Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 10, 2016

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Father's Day Gifts

In Rocking Fatherhood (Da Capo Press), Chris Kornelis takes new fathers (and others) through 36 weeks of pregnancy and beyond, offering practical guidance laced with wit ("Don't Let Her Microwave Bologna"). His advice is always sensible, emphasizing resilience and patience: "Relax. Give it your best. Don't beat yourself up."

No matter the stage of fatherhood, Dad might enjoy relaxing with a few history books. In Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Viking), Nathaniel Philbrick paints a complex, nuanced portrait of Benedict Arnold and the early days of the American Revolution. Ellen Wayland-Smith writes about a 19th-century Christian cult in Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table (Picador); our reviewer called it "a fascinating narrative of a peculiar American success" that recounts how the group transformed into a successful 20th-century silverware brand.

Thrillers are a great way to kick back. The Fireman by Joe Hill (Morrow) is an "inventive, highly successful foray into the genre of post-apocalyptic epics." Hill's knack for dark, offbeat humor adds sparks to a dark story. A more traditional dark story comes from Dan Fesperman in The Letter Writer (Knopf), which takes place in 1942 New York City, Fesperman deftly spins a mystery involving the Mafia and the U.S. government, involving a police officer, a scribe for illiterate immigrants, and the requisite body in the Hudson. Not Dead Enough by Warren C. Easley (Poisoned Pen Press) continues his Cal Claxton series. With tension around Oregon's dams, a Native American activist who disappeared 50 years ago, and bodies piling up, Cal worries he's the next target.

"I love camping. I hate camping. I can't seem to stop. In case you haven't noticed, campouts hardly ever go the way you want them to go.... Chaos finds a way." Dan White's history of camping, Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping (Holt), is eloquent, witty and wide-ranging, covering everything from John Muir to the history of S'mores, with nude camping in cougar country tossed in. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Book Candy

More Books for Dads

For reading Dads: Bustle conjured up "12 magical Father's Day gifts for the Harry Potter-obsessed Dad in your life," and researched "10 quotes from fathers in books that give a whole new meaning to 'Dad Jokes.' " And Brightly featured "8 sweet picture books that celebrate fatherhood."


From Moby-Dick to Mr. Ripley, author Chris Ewan picked his "top 10 chases in literature" for the Guardian.


Italian illustrator and architect Federico Babina's "clever posters that imagine the conceptual houses of international writers" were showcased by Flavorwire.


Teeny, tiny Bard: This summer, Yale University is displaying about 100 miniature books, all less than 3 inches tall, of writing by and about William Shakespeare as part of an exhibit called "The Poet of Them All," Mental Floss noted.


Real estate deal of the day: The "Amityville Horror House," site of Jay Anson's bestselling 1977 book, is up for sale and can be yours for just $850,000, down $100,000 from when the scary home last sold in 2010.

Lily and the Octopus

by Steven Rowley

Steven Rowley's first novel, Lily and the Octopus, is a startling, scintillating experience, both funny and emotionally wrenching: a story that shatters all expectations.

In the opening lines, narrator Ted Flask introduces his contented home life with his domestic partner, an aging dachshund named Lily. They live in Los Angeles, where Ted works from home, and they are comfortable in their routines: pizza on Sundays, Monopoly on Fridays, talking about cute boys on Thursdays. They have inside jokes, holiday traditions, and an idyllic story of love at first sight. Lily holds up her end of conversations, although as a dog she is of course distractible, and her memory can be short. Her voice is just as we expect a dog to sound. As a puppy (in flashbacks, as in the scene of their first meeting), her breathless enthusiasm comes out in all caps and exclamation points: "IT'S! A! GREAT! TIME! TO! BE! ALIVE!"

As the novel unfolds and Ted fills out as a character, though, it becomes clear that his life is not necessarily well-rounded. He has a therapist he dislikes; he finds her dim-witted, and in his head runs all her advice past his ideal, imaginary therapist. He has panic attacks. His career has stalled. A long-term relationship, ended 18 months ago, continues to haunt him; recent attempts at dating have gone poorly. Until Lily, he worried that he was unable to open up, unable to love. In Ted's favor, he has a superlative human best friend named Trent, who always comes when called and brings Valium. And, crucially, Ted has Lily. She is the best thing in his disordered and inwardly-turned life.

