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Friday, February 10, 2012
Saturn Booksellers presents Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 10, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
From the Shelf
Solving History Mysteries
As a professional genealogist who has invested many months and untold sums researching everything from Michelle Obama's roots to the sailors who lost their lives on the USS Monitor in 1862, I'm often asked one question: Why?
The answer is simple: I can't help myself.
I've been an avid family historian since the sixth grade, addicted to the thrill of the hunt for decades, and can't resist the pull of a tantalizing history mystery. And just as I'm powerless to fend off the sleuthing urge, I have virtually no control over which cases I pursue.
You might logically assume that I decide whose life stories to explore, but the reality is that the subjects choose me. Take Annie Moore. From Ireland, Annie was the first person to arrive at Ellis Island, a symbol of the immigrant dream. She waltzed into my life about a decade ago while I was working on a PBS documentary. That's when I accidentally discovered that an American-born Annie Moore was mistakenly considered the Annie Moore who had landed at Ellis Island. It took four years to track down the true Annie and her descendants, resulting in a family reunion that morphed into a press conference when the story was splashed on the front page of the New York Times.
You would think that this event would have made a tidy ending, but my research revealed that she had no tombstone. Something had to be done about that, right? Fast forward to 2008 and her memorial dedication. This, I thought, was the end of her tale--until one of her descendants ushered me aside, handing me a photo of what appeared to be Annie and her brothers arriving at Ellis Island. But was it really them? If so, it should be in every child's history textbook. I hadn't even left the cemetery, and Annie was calling me back for another round.
I'm a sucker for the historical underdog--the neglected and overlooked--and count myself beyond fortunate to live at a time when a stubborn researcher can make a living writing and speaking about her adventures as a real life history detective. --Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, author of Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing
When Amy Thomas, sweet freak and longtime Francophile, is offered a transfer to Paris as a copywriter for Louis Vuitton, she responds, "Mais oui!" As she settles into her glam job and adorable "tree house" apartment, she makes a long list of boulangeries, patisseries and chocolate shops to try and begins visiting as many as possible...
Excitement is building for the March release of the Hunger Games film, but there is another major book-based movie coming out that month, adapted from a 100-year-old novel that was "the Rosetta Stone of modern science fiction."
Disney's John Carter is based on the first of an 11-book series of Martian Tales by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also created Tarzan of the Apes. John Carter is an ageless soldier who is mysteriously transported from Earth to Mars (aka "Barsoom"). Gravity is lighter on Mars; Carter discovers that he has superhuman strength, and is "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." What follows is a classic planetary romance: boy meets princess (of Mars), boy loses princess, boy swordfights his way around an alien world and rescues princess.
In his heyday, Burroughs was one of America's wealthiest and most popular authors (he outsold Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner combined). In the 1960s, Burroughs's stories gained a new following of baby-boomer boys when his works were reprinted as inexpensive paperbacks, with colorful covers depicting half-naked heroes and buxom heroines battling monsters of every description. However, educators discouraged children from reading his "trash," and his books were banned from some libraries. Despite such attempts at suppression, the influence of Burroughs's stories goes far and deep into American pop culture.
John Carter's "super powers" inspired the creators of Superman, the granddaddy of all modern superheroes. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, two classic newspaper comic strips and movie serials, borrowed heavily from Burroughs's Mars series. George Lucas and James Cameron have listed the Martian Tales among their influences. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon lived one of his childhood dreams when he co-wrote the screenplay for Disney's John Carter film.
There are signs that Burroughs's books may yet have a third life. Test screenings for Disney's John Carter have received very positive reviews. Feedback from a recent Teen Reading Project indicates that young people can still relate to the romance and the adventure in A Princess of Mars.
