Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Take a Book, Return a Book

The Little Free Library movement began in Hudson, Wis., in 2009, when Todd Bol built a box for books and stood it in his front yard--a tribute to his mother, a lifelong reader. From that modest beginning, LFLs have spread to 80 countries, with at least 25,000 units and more than 35 million books--book sharing at its most basic, and for some communities, its most effective.

In The Little Free Library Book (Coffee House Press, $25), Margret Aldrich spoke with 70 LFL "stewards," from Uganda to Ukraine to the Los Angeles Police Department. She asked them why they built their LFLs, what makes them special, what are the weirdest books to show up. She proffers advice on getting started; ordering a LFL or building your own; launching a library, from chalking a sidewalk to a press release; curating a selection (the mixture will take on a life of its own, but it can be stocked for an occasion, like Black History Month).

John Kieltyka and his wife, Monika Lidman, show off their Little Free Library.

The book is filled with photographs of LFLs (and their stewards), like a bright blue TARDIS and a house covered with colorful buttons. Our favorite is the one built by Shelf Awareness's John Kieltyka and his wife, Monika Lidman. On the day they went outside to install it, they discovered their neighbors Bob and Karen White placing one across the street. Within the hour, two little street libraries were open for business; their goal now is to get every house on the street to have one.

This is not just a nice book to peruse; it's an inspiration and invitation to share books and conversation and joy. Who doesn't like to walk down a street and see what's new in their neighborhood LFL? --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

Book Candy

Eight Great YA Books--For Adults, Too

The Guardian highlighted the "eight best young adult books--and why grownups should read them, too."


Boredpanda showcased a selection of fairytale book covers by Latvian Artist Aniko Koleshnikova, who "specializes in creating dragon-, animal-, bird-, fantasy- and nature-inspired polymer journals."


"How many of these movies adapted from books have you seen?" Buzzfeed asked.


Bustle offered "10 tips from classic books that will in no way benefit you at all.... So what were those writers even talking about?"


"It takes a very special kind of writer to capture the soul of London, in all its transient color and enormity," Stylist magazine wrote in featuring "five extraordinary books set in the capital that every Londoner should read."

Church of Marvels

by Leslie Parry

Leslie Parry's debut novel, Church of Marvels, is set in 1895, in phantasmagorical New York City, and stars a weird, lovable cast. Four protagonists share the spotlight in alternating chapters: recently estranged twin sisters Belle and Odile, orphaned loner Sylvan Threadgill, and the mysterious Alphie.

Belle and Odile's mother was the indomitable and fabled Friendship Willingbird Church, a runaway who at age 14 dressed as a boy to fight for the Union army, and later established her own circus theater on Coney Island, called the Church of Marvels. After the Church caught fire and Friendship died in its embers, Belle (ever the adventurer) left for the city with a secret that readers must wait for and wonder about. Odile stayed behind, wondering herself at her sister's abandonment. Belle writes home: "You, dear sister, have always been the brave one, the good one, the strongest of all." But Odile is not the brave one, and her sister's letter illuminates nothing about Belle's new life.

Sylvan Threadgill earns his wages as a night-soiler, cleaning out tenement privies on the Lower East Side. He moonlights by competing in fights that take place and are bet upon in back rooms and on the docks. In the novel's opening pages, Sylvan, at work one night, finds an unusual treasure in the filth: a baby girl, pale and green-eyed, "with a small nose and a dimpled chin like a pat of butter someone had stuck their thumb in."

Alphie is an undertaker's wife with a scandalous past who awakes one morning, disoriented, to find herself imprisoned in the asylum on Blackwell's Island. She is desperate for rescue, sure that her husband will come, sure that her plight is another evil trick of her mother-in-law's.

