Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

A Memory in Every Book

Our editorial about snacking while reading evoked enthusiastic responses from many readers, and one, bookseller Rene Kirkpatrick, was inspired to write about the joys of re-opening books marked with stains that recall the moment of reading:

I read at meals and on my walks (and in bed, during baths, waiting for people...) and find that I can finish a book just in snatches; books as snack rather than meal. I'm sure that others read like I do. If I read at a meal, I read until I am done with that meal. There have been times when lunch has lasted for hours; as long as I don't get up, the meal continues, the sun goes down....

If eating at the kitchen table, I set the book off to the side and use the butter dish, the salt and pepper shakers, an unused knife or another book to hold the one I'm reading open. I've never worried about smearing a corner with butter or a wine bottle's scarlet circle.

I've never been a clean reader. I don't borrow other peoples' books so have never worried about getting a book messy. I love re-opening a book and finding red splotches skipping across a page (spaghetti), rippled pages (walking and reading in the rain), brown thumbprints on the edges (mud), sand deep in the gutters (beach), pages unglued and then used as bookmark (pressing the book flat enough to hold it when there wasn't something else to do it), yellow and green smears (dandelion juice). Each of those stains has a specific memory attached to it so when I re-open the book, I am immediately thrust back to the time and the place where it was read.

I dog-ear books, I've lost more dollar bills using them as bookmarks, and when I worked at a bar in Eugene after bookstore hours, beer was sloshed. Every reading experience should be just that, an experience: awash in music, filled with weather and noise, a memory held close in every book.

The Writer's Life

Howard Frank Mosher Explains Himself

Howard Frank Mosher's new memoir, The Great Northern Express: A Writer's Journey Home (Crown, March 6, 2012), begins with bad news. The author walks to the post office and finds not a long-awaited MacArthur Fellowship, but a prostate cancer diagnosis. "I began to think this was kind of a wakeup call--not that you really need a wakeup call at age 65," he said. The prognosis was good, but the scare made him think about how he wanted to spend the time he might have left: "I thought, maybe I will spend some of it taking a tour across the country, coast-to-coast, border-to-border. I'll visit all the independent bookstores I can find, see some country, and"--since his 11th novel, Walking to Gatlinburg, was soon to hit stores--"at the same time, maybe this would be a way I could help my career." Long known as a regional writer focused on his fictionalized Northeast Kingdom, Mosher wondered whether a barnstorming 100-city book tour might move the needle.

And so, the day after finishing his radiation treatments (which ended, by coincidence, on his 65th birthday) Mosher set out in a 1989 Chevy with 280,000 miles on it--dubbed the "loser cruiser" by his wife's students. Between an early standoff with a mother moose and mid-Saturday afternoon car troubles, the start was a bit rocky. But Mosher quickly hit his stride--and began to realize he might have a book on his hands. In time, he said, "I realized this was the right thing to do, and taking this kind of trip is almost always the right thing to do. It was a great fun adventure, and I decided when I got back I would write about it and intersperse chapters about our first year here in the Northeast Kingdom."

The road memoir is a time-honored tradition, but why weave in stories from that particular chapter of his life? Well, he'd already distilled several into a slideshow, which he often used on the tour. "I began to think it might be fun to try to show in whatever I wrote about the tour how I had become a writer, a somewhat regional writer focusing on life in this little fragment of an earlier New England," he explained, adding, "What we found here, and what led to my career and ultimately the insane 100-city book tour, was a goldmine of stories." It quickly becomes clear where Mosher found his literary material and how his early years in Vermont shaped him as a writer. These sections of The Great Northern Express are full of the anecdotes--and antics--of locals, especially Prof, the hard-charging, even harder-drinking superintendent who takes Mosher under his wing. "It was very fortuitous for me, as a country kid who was interested in hunting and fishing and old country storytellers, to find this little enclave of Robert Frost's New England," Mosher said.