It's easy to jump on the John Carter bandwagon. A Princess of Mars is in the public domain; several editions of the book are available, some are very handsome, yet reasonably priced (Del Rey publishes both mass market and trade editions). It makes a perfect companion to The Hunger Games, as Katniss is like a modern, female Tarzan, firing a flaming arrow that will keep the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs blazing well into the 21st century. --Steve Ross, bookseller, Vroman's Bookstore
The Writer's Life
Book Brahmin: Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, the Paris Review, Harper's, Tin House, Granta and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories. His books include the story collection Emporium and the novel Parasites Like Us. His new book is The Orphan Master's Son (Random House), which follows a young man's journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels and eerie spy chambers of the world's most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Johnson lives in San Francisco.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I wasn't a rabid reader as a kid. I read Tolkien and a lot of series books. I guess the book that marked the cusp of being a child reader and an adult reader was The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. I was probably 14 when I read it, and that book was my dark initiation into literature--the portrait of a bright, quirky father who, with relatively good intentions, directs his son down a path of peril led to a kind of literary self-recognition that I've been chasing ever since.
Frenemies; Young Boys' Reading; Best Shakespeare Adaptations
Lars Iyer, author of Spurious and Dogma, selected his "top 10 literary frenemies" for the Guardian, noting that "true friendships should contain an element of the cruel and cutting. The oddly refreshing antagonism of frenemies is something I look for in life, and in the literature I read."
All the world's a screen? PopMatters.com compiled a list of the "10 greatest Shakespeare film adaptations of all time," contending that "within the myriad of artistic and aesthetic approaches, there is a consistent core of films that always seem to find their way into a mention."
Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)
by Amy Thomas
When Amy Thomas, sweet freak and longtime Francophile, is offered a transfer to Paris as a copywriter for Louis Vuitton, she responds, "Mais oui!" As she settles into her glam job and adorable "tree house" apartment, she makes a long list of boulangeries, patisseries and chocolate shops to try and begins visiting as many as possible.
But the longer she stays in Paris, the more Thomas misses New York--from the oversized chocolate-chip cookies at Lola's to the fun single scene and the ease of nights out with old friends. Her Stateside pals are discovering new restaurants, moving to Brooklyn and even getting married while she's pulling evening hours at the office, struggling to land even one date or gather enough girlfriends for a Saturday night out. Yet when she visits New York, she can't wait to get back to Paris. Where, she wonders, does she truly belong? Even her beloved pastry shops can't solve this dilemma (though a well-timed cupcake or stack of macarons does help soothe the angst).
Charming, funny and as scrumptious as the dessert menus it exalts, Paris, My Sweet explores the heady-but-fleeting sweet moments and the richer, longer-lasting satisfaction of creating a life in a new city from scratch. With mouthwatering descriptions (and addresses!) of Thomas's favorite sweet spots on both sides of the Atlantic, this book is a treasure map for readers searching for the life they were meant to live--or simply on the lookout for their next favorite cookie or croissant. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A delectable memoir of a year spent trolling patisseries, sampling chocolates and creating a new life.
Sourcebooks, $14.99 paperback, 9781402264115
No One Is Here Except All of Us
by Ramona Ausubel
A beautiful tale singed by sparks of magical realism unfolds in Ramona Ausubel's stunning debut, No One Is Here Except All of Us. It is 1939 in Zalischik, a remote Jewish village in Romania where, despite its seclusion from the outside world, war is closing in. When a mysterious woman--the victim of a pogrom and only survivor from her family--washes up on the riverbank, the villagers determine that something must be done to prevent the war from reaching their homes. At the suggestion of the stranger and Lena, an 11-year-old girl, they decide to stay in the village and start over, unlearning everything that they knew and recording prayers instead of history. In the rebuilding of their world, the residents seek to right all the wrongs. Clocks, typewriters and anything else the villagers aren't supposed to know about are thrown into the river; spouses are swapped and children are reassigned. For a few years this plan is successful, but when the war finally marches into their world and demands to be acknowledged, Lena, now a young wife and mother, must set out on a treacherous journey to save her husband and children.
Experimentally alternating between first and third person, Ausubel molds and transforms compelling characters whose unconventional yet decisive actions guide the tale. Drawing partly on her own family history, her writing alternates between elegance and lyricism in a moving narrative that, at its heart, underscores the importance of stories and the people who survive to tell them. --Sarah Borders, librarian at Houston Public Library
Discover: A poignant, bittersweet novel about the power of the stories we tell and the ways they shape our past.