These four characters occupy separate stories for much of the book, and are joined by a colorful supporting cast. There are actors from the sideshow: a boy who is half girl, a girl with four legs, the man who throws knives at Odile as she rotates slowly on a wheel. There is the woman Sylvan turns to for help with the baby, and the very different woman Belle turns to for a very different sort of help. A strange parade of children who dwell underground put on a show for Odile when she reaches Manhattan, with implications she takes personally; Alphie's fellows, from her past life, shed a harsh light. This array is completed by the baby Sylvan liberates. An orphan himself, he is unable to turn away from her stark need. But a part-time pugilist who was never parented himself makes an inapt caretaker for a newborn.

However fantastical they may be, these eccentrics do not populate a fantasy, but a realistic, heartbreaking and sympathetic story of resilience and connections lost and found. Appropriately, the action of the novel begins with Odile's breaking character. She had found familiar if uncomfortable circus work with another theater company following her mother's death, but now leaves to pursue Belle, a journey that leads her into underground opium dens, a hothouse flower nursery curated by an enigmatic woman, and the back alleys of the tenement district. She finds an unlikely ally in her hunt for her sister, just as Belle finds her own, "in this city [where] the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows." In chapters alternating among third-person perspectives, we track the movements of the four protagonists as they close in, geographically and philosophically, on the end of their individual and shared stories.

Parry's central players are each mysterious and multi-layered, and readers will receive shocking new intelligence in the final pages of this masterful novel. In gradually, teasingly unveiling myriad deceptions, Parry shows perhaps her greatest strength.

The atmosphere she evokes is both whimsical and grotesque. The gruesome, appalling asylum, roiling with violence and refuse, and the babies abandoned in privies paint a brutally harsh picture. But the free-wheeling circus performers and the Church family history contribute a note of fancy. Alphie's life story in particular provides a showcase for this dualism, where horror meets magic--she once worked on the street as a "penny Rembrandt," painting men's faces with great skill to cover up the bruises and sallowness of their dissipated nights, so that they could go home to their respectable lives. Church of Marvels demonstrates fascinating characterization and atmosphere as well as a riveting plot.

The bizarre and fanciful world contained in New York City at the turn of the last century is a playground for Parry's magnificent, alluring prose. These enchantments make Church of Marvels memorable. But it is the compelling characters, both larger-than-life and poignantly real, that exhibit beauty, wonder and distress, and will most beguile readers in the end. --Julia Jenkins

Ecco Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062367556

Leslie Parry: Trusting the Characters

photo: Adam Farabee

Leslie Parry is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her stories have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Missouri ReviewCincinnati Review, and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. She was recently a resident at Yaddo and the Kerouac House. Her writing has also received a National Magazine Award nomination and an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories. She lives in Chicago.

Church of Marvels inhabits a very compelling and specific setting that combines fantasy and history. How did you choose this time and place?

I didn't consciously set out to write a book about New York, but the sensory experience of living there (the space, the light, the sounds and smells) remains very vivid in my mind, years after I moved away. Like many Americans, the city was a portal for my family. My great-grandfather, who was born in 1888, grew up in an immigrant family in Greenwich Village. His own father was a dreamy, dissolute, would-be poet who operated an elevator; his mother and sister worked as dressmakers. He fell in love with my great-grandmother, an actress, when he saw her on the stage. It's a story that's always fascinated me, but because he died so young, it's all that I really know of him. So at the root of this book, perhaps, is the desire to re-create the world that he lived in, to imagine a history of the Parrys in America. But the story, of course, became something else entirely. And once I started following these specific characters through the streets of Manhattan, the book took on a life of its own.

How much research did you have to do into this historical setting, and what did that process look like?

Before I even knew this was going to be a novel, I was reading certain books just out of curiosity--New York history, medical history, labor history; various histories of vaudeville, dime museums, prizefighting, theater. I even read a book on the history of garbage. So I'm sure all of those various threads were humming along in my mind, crossing and sparking, when I sat down to write. Then, when I was deep into the drafting process, I went back and did some more focused reading: on hair weaving, river transportation, the opium trade, etc. I loved doing research: it answered questions I didn't even know I had, and helped me understand the hurdles these characters would have been up against. But at the same time--since this is a work of fiction--I didn't feel beholden to a strict factual representation. I let the research inform the story, but not determine it.

