Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Caution: Women Reading

Amid all the discussion about the state of the publishing industry, one thing is always paramount: reading. The joy of reading, access to reading. For most of us, getting a book is easy, even while the medium is debated. But Belinda Jack, in The Woman Reader (Yale University Press), points out that what we take for granted is not the way it's always been, nor is it easy still in many places.

"Women's access to the written word has been a particular source of anxiety for men--and indeed some women--almost from the very beginning." Women's reading has been associated with moral corruption, even today. Women have been, and are, denied an education to prevent them from reading.

Jack traces the history of women's attempts to read (and write) from ancient poetesses to rebellious nuns to 19th-century mill girls to Afghani women under Taliban rule. In Herat, women writers set up a group called the Sewing Circles as cover for schooling women. For five years they came together to read, and most of their reading was banned foreign authors, like Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. If they had been caught, at the very least they would have been tortured and imprisoned.

Such is the power and draw of reading. As Nora Ephron wrote:

"Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter.... Reading is grist. Reading is bliss."

Belinda Jack has written an engaging history of the woman reader; to say that the book is delightful is not to take away from the breadth and depth of her scholarship. It's a fine mix of erudition and broad appeal. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

James Lee Burke: The Benefits of a Classical Education

Creole Belle (Simon & Schuster) is the latest in James Lee Burke's popular series set in Louisiana, starring police officer Dave Robicheaux that began with Neon Rain in 1987. (See our review below.)

How did the character of Dave Robicheaux come about?

Well, I was out of print for 14 years--out of hardback print in the middle of my career. I couldn't sell anything. A friend of mine suggested I try a crime novel, even though my other books all dealt with crime on some level. So in this instance, I used a first-person narrator who was a police officer, Dave Robicheaux. He was actually born in another novel, about an ex-Golden Gloves boxer, though I was never able to publish that book. I combined some of the material from my unpublished period to create a trilogy: Neon Rain, Heaven's Prisoners and Black Cherry Blues. That was my attempt at Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. I don't compare myself to Milton, but those books are about the descent into the abyss.

The people at LSU Press really resurrected my career. They published my collection of stories, The Convict, in 1985, and the following year they published The Lost Get-Back Boogie. That one had been rejected 111 times over a nine-year period. It's a record in New York publishing. It's the most rejected book to ever be eventually published. And since then, it's been published all over the world. LSU Press did it. I'll always be indebted to them; they're just the greatest people you could ever meet. They represent everything that's genteel in Southern culture and genteel in American publishing.

Why do you think readers connect with Dave Robicheaux?

I tried to create a character who represented the everyman figure out of the medieval morality plays. It's that simple. It's the great advantage today of having a classical education: almost no one else does. It doesn't exist anymore. So I've been taking plots from Milton, Shakespeare, Elizabethan theater, Greek mythology and the Bible for years and nobody notices!

I kept thinking while I was reading Creole Belle that it felt like a classical tragedy, especially with the character of Clete Purcell. Was that purposeful?

Your perception is right on target. That's exactly what it is. The work is intended to be a tragedy, a five-act play. In fact, Robicheaux even calls it his Elizabethan saga on the bayou. Clete is a Promethean figure, a man who steals fire from the gods to give to humankind. Dave and he are actually one character; they are opposite sides of the same coin. Both men share the characteristics of Chaucer's Good Knight. Both of them are based on that figure, the knight-errant. And Clete is also in part the Trickster of folklore, the guy that gets even for the rest of us. They're great characters, though.

All the main characters in this book have the potential for good and evil, which is kind of a modern sensibility. How or why did you bring that to the stories?

The challenge for every writer is to create characters who are both good and evil. It's the contradictions in us that allow us our moral vision. All truth, all wisdom, in some way is born out of pain. A person's humanity usually exists in direct proportion to the amount of pain he has suffered. In much of what I write, the very rich are people who are insular in nature. I'm not indicating they're evil, but this has been my experience with them. There is a strange kind of pathology inside the culture of the very rich; they do not understand suffering, but the consequence is they don't understand joy, either.

