Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Mythical Greeks, Sharks, Urban Parks... and Verse

Shelf Awareness celebrates the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month with this tantalizing trio of poetry picture books.

Children bitten by the Greek mythology bug will be fascinated by Echo, Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths (Dial/Penguin, ages 7-12) by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Canadian artist Josée Masse, the team behind Mirror, Mirror and Follow, Follow. The trick of reverso poems is that you read them one way, then read the same lines in reverse order, which changes the perspective in surprising, brain-teasing ways. Here, Singer's poems reflect 14 classic Greek myths, such as "Pandora and the Box:" "She just had to be curious,/ that Pandora./ Blast her!" (A brief note explains the myth in question.) Masse's acrylic illustrations, awash in Mediterranean light, are often cleverly distorted mirrors of each other, stylish and striking,

Skila Brown (Caminar) makes her picture-book debut with Slickety Quick: Poems about Sharks (Candlewick, ages 6-9), illustrated by Bob Kolar (The Little School Bus). Whether children are obsessed with or terrified by sharks, they will find 14 excellent read-aloud poems here. Starting out with "Great White Shark," Brown writes "Okay./ We get/ it. You're big/ and bad and mean." "Wobbegong" is next: "Wibbly wobbly wobbegong,/ shagginess drips as he swims along." Brief notes offer up intriguing shark facts. Kolar's undersea world is luminous and dynamic, evoking the crisp cartoonishness of animated film.

There's poetry in everything. To a frog in Daniel Finds a Poem (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, ages 4-8), it's "a cool pool to dive into." To a turtle it's "sun-warmed sand." To Daniel, wandering through an urban park, it's a dreamy synthesis of all the animals' impressions. Micha Archer's authorial debut is a creative introduction to poetry as a lens on the world, and her gorgeous collage and oil artwork is not to be missed. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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Book Candy

Poetry Pop Quiz

Poetry Month pop quiz: BBC asked: "How well do you know poetry?"


Unbound introduced Literary Trumps, a variation on one of the most popular card games in the world that "takes a more writerly approach to the Trumps concept."


"The hardest Game of Thrones spelling test you'll ever take" was offered by Buzzfeed.


Bustle considered "10 things that happen when you run out of space to put all your books."


James Phillips, former student at the University of Dayton, Ohio, "returned a library book 49 years late.... with a deeply apologetic note," the Independent reported.

Tuesday Nights in 1980

by Molly Prentiss

It is New Year's Eve, 1979. In Buenos Aires, a woman named Franca is raising her son alone. The country is in the midst of the turmoil called the Dirty War; kidnappings are on the rise, and Franca is frightened: she has been baking cakes for an underground group that records the names of the "disappeared." In New York, a man named James Bennett has had a harder time than most finding his way in life: his synesthesia always made him exceptionally strange, as he refers to colors, sounds and smells no one else sensed. But he's finally made it, as an art critic for the New York Times. Also in the city, Raul Engales works night and day at his art, painting in poached studio space at New York University, a school he does not attend. He knows his work is better than any of what's being sold in the big galleries. If he could only get someone important to look at it.

Molly Prentiss's striking first novel, Tuesday Nights in 1980, covers one year, from December 31, 1979, through the final days of 1980. Says an art dealer with more influence than she perhaps deserves: "I've always found Tuesdays so charming, haven't you? I do everything on Tuesdays." The action tends to take place on Tuesdays, which sounds like a cumbersome and effortful device, but in fact flows smoothly and almost invisibly, following the lives of a few individuals in a city and an art scene big enough to swallow them. Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a sweepingly large and profound story about art, love and actualization, cleanly and beautifully composed.

