Oxford University Press: The War That Forged A Nation by James McPherson

Tattered Cover Book Store Issue for Friday, March 27, 2015

From the Shelf

Will Spring Ever Come?

As the classic Tony Bennett song goes, "You Must Believe in Spring," though some of us have nearly lost faith. Here are some of our favorite books that pay tribute to the season as we await its arrival.

Carin Berger's three-dimensional collages in a bouquet of sherbet colors illustrate a bear cub's first change of seasons in Finding Spring. Everyone knows that spring brings new life to the farm. In Click, Clack, Peep! by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, Baby Duck is born, but won't sleep, wreaking havoc on Farmer Brown's cows, pigs and chickens.

Children learn about the entire life cycle of a robin in Nest by Jorey Hurley. With one word per page in an exquisite series of compositions, the book's deceptive simplicity makes it enjoyable to everyone from toddlers to adults. Egg by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, goes a step up in scientific sophistication and includes eggs of many different animals, from birds to fish, reptiles to mammals, depicted in stunning collage.

A pair of picture books pays homage to spring's unpredictable weather. In rhyming text, When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Jana Christy, spans one afternoon, the changing light and the movement of one family as a spring storm approaches a seaside town. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson, depicts a gentle Sunday morning rainstorm as a boy and his nana board a city bus, and readers go on their transformational journey.

If you can't get to Yellowstone National Park in person, let Tor Seidler take you and your family there in Firstborn, as a magpie named Maggie forms an unlikely friendship with Blue Boy, the firstborn of his wolf pack. With these books as companions, spring will be here before you know it. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

St. Martin's: The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry

Knopf: Poetry Month

Rusoff Agency: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell

In this Issue...

Reviews

Just So Happens

by Fumio Obata

An intimate and thoughtful story that highlights the struggles Asian immigrants face in assimilating to Western cultures.

Read this review >>

Shadow Scale

by Rachel Hartman

An epic adventure set in a highly original world where dragons and humans coexist uneasily.

Read this review >>

Whisper Hollow

by Chris Cander

A woman in a small West Virginia mining town and the myriad ways her life and her secrets influence those around her.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Graphic Books Biography & Memoir Social Science Essays & Criticism Children's & Young Adult Poetry

University of Minnesota Press: Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

Book Candy

Finding More Reading Time; Female Protagonists

Noting that the "more you read, the more you learn," Pick the Brain offered "10 simple tips to guarantee more reading time in your day."

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Buzzfeed recommended "29 awesome books with strong female protagonists."

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A pop quiz for The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies fans: "To which army do you belong?"

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Jane Alexander, author of The Last Treasure Hunt, chose her "top 10 treasure hunts in fiction" for the Guardian.

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T.S. Eliot was one. Mental Floss revealed "11 poets who wrote dirty verse."

Pegasus Books: Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

The Writer's Life

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne: French Thrillers

Jacques Ravennes (l.) and Eric Giacometti

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravennes are the French authors of the bestselling Antoine Marcas mysteries. These high-action thrillers combine meticulous historical research with unusual plots and a compellingly complex hero. Giacometti is a former investigative journalist. Ravenne is a literary critic, a specialist on the life of the Marquis de Sade and a Freemason. Their books have been published in 16 countries. The first book in the series, Shadow Ritual (reviewed below), is now available in the U.S.

Mr. Giacometti, you've been a journalist for Le Parisien, which has been publishing since World War II. Does your interest in that time period have any connection to your work at the newspaper? Is journalism very different from novel writing?

As an investigative journalist, I wrote about many subjects, including Freemasonry. I investigated some cases of corruption that involved certain Freemasons on the French Riviera. That led me to discover the dark side of the brotherhood, which has given rise to many heated discussions with Jacques. Mind you, Freemasons involved in that kind of activity are few in number. I also researched the destruction wreaked by the Nazis during their occupation of France, a black page in the history of the country, and I did so well before I began writing for Le Parisien. That paper was long known as Le Parisien Libéré ("The Free Parisian"). It was founded at the Liberation of France in 1944, rising from the ashes of the popular daily paper Le Petit Parisien. I've always been fascinated by that era. I've also always had a passion for fiction that my work in journalism neither diminished nor sated. Writing for the media is often marked by an ability to react promptly and write quickly, whereas writing novels is characterized by a greater interiority. Nevertheless, I've been an investigative journalist for a long time, and knowing how to conduct quick, thorough research has helped me a lot with the plotting and writing of novels.