Those first sentences introducing Lily also introduce the octopus. A new addition to their household, he has a death grip on Lily's head, and he's not going anywhere. Like Lily, the octopus talks. Ted wants him to leave, but the octopus will not let Lily go. She begins to have seizures. She weakens.

Ted dreams of an octopusectomy. The vet offers chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, but is not optimistic about Lily's chances. Ted tries to involve her in the decision-making, but Lily is a dog: her attention span is limited (oh look, red ball!) and, anyway, at 12-and-a-half human years, she has been feeling a little run-down. She rarely speaks in caps anymore. Ted was warned by a vet that, as Lily aged, she would begin to exhibit what he called Enclosed World Syndrome; that is, her perceived world and realm of interest would shrink. It is true, her walks have gotten shorter. Of course, Ted himself has the same malady. As the octopus's tentacles tighten around Lily's precious small head, Ted realizes he has a battle on his hands.

It is easy to fear that the market for books about beloved dogs may be flooded, but this one does something new. Lily and the Octopus is its own beast, and the reader is not the same person at the end as at the beginning. In many ways this is the story of Steven Rowley's life in all its emotional truth, if not in specific, literal details. Ted and Lily's Los Angeles is a thoroughly realistic setting, but a few elements--most obviously the talking octopus--offer boggling departures. By relying on metaphor, Rowley creates a fantasy world with touches of magical realism, somehow both more affecting and more comforting than reality.

Lily and the Octopus comes with the trappings of humor, canine antics, strong characters and profound emotions. Rowley, who is also a screenwriter, peppers the story with Cate Blanchett, Ryans Gosling and Reynolds, Bradleys Cooper and Milton. Equally prominent are the literary references: Kipling's jungle, Auden's "Funeral Blues," and a reading list to prepare for an octopus hunt: Hemingway, Melville, Patrick O'Brian. The book opens in the spirit of a fun read, but the tone quickly deepens to a sadder and a more intense experience. Ted and Lily's story centers around relationships: love and life partnership, the nature of commitment and of loss, and what it looks like to fight for one's friends. As Ted battles the octopus and tries to shore up his darling, he ends up examining every aspect of his own life, his own shortcomings and the strengths he discovers in himself, almost by surprise. His journey, then, is not only about a man and his dog but about breaking out of life's stalemates. This introspection and interior aspect to the novel is only one of the depths that make it both more than another story about a beloved dog, and more than a whimsical work of fantasy--although it is a superb example of both.

Lily and the Octopus is literary and raw, and relentlessly heartfelt. Questions of who and how we love are at its center and, vitally, the question of how we part. Imaginative, ever-astonishing, suspenseful and wise, Rowley's surprising novel is thoroughly gut-wrenching, but well worth the pain. With a winning dog at its robust heart, no reader could ask for more. --Julia Jenkins

Simon & Schuster, $25.99, hardcover, 9781501126222

Steven Rowley: On Obstacles and Octopuses

photo: Malina Saval

Steven Rowley is from Portland, Maine, and is a graduate of Emerson College. He has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist and screenwriter, and lives in Los Angeles with his boyfriend and their dog. He is @mrstevenrowley on Instagram and Twitter. Lily and the Octopus is his first novel.

How autobiographical is this story?

There's no way to deny that it's partly autobiographical. I did have a dog, named Lily, and when she passed away I went into a funk. The depth of grief I felt took me completely by surprise. After about six months or so feeling completely blocked, not just in writing but in life, I sat down to do what writers often do, which is try to put pen to paper and work their way out of a tough spot. Thematically and emotionally it was autobiographical, but as I kept writing, the character and the plot became more fiction. It got weird, certainly, along the way, but I thought, the story can get as weird as it wants to on the surface as long as I stick to the mission of adhering to absolute emotional honesty.

It sounds like you did the writing as a part of healing.

Oh, it was hugely cathartic. Absolutely. Although it's largely on the surface about a man and his dog, I see the story more about a character who's stuck in life. Sometimes our biggest obstacles are those that we make up, that we imagine, or if they're not entirely imagined, that we exaggerate. So it's really a story about what it takes to get unblocked and power your way though.

Did you know that that was the story before you were writing it?