That's not to say Mosher has taken a straightforward, traditional approach to memoir writing. In fact, he's upfront about having written the book like he would have written one of his novels: "I did take some episodes from earlier and later book tours, and some of the characters are not untrue, but they're composites." (The outrageous Prof is an example--he's a combination of the first principal the Moshers worked for, as well as some other local characters.)

But perhaps his boldest choice was how he represents his time alone in the Loser Cruiser. Mosher has dramatized his cogitations by inventing a series of improbable companions, including his (deceased) Uncle Reg, neuroscientist Oliver Sacks and, most boldly, a West Texas incarnation of Jesus Christ. Mosher explained, "I needed to invent some way to illustrate some of the things I was thinking about when I was alone, everything from human mortality to politics. The admittedly outlandish method I chose was to invent imaginary characters with whom I could have conversations." But he admitted he also wrote these characters "for the sheer hell of it."

Mosher is comical and self-deprecating when discussing his motives behind both the journey and the memoir, but asked why one would leave home after such a sobering experience, he became serious. The book tour offered a great excuse to light out for the territories, but his reasons were more complicated: "As much as I love to write, I live to read. Every time I stepped into one of those wonderful independent bookstores and saw that array of books, some of which I had read and some of which I would go on to read, I felt a certain validation in my life as a reader and writer."

He added, "You know, I'd never seen the desert in flower. I'd never been to Holland, Michigan, when the tulips were blossoming. I'd never seen the Rocky Mountains in the spring." And that's what makes even the craziest journey worthwhile. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Book Candy

Bookcases; Authors' Houses for Sale; Authors' Homes

"Are you pedantic when it comes to arranging your books?" asked the Guardian, inviting readers to "upload photos of your bookshelf... and tell us why you chose the books, what they mean to you and the idiosyncrasies of your cataloging system."


Bookcase of the day: "Fireplace, schmireplace." Lovely Listing introduced a unique fireplace book storage system with an admission: "I know, I know: BROKEN SPINES! THE HORROR! But you guys! Look how pretty!"


Bookish real estate listings: With the recent news that Ernest Hemingway's childhood home is on the market in Illinois, the Daily Beast featured "10 big authors' houses for sale."


Inside a writer's study: The Guardian's "Room of My Own" series visited Kathy Lette's "vibrant study in her London home."

Great Reads

Now in Paperback

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale (Twelve, $14.99)
Bruno dictates his life story from an institution where he's been confined "due to a murder that I more or less committed." Bruno is a philosophical actor, an eloquent alcoholic and an unrepentant killer. He is also a chimpanzee, plucked from a primate house and sent to a laboratory where he is run through constant behavioral experiments intended to demonstrate that he has the capacity to understand human language. He does, to a degree, wherein lies the tragedy of frustration and rage of thwarted ambition and shattered dreams.

Gryphon: New and Selected Stories by Charles Baxter (Vintage Contemporaries, $16)
Even if you're an avid reader of literary fiction, there's a chance Charles Baxter is one of those writers whose quiet, underappreciated output you may have missed. With the publication of this volume of 23 stories, seven of them not previously collected, there's no longer any excuse to overlook a body of work that's noteworthy for its keen, often startling, insights into human character and its consistent craftsmanship. In one penetrating scene after another, Charles Baxter demonstrates his mastery of the nuances of character, plot and language. While there's little that's tidy about the lives depicted in this collection, taken together they offer some revealing pieces of the puzzles that are love and life

The View from Here by Deborah McKinlay (Soho Press, $14)
The moral dilemma thoughtfully explored in this debut novel is whether good deeds cancel bad ones. Can we expiate our past sins by leading an exemplary life? Frances is grappling with this question as she, at 42 and diagnosed with terminal cancer, revisits an episode of her youth--an affair on Mexico--that still shames her. McKinlay engages the reader in a meditation, going back and forth between the Mexican sojourn and Frances's illness and discovery of her husband’s indiscretion, laying out the events, her feelings and the understanding she has gained over time.

