Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 12, 2011


Workman Publishing: The Spectrum of Hope: An Optimistic and New Approach to Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias by Gayatri Devi

From My Shelf

Crown Books for Young Readers: My Journey to the Stars by Scott Kelly, illustrated by Andre Ceolin

New World Library: Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart by Scott Stabile

Paperback Reader

I don't remember the first book I was given, because I was still an infant when my mother started building my library--but I do remember the first book I bought on my own, with allowance money: a Dell Yearling edition of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. In fact, I still have that particular copy and have shared it with my daughters.

Paperback books really are extraordinary things. They share the utility of hardcover books, that perfect combination of bound content and page-turning ease that makes books such ideal tools. But paperbacks made it possible for people who couldn't afford certain titles to read them more cheaply, and they also made it possible for people to feel less troubled about losing or damaging their books. They were more portable, too: I have a few rectangular "Armed Forces Editions" of classic novels, including Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby, sent overseas during World War II so servicemen and -women could have reading material from home.

Paperback reading has its more frivolous side, of course. Many of us treasure holidays and vacations as a time to read more than we usually do, and toting paperback books in beach bags and suitcases makes sense. Many resorts, second homes and rental properties have shelves of left-behind paperbacks of all sizes and shapes, and it's fun to look at those collections and see the fashions of different decades on the cracked spines and dog-eared pages.

In today's issue, we pay homage to the paperback with a list of 20 of this summer's best new paperback releases. We hope you enjoy and--Happy Reading! --Bethanne Patrick


PuddleDancer Press: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg


Bookselling News

Which Device Is Best for E-Reading?


In the New York Times, Nick Bolton chronicled his odyssey reading chapters of Caleb Carr's The Alienist on an Amazon Kindle, the first- and second-generation Apple iPads, B&N's Nook, an iPhone, a Windows Phone, a Google Android phone, a Google Android tablet and a laptop computer. "To be fair," he added, "I also read a chapter in that old-fashioned form--a crumply old print paperback."

"In the end, it might come down to a personal choice based on the type of phone you own," Bolton concluded. "I was torn between the Kindle and the iPad 2. The Kindle is light and costs much less, but it is also limited in that it can't connect to the Web. The iPad 2 costs much more, but has so many added features it seems worth the added expense. But if money is tight, go for print. My used paperback cost only $4."


Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham


We're Not Spoiled by Spoilers

The butler did it. A new study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of the University of California, San Diego, indicates that spoilers can increase our enjoyment of literature. "Although we've long assumed that the suspense makes the story--we keep on reading because we don't know what happens next--this new research suggests that the tension actually detracts from our enjoyment," noted Wired's Jonah Lehrer, who offered three "random thoughts" on the findings: 

  1. In this age of information, we've become mildly obsessed with avoiding spoilers, staying away from social media lest we learn about the series finale of Lost or the surprising twist in the latest blockbuster. But this is a new habit.
  2. Just because we know the end doesn't mean there aren't surprises.
  3. Surprises are much more fun to plan than experience.

University of California Press: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore


Literary Lists: "Great" Books; Spoiled Classics

Great Books that... Aren't? Over at Slate, deputy books editor Juliet Lapidos was inspired by her own non-inspiration from Thomas Hardy's novels to ask writers to tell her their least favorite of the so-called "great books." You may not be surprised by those who dislike James Joyce's Ulysses, Cervantes' Don Quixote or Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables--but take a look at the votes for The Catcher in the Rye, and don't miss the final entry, from Ecco editor Matt Weiland.

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Flavorwire got into the spoiler spirit by showcasing "10 classic books we read despite knowing how they end."


Andrews McMeel Publishing: Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (Phoebe and Her Unicorn #6) by Dana Simpson


Book Candy: Industrial Pipe Bookcase, Typewriter Penguin

Bookcase of the day: Decorative industrial pipe shelving from DirtyBils Interiors "can be successfully used to flawlessly extend the influence of industrial design into your own home," according to Freshome. 

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If you love typewriters and you love penguins, then you'll really love Jeremy Meyer's "typewriter-part penguin," which was showcased by Boing Boing.  


