baer argues, the result of the professional ignoring the rules of his trade.

The Perfect Kill's unusual mix of thrilling memoir and political science is a winning combination. Baer's espionage exploits are the stuff of spy novels, his insider's insights on a deadly business refreshingly candid. His bluntness clarifies a topic usually obscured by moral quagmires, and The Perfect Kill should appeal to a wide swath of nonfiction readers and fans of spy thrillers. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A former CIA agent explores assassination with a mix of memoir and political science.

Blue Rider Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9780399168574

Coming Ashore: A Memoir

by Catherine Gildiner

In her memoirs of her 1950s childhood near Niagara Falls (Too Close to the Falls) and her turbulent teen and college years (After the Falls), psychologist Catherine McClure Gildiner captured the baby boomer eras with humor and spot-on details. In Coming Ashore, she invites readers into her years studying at Oxford, teaching in inner-city Cleveland and finding love and her career in Toronto.

Gildiner began her life in upstate New York, where, as a precocious only child, she challenged her parents, who exhorted her not to play "too close to the Falls." Metaphorically, Gildiner seemed continually to wander close to the edge--as an outspoken teen, a blonde co-ed dating a black man at rural Ohio University, and as an Oxford student, where she was unusual both as an American and a woman.

As Coming Ashore opens, Gildiner needs to flee Ohio and the FBI agents who are questioning her association with activists, so she applies to a postgrad program at Oxford. It's a long shot that pays off. Once in England, the irrepressible (and obviously academically gifted) Yank makes her mark; her hilarious escapades include orchestrating a friend's dying wish to have sex with Jimi Hendrix.

Gildiner's poignant reflections on her family and her childhood recall her earlier work, but Coming Ashore is a worthy stand-alone memoir, especially for the laugh-out-loud anecdotes, witty chapter titles ("A Shrew in Shrewsbury") and vintage photos of the author that open each chapter. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A baby boomer's third memoir traces her journey from Ohio to Oxford to Toronto, with hilarious glimpses of the times.

ECW Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9781770412255

Travel Literature

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East

by Gerard Russell

In 2014, Ezidis, Druze, Mandaeans and other Middle Eastern religious minorities have appeared in global headlines. For the most part, these groups have been unfamiliar to most Westerners, and sadly they are in the news because of tragedies. Gerard Russell's first book, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, appears just in time to answer readers' questions about some of the world's most ancient and least understood religions.

Russell describes Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms as a series of personal and informal investigations begun during his 14 years as an Arabic- and Farsi-speaking diplomat in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Much of the narrative's considerable charm rests in Russell's accounts of his often-uncomfortable travels into remote regions of the Middle East and his interviews with members of the seven religions he covers. He pursues his explorations in places as diverse as the Zoroastrian ruins of ancient Persepolis and a Chaldean community center in Detroit. Make no mistake, though: this is not a dilettante's travelogue.

Building on his extensive knowledge of both comparative theology and the region's history, Russell places each religion in historical context and describes them as they exist in the 21st century. He considers both how these faiths have survived and why they were endangered even before the current attacks began. He considers ancient languages and long traditions of secrecy, as well as the difficulties both present to diaspora communities attempting to practice a faith away from its historic heart.

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms is an important and engaging book for anyone interested in the Middle East. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The ancient secrets and modern problems of the Middle East's forgotten religions.

Basic Books, $28.99, hardcover, 9780465030569

Children's & Young Adult


by Ally Condie

In Ally Condie's (the Matched trilogy) stand-alone novel Atlantia, she creates a world with secrets as deep as the ocean it inhabits, where trust is a luxury not all can afford.

Fifteen-year-old narrator Rio and her twin sister, Bey, have never been Above. Humanity created Atlantia, an underwater haven where people live long, healthy, happy lives, when the world Above became too polluted to inhabit. Those remaining on land have chosen to sacrifice themselves to short, brutal lives of suffering in order to keep Atlantia thriving. But Rio wants to see the trees and sky, and longs for the day when she can choose the world Above. After the sudden, suspicious death of their mother, the Minister of Atlantia, Bey makes Rio promise to remain Below with her. But Bey turns the tables and elects to go Above. As Rio struggles to accept her sister's apparent betrayal, Maire, her mother's mysterious and estranged sister and a known siren, appears with offers of assistance. Rio's secret, which only her mother and sister know, is that she is herself a siren. When Rio meets True, whose best friend Fen also unexpectedly chose the Above, she wonders if there's a connection between Bey and Fen. At what cost will Rio find the answers to her sister's departure?

Condie's thorough world-building includes the history of Atlantia, its architecture, governance, cultural practices and religious history. Rio makes a fascinating heroine, along with captivatingly mysterious Bey and Maire. Each mystery leads into another, and Condie keeps readers guessing to the end. --Kyla Paterno

Discover: A secret siren searches for answers after the sudden departure of her twin from an Atlantis-like undersea world.

Dutton, $18.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780525426448

Unmarked: The Legion, Book 2

by Kami Garcia

In this second entry in the Legion trilogy, Kami Garcia's gripping writing once again draws readers into the paranormal and supernatural world of the Legion.

Kennedy Waters unknowingly released the demon Andras into the world in Unbreakable.  After joining the Legion of the Black Dove, a centuries-old underground organization of supernatural warriors, she was tricked into freeing their most formidable foe. Now Kennedy must rejoin the fight with her Legion friends before Andras can release more demons into the world. But first, Kennedy must confront her own demons.  An intense yet tenuous relationship with fellow Legion member Jared feels like love; after all, Jared's "the boy who fought for me, even when I didn't fight for myself." But Kennedy has yet to prove she's a member of the Legion and destined for Jared. As an orphan, Kennedy wonders who can confirm whether she's inherited the familial Legion mantle? Kennedy hunts down her aunt Faith, and learns her family has ties to the mysterious Legion enemy organization, the Illuminati. Worse yet, her mother was secretly working against everything the Legion, and now Kennedy, stands for. Kennedy must find the strength to fight for her own beliefs, her love, her family and the world.

Set in a darker world than that of the Beautiful Creatures series, the Legion will appeal to male and female teens, as well as adults. Garcia's dialogue flows naturally and shows the personality of every character, making it easy for readers to keep track of a somewhat large cast of characters. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: Kennedy seeks to find her place in the Legion and her true love's heart--or will destiny intervene?

Little, Brown, $18, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9780316210225

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