The lives of Engales and James form the two main threads of story, with their fortunes rising and falling as precipitously as anything in 1980s' New York. James's success is born of the impressions other people's work makes on him: de Goya and Picasso's blue period both sound a bold, steady drumbeat; Bill Rice gives him a "nocturnal mood" and a headache; the paintings of Louise Fishman smell strongly of shampoo. "He felt gushes of wind and crawling ants, tasted burnt sugar and gazed at skies' worth of stars." Marc Chagall's work gives him a hard-on. Writing these impressions for a public audience gives him immense satisfaction and a little money, and helps him to accumulate a legendary and sought-after collection of "the pieces that made him hear beautiful music." Meanwhile, Engales sees the glimmering beginnings of the attention his work deserves. He finds a community: the grouchy woman at his art studio, the fellow creatives at "the squat" where he spends his free time and finally, crucially, a muse. Lucy is an innocent from Idaho who believes in omens, who steps out of a taxicab into a world of promise and finds what she thinks she is looking for in the artist. Then James and Engales each suffer a drastic, shattering loss that changes their respective abilities to create. And a small boy from Argentina appears in their lives, offering new varieties of pain, love and responsibility.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 portrays the arts scene as inspired and genius, and fraught with tension between creativity and the question of "selling out." James's weird and enchanting perceptions allow Prentiss to paint the visual arts colorfully, as well as fragrantly, noisily, brilliantly, tenderly and roughly. A central theme is the beauty of damage. "Wounds and deformities and cracks and boils and stomachs: this was the stuff that moved Engales... He could hear his father saying: The scratches are what makes a life." This is not a concept invented by Prentiss, but her characters struggle with and embody it in moving, new ways.

While always told from a third-person perspective, the focus changes from chapter to chapter among Prentiss's diverse cast: primarily James, Engales and Lucy, but supported by a number of equally fascinating and colorful associates. James's wife, Marge, is a woman who presents to him as a deep and glorious red, whose own creative career has been sacrificed to enable his. Arlene is a curmudgeonly painter friend to Engales, given to unconventional sartorial choices: a "long fish skirt and a coat that was somehow both puffy and flowy" or "a flowy dress with an outrageous pattern on it... eccentric cowboy boots and a trench coat of sorts, with many, many pockets." Prentiss's talent for characterization is prodigious, and matched by her delightful turns of phrase. The art collector who loves Tuesdays has "the kind of hair that was popular that year, a curtain revealing only the first act of her face: a queenly nose, confusingly colored eyes (were they violet?), cheekbones for days" and "a voice as simultaneously regal and flighty as her hair." She laughs "like a pretty horse."

A plot with multiple storylines involving so many characters is easily followed, because the people and events who form them are so memorable--but not to the point of caricature. No, James Bennett and Raul Engales and the rest are only as bizarre as their time and place, which Prentiss evokes perfectly: SoHo on the brink of devastating gentrification; artistic genius on the brink of commercialization or self-destruction, or both; and the insane, everyday choices made by regular people seeking love, identity and community but fearing to make the wrong move. Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a beautiful, poetic novel of ambitiously profound considerations, a large-scale drama in a series of small, perfectly rendered moments. --Julia Jenkins

Gallery/Scout Press, $26, hardcover, 9781501121043

Molly Prentiss: Painting a World

photo: Elizabeth Leitzell

Molly Prentiss was born and raised in Santa Cruz, Calif. She has been a Writer in Residence at Workspace at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, at the Vermont Studio Center and at the Blue Mountain Center, and she was chosen as an Emerging Writer Fellow by the Aspen Writers Foundation. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the California College of the Arts, and currently lives, writes and walks around in Brooklyn, N.Y. Tuesday Nights in 1980 (Scout Press) is her first novel.

Do you have experience within the New York art scene?

It was mostly done by research. Most of my friends are artists or writers, but not in 1980. I went to graduate school at an art school, so I have been around a lot of visual artists, and my fiancé is a visual artist. Conversations with them often influenced the projects and pieces I referenced throughout my book. I go to a lot of gallery openings in the Lower East Side and SoHo with those friends. But I wouldn't say I'm an expert of any kind. A lot of it was googling and reading books at the Strand and some trips to the New York Public Library.

What about synesthesia? You portray James's sensations so vividly.