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW Trade, $19)
Patrick Rothfuss's 2007 debut, The Name of the Wind, reaped tons of critical acclaim and landed on the New York Times bestseller list--no small feat for an epic fantasy of nearly 700 pages. With the publication of the long-awaited follow-up, The Wise Man's Fear, it becomes increasingly clear that what we're dealing with is not strictly speaking a future trilogy but a contemporary (and jumbo-sized) variant on the Victorian "triple-decker"--a single novel, called The Kingkiller Chronicle, published in three volumes. There is a rich verisimilitude in Rothfuss's finely rendered fantasy realm; it is also, fundamentally, a coming-of-age novel and deserves its accolades.

I Love a Broad Margin to My Life by Maxine Hong Kingston (Vintage International, $15)
This autobiographical memoir-diary-journal-reminiscence-meditation-stream-of-consciousness poem is 240 pages long. Not exactly blank verse, it is exactly Maxine Hong Kingston: original, captivating, revelatory and important. She looks back over her life as a writer, political activist, friend, wife and mother. In rambling ruminations that go forward and fold back on each other, change direction repeatedly, move from ancient Chinese history to current events, she opens for the reader the "broad margin" that has been her life. It's a tour de force.

The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America by Richard Kluger (Vintage, $16.95)
Isaac Stevens--brilliant, self-assured, fierce and mightily ambitious--was first governor of Washington Territory, setting the stage for the tragic clash that Richard Kluger (Pulitzer winner for Ashes to Ashes) recounts in this powerful, disturbing and heartrending history of Stevens's program to commandeer Indian lands for white settlers. In this account of government-sanctioned monomania and land grabbing in the 1850s, Kluger stops short of actually asking, "How do we make this right?" but every thoughtful reader will be profoundly challenged by the question.


10 Powerful Female Characters; Dickens' Fake Library; Villains

To launch Women's History Month, Flavorwire showcased "10 of the most powerful female characters in literature."


The fake library of Charles Dickens. According to Lists of Note, in 1851 Charles Dickens decided to fill two spaces in the study of his new house "with bookcases containing fake books, the witty titles of which he had invented. And so, on October 22nd, he wrote to a bookbinder named Thomas Robert Eeles and supplied him with the following 'list of imitation book-backs' to be produced."


Lysley Tenorio, author of Monstress, recommended "3 tales of spectacular failure" on NPR, observing: "Don't let the theme fool you. These three books are anything but failures. They are, in fact, full of sharply rendered and utterly original characters who fail spectacularly in their attempts to do right (or what they think is right)."


Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, chose his top 10 villains for the Guardian, noting that there is "a largely inescapable rule about storytelling: the better the villain, the better the hero."

A Writer at the Savannah Book Festival

Tess Hardwick is a novelist and playwright. She lives in Seattle, Wash., with her husband, young daughters and mischievous puppy, Patches. She writes a blog, "Inspiration for Ordinary Life" at Here she writes about her visit last month to the Savannah Book Festival in Savannah, Ga.:

A writer works in solitude. Readers devour books in much the same way. During rare and sacred occasions, writer and reader come together, as was the case last month at the Savannah Book Festival. Despite a forecast of rain, more than 11,000 book lovers came out to spend the day in lecture halls and book lines, to dwell and bask in the glow of 40 authors, including Stephen King, Hillary Jordan, Brad Thor and Douglas Brinkley.

I'm a reader and a writer, and unable to separate the two, I was part avid fan and part seeker of wisdom. Like a child in a toy store, I wished to attend every session, but like Robert Frost, could choose only one road, so I began the day with Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Having read his book last year, I was keen to hear him speak, not only to gain insight into a man who wrote an epic, historically detailed, love story set against the U.S. detainment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but also because we both spent our childhoods in southern Oregon.

He did not disappoint. Beginning his discussion by snapping a photo of the audience to post on his Facebook page, he went on to share his original aspirations to write serious literature to his eventual acquiescence that the grand love story of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was the story he had to tell. When an aspiring author asked him for advice on finding an agent and publisher, he generously told her about his first novel, now sitting in a drawer. The main thing, he said, is to keep writing. "There are no wasted words," he said. "Write what's in you."