Nobody had any money back when I was a kid, but we never thought in those kind of terms. But my dad had a job, and if your father had a job back in the Depression, you were in tall cotton. But the things that we did had a special meaning to us, things that maybe young people today wouldn't consider of much importance.

The country was a different country back then. We were a united country because during the war years, everyone knew what would happen if we lost: the civilization would die. People would make sacrifices because there was a tremendous sense of unity and a sense of confidence about the righteousness of our cause.

Many of your characters have a military background, and they've come back broken from their various wars. Why is that a common theme?

Their lives are emblematic of the lives of a nation that's in in transition away from the era in which I was born. Back then, we had great confidence about our moral direction as a nation, as an egalitarian, Jeffersonian society. But we've moved into a time when it's obvious we're in flux, but I don't know what's on the other side of the bridge. I think that we're just beginning a very long journey that was precipitated by 9/11 and then our commitment, or Bush's commitment, to the Mideast. It's gonna be a long time before we extract ourselves.

Why did you choose the song "My Creole Belle" for this novel?

I based part of the theme on the character of the young girl Tee Jolee Melton, who represents the Louisiana of Dave's youth. He finds Tee Jolee has become jaded, and she's for sale. And he refers to Louisiana as the great whore of Babylon--you fall in love with the great whore of Babylon, it's not easy to extract yourself from her arms. You pay a large penalty.

Louisiana is a sybaritic culture. But it's for sale. And the people who come in there, I mean, everybody has used the state: the Mafia has, the corrupted unions, the gambling industry. It's because it's easy to take advantage of the system. Over and over again. The people are very vulnerable. The Acadian (Cajun) people are very simple and gentle and they're very trusting. And many of them are illiterate. Louisiana has the highest illiteracy rate in the country. And they're easily taken advantage of. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer & editor

Book Candy

Book Earrings; Authors' Tats; Art of Book Stacking; Fake Bookcase

How to make book earrings: Step-by-step DIY instructions were offered by wikiHow, which noted that you "can make your own in a matter of hours and express your status as a bookworm or your belief in literacy."


"Literary ink: famous authors and their tattoos" were featured by Flavorwire, which noted that "writers and tattoos don't necessarily spring to mind as a natural pairing--we tend to imagine authors decked out in sleeves of tweed and corduroy, not ink."


For those of you who "happen to suffer from an apartment that's overrun by books," Flavorwire showcased "15 inspiring, cleverly-organized stacks of books."


Bookcase of the day. A Daily Mail headline sums it up nicely: "Philadelphia mansion with fake bookcase leading to speakeasy can be yours for $3 million."


Books to Read--and Not Read--at the Beach

The Toronto Globe & Mail recommended "crime fiction: 7 for the beach."


As an international alternative, Russia Beyond the Headlines offered "Russian beach books to transport you to new horizons."


"Nine books NOT to read at the beach" were featured by Jacket Copy.


Flavorwire highlighted the "reading lists of your favorite fictional characters."

Why I Turned to Crime

Joy Castro is the author of Hell or High Water (Thomas Dunne Books, July 17, 2012), a thriller starring an ambitious young reporter at the Times-Picayune (reviewed below).

My life is quiet, law-abiding. I walk to work, walk home. A professor, I spend my evenings reading and grading. I've never had so much as a speeding ticket. I pay my bills on time.

But when I sat down to write my first novel, Hell or High Water, I turned immediately to crime. The interior worlds of criminals and psychopaths loom large on the page. My protagonist hunts them through mean streets, and they hunt her.

I've always loved the genre. As a child, I raced through Sherlock Holmes. Now I read Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, classic crime writers whose lean, gorgeous prose I love, and contemporary masters like Dennis Lehane, Tana French and Kate Atkinson.

Crime fiction is the genre of justice. But our concept of justice has grown up.

Once upon a time, detective novels presumed a just and stable world in which crime was an aberration, a puzzle to be solved. The genius-detective (Holmes, Poirot) sussed out the criminal, revealed his identity and restored order.