It's interesting. I come from a background in screenwriting, and with screenwriting you have the plot much more laid out in advance. And this was something I was approaching from more of an emotional standpoint, looking to examine themes of grief and depression--I hate to harp on those because the book is, hopefully, not without its humor as well. I was surprised where the story took me because I was so focused on the emotion of it. There's a big set piece near the end that came completely by surprise.

Why on earth an octopus?

Well, I did have a dog that suffered from something that looked a bit like there was a small octopus on her head. But beyond that, I wanted something as different as possible. What's most different from a dog that's covered in fur, that's basically all spine (since she's a dachshund) than an invertebrate who's sort of slimy and hairless and lives in the sea? I liked playing with that dichotomy, that they were as different as different can be. On top of that, I have an enormous respect for octopuses (my editor and I have gone over this time and time, and the plural of octopus is octopuses). They're so smart, and according to scientists they're playful, can use simple tools and they learn and adapt as they go. And that's what I needed, a cunning antagonist. Because the main character learns more about the octopus throughout the story as it unfolds, I needed a villain who would learn and adapt as well, continue to know how to needle our narrator. So, that is an octopus. And I do carry some guilt about villainizing them in any way, because they're really magnificent creatures. Please everyone, don't hate the octopus. Just the particular one in this story.

When Steven met Lily.

How was writing a novel different from your previous work as a screenwriter?

Screenwriting is a collaborative art. Many people help to bring a screenplay to life as a film, and many times it's not the writer's original intent that makes it to the screen. On top of that, when you're writing a screenplay you're writing a blueprint, it's not in and of itself the final product. I had in my mind that I wanted to try a novel someday, so that if nothing else I could point to something bound and finished and say, this is what I do.

A screenwriter's job is to make the internal external. All emotion and feelings are expressed through action and dialog. In this book, I wanted to luxuriate in themes and feelings. The book is very internal; there's a very limited number of characters. The narrator has one friend, one sibling, one parent and one therapist, and that's it. He's sort of removed from humanity, which is why he has such a powerful relationship with his dog. I really wanted to take the time and explore what was going on inside of his head, and when you're exploring depression it's often internal like that. So it just seemed that a novel or prose was the right medium for this story.

Your journey to publication was unusual. Congratulations, by the way.

Thank you! When I finished the manuscript, I was very proud of it as a piece of writing, but I saw it as so deeply personal, and to be perfectly honest I was also worried that it was perhaps a little weird. Self-publishing was also attractive to me because, coming from film, I didn't want too many other voices trying to tell me it can't be an octopus, it should be an alligator, or whatnot. My boyfriend recommended I hire an independent freelance editor, so I found a woman named Molly Pisani and she and I worked on the book together. I paid her and I never expected to hear from her again. I went about doing what writers looking to self-publish do. I hired a typesetter, looked at ISBN numbers and how to market the book and sell it, all these things, and out of the blue I got a phone call from Molly about three months later. She said, "I can't stop thinking about your book. I know a woman who works at Simon & Schuster who I think might respond to it in the same way that I did. Do you mind if I send it?" I said no, I certainly don't mind, but I was so far down the line toward self-publishing that I really didn't think anything would come of it. And she did say that it could take her friend a month or two to look at it. That was on a Friday, and on Monday morning I woke up to a call from Simon & Schuster, from the woman who is now my editor, Karyn Marcus. It really happened that quickly.

What's next?

Everyone is asking, will it be a screenplay or novel? And I have to say that publishing is being incredibly kind to me right now. Working on Lily with my editor, she gave me a note once and said, "...but I defer to your creative vision." And I almost fell out of my chair! Because in 10 or 12 years really giving it a go as a screenwriter, I had never heard those words from a producer or a studio executive. As a writer, that's kind of addictive. So for many reasons, my next project, which I'm working on right now, is a follow-up novel. I've been really fortunate with this publishing deal, which has allowed me to leave my day job, and I'm focusing on writing full time now. I'm excited. --Julia Jenkins

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Greatest

Muhammad Ali, three-time world heavyweight boxing champion and titan of 20th-century culture, died last week at age 74. His legacy extends far beyond the boxing ring. Born Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name when converting to Islam after winning his first heavyweight championship in 1964. He used his fame to promote the Civil Rights Movement and, in 1966, cited his religious and political beliefs in refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War. The ensuing legal troubles sidelined Ali's career, for a time, but made him an icon among the American counterculture. His conscientious objector status was finally vindicated in the 1971 Supreme Court case Clay v. United States.