I don't have synesthesia, and I don't know anyone very well who has it. But I do think there are elements of synesthesia that exist within a lot of creative people's brains. I feel I have really strong associations: with days of the week having a certain color, for example, although I don't actually see those colors. Words pop into my head when I think of a certain smell or color. I often used my own associations to create James's. I was enthralled by the idea of synesthesia and I did tons of research on it. I read a particularly great book called Wednesday Is Indigo Blue. It includes charts made by people that have synesthesia, where they describe the exact color of every letter in the alphabet, or they talk about every date on the calendar and what it smells like. They see sparks or flashes before their eyes. They talk about it as if it's a screen in front of their eyes. They know it's their synesthesia at work, they know it's not "real" to the outside world. It was a really fascinating thing to look into, and I especially loved working with language surrounding James's synesthesia. It's my favorite way to write, to link one thing to another sort of haphazardly, but also in a way that feels organic.

Author Molly Prentiss and editor Alison Callahan discuss Tuesday Nights in 1980.

Your choices of subject and setting are exact and evocative. What brought you to this intersection?

You know, the novel has taken many forms throughout the last seven years. Many of them included much longer time periods, and more characters. An original draft had a very different central character, but then I started writing about his mother, and then I started writing about his mother's brother, who became Raul Engales, and a lot of that character's action ended up happening to Raul. But that shifted the timeline backwards a bit, to the late '70s, early '80s. And I realized that when I struck on that time period, something started happening. I found I was really interested in lingering there. And the same thing happened with the place setting. In previous drafts, large sections took place in Argentina, and eventually my agent (who I worked closely with to edit the book) and I talked about centralizing it in New York. That was the place where the book really came alive, where the action was really happening, and I could render it the most clearly, because I live here and have had such New York experiences and can speak to that the best. So both of those things happened organically. And the location and the time period ended up becoming central pillars of the book, but I didn't set off with starting to write a book in the '80s, specifically. I rooted the book in the characters first and the specific position in time and in place came later.

There was a ton of evolution. James in particular was always a thorn in the side of the book. He used to be a side character. In the beginning he didn't have synesthesia, and in another version he was going blind. I had to learn how to plot the book, move it forward and give it narrative drive, and I used James for that purpose a lot. He became a central character around which the book really revolves. So there've been many shifts in dynamics throughout the book, and ways that the plot and the characters have morphed in order to give the story more heft, or more direction, and those are things that I had to teach myself along the way, how to make the story link up and tighten up and push forward.

In a cast of such weird and interesting people, do you have a favorite, or one you most identify with?

It's hard. I really like Arlene, who is a side character, but she makes me laugh, just thinking about her. I like her relationship with Raul, which is simultaneously motherly and in some way romantic. I think she's sort of romantically interested in him. She's also sort of his mentor, and I like that relationship a lot. I ended up loving James, but he was so hard to write that at some points I really hated him. But in the end he wound up softer, more relatable and kinder than in the beginning.

What were the best and worst parts of those seven years spent writing your first novel?

There were many changes, probably just as many ups as downs, and many exciting parts within the actual writing. There are times when you're inside of a novel when something clicks, and you can feel it just working, bringing everything into place, and those moments are so thrilling. That's why you do the rest of the hard work. In terms of pitching the book to agents and selling it and all that, there were some crazy ups and downs. I queried my agent something like two years before I signed with her, and we finally signed and then worked together for three more years, so that was a super-long and arduous process. She was so great, and so helpful, but I would often leave her office in tears because she would have me reworking whole sections, and replotting, and there was a lot of grunt work and overhauls that were really difficult. But on the whole it was really great, to learn how to write the book.

What's next?