Later, hard-boiled and noir mysteries emerged. Personalized crimes like murder unfolded against a larger backdrop of corrupt, untrustworthy institutions.

Today justice is even slipperier. The rich and powerful buy off politicians who legislate in their interests. Nature is ruined for profit, people die of treatable illnesses, low-wage workers are stripped of security, poor children receive fourth-class educations, and we continue to pollute our way into global warming while oil companies post record profits--most of which is perfectly legal.

In Hell or High Water, which takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans, a central, classic crime occurs against an individual, but the maverick heroine, Nola, worries about other kinds of injustice, too: the nebulous, diffuse, structural kinds. She has time to feel how small and vulnerable she is against vast networks of power, money and the law.

Yet she goes on sleuthing. As a journalist, she uses the power of her voice to expose the wrongs she sees.

Like all crime writers, I suppose. --Joy Castro

Book Review


Shine, Shine, Shine

by Lydia Netzer

Somewhere in space, a rocketship carrying Maxon Mann and his robots speeds toward the moon, where the Nobel Prize winner will begin preparations for a lunar colony. Back on Earth, in their picture-perfect suburban home, his elegant blonde wife, Sunny, waits for Maxon to return, manages their autistic young son, Bubber, and watches her mother slowly die of cancer, all the while pregnant with their second child, a baby girl. Sunny plans to soldier on efficiently through her troubles, but the balance of her life is upset when a minor car accident claims a surprisingly important victim: Sunny's wig. Not only is Sunny not a natural blonde, she's completely bald.

Now, her secret literally laid bare, Sunny confronts her assumptions about what normalcy is and whether it has any real benefits. Her quest for a normal life has led her to overmedicate her son, alienate her mother and, worst of all, turn against Maxon when he cannot fit into her vision of the perfect life. However, her realization may have come too late. A meteor strike leaves Maxon and his fellow astronauts stranded en route to the moon. He and his robots are now the mission's only chance of survival.

Through domestic squabbles, grief and meteor strikes, Shine, Shine, Shine remains an upbeat affirmation of life and self-discovery. Cleverly mixing mathematical equations with human relationships until the two seem inextricable, Netzer's logical yet whimsical voice combines with light touches of science fiction in a refreshingly original novel that will leave readers thinking about their own best selves. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Read more about Shine Shine Shine and Lydia Netzer in our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: A debut novel in an original voice; an ultimately optimistic exploration of life and our assumptions about normalcy.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250007070

Buddhaland Brooklyn

by Richard C. Morais

Buddhaland Brooklyn, Richard C. Morais's second novel (after The Hundred-Foot Journey), plays on the age-old story of faith lost and found, painting a poignant portrait of a Buddhist monk's search for religious enlightenment while leading an American flock. We first meet Seido Oda as a child in a remote mountainside village in Northern Japan, when his family commits him to priesthood at the Buddhist monastery.

After his father's suicide by fire kills the rest of his family, Oda turns inward, developing an unshakable devotion to Buddhism through prayer, poetry and art, ever hopeful that "one day, the Buddha will reunite you with your family in the Buddhaland." After 16 years, Oda's near-hermetical existence at the temple comes to an end as his superiors dispatch him to a Brooklyn neighborhood in order to establish the sect's first American temple.

In New York, Morais lays bare the flaws inherent in Oda's dogmatic and stubborn approach to faith--his social ineptitude, his inability to adapt to and connect with parishioners and his failure to confront tragedy and emotional conflict. Through Oda's story, Morais shows the modernist influences on traditional Buddhism, contrasting the austere, natural serenity of temple life to with the pent-up frustrations of a boxy, concrete metropolis. It is a dilemma familiar to believers of all faiths seeking to reconcile their own viewpoints against those of their religion. Readers who follow Morais's lyrical narrative will find spiritual redemption of their own in his search for the paradisiacal Buddhaland. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A vivid portrait of faith lost and found through the eyes of a Japanese Buddhist monk in America.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781451669220

The After Wife

by Gigi Levangie Grazer

Gigi Levangie Grazer brings her dynamite sense of humor and artful characterizations to The After Wife, a tale of life after loss, life after death and how to survive as a widow in Los Angeles.