You tell a number of different stories that eventually converge into one. Was it hard to keep track?

Yes! And more so at first, when the story was still taking shape. I knew the direction I was traveling--I knew, in a loose way, how I wanted the plot to evolve--but I didn't always have a clear path. I took a lot of wrong turns and hit a few dead ends. But I was guided by the overall sensibility of the story; I had to trust the characters. And I was fortunate enough to have a terrific editor help me across the finish line.

Did you always intend to write them as distinct stories?

Yes. In fact, the very first pages of this novel were not novelistic at all. I began writing vignettes about people who populated different areas of the city--just character sketches, really. It was almost like an actorly exercise, trying to situate myself in another body, in another world. This came about after spending some time in New York, where a few chance encounters happened to dovetail serendipitously. I caught a sideshow act at Coney Island; I read Nellie Bly's Ten Days in a Mad-House; I spent days traversing downtown Manhattan with my sister (usually on the hunt for gelato, mussels, pickles, dumplings). I stumbled across the word night-soiler, I think during a visit to the Tenement Museum. But I got frustrated with these vignettes after a while, unsure where they were headed. I put the pages away for a few years, but I kept thinking back on them. One day I read everything through again and saw the whole project differently--it was a novel, and soon the threads began to braid together.

What do you think makes for good or memorable characters?

That's a good question. I'm drawn to characters who make mistakes. (This is different from having an endearing flaw--being beautiful but clumsy, say, or handsome but moody.) Mistakes--whether they're decisions made impulsively, or are calculated; whether they happen in spite of a character's better judgment, or begin as acts of good faith, naiveté--they reveal some of the most complicated aspects of human behavior. Confusion and doubt, shame or regret, thwarted desire, yearning, fury, vulnerability, perhaps a barbed pathway to amends--it's a universal experience, and yet has infinite variations.

Do you have a favorite character?

Whichever character I was writing about at the moment became my favorite (even when they tried me and exasperated me!). But there is a special place in my heart for Alphie. --Julia Jenkins

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


The Silver Witch

by Paula Brackston

Deep in the Welsh countryside, Tilda moves into a small cottage overlooking Llangors Lake. Although Tilda's husband, Mat, has been dead for a year, they had wanted to start their new life together in this house. Despite her grief and some initial fear, Tilda is still drawn to the spot, and she continues with their plan. She is fascinated by the landscape surrounding her new home, and curious about the history of bygone villages along the shores of the lake. She doesn't know that her present and future are deeply entwined with events in the past, and that magic will begin to happen the longer she lives in the cottage.

Spanning many centuries, Paula Brackston's The Silver Witch is told from two points of view: that of Tilda, as she slowly rebuilds her life and career as a ceramicist and makes new friends, and that of Seren, the shaman of a small village that used to exist on the shores of the lake. As Tilda uncovers the truth about Seren and other ancient villagers, the mysterious crisscrossing of their paths creates a fast-paced story, full of beautiful descriptions and intense magic. The resulting suspense culminates in a satisfying and heart-pumping conclusion. Although some of the plot is predictable, especially the romances, Brackston (The Midnight Witch) has done a good job of weaving together two separate narratives into one cohesive, fantastical, lore-filled story. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A magical fantasy filled with romance and Welsh lore.

Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250028792

The Man with the Overcoat

by David Finkle

Unlike Nikolai Gogol's short story about losing a precious overcoat, David Finkle's The Man with the Overcoat is about a handsome overcoat given to Skip Gerber as he exits a New York City office elevator, by a man who then just walks away. This event begins a strange and perplexing story worthy of Gogol's absurdist worlds.

Skip, a real estate lawyer preoccupied with work, accepts the "unusually heavy, thundercloud-grey overcoat" without thinking about it. He decides to return it--but how? Finkle (People Tell Me Things) charts the weird and fluky adventures that Skip has over the course of the next 24 hours, as the lawyer tries to solve this mystery. The many peculiar, chance events "were cumulatively too coincidental to be coincidental."