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Lilac Lane by Sheryl Woods


Great Reads

Further Reading: The Family Fang

Prepare to hear about The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson; it's our Starred Review today, and the minute your friends and family have read it and started discussing it, you'll want to have already finished it, too.

Why? Because the Fangs--father Caleb, mother Camille, and Annie and Buster, whom their parents disconcertingly call Child A and Child B--so redefine family dysfunction that they outclass inevitable comparisons to the Tenenbaums, the Bluths, even the Ewings. Caleb and Camille are artists who view their lives as performance, and that includes using their children as props in that performance.

When you've finished The Family Fang, here are some other family dramas you may enjoy:

 

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews is about family members nearly as nutty as the Fangs, but related in a different way. Hattie's sister, Min, has been hospitalized (again) for depression, and her kids, Thebes (11) and Logan (15), desperately need some kind of adult hand in their lives. Hattie is no Clara Barton; she's as reluctant to care for these two as they are to be overseen, and the road trip they all take has been done before. But Toews's great ear for adolescent chatter and her supreme wit carry this novel, and even unbelievable bits soon seem plausible.

 

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington is an American classic, a family saga about how the ruling class was forced to change and adapt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tarkington made his novel's setting an ambiguous Midwestern town, but clearly based it on his own hometown of Indianapolis and one of its upper-class neighborhoods. The Ambersons are confounded by the new classes springing up around them, people who "do things." For scion George Amberson Minafer, a choice of debutante will ultimately cost his family their place.

 

Howards End by E.M. Forster tells a story, like Tarkington's novel, about class and its effect on a family--but in Edwardian England rather than post-Civil War America--and about how a daughter of intellectuals is changed by her relationship with a lower-middle-class man with revolutionary aspirations. The three families involved--the Wilcoxes, the Schlegels and the Basts--are like stair steps of social consciousness, and their interactions mirror the societal shifts occurring throughout the United Kingdom and its colonies.


New in Paperback: Fiction Roundup

Welcome to a new and occasional Shelf Awareness for Readers feature, in which we round up books of a type or on a theme for your reading pleasure. This list is the summer 2011 culling of the best in new trade paperback fiction; our nonfiction roundup will appear soon. The picks here are based on our preferences. We know that not everyone will love all of them, but we hope you'll find something here to enjoy as the summer winds down.

We've listed them alphabetically by author's last name--no rankings implied by this list's order. Let us know what you think: info@shelf-awareness.com.

 

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (Harper Perennial)

There are lots of "girl meets boy, girl marries boy, life goes on" books out there--for better or worse, right? But even though Frances and Dennis meet in 1969 and stay married through divorce-heavy times, even though their home is a house on stilts in Florida, the most remarkable thing about this debut novel from Susanna Daniel is the narrative perspective, a life told in Frances's unsentimental yet completely loving voice. While the events in this couple's life are ordinary, the way in which they're presented is anything but.

 

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)

"What is memory, anyway?" asks a character in one of these stories linked by Anthony Doerr's musings on that human capacity for remembering and recall. The first and last pieces in the collection are, tellingly, both about elderly women: Since women in the world tend to outlive men, and females are so often seen as the memory keepers of their families, these pieces provide a coherence. The first is set in the near future, with a woman trying to stave off dementia by recording her memories on cartridges that can be inserted into her brain; the last involves a Holocaust survivor's tragic recall of events during epileptic seizures.

 

Zero History by William Gibson (Berkley)

If you don't associate the words "fun" and "light" with William Gibson's work, you're not alone--the novelist tends to write portentous stories that involve lots of pop culture references wound up with futuristic plot schemes. However, his latest novel is both fun and light--in a Gibsonian way. His heroine, Hollis Henry (who appeared in 2007's Spook Country), is now on a gig to get her boss Hubertus Bigend into the government contracting game through military-uniform design. Her helpmeet in this mission is Milgrim (cryptologist and former speedhead), who has "zero history" (i.e., he lives "off the grid"). Here, Gibson's usual themes about government and control are combined with new ones about fashion, commerce and celebrity.