Mr. Ravenne, how has your work as a literary critic influenced your writing?

I've spent a long time conducting research on the creation of literary works, and working with manuscript drafts. It's fascinating to see how a writer constructs a plot or refines a sentence. My job consists of demonstrating the creative structure of written works. And, of course, this precise and demanding research has helped a lot with writing thrillers, because a thriller plot only works if it is built like clockwork.

It's obvious that you've done a lot of research for this book. What did that involve?

We've always been passionate about history, whether it's the official schoolbook version or the more obscure details you find woven between the big stuff. Our thrillers take around three months of documentary research before we begin writing, which we do in libraries and talking to scholars. For Shadow Ritual, we read many nonfiction books about the dark period in which part of the novel takes place: France during the Nazi occupation, and the end of World War II. For example, we borrowed the character of Le Guermand, a French SS officer, from actual history. There were several thousand Frenchmen who joined the SS, some of whom defended Hitler's bunker to the end in the spring of 1945. In France, it has long been taboo to discuss these soldiers who fought under the German flag. In contrast, there exist very few works of reference about the Thule, a real secret society, and the more esoteric sides of Nazism. They are a part of history that is still mysterious enough to spark the imagination.

Why do you think the Masons are such a fascinating subject?

The Freemasons have intrigued the public since their creation in England at the end of the 17th century. Part of the fascination is political, as Freemasonry brings together wildly different people and personalities, which always unnerves the powers that be. Originally, the Masonic lodges in the United Kingdom allowed Protestants and Catholics to exchange ideas, while the country was in the midst of a civil war. People are also fascinated with the more esoteric side, the symbols and codes, and the fact that Masonic lodges in Europe have always been the keepers of occult traditions, such as alchemy.

Your hero Antoine Marcas is in many ways unusual. For me, he's more interesting than your average thriller protagonist. How did you develop his character? Does he contain any elements of your personalities?

As a Freemason, he believes in Freemason values, but he has a realistic understanding of the brotherhood and its faults. This isn't the Mason of popular imagination whose initiation gave him instant access to arcane knowledge. He's a divorced cop who has problems with his ex-wife and who evolves in a realistic universe. But it's a universe where all of a sudden the veil tears and a stranger, more esoteric reality appears. He passes through what the poet Gérard de Nerval called "the gates of horn and ivory." Marcas was born from our disagreements. Eric had a negative image of Freemasonry marked by its scandals, while Jacques had had enough of reading reductionist articles about the Brotherhood. Over the years--we have written 10 novels in the Antoine Marcas series in French--Eric has become "Mason-friendly," but he maintains a critical distance from its influences. Antoine Marcas is an ideal, principled Freemason. In Shadow Ritual, he teams up with Jade, a secret service agent who detests the Brothers.

What distinguishes French thrillers from American thrillers? How do you expect U.S. readers to react to your novels?

The thriller genre in France rose from a fascination with the rhythm and the gore of American thrillers, but French thrillers do have their own characteristics, as they often explore topics unfamiliar to the American public. They also tend to delve into the psychology of the characters, and often focus on the incarnations of evil. Doubtless it will be interesting for American readers to discover--and appreciate--this new literature from across the Atlantic.

When can the English-reading public look forward to enjoying the next book in the series?

The next book in the series to come out in English is scheduled for early 2016. For it, we unearthed some little known Freemason connections between the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. --Emma Page, bookseller at Island Books in Mercer Island, Wash.

Ecco: The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle

Book Reviews

Fiction

Whisper Hollow

by Chris Cander

Chris Cander's Whisper Hollow is set entirely in the small town of Verra, a close-knit mining town in West Virginia. The novel is ostensibly the story of Alta Krol, and as such, the story is structured around Alta's life: as a young girl in Verra in the 1920s and as an aging woman in the same town in the 1960s. Alta is a fascinating and complicated character in her own right--a woman who yearns to be a painter and escape the mining life, but is bound by family duty to care for her widowed father and brothers--but she is only one part of Cander's multi-layered novel. Surrounding her are Myrthen, whose twin sister died tragically when they were nearly six; John Esposito, a young baseball player who dreams of being an architect; Lidia, the mother of a precocious son who may be able to see into the past--or tell the future; and a cast of small-town miners and villagers who stand by each other in times of need, but have also been known to tear each other down when their way of life feels threatened.