He finds a business card in one pocket, which leads him to a high-rise office with no one there, but the doorman says there are "people in and out of here all the time." A scribbled note in another pocket has an address and the initials "amS." This leads him to a now non-existent building where a 19th-century financier, Ambrosius Manley Sturtivant, once worked. His cab driver tells him he has brought other fares here, who wore overcoats just like Skip's. He soon feels like he's "been thrust into an old movie. A thriller." Maybe it's a Hitchcock film or a bizarre Maltese Falcon. Either way, The Man with the Overcoat is a very entertaining and quirky novel. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A light and clever story about an ordinary man who accepts an overcoat that wraps him into a series of uncanny happenings.

Nthposition Press, $11.99, paperback, 9780992618520

Biography & Memoir

The Light of the World: A Memoir

by Elizabeth Alexander

Poet Elizabeth Alexander (Crave Radiance; the 2009 Inaugural Poem) was enjoying a loving, creative, exultant and full life with her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, and their two sons, when Ficre died suddenly. The Light of the World is her record of that man--a husband and father, an artist, activist and chef--and of Alexander's grief and gratitude for the years she shared with him and the love and family they made.

This astonishing and naturally poetic memoir of love and loss is vivid and abundant with sensory detail and bright color. Alexander gives evocative descriptions of Ficre's paintings and the food and music they loved; counts his scars; and recounts her dreams of him. But The Light of the World is not a dream itself: Alexander is lucid and absolutely present. Perhaps to ward off the end it threatens, the story she sets out to tell starts, and starts again, and starts again: at their respective mothers' pregnancies; at Ficre's 50th birthday, the week of his death; when they met at a coffee shop in 1996. In this tender, perceptive portrayal, Ficre comes alive again: an Eritrean native, a peace-lover born into war, a painter also accomplished in photography, collage and sculpture, an eager reader fluent in seven languages, an activist and member of African, African-American and global communities.

Short chapters and language of unrivalled beauty ease a sad story, and Alexander and her sons do make a joyful noise in the end. Their shared dreams, scars, meals, songs, dances, history and family are fittingly and exquisitely honored here. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A moving, charming, delicately lovely memoir of a husband's death.

Grand Central, $26, hardcover, 9781455599875

Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi

by Hayden Herrera

Isamu Noguchi was one of the most successful and influential artists of the 20th century. He was born in 1904; his mother was an American editor, his father a Japanese poet. He grew up in Japan and Indiana as a beauty-loving, adventurous, but alienated boy with precocious skills in gardening and wood carving. His talents attracted teachers and mentors, and at age 23 he wrote: "Give me but uninterupted [sic] time and I will rival the immortals." In New York, he established himself by sculpting busts of celebrities, but soon moved toward abstract art that explored curving forms and spaces found in nature, using traditional techniques in wood, metal, paper and especially stone. Noguchi was deeply restless, exploring different media and traveling the world. An attractive man with an aura of loneliness, he had many lovers and many gifted friends. He enjoyed lifelong friendships and collaborations with Buckminster Fuller and Martha Graham, and created gardens, public art, furniture and delicate paper lamps: "...he said that he wanted his art to 'participate in society.' ...he aimed for meaning that went beyond his own emotions."

Hayden Herrera (Arshile Gorky) is an art historian and biographer. In Listening to Stone, she displays her expert understanding of Noguchi's work, and a gift for understated and sometimes dryly humorous description. She rarely indulges in speculation. Noguchi had a complex personality, a rich life and a six-decade career, all of which could make for an overwhelming book, but Herrera breaks it up into clean little chapters that encapsulate and encourage reflection on each of Noguchi's projects and life events. This is likely to be a definitive biography. --Sara Catterall

Discover: The brilliant work and restless life of one of the 20th century's most influential sculptors and designers.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $40, hardcover, 9780374281168


The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia

by James Bradley

In The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, James Bradley (Flyboys) unleashes a blistering critique of the Roosevelt presidencies' engagement with China.