 

The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass (Anchor)

If you were slightly disappointed by 2008's I See You Everywhere by Glass, good news: her latest novel returns to territory she delineated in Three Junes and The Whole World Over. There is a family undergoing transition: paterfamilias Percy Darling hates having a daycare center in the barn where his late wife once taught ballet, but allows its progress because he wants his wayward younger daughter, Clover, to teach there. Glass weaves in subplots like a baker creating a lattice top for a pie: sometimes she has to bend back several strips to fit everything in, but when it's finished, there is connectivity and symmetry to the whole.

 

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman (Dial)

It is truth universally acknowledged that claiming to write "a Sense and Sensibility for the modern age," as Goodman did when she released The Cookbook Collector, is an ambitious notion. So was she successful? Perhaps not entirely, as this tale of two sisters (there are parallels to the Mesdemoiselles Dashwood, certainly) in the dotcom era explodes from the page a lot like the ripe fruit in the cover engraving. However, there is a great deal here for readers to devour happily, including an unlikely romance, a sad betrayal and an odd savior tie together tech, trees and tenderness.

 

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Harmann (Spiegel & Grau)

First, the bad news: this debut novel has very little character development. Readers are simply swept up in protagonist Evaline Auerbach's 1980s coming-of-age and consciousness. Now, the good news: its 600-page length allows readers to discern the "anthropology" of a young woman's life through an interior voice that will remind you of nothing less than Holden Caulfield's from The Catcher in the Rye. Harmann originally self-published this book in 2003 to keep her work from becoming overly commercialized. The book has been substantially revised since then, so readers--swept up, or not--will have to be the judges.

 

Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen (W.W. Norton)

The five "elegies" in this novel make up the story of Mary Murphy, a child both of a broken family and of the dying industrial Northeast in the 1980s. Mary and her sister, Malinda, catch very few breaks as their neglectful, serial-marrying mother drags them from home to home, but Hodgen is less interested in detailing sadness than in acknowledging the pallor it casts over Mary's life and moving on to explore the characters she encounters. As Mary delivers her elegies--for an uncle, a classmate, a stepfather, a roommate and, finally, her own mother, she reveals herself. It's almost, at last, an ode.

 

The Typist by Michael Knight (Grove)

Knight is an accomplished author of short fiction, and here he uses those skills to craft a fully realized novel that retains the attributes of the best short stories, including concision and cohesion. In post-World War II Japan, Francis "Van" Vancleave winds up detailed as a typist in MacArthur's Tokyo headquarters. Through Van, readers learn much about that era, from its hard realities (the ubiquitous "pan-pan" prostitutes) to its incongruous ironies (busloads of Japanese tourists heading to bombed Nagasaki with their cameras). Neither mystery nor heroic tale, The Typist is a relatively quiet slice of life.

 

American Music by Jane Mendelsohn (Vintage)

If you liked or loved A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, you might feel the same about the brilliant Mendelsohn's first novel since I Was Amelia Earheart. That's because, like Egan, Mendelsohn is pursuing high literary fruit, attempting to tie the heart of being human to the products of humanity, and even when she falls off of the ladder and digresses too much, her insight and wit keep you reading. American Music tells the story of a young masseuse and her Iraq War veteran patient, but when their relationship results in visions of people they don't know from past decades, the title's significance makes sense.

 

The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody (Back Bay)

This isn't a book to take lightly, mainly because its heft won't let you (ba-da-dum). At 750 pages, this exercise in Moody being moody (and funny, and cynical, and analytical) isn't for every reader, but even though it has flaws, fans of this novelist's discursive, erudite style will revel in every line. The plot involves a blocked novelist named Montese Crandall who owns the rights to an early-1960s horror film called "The Crawling Hand." Crandall's own story forms the first third of the book, the immediate novelization the second and, finally, the imagined aftereffects of the novel's events, the third.

 

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (Washington Square)

Australian author Morton specializes in tales of strange mansions and houses and their mysteries. In this new novel, she's gone all out: the building at the heart of the action is Milderhurst Castle, a decrepit pile in the countryside where three elderly spinster sisters eke out lives with no interference. That is, until a mild-mannered youngish London book editor named Edie Burchill receives a strange, misdirected letter that makes her mother burst into tears. The path to discovering why leads her to Milderhurst and then back in time to World War II, to literary detective work and more--a lot more. The denouement is stunningly effective.