Later I heard novelist, playwright and lyricist Laura Harrington read from her debut novel, Alice Bliss, a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl whose father is away at war. Harrington said she is compelled to write about wars in large part because of the haunting experiences of her father and brother in World War II and Vietnam. Although her father woke in the night screaming, she was not able to get him to speak of the war, and questions never asked or answered influence all of her work. "My father's silent war, made me desperately curious," she said.

Next, I heard Hilary Jordan, author of Mud Bath, read a short excerpt from her new dystopian novel, When She Woke. Afterwards she told of how she went from advertising executive to bestselling author. As so often happens, the need for practical items like food and rent got in the way of artistic aspirations, and she found herself writing clever advertising copy, married to the wrong person, instead of writing fiction. But in an act of bravery, she left her executive position at an advertising firm, divorced her husband and enrolled in an MFA program. For a long time she regretted "the wasted years," but she now understands that her mastery of the art of clever advertising copy enhances her fiction. She encouraged all of us to pursue something we love, despite how unrealistic it might seem, since everything you've done before prepares you for what comes next.

I finished the afternoon listening to Pat Conroy and his lifelong friend from his days at the Citadel, novelist John Warley, telling stories and answering questions from the audience. I didn't think anyone could love Pat Conroy more than me. I've read all his work so many times I feel I know him intimately. Apparently I'm not alone. The love in the room for this southern hero was palpable, a mixture of adoration and pride and familiarity, because his words have mattered to us, have been an expression of our own failings and longings and heartbreaks. 

"I cannot seem to write anything without my family looming up," Conroy said, and we all nodded in agreement, because regardless of our work, we are always seeking clarity from both the past and present, imbedded in the complexities of family. I thought, then, of all the writers I'd heard that day, how the bends and forks and unexpected potholes in the trajectories of their lives and loves have inspired and shaped their stories and subsequently does the same for their readers. Their brave explorations toward their own truths are why writing and books matter to those of us out here in the dark, reading the night away, seeking clarity.

Book Review


After Annie

by Michael Tucker

Novels by performing artists should have a warning on the cover: "Open at your own risk." Often the reading experience can be dismal (see: Chuck Norris, Marlon Brando), but occasionally the rewards can be worth the risk (musician Steve Earle, master storyteller Steve Martin). Fortunately, After Annie, a first novel by actor Michael Tucker (LA Law), is among the latter. Having paid his writing dues in nonfiction (including the memoir Living in a Foreign Language), Tucker brings an easy nonchalance and wit to his story of a middle-aged New York actor drinking away the loss of his longtime wife to cancer. Deep in his vodkas neat, he confides to the beautiful bartender, "I'm like a little baby; I tipped over my crib and... I'm waving my arms and screaming my head off, but there's nobody who can set me up straight again."

It turns out the bartender aspires to serious theater after doing bit parts in musicals. Olive and her career become Herbie Aaron's cause and his salvation. He hooks her up with his agent, who gets her into an upstate, but high-powered, production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Although Herbie runs off to Myrtle Beach to try to learn golf, he provides daily phone coaching for Olive--who has become both romantic fantasy and acting protégé.

There are no major denouements in Tucker's entertaining tale, but there are plenty of hands-on acting tips, backstage theater scenes and spirited sexual entanglements. "Write what you know" works well for Tucker, better than it has for many of his peers. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An engaging first novel about an actor at the end of his career and another at the beginning of hers.

Overlook Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9781590207352

The Variations

by John Donatich

John Donatich's first novel (after the memoir Ambivalence, a Love Story) explores the spiritual and secular life of an ordinary parish priest at a failing church in New Haven, Conn. The Variations is a tale not of scandal and abuse but rather of a contemplative middle-aged man, Father Dominic, who, after a lifetime of poverty, obedience and chastity, finds himself losing his faith and questioning his calling. He fears that, like his seldom driven 12-year-old Mercury Sable, he is "more likely to die of old age than experience."