Cander (11 Stories; The Weight of a Piano) weaves together the stories of these varied characters across nearly five decades with skill and grace, and in her hands, Whisper Hollow grows into much more than the sum of its many parts. The result is a memorable novel about the bonds of town and family, the strength of friendships in unlikely places and the power of secrets to shape a life--or many lives--often without anyone even recognizing it. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A woman in a small West Virginia mining town and the myriad ways her life and her secrets influence those around her.

Other Press, $17.95, paperback, 9781590517116

Algonquin Young Readers: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Our Endless Numbered Days

by Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller's beautifully tragic debut novel is a survivalist story. Peggy, the book's narrator, is eight years old when her father, James, kidnaps her from their London home and takes her to a crumbling cabin deep in the woods. The Cold War rages, and James tells her the rest of the world has been destroyed.

Father and daughter work tirelessly to make the ramshackle hut a home: repairing, hunting, fishing, gardening. Fuller's depiction of the pair's life is far from bucolic, however. James is unpredictable and often leaves his young daughter shaken and terrified by his explosive outbursts. Obsessed with survivalism, James meticulously calculates the store of supplies they will need for the winter, but his estimates fall short and they struggle, barely making it through the treacherously cold and potentially deadly months.

Believing for years that no one else is alive, Peggy is startled when she senses the presence of another person during her daily forest wanderings. Encountering this third survivor rocks the foundation of the life she and James have so arduously labored to maintain.

Our Endless Numbered Days is sure to leave readers gloriously disquieted. The perspective of a young, naïve narrator creates both an uncertainty in her reliability and empathy for her helplessness. The unsettling plot twists infuse the story with rich psychological suspense. Through them, Fuller strikes horror, but she also raises hope. This surprisingly satisfying dichotomy will survive in readers' hearts and minds long after the fate of Peggy and James has been revealed. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A young girl lives isolated in the wilderness with her father, believing they are the only living humans left.

Tin House Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781941040010

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Tim Gunn

Mademoiselle Chanel

by C.W. Gortner

Before Coco Chanel became a household name, breaking fashion rules to create her own distinctive brand, she was Gabrielle Chanel, one of five children whose mother died young and whose father abandoned them. Sent with her sisters to an orphanage, Gabrielle impressed the nuns with her sewing skills and spent her childhood plotting her escape. As a young woman, she took the nickname Coco, becoming a seamstress and experimenting with hat making. Ambitious but penniless, Chanel caught the attention of a few wealthy Parisians who purchased her hats and whose connections gained her entrée to the exclusive circles of high society. In Mademoiselle Chanel, C.W. Gortner (the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles) draws a vivid fictional portrait of Chanel's rise to fame--provocative, acerbic and bewitching, like the woman herself.

Framed by two scenes detailing the comeback Chanel staged in 1954, the novel unfolds in five acts, describing Chanel's childhood, her early career as a struggling seamstress in Vichy and her unprecedented success as a couturier and perfumer. Gortner delves into Chanel's complicated relationships with men, her friends in Parisian high society and bohemian circles and her uneasy connection to the occupying Nazis during World War II. Drawing on recent claims that Chanel was a collaborator, Gortner explores the difficult choices made necessary by war and privation, and shows the melancholy side of a woman known around the world but often deeply lonely.

Absorbing, heartbreaking and salacious--like Chanel's life story--Mademoiselle Chanel is a sensitive portrait of a complex cultural icon. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A vivid, heartbreaking portrait of Coco Chanel's meteoric rise to fame and her complicated personal life.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062356406

Mystery & Thriller

Shadow Ritual

by Eric Giacometti , Jacques Ravenne , trans. by Anne Trager

Berlin, 1945: The Third Reich is crumbling, and Hitler is living out his last days in desperate seclusion. This is a familiar scene, one that has been the subject of innumerable works of both fiction and nonfiction. Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne's Shadow Ritual, however, quickly takes a turn for the strange. At Hitler's side is a French SS officer known as Le Geurmand who has been chosen to go into hiding as part of a long-term underground mission directed by an ancient sect known as the Thule. It isn't until half a century later that the consequences of his actions begin to reveal themselves.

In Rome in 2005, a man named Antoine Marcas is a Freemason and an expert in the history of that mysterious order. He's also a police officer, two roles that collide when he's assigned to assist in the investigation of a series of ritualistic murders. His partner in that investigation is Jade Zewinski, a cop with personal reasons to distrust the Masons. Shadow Ritual has the plot and pacing of a thriller, but the authors' meticulous attention to historical detail sets it apart. The novel is full of Masonic esoterica, made all the more fascinating by the fact that Ravenne is a member of the order. The first of the bestselling Antoine Marcas mysteries, the novel is now available for the first time in the U.S. --Emma Page, bookseller at Island Books in Mercer Island, Wash.