According to Bradley, United States foreign policy in Asia grew out of economic imperialism, missionary zeal, ignorance and diplomatic duplicity in the opium trade (through which Franklin D. Roosevelt's maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, profited heavily). As American missionaries settled in China, they sought to create a China in the image of their homeland and ignored the political and cultural traditions of their host countries. By presenting Westernized, "democratic" ideals that Americans could easily accept and digest--a mirage that Bradley describes in detail--Harvard-educated officials from both Japan and China charmed billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. to support dictatorial regimes, helping Japan's occupation of Korea during Theodore's presidency and Chiang Kai Shek's civil war against Mao Zedong's growing Communist movement during FDR's administration. This led to similar doomed approaches in Korea and Vietnam, leaving Bradley to conclude that "American misunderstanding of China caused the nation to support Southern Methodist [convert] Chiang, bring on a world war that didn't have to be, oppose the bandit Mao, and go on to fight two bloody Asian wars."

Bradley's critical analysis is engaging and, like most of his nonfiction, affected by the wartime experiences of his father, one of the flag raisers on Iwo Jima: "I don't want my son in boot camp like his grandfather and uncle simply because of more misunderstandings between the Pacific's two great powers." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A book that argues that misunderstandings and misconceptions about China by Presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the United States into war.

Little, Brown, $35, hardcover, 9780316196673

Social Science

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

by Sam Quinones

Displaying a ex-resident's sense of Mexican culture and a journalist's nose for a good story, former Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Quinones (Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream) demonstrates ways paisano visions of muscle cars and Levi 501s fuel the supply side of the "black tar" heroin business, and American suburban consumers feed the demand side. Dreamland digs beneath the growing opiate addiction statistics in the United States to discover dirt-poor rancheros in small Mexican states ("lawless, wild places, full of... family feuds, stolen women, pistoleros... and, especially the tough guys--valientes--rebels") and the savvy marketing that promotes Big Pharma's cornucopia of powerful painkilling narcotics.

Quinones etches these two sides of the commercial dope coin with stories about people in cities like Portsmouth, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C. ("White kids... with jet skis and shiny SUVs, bedrooms with every digital gadget"); Olympia, Wash.; and Santa Fe, N.Mex.--and the farmers, smuggling mules and U.S. distribution cell managers from Mexico's Pacific coast. With the development of ever more potent painkilling drugs, the pharmaceutical industry has created a drug-dependent population often looking for easy-prescribing physicians, stolen pills and scrips--or a cheaper heroin fix. When FDA-controlled, marketing-driven prescriptions leave a gap in legitimate supply, entrepreneurial Mexican farmers struggling to enter the middle class fill it. Quinones's absorbing narrative is deep in research, on-site reporting, personal interviews and insight. Spanning the central U.S. and crossing the Mexican border, Dreamland adroitly unsnarls the tangled business that feeds a growing lust for chemical euphoria and relief. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A comprehensive and empathetic investigation into the Mexican pipeline feeding the United States heartland's growing appetite for opiates.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 9781620402504


Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

by Mona Eltahawy

When Mona Eltahawy was 15 years old, her Egyptian family moved to Saudi Arabia after living in London for eight years. Nothing could have prepared her for the dramatic and damaging sexist mistreatment, culture shock and physical assaults she encountered there. Compared to the rest of the world, Eltahawy charges, Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa have the worst records when it comes to women's rights.

In part, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution is based on Eltahawy's personal experiences during her adolescence, but while these affect its shape, they do not encompass the whole. Eltahawy includes the voices of other Middle Eastern women. She presents stories, statistics and histories that focus on women who live in cultures hostile to them. She argues that these societies have misappropriated women's faith in ways to control and oppress them. Her book denounces numerous practices, including veiling women, absence of voting and employment rights, sexual violence, victim blaming, female genital mutilation and the rape of women and children.