Well, I'm working on my second novel. I'm just in the beginning stages of brainstorming and conceptualizing. The full story is to be determined, but it's rooted in the way that I grew up, in Northern California in the 1970s, in a community living situation. It will have elements of that, totally fictional of course. --Julia Jenkins

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review



by Bill Beverly

Dodgers is a road trip novel, a coming-of-age novel, a crime novel--and more. Bill Beverly's debut, about four black kids from Compton confronting white Middle America for the first time, is as durable and expansive as the early-winter trees 15-year-old East notices along the Iowa-Wisconsin border: "Trees unlike the trees in L.A: these rooted hard, grew up tall, muscular, their bare limbs grabbing all the air in the world."

The gang is on a "just business" mission for their top dog, Fin. In the middle bench rides East, Fin's loosely related nephew, who has risen from drug house lookout to running a crew of younger kids. East's younger brother, Ty, takes the back seat, thumbing his video game, and at the wheel is the oldest, fast-talker Michael Wilson. Sitting shotgun, fat Walter is Fin's fixer and problem solver.

And so they set out, without cellphones or connection to their drug 'hood known as the Boxes, and make their way through the mountains and the plains. But things go south. Their van gets vandalized by kids out trashing for fun. Always on edge, brothers Ty and East get crossways over stealing a different car to get home. Walter puzzles out a way to score himself a plane ticket out of Des Moines. Alone, East makes his way farther east to a small town in Ohio, where, exhausted with running, he settles into a job at a paintball range.

With the savvy of a much more prolific writer, Beverly plants a powerful conclusion on a powerful first novel. Dodgers is brilliant with no more than it needs--and no less. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Bill Beverly's debut novel about four young Los Angeles gangbangers on a deadly mission is startling and well-written.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9781101903735

The Railwayman's Wife

by Ashley Hay

In The Railwayman's Wife, Ashley Hay draws an intimate map of the bereaved heart against the picturesque backdrop of a seaside Australian town in 1948.

Anikka Lachlan leads a quiet, wholesome life with her husband, Mackenzie, and young daughter, Isabel, in postwar Thirroul, New South Wales. Mac works for the railway while Ani keeps house. The Lachlans have nothing but a pleasant future waiting for them when the unthinkable happens: a train accident kills Mac and makes Ani a widow. She cannot escape the pain of the loss, waking to wonder "how late it must be for the sun to already be so high and then remembers, in the next instant, what happened the day before." With their daughter to think of, Ani accepts the offer of a job at the Railway Institute's library, one branch in a network that transports books to patrons via train. Meanwhile, her loss continues to eat away at her heart.

Ani's compatriots in the land of despair are Frank Draper and Roy McKinnon, survivors of World War II's European theater who have only recently returned home. Hays lovingly constructs a rich snapshot of late '40s Thirroul, with its sea air, endless skies and thundering locomotives. Her quiet, graceful prose acts as a translucent overlay for turbulent emotion, like glimpsing rich velvet through wisps of lace. This thoughtful, elegant portrait of lives turned inside out and finding the way forward from despair is sure to find a place in the hearts of its audience. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A grieving Australian woman turns to literature for healing in Ashley Hay's subtly radiant drama.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 9781501112171

The Last Days of Magic

by Mark Tompkins

Mark Tompkins's debut novel, The Last Days of Magic, is a tightly wound adult fantasy epic, an engrossing thriller that doesn't skimp on historical detail. In the 14th century, the Catholic Church is consolidating its hold on Europe, and so it targets Ireland, one of the last realms where faeries, goddesses and demons wield political power. The faeries (known as Sidhe) and human Celts are splintered, and their only hope for unity is a girl named Aisling, the living incarnation of a Sidhe goddess.

The story plants one foot in the world of Celtic folklore and one in the world of human events, and both are meticulously researched. At times the historical flourishes slow the pacing, but by and large they are welcome details that enrich the story, which Tompkins is careful to keep hurtling forward. And while fantasy novels can tend toward the self-serious, Tompkins's wit surfaces in unexpected ways, as with the appearance of Geoffrey Chaucer in the role of shrewd politico. Tompkins clearly relishes his minor characters, and there are many. While there's enough worldbuilding here to support a whole series, Tompkins demonstrates you don't need a multivolume saga to achieve lifelike detail and epic scope.