In 1975, in collaboration with Richard Durham and with editing by Toni Morrison, Ali released his first autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story. It chronicles his experiences with racism growing up in Louisville, Ky., his boxing career and the activism that made him a cultural icon; it was last published by Graymalkin Media in 2015 ($14.99, 9781631680496). Ali released a second autobiography in 2004, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey, co-written with his daughter Hana Ali. Greatest Of All Time: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali, published by Taschen, a huge book of photographs with an equally huge price tag (collector's editions run up to $15,000), also came out in 2004. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by Peter Geye

In his second novel, The Lighthouse Road (after Safe from the Sea), Minneapolis novelist Peter Geye introduced the Norwegian immigrant Eide family living in Minnesota's Lake Superior town of Gunflint. Wintering continues the saga of the Eides' next generation, beginning as the elder, dementia-stricken Harry Eide wanders off one day into the wilderness to the north. Prompted by Harry's disappearance, his middle-aged son, Gus, thinks back to the winter when he was 18 and joined his father on a long canoe trek to the same Canada/Minnesota borderlands of the Laurentian Divide. Like Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, the imaginative Lake Superior north shore of Geye's three novels is a world of its own--colorful, provincial and buttoned-up.

Wintering's narrator, Berit Lovig--Harry's late-in-life lover, long-time local postmistress, and for 40 years the caretaker of Gus's reclusive, cantankerous grandmother--knows much of Gunflint's complicated history. She tells Gus, "This town has always been good at having secrets, and terrible at keeping them." As Gus tells his story to Berit and she tells hers to him, Geye's assured narrative gradually unfolds a Jack London-like tale of survival blended with a Richard Russo-like picture of small-town intrigue.

Gus's memory of the uncharted lands far beyond the Devil's Maw rapids is at the center of Wintering, but Berit's perspective on her own past and that of the other immigrants arriving at Gunflint's port is an equally compelling history of patience and endurance. Geye dips into history with ease and comes out with a story as contemporary as anything flashing across our screens today. Wintering is a novel for the ages. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Set along the north shore of Lake Superior, Geye's third novel neatly balances a father-and-son story of wilderness survival with that of a small town's historical secrets and intrigue.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9781101946466

Monsters: A Love Story

by Liz Kay

In poet and small press editor Liz Kay's first novel, Monsters: A Love Story, Omaha, Neb., is the home of recently widowed Stacey Lane, mother of two grade-school boys and author of the feminist novel-in-verse Monsters in the Afterlife--a retelling of the Frankenstein story featuring a woman monster and highlighting, as she describes it, "gender ideals and sexual power dynamics." Despite its slight first printing and obvious political agenda, it implausibly catches the eye of sexy Hollywood actor Tommy DeMarco, who has his go-to assistant contact Stacey and fly her to the Turks and Caicos to negotiate buying the film rights, retaining her as a screenwriter. And just like that, Stacey drops her boys at her homemaker sister's house and flies to Hollywood to hammer out a filmable script--and into the seductive, womanizing star's bed.

But who's seducing whom? Kay's protagonist is no star-smitten bimbo just off the bus. She has to fight the director to keep the movie true to her poetic vision while he reminds her that "people go to poetry to expand their minds and sh*t. They go to the movies to be entertained... the ending to this thing isn't even dark, it's f*cking bleak. It makes me want to blow my brains out."

Stacey is a complicated woman trying to sort out the conflicting tugs of motherhood, professional success and personal satisfaction. Monsters: A Love Story is a smart, satirical feminist novel but, as the subtitle suggests, it's also a romance. If it doesn't change your life, it is nonetheless a diverting fantasy about how that just might happen. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Liz Kay cleverly takes a frazzled, recently widowed Omaha poet and mother and drops her into the boozy, razzle-dazzle of Hollywood moviemaking.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 9781101982471

