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Short stories

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The Emerald Atlas

John Stephens

Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99/hardcover

Billed as Book One of the Books of Beginning trilogy, The Emerald Atlas is the debut novel from former television writer/producer John Stephens (The O.C., Gossip Girl). Clearly in touch with tweens and teens' desires, the author exhibits plenty of humor and snark between the sappy sentiments of orphaned sibling protagonists as they try to stick together through the various trials that time-travel brings. There's an attractive but evil witch, a dorky wizard, Ringwraith-reminiscent "screechers" and stereotypical dwarfs. So minor parallels to the Narnia, Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials series — minus religious undertones, elves and talking animals, so far — are inescapable. But Stephens ekes out enough originality and a clever and compelling enough plot structure to give The Emerald Atlas its own definitive pull. — Matthew Schniper

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At Lake Scugog

Troy Jollimore

Princeton University Press, $16.95/paperback

Troy Jollimore won a National Book Critics Circle prize with his first poetry collection; his second, At Lake Scugog, is easily that good. In lush language draped over familiar forms, Jollimore explores the nature of the self. But don't let that frighten you off. He's got a great sense of humor and an equal fondness for a pun and a laugh, as in "Tom Thomson in Tune": "no man's an iPod." Take that, John Donne! Yes, there's a new handful of Tom Thomson poems, as well as a lovely "Ars Poetica," in which Jollimore describes the relationship of poet to poem as similar to the relationship shared by lovers — and not always in a good way. It's the ultimate introspection and upending of world views, as in "To His Lover": "Heaven can go to hell, my sweet. Let man / and woman join what God has put asunder." — Kel Munger

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The Practice of Contemplative Photography

Andy Karr & Michael Wood

Shambhala, $26.95/paperback

The pictures in The Practice of Contemplative Photography are amazingly simple, yet artistic in that simplicity: a sparkling tray of silverware; a bright blue chair against a shocking red wall; Robert Adams' 1968 silhouette of a woman in the window of a ranch home in Colorado Springs. It's the book's concept that these photos illustrate: "When you experience your world clearly, and you shoot what you see, the results will be artistic." According to the authors, getting to that "clear" place — a concept borrowed from Buddhist traditions — is a matter of putting aside the emotions and "thinking-mind" to get to what they refer to as "knowing-mind," a place free from preoccupation. The results are impressive, and lucky for you, the book features detailed assignments to assist you in your own contemplative photo journey. — Kirsten Akens

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