 

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst (Anchor)

Those who have read Parkhurst's previous work will know that she could find humor and pathos in a phone directory. Combined with her Scheherezade-like ability to spin a tale, this makes Parkhurst a novelist to pay attention to even when her work has weaknesses. This novel's central mystery isn't all that meaty and, yes, there's a lot going on--but the conceit that Parkhurst chooses, that of a novelist who decides to change the endings in all of her books, is one that works perfectly for a writer who is able to juggle lots of balls simultaneously.

 

Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz (Twelve)

Robert Vishniak is exceedingly handsome and exceedingly smart, qualities that help him escape the blue-collar Jewish Philadelphia neighborhood into which he was born. But when he gets to Tufts University, he finds that there are boundaries he cannot easily pass--ones to which his well-off roommate Sanford Trace seems to hold the key. His initiation, via Trace, into a world of Seven Sisters girls and tony private communities leads to some of his life's greatest events and greatest sorrows. Author Pomerantz looks at the changing landscape of Vishniak's life, as well as the changing socioeconomics of New York City in the late 20th century.

 

Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey (Anchor)

When Flora Dempsey's famous critic and college president father dies, she is surprised to discover he has named her as his literary executor. She heads back to her hometown of Darwin, Mass. (a thinly veiled Amherst; author Pouncey's father, Peter, was president of Amherst College for many years) to sort out his affairs. As she does so, she finally confronts his poetic output, which she's avoided reading for most of her life, and realizes that there was more to her father than she ever allowed herself to believe--and there may be more to a life away from hipster Brooklyn than she could ever imagine, too.

 

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Vintage)

Summing up a book this wild and strange isn't easy, but here goes: 11-year-old Ava Bigtree lives on a tiny peninsula outpost alligator-wrestling theme park with her father, brother and sister, all of whom are mourning the death of their wife and mother from cancer. Ava's sister, Ossie, is in love with the ghost of a dredge-ship laborer; her brother, Kiwi, has run away to mainland Florida to work for an indoor zoo; and Ava herself decides to leave home on an epic quest to save her father's livelihood and her sister's psyche. What happens next is tough and tragic, but also mesmerizing and, ultimately, hopeful.

 

Private Life by Jane Smiley (Anchor)

The title of this book is well chosen, as acclaimed novelist Smiley mines the territory of her own life for her characters Margaret Mayfield and Andrew Early, who are based on her aunt and uncle Frances and Thomas Jefferson Jackson See. The next layer comes through the reader's belief that Smiley intends to portray the Sees' "private life," and the next (perhaps not last?) from the private world of a person married to someone increasingly incapacitated by mental illness. Smiley masterfully contrasts domestic life with public events like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

 

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson (Vintage)

Simpson's latest is a challenging book, and so worth the struggle through cellist Claire's agonies about career versus motherhood in the Los Angeles suburbs. Through Claire, Simpson gives voice to many of the questions women are afraid to raise about modern parenting and, ingeniously, those that Claire doesn't even think to raise are asked by her Filipina nanny, Lola, who narrates alternating chapters. Simpson is far too canny a novelist to allow either woman to appear saintly; they're both flawed, and disenfranchised from their communities due to circumstances and temperaments.

 

The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern (Algonquin)

A hilarious novel about a rabbi thawed out after a century of being entombed in ice? Yes, really. It's modern-day Memphis, and fat, awkward teenaged Bernie Karp is searching for something to eat in his parents' basement freezer when he accidentally defrosts an Orthodox rebbe who had been drowned in a pond and then frozen, then transported out of the Old Country.... Much of the action is magical, all of it is chaotic, but in the course of explaining Rabbi Eliezer ben Zephyr's journey to rock-star evangelist, Stern somehow touches on all of the aspects of the modern Jewish journey, too.

 

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman (Ballantine)

It's wrong to judge a book by its cover, especially in the case of Sussman's tripartite novel. From the hazy jacket photo of a stylish woman wrapped in Gallic flag colors you might mistakenly think this is a slight, feel-good story of someone's frivolous French vacation. Pas du tout! These linked tales of three young French tutors meeting with their students are sharp, erotic and unexpectedly moving. Josie and Nico, Riley and Philippe, Jeremy and Chantal--these pairings aren't the stuff of chick-lit novels or Hollywood flicks, but instead the accidental kind of everyday meetings that can and do wind up changing lives.