Discover: The first in a series of high-action thrillers featuring Antoine Marcas, police officer and Freemason.

Le French Book, $34.95, hardcover, 9781939474315

Graphic Books

Just So Happens

by Fumio Obata

In Just So Happens, Fumio Obata has created a visually elegant, emotionally rich semi-autobiographical graphic novel that examines the conflict between parental expectations and the cultural and social differences faced by Asian immigrants living in the West.

Yumiko Ono, Obata's protagonist, is a successful designer living in London, engaged to a Brit named Mark and fully assimilated into the hustle and bustle of London culture. During a gallery showing, Yumiko receives a phone call from her brother, who informs her of her father's death in a mountaineering accident. As Yumiko boards the plane and flies back to Tokyo to attend her father's funeral, she replays images of her last visit home--the weight of parental expectations for marriage and settling down in Japan, and her father's apparent disapproval of her career ambitions abroad--in dreamy flashbacks haunted by a Noh theater character she had seen perform in Tokyo. Yumiko endures the traditional death rituals with detached stoicism, until the moment she confronts her father's dead body. A physical touch to his face unleashes a torrent of grief, fueled by guilt and regret, and she escapes to the peace and quiet of Kyoto in order to reconcile her emotional struggles with the life that she has carved abroad.

Obata's fluid watercolors capture Yumiko's inner turmoil wonderfully. Like Yumiko, Obata is an expatriate himself; he left Japan for England in 1991, to study art. And he, too, has grappled with integrating two vastly different cultures. Yet he is able to show the beauty and richness of both cultures in his first major work of fiction. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: An intimate and thoughtful story that highlights the struggles Asian immigrants face in assimilating to Western cultures.

Abrams, $24.95, hardcover, 9781419715952

Biography & Memoir

Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

by Barney Frank

Readers who enjoy political intrigue and an insider's view of the workings of United States politics will find an excellent tour guide in Barney Frank, the outspoken gay Democrat who served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (representing Massachusetts) from 1981 to 2013.

Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage is a political biography--there's no time for childhood memories; by page six, Frank is 16 years old and working on Adlai Stevenson's second presidential campaign. He offers compelling and nuanced accounts of how key political legislation moved through the political mechanisms, and why they succeeded or failed.

Never averse to working with Republicans, Frank made cross-party compromises to help end racial and sexual inequality. Today, compromise is almost impossible. Frank writes: "America's political community has come to live in two parallel media universes. Each wing ingests information and opinion that reinforces its own policy preferences and its own conviction that those preferences reflect majority opinion."

As an astute eyewitness and participant to more than 50 years of political history, Frank offers keen observations about Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings; the creation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; becoming the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, where he tried to reform Wall Street; the Iraq War; and the rise of the Tea Party. Frank is more reticent about his private life, but opens up a bit when discussing his relationship and eventual marriage to Jim Ready. Frank is a talented, persuasive and witty raconteur whose passion for politics and justice translates to a compulsively readable overview of American political life. --Kevin Howell, reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A insider's candid political biography that crosses all party lines, filled with memorable and observant stories of compromise for the good of all.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28, hardcover, 9780374280307

Social Science

Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever

by James Wallman

James Wallman believes that "we need to discard our materialist values and replace them with experientialist ones," and he provides convincing evidence that the shift from status-seeking toward a pared-down, minimalist life is well underway. He compares materialism to the obesity epidemic: too much stuff is causing millions to feel overwhelmed and suffocated.

Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever opens with a wealthy businessman who decided to place his belongings into boxes and bags to see what he truly needed throughout the course of 21 days. He discovered that "stuff" had become a distraction from the goals that bring lasting happiness: health and satisfying relationships. He is not alone; nearly half of the people surveyed in more than 50 countries are becoming "post-materialists," due to "stable upbringing[s], the stress of stuff, [concern for the] environment, the aging population, the growing population, the rise of the middle class, the move to cities, a lack of belief in the system, knowing that experiences are more likely to make us happier, the rise in costs and the switch to digital."

Wallman recognizes that in this age of social media, experiences must be sought for intrinsic satisfaction, not extrinsic FOMO (fear of missing out) or to impress Facebook friends. He believes experiences "hold up" better over time and contribute to happiness because they can be positively reinterpreted, do not grow stale, are hard to compare, contribute to our identity and bring us closer to other people. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: How humans become materialistic, and action plans for becoming less "stuffocated" and more experiential.