Mystery & Thriller

Buffalo Jump Blues

by Keith McCafferty

Featured in Keith McCafferty's four previous Montana crime novels (including 2016 Spur Award-winning Crazy Mountain Kiss), Sean Stranahan is still living the western fantasy life: watercolor artist, fishing guide, private detective and regular at the Trout Tails Bar and Grill, which features a topless mermaid swim tank. When part-time mermaid Ida Evening Star hires him to find her childhood friend John Running Boy, the case entangles Stranahan with his ex-lover Sheriff Martha Ettinger, who is investigating the bloody scene of an apparent re-enactment of the ancient Plains Indian practice of pishkun--herding bison over a cliff to harvest their meat, skins and bones to sustain the tribe over a long winter. At the bottom of the Palisades scree, she finds the body of a young Blackfeet man, disemboweled, with a handmade arrow in his thigh. The murder victim was last seen with John Running Boy and two wealthy white brothers from Dartmouth. Together, Stranahan and Ettinger follow the clues through southwestern Montana's complicated politics, involving state DOL agents, National Park Service rangers, anti-bison ranchers, save-the-bison evangelists, bureaucrats and disenfranchised Native Americans.

An editor of Field & Stream, McCafferty knows the locals, the landscape and the legends, as well as his Montana literary antecedents ("Tom McGuane, James Welch, A.B. Guthrie, William Kittredge, Ivan Doig, Richard Hugo... more drinking and depression on this shelf than in the whole of Ireland"). But mostly he knows how to tell a good story, and Buffalo Jump Blues is a solid addition to the Stranahan saga. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Keith McCafferty's fifth Sean Stranahan mystery puts the Montana artist and part-time detective in the midst of the history and politics of wild bison recovery.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 9780525429593

Food & Wine

Back to the Kitchen: 75 Delicious, Real Recipes (& True Stories) from a Food-Obsessed Actor

by Freddie Prinze Jr.

Actor Freddie Prinze Jr. is a talented cook who's spent a lifetime making food for the people he loves and works with. Raised in Albuquerque, N.Mex., by his mother, and summering in Puerto Rico with his late father's family, Freddie grew up surrounded by vibrant flavors. The food he creates is clearly inspired by New Mexican and Puerto Rican flavors, and his passion for sharing his love of cooking with his own kids is a reflection of an upbringing where he was taught to appreciate food and the cooking process.

Back to the Kitchen is a great cookbook, chock-full of gorgeous photographs, simple recipes and fun stories from his acting career--like when Freddie cooked pans of green chile chicken enchiladas for the cast and crew of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while visiting his wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar, on set. His daughter, Charlotte, is his biggest kitchen assistant, and several of her favorite recipes--including "Charlie's Dessert"--are included.

With dishes including The Rock's Cinnamon Pancakes; Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Lime, Orange and Mexican Beer; and Mushroom Risotto Made Easyish, Freddie's no-nonsense approach to satisfying meals will make home cooks want to try everything, while the mouthwatering photographs of each recipe will keep the reader's stomach growling. And the cute pictures of his kids in the kitchen and his often-repeated mantra about the importance of passing on your interests to your children just might inspire other parents to start cooking with their kids. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In this family-centered cookbook, actor Freddie Prinze Jr. shares gorgeous recipes and tips on spending time with the kids while cooking.

Rodale, $27.50, hardcover, 9781623366926

Business & Economics

Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story

by John Bloom

John Bloom's Eccentric Orbits does for the 1990s birth of the satellite phone industry what Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine did for the next-generation computer business. It's a wild story about the rise and fall and rise again of Motorola's Iridium network--a colossal business gamble, massive bankruptcy and remarkable rebirth. Texas journalist Bloom, aka redneck movie critic persona Joe Bob Briggs (Joe Bob Goes to the Drive In), combed newspaper archives, patent filings, stock offering memoranda, NASA records, bankruptcy documents and transcribed interviews to spin his tale of corporate hubris and groundbreaking science. With a deep cast of characters, Eccentric Orbits is like George Lucas's Star Wars saga--complicated, seemingly never-ending and thrilling.

Motorola was the world leader in cell phones when the basic idea for Iridium took shape in 1987. With one gigantic engineering undertaking, Motorola saw a way to solve two mobile phone problems: eliminate "dropped calls" whenever phones lost contact with cell towers and side-step the huge cost and logistical nightmare of covering the earth with more towers. Its solution: launch 77 (the atomic number of the element iridium) non-equatorial Low Earth Orbit satellites to blanket the globe with phone coverage.