Hannah Bernal knows she has everything: an adorable three-year-old daughter, a great career as a television producer, supportive friends and, miracle of miracles, her gorgeous husband, John, a professional chef and Hannah's one true love. When a traffic accident rips John away, Hannah's perfect life shatters. Her grief drives her career down the drain, leaves her unequal to the responsibility of parenting her child and even briefly lands her in jail. Worst of all, ever since John's death, Hannah sees dead people.

Her friends worry that she's losing her mind, but suddenly every stranger who crosses Hannah's path is accompanied by a departed friend or relative who expects Hannah to pass on their messages from the beyond--and, as a life-long motormouth, Hannah cannot help herself. As her relationships waver and bills pile up, Hannah wonders how she'll survive as an "after wife."

Despite the emotional subject matter, you'll be hard pressed not to laugh out loud at Hannah's sarcastic quips or the antics of her Grief Team, an assortment of friends that includes her outspoken gay co-producer, an aging wannabe actress and a mommy blogger who takes social consciousness to the extreme. Breezy, heartfelt--and occasionally off-color--Grazer's examination of the trials of grief and the power of love is sure to charm. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: The hilarious but tender story of a woman whose widowhood awakens her gift for speaking with the dead.

Ballantine, $25, hardcover, 9780345523990

Mystery & Thriller

Whiplash River

by Lou Berney

Whiplash River, Lou Berney's follow-up to 2010's Gutshot Straight, finds Charles "Shake" Bouchon living his dream, with his own restaurant on a beach in Belize. The dream has some rough edges, though; being in debt to the biggest drug dealer in the country wasn't part of the plan. So the last thing Shake wants or needs is more drama, but that's what he gets when a masked gunman walks into his restaurant one night and targets one of his guests. Shake does his best to defend the guest, only to find himself in the midst of a manhunt--and he's the man being hunted.

Whiplash River is nonstop action, filled with humor, plot twists and even romance. Berney adds a cast of new characters, all of them distinct and colorful, with a few veterans returning from Gutshot Straight as well. One of the outlying delights of this novel is travel. From the beaches of Belize to the pyramids of Egypt, Berney illustrates his settings subtly yet powerfully. Whether Shake is in a Mennonite village or a street packed with tourist traps, the geography enhances the chase rather than slowing or impeding it.

While Whiplash River can definitely be enjoyed without reading Gutshot Straight, it can be fully appreciated only with that background. Luckily, both novels are exceptionally fun reads! --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The thrill of the chase as Lou Berney sets out on a hilarious crime caper spanning the globe.

Morrow, $14.99, paperback, 9780062115287

Hell or High Water

by Joy Castro

Despite her name, Nola Céspedes doesn't share the fondness for New Orleans that her friends and family have. Her goal is to land a job with the New York Times and never look back. So when her boss hands her a feature story about convicted sexual offenders, she sets aside her fears for her safety in hopes the story will move her in the direction of her goal.

Meanwhile, someone is snatching women off the streets of New Orleans in broad daylight--raping, murdering and leaving his victims in waterways. As Nola digs into the crimes, she becomes obsessed, and her fixation may put an end to all of her goals. 

Hell or High Water, Joy Castro's first novel, is a captivating story that draws parallels between the rape of women and the destruction, despair and death endured by New Orleans itself. The imagery of water, with the conflicting powers to maintain life as well as to annihilate it, weaves its way throughout the tale. Nola's narration alternates between present and past tense as she exposes previous events little by little, helping to maintain a consistently suspenseful read. At times, Castro's focus on detail slows the plot, but readers may pardon this minor transgression as she vividly depicts New Orleans in all its splendor and horror.