Spiegel & Grau, $26, hardcover, 9780812997590

Essays & Criticism

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

by Jane Hirshfield

With the 10 insightful essays in Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, poet Jane Hirshfield continues the investigation she began in Nine Gates, into the ways poetry carries meaning and emotional truth. As one of poetry's most respected practitioners, she mounts a passionate argument for its importance and transformational power.

Poetry offers "new ways of perceiving" in complex and interconnected ways, she argues. The poet sees or hears or feels something and, in an act of the imagination, uses the tools of craft--words, images and form--to turn it into something previously unsaid and unknown. Each reader in turn re-creates the poet's imaginative experience. A poem changes us because experience changes us, and so poetry provokes new reactions to the familiar objects and concerns of life, connecting writer and reader and showing both how to see or hear or feel.

By expressing something new, a good poem moves both poet and reader toward emotional enlargement and an increase in awareness. Hirshfield uses examples drawn from poetry and literature, including Horace, Basho and Raymond Carver, and from the natural world and evolutionary science. Additionally, photos and other reproductions of visual art--like that of contemporary Times Square and Maya Lin's original submission for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition--ground her argument and contribute to the wonder of this collection. But Hirshfield is a poet first, and she anchors Ten Windows with her deep appreciation for poetry's ability to inquire of us how to live and create in a world that will ultimately go on without us. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Ten essays on the transformational power of poetry and creative expression.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385351058

Curiosity

by Alberto Manguel

Each chapter of novelist and critic Alberto Manguel's Curiosity has a question for a title. In the hands of another writer, one might expect answers to the various queries (or at least suggestions for how the reader might go about answering them for herself), but Manguel's project is not to find answers. Instead, he explores questioning in and of itself, and what happens when a question is formulated. Curiosity, of course, isn't always satisfied, even if an answer does eventually appear.

Using Dante's Divine Comedy as his central text, Manguel (All Men Are Liars) explores nearly every aspect of human existence (from death to globalization to our relationships with our pets). He depicts Dante's journey from hell to heaven as an intellectual one, bound tightly to the moral and spiritual metamorphoses the Florentine poet undergoes. To Manguel, the formulation and expression (and, hopefully, the quenching) of our curiosity is the intellectually human endeavor. Dante's journey from sin (which ancient philosophers such as Aristotle believed could only come from ignorance) to virtue is paradigmatic of each person's groping in the darkness when faced with an unanswered question. But Dante isn't the only touchstone of Curiosity: Manguel brings his considerable knowledge and insight to bear on a handful of important thinkers, including David Hume, St. Augustine, Jorge Luis Borges and Rachel Carson. While the subject matter and prose may be a bit academic for casual readers, Curiosity is ultimately rewarding for those interested in an illuminating look at some of life's hardest questions. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: A profound, insightful look into the human proclivity for questions, through literature.

Yale University Press, $30, hardcover, 9780300184785

Children's & Young Adult

Shadow Scale

by Rachel Hartman

Readers will want to savor every word of Shadow Scale, Rachel Hartman's worthy follow-up to her Morris Award–winning debut, Seraphina. The sequel continues the exploration of the fantastic, quasi-medieval world where dragons, saints and humans collide.

At the start of Shadow Scale, an uneasy peace shared by dragons and humans for the last 40 years has just been broken. Dragons rebelling against a longstanding treaty have poisoned the Queen of Goredd and her daughter, and attempted to assassinate the great dragon general himself, Ardmagar Comonot. Narrator Seraphina, half-dragon and half-human, is appointed emissary of the Crown and sets off to find others of her kind. The hope is that they will be able to link minds, "[l]ike beads on a string," forming a barrier that will protect the city from the coming dragon attacks. But politics and intrigue abound, as does a pervasive prejudice against all ityasaari (half-dragons). Seraphina perseveres, though many of the other half-dragons prove more difficult than she had anticipated. And one of them, an ityasaari with great "mind-fire," is plotting against her, manipulating humans and half-humans, pitting dragon against dragon, and bringing all of the Southlands to the edge of ruin.

Shadow Scale's multi-layered, complex plot further exposes Hartman's highly original world. Seraphina's feelings of loneliness and alienation feel all too human, as does the love story. While the romance is compelling, it never dominates the narrative. It features prominently in the conclusion, however, and readers can only imagine what lies ahead. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: An epic adventure set in a highly original world where dragons and humans coexist uneasily.