 

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy (Harper Perennial)

Readers seem to be divided on this book--it's love or hate. Van Booy's novel follows three 20-somethings in Athens. Rebecca, George and Henry--artist, linguist and archeologist, respectively--all wind up in the Greek capital for a summer and become entangled. The author loves aphorisms ("The beauty of artifacts is in how they reassure we're not the first do die"), and if you aren't a romantic at heart, this may not be the book for you. However, if you still have fond memories of a sojourn in an unfamiliar place, especially one in which you experienced beauty and love, curl up in a chair and prepare for a wonderful read.

 


Mixed Media

Movie Fashions: Creating The Help's Retro Style

DreamWorks's adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's The Help required costume designs that would evoke the '60s with a dash of "sweet small-town innocence," noted the Hollywood Reporter, which also offered a fashion photo gallery from the movie.

"It was tricky because everyone thinks of Mad Men," said Oscar-nominated costume designer Sharen Davis (Dreamgirls). "But that's about an upper-class Manhattan lifestyle, and this focuses on young women in the South--most of them getting married and having babies. I looked at copies of Vogue from the 1960s for inspiration, but it was too sophisticated, so I ended up getting my ideas from Seventeen magazine. It still had that innocent girlie look and lollipop color palette."


Eerie Soundtracks: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; True Blood

Snippets of Trent Reznor's score for David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have been added to the film's official website, running on a loop over images of stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. Entertainment Weekly called the sampling "pretty eerie and minimalist" and predicted that "we're probably in for a deeply unsettling, diabolical treat."

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EW also offered sample tracks from the forthcoming compilation True Blood--Music from the HBO Series--Volume 3, noting that the "show's music, while always excellent, has been especially tight this year, delivering great covers like Nick Cave and Neko Case's 'She's Not There,' Karen Elson's take on 'Season of the Witch,' and Nick Lowe's 'Cold Grey Light of Dawn' (which closed out the most recent episode of the show)."


Book Review

Fiction

Sand Queen

by Helen Benedict


Details from the 40 interviews Helen Benedict conducted for her nonfiction book The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (2009) provide the gritty verisimilitude in her new novel, Sand Queen. Along with the specifics of how female soldiers manage to change clothes in a tent full of men or make it to the shower and back unmolested, Benedict adds two memorable characters: an army reservist named Kate Brady, who has been called up halfway through her sophomore year in college to serve at Camp Bucca (based on the real-life desert prison of the same name founded in 2003 in Southern Iraq), and Naema Jassim, a medical student and refugee from Baghdad, who is trying to keep her mother and grandmother calm after her father and brother are imprisoned at Bucca.

Kate embarks upon her tour of duty at Camp Bucca buffed up and determined to blend in as a soldier, though she is one of only three women in a platoon of 39. She slings around crude military lingo, endures 14-hour shifts on a sun-blasted surveillance platform and sticks a condom over her rifle to protect it from the desert "moondust" just like the guys. The problem is that many of Kate's American comrades, and most of the Iraqi prisoners, are incapable of paying more attention to her uniform than to the body inside it. The resulting sexual harassment wears on Kate's psyche, and drives the plot of Sand Queen.

Sand Queen is replete with authentic detail and brutal incident, but the novel is not a screed as much as a sober depiction of the realities of war for both military and civilian women. If Kate's narrative feels more complete, Naema's chapters provide a balancing perspective from the other side of the razor wire. Sand Queen's deeper resonances are achieved via a deft pairing of timelines and the fateful intersection of the two women's stories.

In Sand Queen, Benedict has crafted a fictional explanation for some of the lurid real-world headlines from the Iraqi occupation. She also gives the reader a convincing and affecting portrait of two resilient young women caught up in war. --Holloway McCandless

Discover: A desert-eye view of the Iraq War as experienced by two strong young females--a U.S. soldier from Albany and an Iraqi medical student from Baghdad.