Hell or High Water is a thought-provoking thriller. It is also an odyssey of recovery and a case study in resilience that will echo in the minds of readers well after the mystery has been unveiled. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A thriller that explores the damage that can be done to the human spirit through the metaphor of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250004574

Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

by James Lee Burke

In Creole Belle, a direct sequel to 2010's The Glass Rainbow, James Lee Burke returns to the corrupt, post-Edenic south Louisiana he knows so well. Dave Robicheaux, Burke's protagonist through 18 previous novels, gets a visit from young Cajun naif Tee Jolie Melton in the hospital as he recovers from a near-fatal shootout. She gives him an iPod with an old blues song on it, "My Creole Belle." Yet no one else has seen her--or her sister, most likely murdered--in months.

He chases her throughout the story, trying to regain her favor, never quite succeeding in convincing others that she's alive, let alone contacting him. Robicheaux's former partner, Clete Purcell, has his own demons to face, meanwhile, including an estranged daughter who may or may not be a mafia-connected assassin sent to take out various New Orleans hits. Together, Robicheaux and Clete are a pair of broken men, both struggling with how to regain their youth, their families, and any semblance of integrity or dignity along the way.

As a crime novel, Creole Belle delivers everything fans of the genre crave, and more: a masterful tale of good, evil, organized crime and the corporate-led destruction of the once-idyllic land of the Gulf Coast. Burke muses along at a steady pace, never hurrying, never stalling. He uses the modern crime novel the way a master chef uses local, organic foods to create a gastronomic feast--in this case, a classical tragedy with all the fixin's. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Follow Dave Robicheaux on another descent into modern New Orleans, filtered through the eyes of an earlier, more genteel age.

Simon & Schuster, $27.99, hardcover, 9781451648133


by Karin Slaughter

Fans of Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series know his boss at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Amanda Wagner, is a ball buster. Criminal takes readers back in time to show why Amanda is so hard on Will--and how she used to be quite a different person.

Slaughter's story alternates between the mid-1970s, when several prostitutes disappear and are feared dead, and the present, as a similar outbreak of disappearances unfolds. Amanda was a rookie Atlanta cop investigating the original crimes and fears the original perpetrator is back, but she keeps Will away from the case, much to his frustration. Turns out she has very good reasons: discovering the truth could destroy him.

Fans of the series might lament that this book's focus isn't on Will and his budding relationship with Sara Linton, the heroine of many of Slaughter's previous novels, but they should soon appreciate her choice in giving Amanda a fleshed-out history that will change notions about a character who's often been seen as unpleasant. One of only two females in the police department in 1975, 25-year-old Amanda was far from the confident woman she is today, at times too meek in her reaction to maddeningly sexist colleagues. But this makes her arc realistic, as she eventually finds her footing when she realizes she's good at her job.

While Will is somewhat on the periphery, the story is ultimately about him. Fans know his childhood in foster homes was tough, but the additional details Slaughter reveals in Criminal are even more shattering. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer/editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Karin Slaughter reveals gut-wrenching secrets about her hero's past, plus a look at the beginning of his boss's career.

Delacorte, $27, hardcover, 9780345528506


Marrying Up: A Right Royal Romantic Comedy

by Wendy Holden

Alexa McDonald is an ambitious, working-class woman who's reinvented her heritage, her mannerisms and her very name in pursuit of wealth and prestige through marriage to a rich and titled gentleman. As if her goal wasn't shallow enough, her clueless methods of landing an epic heir to some grand estate include bedding every chinless dullard in the aristocracy. You really want to hate this calculating liar... but for some reason, you don't.

Therein lies the rub of Wendy Holden's Marrying Up, as Alexa, a woman who will act decidedly "unladylike" in the name of becoming a "lady," is juxtaposed with her old school chum, Polly, a down-to-earth archeologist who effortlessly falls in love with a member of the royalty without even trying. Problem is, salt-of-the-earth Polly has no idea her new boyfriend is actually a prince. The story zooms from the British countryside to Monte Carlo as both Polly and Alexa stop at nothing to get their men. When a powerful member of high society threatens to expose Alexa's schemes, things get even juicier.