Riverhead, $26.95 hardcover, 9781594487941
The Mountain of Gold
by J.D. Davies
Fancy a little Errol Flynn? J. D. Davies delivers in The Mountain of Gold. With his first ship wrecked and 100 lives lost, young Captain Matthew Quinton hasn't had the best of luck, and in this sequel to 2010's Gentleman Captain, Quinton's confidence has yet to regain its sea legs when the capture of a wily Irish slave disguised as an Arab pirate sets him on a wild goose chase. Intercepted in the Mediterranean, Omar Ibrahim--or Brian Doyle O'Dwyer if you prefer--is as good as hanged when, in Scheherazade fashion, he weaves a tale of a mountain of gold deep in the north African desert. Matthew is more than dismayed as the impetuous King Charles II buys O'Dwyer's story and tasks Quinton with the quest of finding the fabled treasure.
Though set more than a century earlier, plot and character comparisons to C.S. Forrester's Horatio Hornblower are unavoidable. Both feature youthful yet somewhat uptight commanders whose careers as captains have dubious beginnings. Devotees of Patrick O'Brian's extensive Aubrey-Maturin saga should also take heed. A respected expert on the 17th-century British Navy, Davies pours historical detail into his prose without weighing down the adventure. And while Quinton might be a bit milquetoast for those who prefer their sailors more Jack Sparrow than gentleman, the supporting cast adds plenty of spice. The Mountain of Gold should please readers who like their history both nautical and nicely written. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: High jinks on the high seas at the dawning of the empire where the sun never set.
In mid-century Hong Kong, Robert Lomax, expatriate and itinerant artist, rents a room in the Nam Kok Hotel. He soon discovers why the rent is so cheap; he is the only person not renting by the hour. Surrounded by sailors and bar girls, whom he quickly befriends, he decides not to avail himself of their services; it would be a bit too close for comfort.
Originally published in 1957, The World of Suzie Wong richly deserves its inclusion in the Penguin Rediscovery reprint series. Mason's style is easy and conversational; no literary pyrotechnics, just a good story--one good enough to spawn a theatrical adaptation, followed in 1960 by a very popular movie starring William Holden.
Inevitably, Robert falls for one of the bar girls: Suzie Wong, a sassy, savvy, illiterate beauty. Their trials and tribulations include (as might be expected) other men; Suzie's insistence that she is just a "dirty yum-yum girl"; and her need to find permanent support for her sickly child. A diverse cast of bar girls and patrons hovers around Robert and Suzie, in a story that offers a rich tapestry of ethnicity, class, the waning influence of British hegemony in Hong Kong, the culture of prostitution and the possibility of love between two people of very different backgrounds. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: A bestselling novel from the late 1950s about an expat artist who falls in love with a Hong Kong bar girl.
Penguin, $15 paperback, 9780143120421
Mystery & Thriller
Tribulations of the Shortcut Man
by P.G. Sturges
Dick Henry is again cruising Los Angeles in his 1969 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible; the metropolis may look sunny and bright to gawking tourists, but it's dark and seedy to him. P.G. Sturges (The Shortcut Man) has brought back his wily antihero not only by popular demand but because L.A. is so inveterately bad that Dick Henry has mountains of work to do to keep his friends out of trouble. And if he has to take a few shortcuts around the legally sanctioned methods to get the job done, he's fine with that.
This riotous installment involves a pole-dancer, an elderly real estate developer and the unrelenting forces for gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods. The gentrifiers are not above threatening longtime residents with violence if they don't get out fast enough, but they may have pushed around the wrong woman this time.
Troublemakers may be no match for the Shortcut Man, but Dick Henry's women don't come around to his way of thinking so easily. His current on-and-off girlfriend, the glorious, tempestuous Kiyoko--plus two former flames--keeps him on his toes as he learns the value of a really good art forger, a super-size walk-in freezer, fake gas company IDs and, of course, a classic Coupe de Ville convertible. --John McFarland, author
Discover: An exuberant, satisfyingly trashy neo-noir set in Los Angeles, where all that glitters is certainly not gold.