When Dom's beloved mentor Father Carl dies, he finds himself alone in the crumbling church, where "abandoned scaffolding sat against the wall, stripped of optimism," left to comfort the dwindling neighborhood parishioners--including a scattered runaway girl, Dolores, who claims to be pregnant by Carl. In dealing with Dolores, Dom is forced to deal with his own doubts: "exhausted by the pressure to be responsive to her need, whole before her despair, orthodox in his guidance, agnostic before her sexuality."

Donatich engagingly balances Dom's erudite religious ruminations with Dolores's street vernacular, the talented black organist's repetitive practicing of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," and the Manhattan banter of the ambitious magazine editor who beds him in a mutual seduction after he takes a sabbatical to assess his future. The attraction of the secular eventually pulls Dom from the priesthood, but not before Donatich reminds us that the Catholic Church still offers a credible path for many who long for the commitment of faith. --Bruce Jacobs founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A debut novel about a Roman Catholic priest confronting the lures of the secular world.

Holt, $25, hardcover, 9780805094381

Chair of Tears

by Gerald Robert Vizenor

The gullibility of cultural studies departments is an easy target for satire and, after a long and distinguished career of activism and teaching, Gerald Vizenor has surely earned the right to poke as many academic eyes as he wants. In the wacky yet insightful Chair of Tears, though, the former director of Native American Studies at UC Berkeley goes beyond merely tweaking egos, aiming instead to blow up the very concept of "Native American Studies"--and the practice of passing native experience under the Euro-American lens for inspection and appraisal along with it.

Vizenor's hero, Captain Shammer, was raised on a Lake Itasca houseboat and, in the sort of magical irony rampant in this short novel, becomes the department head of Native American Studies at the University of Minnesota. A trickster in the classic folklore sense, Shammer immediately turns the department on its head, introducing spurious cultural practices the credulous faculty members swiftly embrace as authentic Native traditions. Vizenor fires on multiple targets with wicked glee--one moment, he'll  address the lack of Native Americans in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon; the next, he'll introduce dogs trained to bark when they detect the absence of irony.

Vizenor has made a career of warring against the norms and paradigms that have created an "American Indian" identity and has little interest in cultivating a popular readership. Chair of Tears is a heavy read, full of complex cultural references, but it's often bitterly funny, proving once again that this seasoned provocateur has the irony dogs well under his command. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: A wacky (and challenging) satire of Native American studies departments by a long-time gadfly.

Bison Books/Univ. of Nebraska, $16.95, paperback, 9780803238404

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Arctic Rising

by Tobias S. Buckell

In the future of Tobias S. Buckell's Arctic Rising, climate change is real, it's happened, and the Arctic Circle has been transformed into a global center of commerce and economic power. When Anika Duncan's airship is shot down during a routine shipping flyover and her partner killed, she decides to figure out just what is going on and who is responsible.

Anika's search for revenge leads her to Violet, an independent businesswoman (and drug dealer) educated on the mean streets of Siberia who becomes Anika's main love interest, and Prudence, a dashing young mercenary-spy from the Caribbean with a knack for crowdsourcing and hacking--along with his obvious skill with boats and handguns. They're also the founders of a global corporation--Gaia--hell-bent on reversing the global warming trend, and threatening the companies and governments who control the newly uncovered oilfields.

Buckell's characters are convincing in their actions and apparent motivations, and the environments of Arctic Rising familiar to a modern audience yet still slightly foreign, with a ring of third-world authenticity. Anika is a multiracial lesbian aeronautical pilot, but her Nigerian ancestry and sexual orientation merely inform her character rather than overwhelm the story. Though occasional passages read like expository infodumps, for the most part, Buckell's story takes precedence over the whiz-bang ideas. The result is a human-sized tale of global politics and speculative technology that shows off the worldbuilding skills of a confident science fiction author. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A strikingly recognizable near-future where an attempt to reverse global warming has devastating effects.