Bloom is an exhaustive reporter with a knack for choice metaphors and skewed descriptions. He dips into the scientific details of space aeronautics and orbit algorithms, and explains the technology behind all those cell phone acronyms like GSM and CDMA that few people understand. Funny, informative, exciting, Eccentric Orbits is the kind of business book that should be turned into one of those movies that Joe Bob Briggs likes to review. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A business book that reads like a thriller, John Bloom's Eccentric Orbits is a sprawling masterpiece about the Iridium satellite phone network.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $27.50, hardcover, 9780802121684

Essays & Criticism

Hogs Wild: Selected Reporting Pieces

by Ian Frazier

In On the Rez and Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier offered idiosyncratic musings on isolated communities--culturally or geographically--and the odd, fascinating people that live within them. Hogs Wild: Selected Reporting Pieces is a diverse collection of essays and journalistic pieces that maintains that central focus, while also demonstrating Frazier's boundless, endearing curiosity and his ability to draw humor and strange flashes of insight from the most unlikely of sources.

The title essay manages to be both exceptionally unusual and entirely indicative of Frazier's style and concerns. Few other writers would choose wild hogs as a likely vector for a discussion of the United States' culturally divided landscape, but he does so with an extended tangent on the correlation between the number of wild hogs in a state and support for President Bush in the 2004 election. Or, as Frazier puts it: "Wild hogs seem to be everywhere that the red-state red can't get any redder and starts to turn into a Confederate flag." These off-the-wall observations are par for the course for Frazier, who seems to follow his every fleeting thought to its frequently humorous, occasionally moving conclusion. Consider, for example, "Hungry Minds," which focuses on a writing workshop that he operated adjacent to a church-based soup kitchen. He writes about his students: "Somehow, writing even a few lines makes the person who does it more substantial and real."

In the case of Hogs Wild, it's Frazier's writing that makes depressive fishermen, generals who died perversely underappreciated, the victims of Hurricane Sandy and many more remarkable individuals substantial and real. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Ian Frazier fills his diverse collection of essays and journalistic pieces with oddball observations and endearing portraits of unusual, remarkable individuals.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374298524


This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society

by Kathleen McAuliffe

Early in science journalist Kathleen McAuliffe's book concerning the impact of parasites on evolutionary biology, she recounts the brutalities that the jewel wasp inflicts during its life. After stunning the American cockroach with a paralysis-inducing sting and performing a form of "brain surgery" on the animal, inhibiting its ability to process information or react, the wasp guides the unfortunate, enslaved insect into a hole, lays some eggs on the roach's leg, and leaves it to be devoured alive by freshly hatched wasp larvae. Almost all life is predicated on the taking of other lives for survival in some fashion, but this and other anecdotes are powerful reminders of the sheer terror of the natural world. And they are among the strongest elements of This Is Your Brain on Parasites.

McAuliffe's fascinating thesis argues that the extent of host manipulation by parasitic organisms is significantly greater than previously understood. Parasites large (e.g., the jewel wasp) and small (e.g., Toxoplasma gondii) may even be influencing human political, cultural and religious developments as they seek to achieve their reproductive and survival aims. McAuliffe, though, notes one researcher's caveat after studying the effects of bacteria on the brain: "We have to be cautious in how we interpret the results." Readers are well served to heed such cautions: while the science discussed supports this thesis, much is still early and controversial.

McAuliffe is particularly adroit at discussing studies and narrating parasite lifecycles. These accomplishments alone make her work worth reading; the implications, even more so. "Indeed, we are more microbe than human. There is no I--only we." --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa

Discover: This Is Your Brain on Parasites is a cutting-edge scientific survey of the impact microbes have on animal behavior and human social development.

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 9780544192225

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

by Mary Roach

Mary Roach (Stiff, Gulp, Packing for Mars) investigates the seedy underbelly of military operations with her trademark tongue-in-cheek aplomb. She provides an eye-opening exposé of government research projects that (at times) appears almost fantastical.