Scribner, $24 hardcover, 9781439194218
$10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles: A Puzzle Lady Mystery
by Parnell Hall
$10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles is the 12th of Parnell Hall's Puzzle Lady novels, and it's not hard to see where the series' impressive staying power comes from. In Cora Felton, Hall has created the snarkiest, most delightfully sarcastic heroine since... well, possibly ever. Cora is audacious, pertinacious, occasionally inept and thoroughly wonderful. In this installment, Cora finds herself mixed up in blackmail, murder and Sudoku.
The action starts when a local attorney hires Cora to deliver a blackmail payment and, through no fault of her own, our heroine fails spectacularly. A dead body is discovered, the blackmail money is stolen, and Cora is forced to double-talk her way out of not one, but two crimes without letting on that she knows anything about either one. The plot thickens when Cora's ex-husband, Marvin, shows up with a cold-blooded killer in tow. Unless Cora can prove he's being framed, Marvin will be on the hook for two murders and it will take all of her smarts (also some luck and maybe a gun) to save his neck.
Hall writes a decent mystery, but the plot of $10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles still feels a bit like an afterthought. Though interesting, it never quite becomes really gripping; the villain is vaguely threatening, for example, but ultimately doesn't have much presence. These are paltry criticisms though, when bathed in the reflected glow of Hall's ridiculously fantastic heroine. Cora Felton is sneaky, funny and absolutely, utterly authentic at every turn. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: The perhaps surprising connections between crossword puzzles and double-homicides.
Minotaur, $24.99 Hardcover, 9780312602475
Those Who Love Night
by Wessel Ebersohn
Wessel Ebersohn has written four thrillers set in his native South Africa; The October Killings, the previous book in this series, introduced readers to Abigail Bukula and her friend and associate, Yudel Gordon. Like too many of her South African countrymen, Advocate Bukula of the Justice Department is no stranger to the shared memories of the harrowing and often deadly struggles to overthrow the apartheid regime. When she is told that a cousin she thought slain by death squads, along with the rest of a village some 20 years before, is alive, but in a corrupt Zimbabwean prison with six other political activists, she has no option but to travel to Zimbabwe with Yudel Gordon, a criminal psychologist, and his wife, Rosa, to try to free them.
Her inquiries thrust her into a dangerous realm dominated by Jonas Chunga, the director of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization and the nation's real ruling authority. Abigail finds herself as irresistibly drawn to this powerful man as he is to her, but the deeper she delves into the mysteries of the incarcerated political prisoners, the more she realizes that only by getting to the heart of the village massacre can she free her cousin and his colleagues. How is Jonas Chunga connected to that massacre? How did her cousin survive it?
Those Who Love Night is a taut mystery that also gives readers an understanding of how the erosion of the systems and infrastructure the colonial governments left behind in Africa, flawed as they were, has led to horrors for some contemporary Africans. --Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books
Discover: A riveting thriller set in Zimbabwe, exploring the wicked roots of the colonial past.
Minotaur, $24.99 hardcover, 9780312655969
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sadie Walker Is Stranded: A Zombie Novel
by Madeleine Roux
Yes, indeed, Sadie Walker Is Stranded:on an island, no less, with the few remaining survivors from a last-minute desperate escape by boat from post-Outbreak Seattle. After her boyfriend betrayed her to kidnap her nephew for money, Sadie killed the boyfriend in the resulting tussle, somehow managing to get Shane back while running for her life from a hole in the wall that, until now, kept the undead out. Oh, yeah, we should mention... there are zombies everywhere.