Tor Books, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765319210

Biography & Memoir

Burn Down the Ground

by Kambri Crews

It's fair to say Kambri Crews had an unconventional childhood. Her parents (and maternal grandparents, and several other relatives) were deaf, so she took on a translator's duties from a young age. If that weren't enough, when she was seven, her family picked up and moved to a rural patch of woods in Boars Head, Texas, where their first order of business was to burn the undergrowth, clearing out the snakes. As her parents struggled to make ends meet, she ran wild, with little supervision. On top of everything else, there's her parents' dysfunctional relationship, which escalated so dramatically that when Kambri was a teen, her father tried to kill her mother.

This sounds very bleak, but Burn Down the Ground is no simple misery memoir. For one thing, Crews is very funny. (She runs a comedy-focused PR firm, and she's often performed as a comic storyteller.) She isn't entirely making light, though: she doesn't flinch from describing her father's violent attack on her mother, and she doesn't softball how the turmoil shaped her youth. (One of the book's most excruciating passages comes when she helps vandalize a childhood friend's abandoned home.) Ultimately, what makes this a moving, compelling memoir is that Crews hasn't limited herself to a single theme--whether it's deafness, life in the woods, domestic violence or having a parent in prison. Instead, she's drawn upon all of them and produced a nuanced, self-aware account that does justice to her complicated childhood. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Discover: A multifaceted memoir of love, abuse and--most of all--resilience.

Villard, $25, hardcover, 9780345516022

The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination

by Fiona MacCarthy

Edward Burne-Jones's haunting paintings are among the most recognizable in English art history; as a creative partner in Morris & Co., he was a significant influence on the "look" of the late 19th century. In The Last Pre-Raphaelite, Fiona MacCarthy (who previously wrote a life of William Morris) depicts Burne-Jones's rise from a penniless striver to nationally renowned luminary, filling her account with all sorts of tiny details (such as his intense dislike of unattractive cleaning ladies). The picture that emerges is that of a fascinating, creative character prone to nervous breakdowns and marital strife, but also possessed of great talent and a charmingly goofy sense of humor. While deadly serious about his aesthetics, Burne-Jones was also a prolific doodler, often caricaturing his own scrawniness and "Topsy" Morris's roly-polyness.

Besides covering names, dates and places, MacCarthy situates Burne-Jones in the broader artistic and cultural ferment of his age. Born in 1833 in rough-and-tumble Birmingham, he had a front-row view of the industrial revolution and proved an important figure in the cultural reaction to that upheaval. As the title suggests, MacCarthy addresses the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (of which Burne-Jones was a junior member) at length, with a similarly rich discussion of the aesthetic movement (of which Burne-Jones was a leading light). She also tracks the artist's influences--from continental tours sponsored by critic John Ruskin to his decades-long, often-fraught working relationship with William Morris--in great detail. It's no quick read, but The Last Pre-Raphaelite will reward those with patience and a passion for 19th-century art and history. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Discover: An intimately detailed record of a 19th-century artist's personal and professional ups and downs.

Harvard University Press, $35, hardcover, 9780674065796

Pot Farm

by Matthew Gavin Frank

Vagabond, foodie, poet and professor Matthew Gavin Frank left his vigil at the bedside of his finally stabilized cancer-stricken mother in his home town Chicago and, like Huck Finn, "[lit] out for the territory ahead of the rest." In his case, the territory was a medicinal marijuana farm in Mendocino County, Calif.; the resident yoga instructor had called to offer him a seasonal stint working "the grow" at the farm of a buxom Janis Joplin lookalike named Lady Wanda.

The legal pot farm is a relatively new phenomenon, but Wanda's motley work crew seems very much out of the illegal communal dope farms of the Wavy-Gravy 1960s. Frank's funny Pot Farm, admittedly influenced by a taste of the harvest and some James Frey stretching of the facts, tells the stories of these mostly nicknamed renegades: Charlie the Mechanic, Crazy Jeff, Hector the Tree Sniper, Lawn Mower Man and, of course, earth mother Lady Wanda herself--"her cleavage as deep as a well, ample enough to house not only a few coins, but my entire bank account."