But women in these countries are speaking out and fighting back. They have become activists and are the vanguard of a much longer revolution, one that is coming from within their own borders.

This book does not seek to appease any audience. Nor is it a gentle and sensitive exploration of the atrocities that happen to women in the Middle East. Eltahawy refuses to blunt her anger or soften the truth, which makes Headscarves and Hymens a challenging, yet vitally important book. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: Mona Eltahawy makes a convincing argument to dismantle an economic and political system that is hostile, if not outright hateful, toward women.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, hardcover, 9780865478039

Body, Mind & Spirit

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer

by Heather Lende

As the obituary writer in tiny Haines, Alaska, Heather Lende helps people reflect on their loved ones' lives, distilling decades' worth of stories into brief, meaningful tributes. When asked to write an essay about words to live by, she came up with a simple truth: find the good. Those three words infuse Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer, a wise, witty memoir that combines anecdotes about Lende's work and family with plainspoken wisdom gleaned from her years of living in a small community.

Life isn't easy in Haines, and Lende (If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name) harbors no illusions about her neighbors: they are insightful, hardworking people, but they are no angels. As she meets with grieving families to gather information for obituaries, Lende does her best not to whitewash her subjects' life stories, but, indeed, to find--and celebrate--the good.

Lende admits her work can be exhausting as she deals with lives cut short by tragic accidents, deep wounds left unresolved. After swearing she's had enough of funerals, she attends one more service in the community hall. Longing to escape, she finds her heart cracked open, not just by grief but by love. "Rather than lunge for the exit, I enter the circle of caring," Lende writes. "For better or worse, I am committed, 'til we must part."

Whether she's interviewing a widow or gathering shells on the beach with her granddaughters, Lende tries to keep her newfound wisdom in mind. "Find the good. That's enough. That's plenty," she writes. Readers will no doubt agree. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A pithy, wise memoir by a small-town obituary writer, on finding and celebrating the good in every life.

Algonquin, $16.95, hardcover, 9781616201678


The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius and Stationery Obsession

by James Ward

George Lucas is said to have used a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil on the first draft of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Roald Dahl sharpened six of them before a day of writing, but John Steinbeck favored the Blackwing 602 for his work.

The long history of office products is a fascinating one, and avowed office supply fanatic James Ward has written a delightful book detailing his extensive research into everything stationery: paper clips and highlighters, glue and Post-it notes, envelopes and letterhead, business cards and staples.

Each item of modern office accoutrements is lovingly detailed in a chapter of its own, written with wit. On the pencil sharpener: "The sharpener literally gives the pencil its point in life, but kills it at the same time. I know marriages like that."

Ward is a clear storyteller, giving what could be dry recitation of factual histories a wry twist as often as possible. This makes The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius and Stationery Obsession a worthwhile and engaging read, with anecdotes about graphite and metal mining, as well as the business mistakes that led to the creation of today's highly successful office product company 3M, originally named the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

Readers curious about the history of office products need look no further than Ward's entertaining book, filled with the personalities and business decisions that created the modern stationery store. Ink pens, postcards, pencils and, yes, paper clips will never be taken for granted again. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A well-researched, intriguing look into the quirky world of office products on desks and in drawers around the world.

Touchstone, $25, hardcover, 9781476799865


The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball's Power Brokers

by Jon Pessah

For baseball fans, there is never too much to read or chew over and debate. With Jon Pessah's The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball's Power Brokers, they'll get a cornucopia (656 pages) of information. Written by a founding editor of ESPN the Magazine, and a Pulitzer nominee, it's a gritty and sensational history of America's national pastime from 1992 through 2010. Pessah focuses on MLB commissioner Bud Selig, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, readmitted to the MLB after a two-year suspension, and players' union head Don Fehr.