There's substance in his mythmaking; it's telling that Tompkins's previously published nonfiction (Illuminations) deals with spirituality and empathy. The Last Days of Magic strikes the right note: adult but not gratuitous, densely plotted but nimble, and a pleasure to read. --Zak Nelson, writer and editorial consultant

Discover: A fun, richly detailed debut of medieval fantasy that pits magic against religion. Vikings, druids and faeries--oh my!

Viking, $27, hardcover, 9780525429531

Hold Still

by Lynn Steger Strong

For her first novel, Columbia University writing instructor Lynn Steger Strong has penned a heartbreaking portrait of a dysfunctional family unraveling under the weight of failed expectations. They are unable to cope and hold the pieces of their lives together in the face of personal destruction. 

The story opens with a foreboding prologue in which Maya rescues her eight-year-old daughter, Ellie, from an incoming wave, and Ellie responds, "Ma, I'm fine." What has transpired since that beach trip has torn the family apart: Maya's alternating displays of smothering affection and total neglect have left her family walking on eggshells, resulting in Ellie's teenage rebellion and subsequent descent into addiction. By 2011, Maya has sent the 20-year-old recovering addict Ellie to care for a friend's child, who dies as a result of a terrible mistake. And in 2013, Maya has now escaped into her books; her philosophy professor husband, Stephen, avoids any mention of their daughter. Meanwhile their son, Ben, harboring guilt for his sister's actions, drops out of college, struggling with Stephen's disappointment and his family's emotional disintegration. Their collective fear of confronting their own demons prompts life-changing consequences.

Blame and guilt circle each other in an endless loop of suffering. Hold Still is a metaphor for not being able to break beyond past grief to live in the present. It is "about the impossibility of communication, the need to turn the abstract into the tangible, how some people cannot achieve this without the help of someone else," and the consequences that come from seeking comfort in things farthest from the heart. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Lynn Steger Strong has written a novel that explores a mother's love for her children in the face of adversity and failed expectations.

Liveright, $26.95, hardcover, 9781631491689

Mystery & Thriller

Journey to Munich: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

by Jacqueline Winspear

After her husband's death on a Canadian airfield and a stint working as a nurse in a remote Spanish village, private investigator Maisie Dobbs has returned to England. As she contemplates the next steps in her personal and professional life, two old acquaintances at the Secret Service tap Maisie for a sensitive mission: retrieving an engineer imprisoned at Dachau by the Nazis. In Journey to Munich, her 12th Maisie Dobbs novel, Jacqueline Winspear paints a keen picture of a woman and a country struggling to remain calm in the face of sweeping changes.

Winspear (Leaving Everything Most Loved) has brought Maisie full circle in some ways with this novel: she is back in England as an independent woman, considering a return to her investigative career. (Longtime readers will appreciate the reappearance of Maisie's colorful supporting cast.) But Munich in 1938 is new territory for both Winspear and her heroine, who must employ her varied skills--diplomacy, nursing, self-defense--to get herself and her frail charge out of the country alive. Complicating matters is a request from a family of Maisie's acquaintance: their grown daughter Elaine, a reckless society darling, is also in Munich and may be in danger. Maisie is forced to set aside personal grievances and solve a complicated international puzzle, its pieces seeming to multiply by the day.

Deftly blending historical detail with taut suspense and her usual thoughtful exploration of Maisie's inner life, Winspear turns in another satisfying entry in her beloved series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Jacqueline Winspear's 12th Maisie Dobbs novel follows her protagonist to Munich as she grapples with personal and professional struggles.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062220608

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by M.R. Carey

A young boy is dead. Alex Beech was 10 years old, and home alone when his apartment building caught fire. The coroner's report was conclusive: death by smoke inhalation. Within days of the fire, the police and the public have come to the conclusion that his death was no accident: Alex was an unintended murder victim, and Jess Moulson, Alex's downstairs neighbor, is the one who killed him.