Soho Press, $25, hardcover, 9781569479667

Domestic Violets

by Matthew Norman


Tom Violet has hit a bad patch. He's finished a novel that he has worked on secretly for years, but he's afraid to show it to anyone. He loathes his job as a corporate copywriter--the only bright spot there is his colleague Katie, a 23-year-old hottie. That has its downside, too, because Tom is married and the father of a five-year-old daughter. His wife, Anna, smart, fit and trim, is being flirted with by one of her gymmates, a married banker. To top it off, Tom and Anna have a problem in the bedroom; yes, the one that has given rise, pun intended, to all those TV commercials.

As the story opens, Curtis Violet, Tom's father, has arrived in his Porsche, hungover, smelling like pot and announcing that he will "just spend the night." Turns out that he has split from his fourth wife. On the very day that he arrives, his agent calls to announce that he has just won the Pulitzer Prize. Yes, Curtis Violet is a very famous author, cut out of the same cloth as a Saul Bellow or a Philip Roth. He has very good luck with his books, and very bad luck with his personal life. Tom hero-worships him, not as a father, because he was a lousy one, but as an author, so he is glad to see him. Also, he owns the house that Tom and his family live in.

Matthew Norman's debut novel is a tour de farce of grand proportion. He takes on academia, the literary life, the world economy, corporate bull, adultery--and has his way with all of them. His witticisms aren't just one-liners; they are carefully thought out takes on the human condition.

How Tom resolves all his problems is a story sweetly told with a snapper at the end that is absolutely original. --Valerie Ryan

Discover: Tom Violet is in a peck of trouble; at home, at work and in his very soul. Norman's debut novel is funny and incisive.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, trade paper, 9780062065117

The Family Fang

by Kevin Wilson


Performance artist Caleb Fang knew two things: no sacrifice for art was too big if "the outcome was beautiful enough, strange enough, memorable enough" and "kids kill art." When Camille became pregnant, he found a way around the second fact. Annie and, later, Buster grew up as actors, taking on whatever persona was needed for their parents' current act and never breaking character, no matter what chaos ensued.

Beneath the surface of the fun and fast-paced The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson (author of the story collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth) explores self-identity and families in the context of life lived as art. After years of sacrificing everything, even their names, to their parents' art, Annie and Buster struggle with recognizing reality. No family outing was ever what it seemed, and the siblings learned to react to every mishap as if it were orchestrated. Once, when Caleb fell, Buster immediately played a familiar role in a performance piece, showing no concern for his bleeding father until he was told it was an accident.

As young adults, Annie and Buster are determined to end the cycle of manipulation but can't quite grasp the idea that life isn't scripted. Only when the two are forced to question the truth of an extreme performance can they muster the strength to break from Caleb and Camille. The longer Annie and Buster are on their own, the more we wonder who's in charge: Did the artists force the split for their own purposes? Or did the children simply reject their parents' realities and thus their place within the family? --Candace B. Levy, freelance editor blogging at Beth Fish Reads

Discover: A fun, fast-paced, well-crafted novel that examines what happens to a family when the line between art and life is erased.

Ecco Press, $23.99, hardcover, 9780061579035

Children's & Young Adult

King Hugo's Huge Ego

by Chris Van Dusen


Chris Van Dusen (The Circus Ship) presents a humorous portrait of a monarch lacking in humility and the sorceress who cuts him down to size.

As the king's head grows, so will children's vocabulary. Van Dusen plants a delectable word, then slyly defines it in the next line: "Though this mini monarch/ stood no higher than an elf,/ his ego was enormous--/ he thought highly of himself." Gardeners shape topiaries in the king's likeness, and his loyal pug sports a crown and an ermine collar that matches the trimmings on the king's royal robe. His human citizens all bow before him, as do peacocks, sparrows and sheep. Everyone, it seems, except for "a maiden with a heavy load," who's blocking the way of the king's coach. The coachmen bump her off the road and offends the wrong girl: she's a sorceress named Tessa, who casts a spell ("A pox on you, O cocky king/ in robes of ruby red./ Let's see if all your arrogance/ can fit inside your head").