Her research begins at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, where scientists and fashionistas are hard at work creating new ways for soldiers to stay dry, sated and bulletproof in the heat of battle. At the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Roach witnesses how officers conduct personnel vulnerability tests, or "the art and science of keeping people safe in a vehicle that other people are trying to blow up," using crash test dummies (donated "stiffs") to assess the vulnerabilities of armored vehicles. Grunt then travels inward, to the gross-out elements of human bodily parts and functions, as she delves into male urogenital reconstruction and penile transplants for injured veterans in one chapter, and diarrheal threats to national security in "Leaky Seals." Fittingly, Roach goes on to observe government efforts to create a stink bomb so noxious as to discourage enemy combatants, and any marine predators, from attacking downed pilots.

While Roach imbues her storytelling with a quick wit, she is also swift to point out the more lasting consequences of war: "Despite or possibly because of their low profile, the less visible injuries of war can be the hardest kind to have." Nevertheless, Grunt is certain to arouse a more than passing interest in the tax dollars at work on these secret government research projects. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Mary Roach turns her wit and investigative eye to the secret science of military research and strategic operations, and how it affects soldiers in the field.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780393245448

Nature & Environment

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year

by Neil Hayward

After quitting his executive job, Neil Hayward found himself drifting professionally and personally. He didn't want to travel the world or start a business--but he did suddenly have more time to devote to his longtime passion, birding. As he struggled with depression and his fear of committing to a new romance, Hayward spent more and more time behind his binoculars. He charts his birding adventures--and his almost-accidental pursuit of a record-breaking Big Year--in his memoir, Lost Among the Birds.

Hayward hadn't planned on doing a Big Year, a birder's quest to see as many species as possible in a calendar year. His spur-of-the-moment April start meant he would spend eight months catapulting around the country, sleeping in his car and surviving largely on granola bars. Although the Big Year included endless hours on airplanes and some frustrating near-misses, Hayward lived for the joy he found in sighting each new bird. "The birding was my salt... that essential amino acid I couldn't get from anywhere else," he explains. "It gave me life and reminded me that I was part of life." Along the way, he found community among his fellow birders, and his depression slowly began to lift.

With precise, lovely descriptions of birds and dry, self-deprecating wit, Hayward recounts his journey through unfamiliar terrain both personal and geographical. Birders and non-birders alike will relate to his search for fulfillment and his delight in "the simple joy that comes from seeing the unexpected." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A dryly witty account of one birder's quest for a record-breaking Big Year, and the simple joy it afforded him.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 9781632865793

Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

by Jordan Fisher Smith

In 1972, a young man was mauled to death by a bear in Yellowstone. The ensuing civil trial provides the frame for Engineering Eden, Jordan Fisher Smith's compelling history of wildlife conservation in the United States. At issue is whether the National Park had done enough to prevent such an attack. This in turn raises the question of whether humans can--or should--control nature. This philosophical question is the pounding heart of Smith's inquiry.

The trial, though, takes something of a backseat as Smith--author of Nature Noir and a former park ranger--methodically lays out the relevant history of ecological philosophy and practice. "Yellowstone was not created as a wildlife refuge," he points out. "It was a tourist attraction that began functioning like one." The prose is more Erik Larson than Aldo Leopold. The most dramatic chapters are not the courtroom scenes, but rather ones in which biologists and conservationists spar with policymakers and sometimes each other.

How much intervention does nature require? If left alone, will it return to a virgin state? To what degree should tourists interact with wildlife? And to what degree are we liable for our mistakes? With Engineering Eden, Smith has pulled off an amazing feat: he's made wildlife management urgent and engrossing, writing about it with clarity, depth and a storyteller's pacing.

The issues are timeless. On the centennial of the National Park Service, this book is an outstanding introduction to ecological decision-making. --Zak Nelson, writer and editorial consultant

Discover: Through the lens of National Park history, Jordan Fisher Smith offers an engrossing introduction to the debate over wildlife conservation.

Crown, $28, hardcover, 9780307454263


Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

by Robert Richardson, editor, illus. by Lincoln Perry

Anyone fearful that this edition of Edward Fitzgerald's The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is an unnecessary new translation of the Persian poet can rest easy. Annotated by Robert Richardson and published in conjunction with Nearer the Heart's Desire, Richardson's dual biography of Omar Khayyam and Edward Fitzgerald, this is instead a celebration of Fitzgerald's loose translation and an arrangement of Khayyam's verse into a unified narrative.