As the prosecution presented it, the evidence was clear: Jess and her boyfriend, John, both heroin addicts, had fought. Jess, high and out of her mind with anger, set the apartment ablaze with the intent to kill her boyfriend. He escaped, she was rescued from the flames in the depths of an opiate fog, and Alex was the fire's only victim.

Unable to remember the events of that night, Jess becomes so convinced of her own guilt that she decides to kill herself, refusing food for weeks on end as she wastes away in the Fellside prison infirmary. As Jess's body atrophies and her vital functions weaken, Alex begins to visit, begging her for help. She didn't kill him, he says, but she can find out who did.

M.R. Carey's (The Girl with All the Gifts) prose is elegant and streamlined, with occasional lush imagery bubbling up out of the darkness. Fellside is dark, much darker than many thrillers that feature more brutal crimes or more explicitly evil villains, but its appeal lies in its unflinching depiction of powerlessness. --Emma Page, bookseller at Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass.

Discover: In Fellside, the world of dreams is as real as the waking world, and what Jess does there will have far-reaching consequences.

Orbit, $27, hardcover, 9780316300285

Biography & Memoir

Lust & Wonder: A Memoir

by Augusten Burroughs

After chronicling his wildly dysfunctional childhood (Running with Scissors) and his addiction and recovery (Dry), Augusten Burroughs tackles his largely unlucky search for romance and the man of his dreams in Lust & Wonder: A Memoir. Fans will find a new vulnerability added to Burroughs's usual mix of harrowing and hilarious confessions.

Burroughs abandons his sobriety after the death of a beloved HIV+ friend. Buying and drinking two bottles of scotch becomes a daily ritual. "I can say this with authority: a queen-sized mattress can hold a year's worth of urine and still be perfectly serviceable," he writes. He pulls himself out of his stupor by writing a satirical novel, Sellevision. Burroughs becomes smitten with his dashing new agent, Christopher, but rules out a romance because Christopher is HIV+. Instead, he starts a relationship with Dennis. "Dennis had the soul of an accountant, and was exceedingly good at cataloguing my flaws," he writes. After a decade together, he and Dennis finally admit their relationship is not happy. Suddenly single again, Burroughs wonders if Christopher has been his Mr. Right all along.

Burroughs's wit and pen are razor-sharp, and his observations are acerbically funny. He avoids becoming unlikable by saving his best jabs for himself. When he does drop the laughs, he can be vulnerable and emotionally raw, as when dealing with the slow death of his relationship with Dennis. Readers will delight in the fact that by this memoir's end, it looks like Burroughs may have finally found his happily ever after. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Augusten Burroughs's Lust & Wonder charts his rocky road through recovery and romantic entanglements with biting wit and surprising vulnerability.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9780312342036

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones

by Rich Kienzle

That country music legend George "The Possum" Jones survived to age 81 is something of a miracle. Born in the no-man's land of Texas's Big Thicket region to an abusive, alcoholic father and doting mother, the chunky 12-pound baby George broke his arm when he was dropped during delivery. This ominous beginning was only the first traumatic insult to a hellraising man who went through four wives, countless bar fights, bankruptcy, jail, several car wrecks and multiple revolving-door visits to rehab hospitals. As he said to his last wife, Nancy, sitting at his deathbed, "I've had eighty-one good years. Some of 'em I messed up, paid for 'em." Writing with rich detail, music critic and journalist Rich Kienzle (Southwest Shuffle) chronicles the stumbles and falls but also the many musical triumphs in "No-Show" Jones's remarkable life.

Through it all, the songs and hits kept coming. Songwriters knew just what kind of range and lyric fit his distinctive life and voice, songs like "If Drinking Don't Kill Me" and "Stand on My Own Two Knees." In the end, he won every country music award and was honored in a memorial concert ("Playin' Possum: The Final No-Show") with dozens of stars paying tribute. His Nashville gravesite features a substantial stone monument designed by Nancy, with this epigraph engraved beneath his name: "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Kienzle's The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones covers it all--the bars, the theme parks, the empty concert halls and the millions of adoring fans and admiring musicians. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Kienzle's omnibus George Jones biography details both his stumbles and his triumphs on the way to becoming perhaps the greatest country music singer ever.