1992 brought a soon-to-be monumental change in baseball when Brewers owner Bud Selig took over after Fay Vincent's ouster. (When Vincent said the commissioner "should represent the players and the fans as well as the owners," Selig decided he had to go.) In opposition to Selig were Steinbrenner, because of Selig's insistence on revenue sharing to help smaller teams (like his Brewers), and Fehr, because Selig wanted to "crush" the union. Chicanery, threats, mendacity, scheming: it's all here in appalling but riveting detail, along with the steroid investigation political posturing.

This struggle for power and billions of dollars makes for a juicy and engrossing story that reads like a thriller, with a star supporting cast: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and even George W. Bush, who wanted to be commissioner more than president. Definitely not a fan letter to Bud Selig, this is a must-read before 2016 labor negotiations begin. Pessah calls the game perfectly. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Discover: A behind-the-scenes account of baseball's last 20 years, with many villains and some surprising heroes.

Little, Brown, $30, hardcover, 9780316185882

Children's & Young Adult

An Ember in the Ashes

by Sabaa Tahir

In her impressive debut, Sabaa Tahir constructs a novel set in a medieval city surrounded by desert; her plot pulls readers into her grasp and doesn't let go.

First-person narratives alternate between Laia and Elias, both 17. Laia is a Scholar, a faction defeated violently 500 years ago by the Martials, who rule the country of Serra from Blackcliff, a high, impenetrable fortress. Born enemies, Laia and Elias cross paths after the Masks take Laia's brother, Darin, prisoner because of a sketchbook filled with drawings of the forge where their swords are made. Laia begs members of the Resistance to help her free Darin. They agree, in exchange for her services as a spy, and sell her as a slave to the Commandant herself. Laia, whose parents were betrayed by someone within the Resistance, trusts no one. Elias, who hates his mother and all that the Martials stand for, plans to desert. But both teens get a visit from Cain, an Augur who can read oracles and minds, who tells each of them that they are "an ember in the ashes," full of life, ruled by destiny.

Two romantic triangles develop as time runs out for Laia to rescue her brother and for Elias to decide whether to undertake the four trials that will determine the next Emperor. Tahir makes a chilling case for the corruption that power brings, whether through knowledge or force. While part of her plot resolves, she leaves plenty of room for the next book to answer the question of what it means to win. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A debut novel that takes readers on a thrill ride through a desert country whose future depends upon two 17-year-old enemies.

Razorbill/Penguin, $19.95, hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9781595148032

Amelia's Middle-School Graduation Yearbook

by Marissa Moss

The girl who chronicled her academic experiences in a composition-style notebook brimming with funny, insightful observations and full-color pictures celebrates her 20th anniversary.

This newest edition serves as Amelia's reflections on her middle-school experiences as she anxiously imagines sharing a high school with her older sister, Cleo. Amelia's best friend Carly advises, "If you spend all your time worrying about the future, you'll miss out on the now." Yet Amelia's anxieties inspire some of the book's funniest moments, such as her pro and con list: "High School: What's Scary / What's exciting--dare I say, maybe even fun? [Answer:] Boyfriends? / Boy friends!" Then Carly drops the bomb: she's changing schools and won't be with Amelia for ninth grade.

Amelia fans will enjoy the trip down memory lane, as the narrator reflects on her shared experiences with Carly. Then she gets nostalgic about all of the "lasts" they will share (e.g., the last oral report in French class, wearing berets and lifting baguettes). Carly observes that it was Amelia's move that turned her into a writer and artist. This leads to an idea on Amelia's part: Why not make a book of "stuff I learned in middle school?" Amelia draws "the Gossip Ripple Effect" like a pink amoeba with the nucleus a rumor, and the outcasts outside the amoeba entirely.

In keeping with Amelia's character, Marissa Moss's latest is both humorous and poignant. And fans will be delighted that there seems to be a teaser to another episode. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The 20th-anniversary edition of Amelia and her notebook--this time a yearbook commemorating middle school.

Creston Books, $12.95, hardcover, 80p., ages 10-13, 9781939547095


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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