Madeleine Roux's follow-up to her first novel, Allison Hewitt Is Trapped, takes place just a little bit later in the same post-zombie-apocalypse Pacific Northwest setting. Sadie Walker is an illustrator living in the barely safe environs of Seattle, where she knows that, regardless of zombies, the real threat is from the humans around her. An attempt to escape by water is cut horribly short when the boat's captain decides to replace the rapidly dwindling food reserves by fishing. He is pulled under by the fishing rod and ripped to pieces by the zombies who--surprise!--are walking under the ocean.
The ragtag party is a mess of shaky alliances and barely concealed mistrust by the time they beach the boat on the nearest island--only to find another group, much better provisioned and organized, already there. The two groups join forces, straining the already tense social connections. Of course, Sadie falls for the big strong ex-cop leader, but the romance is handled sparingly and realistically. Roux serves up several surprises along the way, with nicely written dialogue and characterization to complement her fast-paced plot. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A fast-paced zombie novel as deliciously horrible and realistic as they come.
St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99 paperback, 9780312658915
My Wicked Little Lies
by Victoria Alexander
Victoria Alexander (Perfect Mistress) makes an unusual choice in My Wicked Little Lies: while most romance novels rely on the ever-escalating sexual tension of a new relationship, she chooses to focus on a hero and heroine already married to each other. Rather than diffusing that tension, she plunges her characters into a plot full of deception, mistaken identity and simmering passion.
Evelyn Hadley-Attwater has a very nearly perfect life. She has a beautiful home, a respectable place in society and a wealthy husband who adores her. If she occasionally misses her former life--working as a government spy under the guidance of the seductive and mysterious "Sir"--she tries not to let it affect her. When she is suddenly pressed back into service, however, she will uncover information about her husband, and possibly about herself, that will change her perfect life forever.
While Alexander's choice to center her novel on an established relationship isn't entirely unheard of, it is unusual, and it allows her to do some interesting things. Because her characters have a shared history, the novel exudes a greater, more realistic sense of intimacy than one often sees in this genre--not only between the characters, but also between the characters and the reader. We come to know Alexander's characters on a deeper level, which ultimately makes My Wicked Little Lies a stronger, more emotionally satisfying read. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: A historical romance about the intricate lies we tell ourselves... and our spouses.
Zebra, $7.99 paperback, 9781420117066
Current Events & Issues
The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolutions
by Marwan Bishara
Marwan Bishara's The Invisible Arab is a clear-headed and thought-provoking appraisal of the precarious but joyously hopeful place so many Arab nations find themselves after the "Arab Spring" of 2010-2011. Bishara, a senior political analyst at Al Jazeera,is well-positioned to offer an intelligent appraisal of the forces that brought these revolutions to fragile birth, the political players involved and their capacity to retain power in a relatively benign fashion orsuccumb to the chaos and corruption that have plagued these nations in recent years.
Bishara makes the point that protesters who gathered in various Arab nations were faced with major difficulties. In trying to guide their countries toward democracy, they were presenting their people with an idea and word that had been cheapened by the Bush administration and backed with bombs and violence in Iraq. Coupled with the West's long support of many despotic regimes and pressure by Islamist factions to develop more hierarchical, less secular forms of revolt, it's close to miraculous that any of the revolts ever took off.
In addition to recent events, Bishara also offers a concise history of 20th-century Arab states and an optimistic vision of their possible futures--provided that varied viewpoints can be embraced and that the urge for "retributive justice" can be denied. --Donald Powell, freelance writer
Discover: An engaging history of recent Arab revolutions, with a guardedly optimistic look at the future.
Nation Books, $26 hardcover, 9781568587080
Children's & Young Adult
Dead to You
by Lisa McMann
Lisa McMann's (the Wake trilogy) gripping new novel, about 16-year-old Ethan De Wilde returning home after his childhood abduction, will leave readers burning for closure long after its chilling ending.
The story starts with narrator Ethan's reunion with his family, nine years after strangers first drove away with him. His parents immediately embrace him, but Ethan's brother, Blake, soon accuses him of being an impostor, and six-year-old Gracie, the "Replacement Kid," is kept in the dark about the abduction entirely.