The memoir's season of weed, however, is not all smoking, jiving and sleeping in a tent. Legal marijuana is big business; from the grows to the dispensaries, it throws $1.7 billion into the Mendocino County economy. It requires hard hand labor and careful pruning, cutting and processing. Because the state and federal laws conflict, any day the crop could be confiscated by the DEA ("Johnny Screw" as Wanda calls it) and the whole crew arrested. But with ganja clippers in his calloused hands, Frank covers it all in this entertaining adventure. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A slightly cockeyed memoir of a season on a (mostly) legal pot farm in California.

University of Nebraska Press, $16.95, paperback, 9780803237841


If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home

by Lucy Worsley

Historian Lucy Worsley (The Courtiers) takes readers on a tour of the innermost sanctions of the English home, exploring "what people actually did in bed, in the bath, at the table and at the stove." If Walls Could Talk reveals how separate rooms evolved from the semi-communal homes of medieval times, where people "simply had a living space in which they happened to rest--or eat, or read, or party--and they used the same room for everything." History buffs and those intrigued with quirky and trivial details will learn how commoners and kings performed all the natural functions of the body. For example, Henry VIII's bath water traveled three miles before reaching his round wooden tub, and his close stool, "a padded, seat-less chair placed over a pewter or ceramic chamber pot," was "stuffed with swansdown, covered with velvet and decorated with gilt nails and fringes."

From messy and prolonged Tudor births and breastfeeding to the Victorian wife whose "cares were to be kept to herself rather than shared with her busy, important, money-earning husband," Worlsey discusses advancements made in all the domestic arenas. Leading readers through the centuries, room by room, she describes the advent of special sitting-room furniture, the accumulation of "stuff" to show off one's wealth and education levels and how "the kitchen has been the scene of vicious class and gender battles." Overflowing with specifics, If Walls Could Talk is a fly's perspective on the messy nuances of life in an English home. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An in-depth, personal look at the evolution of the English household.

Walker & Co., $27, hardcover, 9780802779953

Psychology & Self-Help

The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD

by Lidia Zylowska; foreword by Daniel Siegel

One of the first news stories of 2012 reported that the previous year's shortages of the medication Adderall would continue and likely worsen. Adderall is a stimulant medication used primarily in treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in millions of Americans. With the availability of one of the primary treatments in doubt, a great many people stand to benefit from Lidia Zylowska's eight-step program for applying mindfulness to relieve symptoms associated with the disorder. Readers familiar with Jon Kabat-Zinn's pioneering studies in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and his following books will find Zylowska's work familiar. Rather than letting our minds get tangled in concerns about recent events or projections about what may happen--whether planning a response in a conversation or worrying about the distant future--mindfulness involves remembering to bring your attention to what's happening in the here and now.

The writing nicely balances a thoughtful, comprehensive presentation of the various aspects of a mindfulness practice with a format geared toward making the content accessible for readers seeking to learn self-treatment skills. Nearly every page features bulleted lists, short paragraphs and narrative-form stories about mindfulness and ADHD. Structured to be accessible for its target audience, this supportive guide to managing ADHD through mindfulness offers a clear and detailed program for putting an effective treatment in the hands of consumers and is a great contrast to the many didactic, jargon-laden self-help books available. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo

Discover: A clear and supportive guide for ADHD sufferers who want to learn self-treatment skills.

Trumpeter, $18.95, paperback, 9781590308479

House & Home

Knit Your Own Cat: Easy-to-Follow Patterns for 16 Frisky Felines

by Sally Muir, Joanna Osborne

Cats pride themselves on having the final say, so Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne were destined to follow up their Knit Your Own Dog with a feline version. If you're not a "cat person" (or even adept at needlework), you'll still want to adopt the charming little Knit your Own Cat, if only for the authors' delightful word play ("...make them all and be a knitting Pussy Galore.")