Dey Street Books, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062309914


Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

by Adam Hochschild

In Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, Adam Hochschild (To End All Wars) moves beyond the familiar image of the Spanish Civil War shaped by Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and Robert Capa's iconic photographs. He uses the experiences of less famous volunteers--a young economics professor and his wife; a college senior who was the first American to die in the battle for Madrid; a 19-year-old idealist who cut short her European honeymoon to join the Republican cause; a New York socialite turned war correspondent--to tell a story of the war that is both larger and more intimate.

Hochschild brings each of his characters to life, but does not reduce the war to a simple story of idealism and heroism. He contrasts the idealism of the international volunteers who flooded Spain in support of its democratic government with the brutal actions taken by partisans on both sides of the war. He details the political infighting among the Soviets, anti-Stalinist communists and anarchist revolutionaries. And he demonstrates how fascist sympathizers in Britain, the United States and France kept those countries from supporting the Spanish government. (One of the most interesting sections is the previously untold story of how a Texas oilman with Nazi sympathies illegally provided Franco with oil.) Most importantly, the author highlights Germany's use of this war as a training field for a European war in the making.

Spain in Our Hearts is gripping, illuminating and ultimately heartbreaking. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The Spanish Civil War from the perspective of the American volunteers who fought in it.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, hardcover, 9780547973180

The Devil's Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich

by Robert K. Wittman, David Kinney

Alfred Rosenberg was the ideologue-in-chief of the Third Reich, an architect of the National Socialist philosophy and an early member of Hitler's inner circle. His book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), was second only to Hitler's Mein Kampf in its prominence on Nazi bookshelves. Though Rosenberg was far less politically powerful than Himmler, Göring, Goebbels and the like, his philosophy of rabid anti-Semitism, anti-Bolshevism, anti-Christianity and German racial superiority inspired the worst of the Nazi's atrocities, so much so that Rosenberg was hanged for war crimes in 1946.

Rosenberg was also a prolific diarist. His journal survived the war, was used as evidence during the Nuremberg trials, and then disappeared for more than half a century. The fate of this diary and its content are the subjects of The Devil's Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich by Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney. Wittman (Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures) created the FBI's Art Crime Team, and as a private citizen, helped an archivist from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum track down the missing diary. He and Kinney (The Dylanologists; The Big One) trace the document from the desk of Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Kempner to the hands of an unscrupulous publisher in upstate New York. Much of The Devil's Diary is a fascinating account of Rosenberg's life, now with previously unpublished content from his diary. It exposes a generally unknown but important Nazi figure. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The FBI's foremost art crime expert unearths the long-lost diary of Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg.

Harper, $35, hardcover, 9780062319012


Booker's Point

by Megan Grumbling

Winner of the Vassar Miller Prize, Booker's Point is a debut collection of narrative poems celebrating the cantankerous Maine character Bernard Booker, Tree Warden of the Town of North Berwick and self-proclaimed Mayor of Ell Pond. Resting comfortably in the tradition of Robert Frost and E.A. Robinson, Megan Grumbling's poems speak in well-crafted blank verse of a WiFi-free rural life where trees are identified by sight (not Google images) and stones are harvested from the land by touch. Booker is a crotchety old scavenger and hoarder--gathering the discarded tools of loggers, abandoned whiskey crocks and jugs, and the gears and drives of weed-covered stone-crushing machines.