Ethan can't recall much from his time before the abduction and relearned everything about who he was from his family's website before their reunion. Ethan's assimilation is not smooth. He's often haunted by his past with Ellen, the woman who kept him hostage, and his time spent in group homes and living on the streets. In addition, Blake often provokes fights with Ethan, who's already tense from starting school again and confronting his abduction with a psychologist. The unfolding romance with his neighbor Cami occasionally steadies Ethan, but this is certainly not a love story.
McMann's succinct first-person narrative skillfully carries the authenticity of a teenage boy, his fractured memory and reintegration into a family who expects much from him, despite his scarring childhood. Her exploration of an abductee psyche is both illuminating and unsettling and is realistically portrayed through sudden bursts of Stockholm Syndrome, Ethan's strong efforts to remember his life through family photos and his recurring temptation to run away. With a disturbing and raw ending, Dead to You is unforgettable. --Adam Silvera, events assistant, Books of Wonder, New York City
Discover: Lisa McMann's realistic novel, in which a 16-year-old abductee returns home with his memories blocked.
Simon Pulse, $16.99 hardcover, 256p., ages 14-up, 9781442403888
Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie
by Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block picks precisely the right title for this novel about that awkward push me-pull you phase of adolescence. Thirteen-year-old Louise, who narrates, wants to be called Weetzie, the nickname her father, Charlie, uses for her. But she must earn it, and the rite of passage is painful.
Weetzie Bat took the teen scene by storm at its publication in 1989. Not just because it hit on still-taboo topics such as drugs, homosexuality and teens living on their own, but because Block reinvented magical realism for the audience who lived life as if they were Gabriel García Márquez characters. Block wrote about Weetzie, Dirk, Duck and her Secret Agent Lover Man from a slight remove, allowing us to watch them starry-eyed in all their glitter. This book thrusts us into Louise's psyche, exposing her as she lives through the pimply stage. We see her refashioning castoff clothes and roller skating down Venice Beach--glimmers of a Weetzie future--but she's also the victim of the mean girls' slam book and is banished to the outcast table in the cafeteria. "Junior high was like the bad kind of Wonderland in Alice where people are mean and crazy, everything is backward, and you're growing (hips) and shrinking (self-esteem) all the time," she thinks. Louise witnesses the fight that sends Charlie off in his yellow Thunderbird and the "wonder boy" rescuing her mother Brandy-Lynn from drowning.
Teens may miss references to Patti Smith and assume Louise is watching Happy Days in reruns, but they will relate to the heroine's universal feelings of being on the fringe. Louise's uplifting example proves that only from the outside can one forge her own true path. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A 13-year-old's universal path through adolescence, resulting in the inimitably unique Weetzie Bat.
George O'Connor often says that the Greek gods that give his series--Olympians--its name were the first true superheroes. In his graphic novel retellings, he goes back to the original sources and adds his own twist--often with a dollop of humor. Here he puts a spin on the Persephone myth as part of Hades's larger story.
The author-artist starts with a jet-black page and one sentence in tiny white type: "This is what happens to you when you die." Charon the ferryman guides you across the River Styx to where Cerberus guards the underworld's entrance. O'Connor paints the Underworld in deep browns, burgundy and black. Hades discovers Kore, as she is called, after a fight with her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Now alone, Kore spies a beautiful flower, planted in her path by Hades. When she plucks it, Hades rides up and kidnaps her.
Pages of panel illustrations chronicle their ride into the depths of the Underworld. Meanwhile, on the earth's surface, against a backdrop of sky blue and spring greens, Demeter becomes anxious about her daughter's disappearance and withdraws the sun and heat, causing snow to fall. But despite her abduction, Kore finds Hades to be kind. He gives her a tour of the Underworld and invites her to be his queen. In O'Connor's feminist spin, Kore, who takes the name Persephone, makes a choice to eat from a pomegranate grown in the Underworld so that she may return for six months of the year to join Hades. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: George O'Connor's feminist take on the Persephone myth as part of Hades's larger story, the fourth in his first-rate Olympians series.
First Second, $9.99 paperback, 80p., ages 9-up, 9781596434349