Tessa is a likable witch with a black cat that never leaves her side. The king, however, whose head was already large, grows with each self-inflating pronouncement. (The pug looks increasingly alarmed.) Finally, his head becomes so large that he topples over his castle wall in a sudden squall and and tumbles to Tessa's feet. Discovering that the king has not yet learned his lesson, she teaches him one more, and they both benefit. Van Dusen's tall tale blends just the right amount of laughter and substance. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A boastful king with a steep learning curve who provides plenty of entertainment with his misadventures.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9780763650049

Spin

by


Graphic artist and designer Ido Vaginsky's interactive title will appeal to fans of Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Is that a bird or a fish on the cover? The features of each creature depicted combine to form portraits of two different species, depending on your perspective. With the triangular, tail-like appendage upright, the predominantly red and blue fellow resembles a bird. Spin it so you've tipped the triangle down, and the wing now looks like a fin, and the bird's brow turns into the fish's smile. The riddles that reinforce the creatures' identities may be a bit clunky at times, but the fun is in figuring out which visual characteristics help define the two creatures. (Hint: watch the eyes and nostrils of each.)

The diversity of paper engineering helps to shake things up a bit. A cat-and-mouse hybrid works on a tab that causes a somersault-like effect, giving the illusion of a wrestling match between the two identities. An especially successful achievement uses a page turn to morph a monkey into a duck. Children of all ages will likely be inspired to draw their own creature combinations. In the meantime, this will be a favorite to pass among friends. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A conversation starter and catalyst for creativity with a single image that takes on the look of two entirely different animals, depending on your perspective.

Price Stern Sloan, $12.99, hardcover, 14p., ages 3-up, 9780843199246

Bailey

by Harry Bliss


New Yorker artist Harry Bliss (Countdown to Kindergarten) creates a winsome canine hero with whom children can readily identify. Bailey, a cream-colored hound with chocolaty brown spots, can't wait to get to Champlain Elementary School. He brushes his coat 100 times, wagging all the while, then selects a smart red collar to meet the day: "Bailey likes to look cool." As he dashes for the bus, we see that all the other passengers are humans. "Run, Bailey, run!," the schoolchildren shout in speech balloons. Bailey, meanwhile, conveys his needs through his actions. He holds out his bowl to a girl at the drinking fountain (his thought balloon says, "A little help?"), and presents his "big report" on Fala, the Scottie and "first friend" to Franklin D. Roosevelt, using a pointer, photographs and printed words.

Bliss plays up the comical contrast of Bailey staying true to his canine nature within a human construct, and milks the opportunities for humor. When his teacher asks Bailey about his homework, Bliss upends the cliché with a thought balloon image of the pup eating it himself. In art class, the pooch paints with his tail; in music class, he adds his howl to the song "Hound Dog." The author-artist nicely mixes up the flow of full-page images with panel illustrations and silhouette images. He tucks in details that will be fun for youngsters to discover, such as casting the school nurse as a male, and a pedestrian crossing sign picturing a boy, girl and dog. Bliss implies that though Bailey may be different from his classmates, he's having a howling good time. Young readers will, too. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A great way to introduce the schoolday routine through an enthusiastic and funny canine hero.

Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9780545233446

Wicked Deeds
by Heather Graham
ISBN-13: 9780778331063
Mira Books
09/19/2017


an exclusive interview with bestselling author Heather Graham
 

This novel, WICKED DEED, takes on the riddle of the death of Edgar Allan Poe, among other things. Why do you think his fate exerts such a pull on you?

“To this day, we can only speculate on what did happen to Poe. There are hints and clues, but no definitive answers. That is something I would want to know. He was discovered in a delirious state and never did become coherent. Many believe he was taken in a voting fraud. He was wearing clothing that wasn’t his own. Others believe that, even though the trip was to bring his deceased wife’s mom (his aunt) to Virginia to live with him and his new wife, the proposed new wife’s sons went after Poe. All speculation! If I could, I’d want to smack him, of course. And then not. I, as so many people today, have loved ones who have been addicts. I’ve seen the struggle, and what torture it can be. I would want to help him—and convince him that a genius such as himself should have guarded his health and been around to create more and more fantastic stories for readers—such as me!”

 Read the rest of the interview here.

 

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