The poems' narrator shadows her yarn-spinning teacher, who is wise in the ways of the woods, but as one of Booker's childhood friends recalls in "License," "Numb as a post, as schooling went--/ numbers he got, but Jesus how/ the kid would squint at alphabets." When it comes to the land, the forest, the tending of his property, however, Booker knows plenty. In "Good Digging," for example, the narrator marvels at his practical know-how: "When most folks dig a hole, it seems to shrink/ as they go down. But he's not done it wrong/ yet, learned dirt symmetries enough to sink/ his johns and ditches straight... it's the last two feet can lame/ you. Gotta loosen it up as you go." With clear homage to Frost (she won the Robert Frost Foundation Award in 2004), Grumbling captures both the characters and lessons of the countryside, where, as she ends "Blueberrying," "The best picking/ is work, bright with abandon, both hands full." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With great craft, dialogue and observation, Grumbling's narrative poems paint a portrait of rural Maine through the life of crusty woodsman Bernard Booker.

University of North Texas Press, $12.95, paperback, 9781574416343

Children's & Young Adult

The Great American Whatever

by Tim Federle

Tim Federle's (Better Nate Than Ever; Five, Six, Seven, Nate!) confident YA debut, The Great American Whatever, stars 16-year-old Quinn Roberts, a film-obsessed gay teen from western Pennsylvania, struggling to recover from the death of his sister, Annabeth. The day she died in a car accident, he started wearing earplugs and "gave up on becoming a screenwriter, or an anythingwriter, or an anything." The story kicks off with Quinn's best friend, Geoff, dragging him to a party, where Quinn meets a cute Iranian-American college guy. The promise of romance helps draw Quinn out of his extended mourning period, but he still has to deal with his mother's paralyzing grief and a number of harsh realizations about the sister he thought he knew everything about. If Quinn's life were a screenplay, he says, his would be "a fairly standard coming-of-age LGBT genre film, with a somewhat macabre horror twist." Quinn is underselling his own story, which reveals new levels of heart as it follows the occasionally surprising arc of his recovery.

What sets this fantastic novel apart is Quinn's brilliantly realized, often hilarious first-person voice, from laugh-out-loud asides ("My mom's theory--which I fully endorse--is that fruits are best in a cobbler and vegetables are best in the ground") to heart-wrenching admissions, such as the wry observation that earplugs "give the world a comforting dullness." Quinn's tendency to view scenes from the perspective of a true film geek has him occasionally re-inventing real-life dramatic moments as fictitious screenplays. Charming and imaginative. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

Discover: In Tim Federle's clever YA debut, Quinn Roberts overcomes tragedy and navigates young love as he wryly writes the screenplay of his own life.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9781481404099


by Kwame Alexander

Booked, the followup to Kwame Alexander's 2015 Newbery Medal-winning The Crossover, is an often funny, often poignant novel told in short poems.

Soccer-obsessed eighth-grader Nick Hall stays up too late one night with his friend Coby (they've been "tight as a pair of shin guards" since first grade), and wakes up to hear his mom arguing with his dad. Nick has trouble with his father, too: he wishes he could be something cooler than "a linguistics professor/ with chronic verbomania" who forces him to memorize words from the dictionary he wrote. As Nick confides to his audience, "And even though your mother/ forbids you to say it,/ the truth is/ you/ HATE/ words." Nick doth protest too much--for a guy who hates words, he's very big on wordplay, making Booked a treat for word-loving readers.

The story takes a heartbreaking turn when Nick's horse-loving mom leaves town to "chase her equine dreams": "HAY, Mom, why'd you BALE?" he texts. His troubles pile higher when he has to deal with "pit-bull mean" bullies, and falls for a girl he's too nervous to talk to. On top of that, Nick--a soccer star at his school--is living to compete in an international tournament, but it's not even clear he'll be able to participate. Throughout the quick-footed narrative (in which some of Nick's woes resolve and some don't), his evolving relationship to books and the world of words stays front and center. By the end, because of--and in spite of--the pressure of the well-meaning book-pushers all around him, he finds his own path to literature. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander's followup to The Crossover, eighth-grade soccer star Nick Hall evolves into a not-so-reluctant-reader.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 10-up, 9780544570986

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