Sixteen breeds are divided into four categories: long- and short-haired, exotic and "street." An index of thumbnail photos provides quick references, but the British needleworkers offer clear instructions and tips for adding unusual characteristics to your creation, so although the basic four-paws, tail and whiskers format is repetitive, each kitty in your litter can be special. (Stuff her with rice to add weight, and when you pick her up she'll feel like she's asleep! A pipecleaner in the tail can provide endless variations on the cat's attitude, be it prowling or napping.)

Cat trivia--from the breeds favored by royalty to cat-held records (weight, rodent-kills) to the pesky pet who forced Newton to build the first cat door--introduce every pattern, sometimes stretching credibility but always adding interest. Crisp photos will assist a knitter curious about the exact techniques and are entertaining for the casual reader. Guaranteed allergy-free, this passel of kitties is as much fun as the bunch from Broadway--be prepared to find yourself humming "Memory" as you knit!--Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Black Dog & Leventhal, $14.95, paperback, 9781579128937

Children's & Young Adult

Ballerina Swan

by Allegra Kent, illus. by Emily Arnold McCully

With humor and a light touch, first-time children's author and Balanchine ballerina Allegra Kent celebrates the rewards of persistence and practice.

Every day from her pond in a city park, Sophie the swan watches the graceful dancers in Madam Myrtle's Dance Studio. One day, Sophie sneaks into class and, although Madam Myrtle won't let her stay, the swan finds her opening when substitute teacher Miss Willow allows her to participate.

Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully (Mirette on the High Wire) exploits the comic opportunities of a swan in ballet class. In Sophie's attempts at a series of pliés, she looks more pelican-like than prima ballerina, and Miss Willow tells Sophie "to work on your turnout" (i.e., her webbed feet placement). Like every dancer, Sophie discovers moves at which she excels (like the grand jeté) and others that need work. But Sophie proves her commitment by repeating the steps until she masters them all. Vignette illustrations emphasize her hard work, and an image of her with a pink iPod is priceless. Even Madam Myrtle softens up.

Sophie proves where there's a will, there's a way--especially if you're willing to put in some practice time. Every girl who has ever taken ballet class will recognize herself in these lively and lighthearted pen-and-ink and watercolor scenes, and those who haven't will find the humor in Sophie's plight. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A tale of a swan who dreams of dancing in a ballet, which combines humor and the rewards of hard work.

Holiday House, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9780823423736


by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen (Hoot) combines the humor of the backstage workings of a reality show with weightier themes in what may be his best book for young people yet.

Wahoo Cray has been the man of the house ever since his father, Mickey, a professional animal wrangler, received a concussion when a frozen iguana fell from a palm tree during a Florida hard freeze. Wahoo's mother heads to China to teach Mandarin Chinese to businessmen and help pay the family's mortgage while her husband recovers. One day, Wahoo answers a call from Derek Badger, star of a reality show in which Badger faces fierce animals in the wilderness. Badger wants to wrestle the Crays' alligator, Alice. Wahoo accepts the $1,000-a-day job. At least half the fun of the novel derives from the clash between Mickey, a true nature lover, and showboater Badger. After Badger nearly drowns "riding" Alice, doing everything Mickey told him not to do, things get really out of hand when Badger decides he wants to wrestle untamed creatures in the Everglades and brings Mickey and Wahoo along.

Hiaasen keeps many balls in the air, then brings them all in for a safe and wholly entertaining landing. He renders his portrayals of the adults as fully as he does the children. While there's plenty of humor at Badger's expense, even the narcissistic reality show host reveals some redeeming qualities. With his compassion for Florida's hard-hit citizens and his awe of its natural wonders, Hiaasen may have outdone himself with this exceptional novel. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A father-son team gets drafted for an out-of-control nature reality show in Hiaasen's best book for young people yet.

Knopf, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 10-up, 9780375868429

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