Random House, $18.99, hardcover, 608p., ages 12-up, 9780375866579

Hold Me Closer

by David Levithan

Fans of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan know that the spotlight onstage is "Tiny's special place," and Levithan (writing solo) shines a fabulous one on him here.

Tiny Cooper, Will Grayson's larger-than-life best friend, stars in his own birth-to-adolescence biography, fashioned as a musical. One need not know Green and Levithan's novel to enjoy this show, from Tiny's opening number, "I Was Born This Way" ("big-boned and happily gay./ I was born this way,/ right here in the U.S. of A.") to his coming out to himself ("Who am I trying to be/ when I'm denying I'm me?/ Why is the truth/ so stuck inside?") and eventually, to the world. One of the book's most moving moments occurs when Tiny comes out to Phil Wrayson (aka Will Grayson), but Phil already knows. Levithan fills the book with delectable morsels of Broadway insider jokes and music trivia. Tiny sees the world through the prism of the predominantly straight culture he was born into, adapting those definitions in order to make sense of his feelings and impulses, as in "Second Base" ("What's second base for a gay man?/ If you can't tell me,/ I'm hoping somebody can").

As in all good musicals, full-cast numbers, such as the brilliant "Parade of Ex-Boyfriends" that kicks off Act II, give way to solo acts both funny ("Drunk on Love") and heart-wrenching ("Something Else": "If you're tired of twisting,/ exhausted by existing,/ I understand"). This lightning-fast read is for Will Grayson devotees, musical theater aficionados and comedy lovers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The life story of Tiny Cooper, Will Grayson's larger-than-life best friend, fashioned as a musical.

Dial, $17.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 14-up, 9780525428848

My Pen

by Christopher Myers

In this irresistible pen-and-ink exploration of imagination, the drawings are specific enough to ground readers in Christopher Myers's reality and ambiguous enough for them to bring their own experiences to the scenes.

Myers plays with the relationship between artist and instrument. An unbroken ink line cuts the white title page on a diagonal while simultaneously bringing to life the child narrator. The boy looks downcast at the thought of "rich people who own jewels and houses and pieces of the sky.... But then I remember I have my pen." He shows readers all the things his pen can do. "My pen makes giants of old men who have seen better days," acts as caption to a portrait of the author-artist's father, Walter Dean Myers. Sometimes, artist and pen are interchangeable: "My pen rides dinosaurs and hides an elephant in a teacup" pictures the artist on the back of a T. Rex, then observing an elephant whose trunk echoes the teacup's handle. Myers varies the pace with single pages (a standout renders an X-ray of the artist's rib cage as the wings of a Monarch butterfly) and full-spread scenes that juxtapose images of war with a light-filled spread of diverse children and a giant heart antidote.

A metadrawing of the pen creating a self-portrait, as the artist stares into a mirror, begs the question: Does the artist make the art, or does the art make the artist? He ends with an invitation to readers to dive in and find out. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Christopher Myers explores an artist's imagination, as seen through a series of pen-and-inks in his sketchbook.

Disney/Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 8-up, 9781423103714

Poetry

The Beauty

by Jane Hirshfield

The Beauty, Jane Hirshfield's (Come, Thief) eighth collection, reveals a poet at the height of her powers. With her signature use of deceptively simple images and language, she hints at the unspoken truths that lie just beyond our perspective while celebrating the everyday details and connections that make a life.

The opening poem, "Fado," is one of the collection's loveliest. A magician conjures a quarter from a girl's ear, while in that "same half-stopped moment," a woman in a wheelchair in Portugal sings a fado at dawn. The quiet, beautiful descriptions belie the writer's wonder that two people oceans apart both live small miracles. The focus in this collection moves outward, from the specific to the universal, and later poems describe an object or episode from a greater distance, without editorial. In "Anywhere You Look," Hirshfield writes "in the corner of a high rain gutter/ under the roof tiles/ new grasses' delicate seed heads/ what war, they say." The poems begin to acknowledge that the business of living profoundly connects us.

Hirshfield's work has always been steeped in Zen Buddhism, fusing observed, sensory experience with mindful acceptance. Still, these poems acknowledge the struggle and the inevitability of regret. While many of the poems are brief, they are masterpieces in miniature. Their images are simple but not obvious; they are offered without judgment. They also reward contemplation. Hirshfield asks her readers to wait for their own reactions, suggesting that those reactions matter because they open the door to the poem's meaning, and because they unite us all. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A moving and accomplished collection by one of our finest poets, published alongside her essay collection Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World.

Knopf, $26, hardcover, 9780385351072

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