Richardson would be the first to argue that a new translation would be beside the point, describing Fitzgerald's version as a "silk road of the mind"--linking the two poets across time and space. Since its original publication in 1859, Fitzgerald's version of the Rubaiyat has been translated into numerous languages and appeared in more than 1,300 editions. Although it has been, in Richardson's words, "condescended to in a variety of ways" by critics and scholars alike, The Rubaiyat remains enduringly popular in a way that few works of poetry have.

The Bloomsbury edition is a delight. Richardson opens with a brief essay that is both personal and scholarly. His annotations are done with a light hand, and the poetry is illuminated by the work of artist Lincoln Perry. Previous artists have depicted the action of the narrative in an Orientalist style; Perry combines graceful silhouettes of roses and vine leaves with bold images of hands in action to reflect the volume's major themes. This is a Rubaiyat that will please longtime fans and new readers alike. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A beautiful edition of a beloved, classic work of poetry.

Bloomsbury, $20, hardcover, 9781620406564

Children's & Young Adult

Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone... While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent!

by Emily Arnold McCully

Three hundred years ago, Europeans from Vienna to Versailles who wanted to know what a rhinoceros looked like were out of luck. In this fascinating (mostly) true story, the white-wigged Dutch Captain Van der Meer decides to buy his old friend's household pet--a motherless, "tame," India-born rhino named Clara--and take her on tour by horse-drawn wagon and by sea to show her off and make a buck.

Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully (Mirette on the High Wire) tells the tale with charm and wit, and her delightful pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations of the sweetly expressive Clara and her "beautiful soul" will have readers falling for the rhino, too. The captain, in hopes of attracting ticket-buyers, prints promotional posters: "SHE HAS SKIN LIKE SEASHELLS, EARS LIKE AN ASS, CAN SWIM LIKE A DUCK, AND IS AS TAME AS A DOVE. SHE EATS 100 POUNDS OF HAY AND 30 LOAVES OF BREAD A DAY AND DRINKS 14 BUCKETS OF WATER AND BEER." The good-natured, 5,000-pound Clara captures the imagination of Paris in particular: "Hairdressers created the style à la rhinoceros... Gowns à la rhinocéros were worn to balls.... The French navy even christened a new ship La Rhinocéros. It was Rhinomania!"

The way McCully imagines it, man and beast form a bond thicker than rhino skin in their 17 years together, and this moving friendship is the core of Clara. An author's note and maps help sort fact from fiction, and gently contextualize the animal-exploitation angle that's sure to spark some valuable discussions. A great story with a big rhino heart. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully embellishes the story of an India-born rhino named Clara who toured Europe with a Dutch sea captain from 1741 to 1758.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780553522464

Grayling's Song

by Karen Cushman

Newbery author Karen Cushman (The Midwife's Apprentice; Catherine, Called Birdy), best known for her historical fiction, makes her first foray into fantasy with Grayling's Song, set in a magical, medieval England.

Grayling is an obedient, hardworking girl who lives in a thatched cottage with her mother, a healer who trades charms and tonics for hams and coats. Grayling privately rails against the relentless tyranny of the mother she both loves and fears. But when their cottage bursts into flames and her mother is, shockingly, turned into a tree by some invisible evil, it's up to Grayling to take charge. Neither brave nor gifted with magic herself, she must head out into the "strange and dangerous" world and sing her mother's "gathering song" to summon the wizards, hags and soothsayers who might know how to break the curse. It must be true that "summat wicked be in the kingdom," as the townspeople suggest.

"Tangles and toadstones!" as Grayling would say: her very first night on the road, a mouse unwittingly eats all of her potions, including the shape-shifting one, and that is how the mouse/goat/raven she calls "Pook" joins her entourage. Grayling also befriends the ancient weather witch Auld Nancy, the "troublous" runny-nosed Pansy, the alluring enchantress Desdemona Cork and the gnarled fortuneteller Sylvanus Vetch who sees the future via... cheese. Readers will revel in Cushman's atmospheric, witty tale of Grayling's risky and rambling rescue mission across the countryside that ultimately transforms her from a cowed, timid girl to a healer and leader who discovers her own powers. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Newbery author Karen Cushman's first fantasy, set in a magical medieval England, it's not until Grayling's domineering mother is turned into a tree that her daughter can find her own voice.

Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 10-12, 9780544301801


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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