It's never quite clear why, besides the luxury of fine champagne and servants, Alexa so desperately wants to marry her way into the aristocracy. Perhaps because our culture glamorizes the upper crust, no matter how badly behaved, Alexa is determined to become one of the non-working elite. Holden keeps you reading, however, and intrigued as to the outcome of this gold-digging tale while providing a brimming bucket of laughs along the way. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Wendy Holden's latest romance reveals the lengths to which a gold digger will go to get her man.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781402270673

Graphic Books

Get Jiro!

by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, illus. by Langdon Foss

Anthony Bourdain's first foray into comics, co-written with Joel Rose (Kill Kill Faster Faster), yields a graphically violent, in-your-face adventure akin to the Soup Nazi meeting the Sopranos--or maybe a cross between the Soup Nazi and The Bride of Kill Bill. The setting of Get Jiro! is a futuristic Los Angeles where food culture dominates the landscape. Two rival "warlord" chefs, having divided the city into meat-eaters (Chef Bob) and vegans (Chef Rose, a not-so-subtle nod to Chez Panisse and Alice Waters), court Jiro, an independent sushi chef on the city's fringes after hearing that he mercilessly lops off the head of a patron who dips his sushi rice-down into soy sauce. What ensues is a vicious blood bath that marries Bourdain's philosophical approaches to food with the punchy noir voice that characterizes all of his writing.

The artwork by Langdon Foss is vivid, harking back to old-school comics created in the pre-digital age, and Bourdain and Rose's anti-hero combines the rebelliousness of Bourdain with the merciless cunning of a sword-wielding Sherlock Holmes. Jiro can be read as an alter-ego for Bourdain--a cool, suave wayfarer in search of food justice in a world of gauche talking heads. The epic story adds another dimension to Bourdain's already accomplished career: let's hope enough readers discover this new side of his talent to ensure a sequel. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer

Discover: In Anthony Bourdain's first graphic novel, a futuristic Los Angeles serves as a battleground for a food-obsessed drama.

Vertigo, $24.99, hardcover, 9781401228279

Social Science

The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food

by Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray is a seasoned gardener: a seed saver, seed exchanger and seed banker. She is also an award-winning writer who knows how to mix startling statistics with engaging personal stories. "The reclamation of seeds is the reclamation of food," Ray writes in The Seed Underground, "and how we grow that food is important."

Noting that 94% of the seed varieties from 1903 were no longer available in 2004, Ray passionately outlines the stunning loss of diversity in our food and the factors contributing to this crisis, while sharing her personal story as a gardener, small farmer and seed saver. She also explores the work of a number of other advocates who are dedicated to saving--and sharing--seeds, like her friend Jack Daniel, the Vermont poet Jeff Bickart and the Tomato Man (among others).

The Seed Underground includes specific instructions on basic seed saving techniques, ideas on how to become an advocate for seed conservation and proper food production and an extensive list of resources for further information. Good thing, too: Ray is an inspiring writer, and few readers will not be moved to "farmer up" upon finishing this book. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore

Discover: A captivating memoir/manifesto that defines the dwindling seed supply crisis and introduces a devoted cast of characters striving to fix it.

Chelsea Green, $17.95, paperback, 9781603583060

Children's & Young Adult

Rocket Writes a Story

by Tad Hills

In this terrific follow-up to How Rocket Learned to Read, Hills delivers another gently humorous story about mastering a skill and making a friend.

At first, Rocket was a dog who loved to play. ("He loved to chase leaves and chew sticks.") In this new adventure, Rocket is a dog who loves to read. He has also become a word collector. He brings back to his teacher, the little yellow bird, words like "buttercup," "bug" and "feather." A double-page spread depicts a "nest" that sits very high in a pine tree.

The book brims with teachable moments: Rocket writes down words such as "leaf," "bush" and "dog" (nouns), while the bird adds other words that may well launch a parts-of-speech discussions (e.g., "for," "by" and "the"). Rocket's nose leads him repeatedly back to that tree with the nest, and its scent of pine and feathers--and the nest dweller, who introduces herself as "Owl." But a subject does not a story make. Writers young and old will recognize Rocket's plight: "He looked down at the blank page and the blank page looked up at him. But no story would come."

Just as Rocket's wish for more of his teacher's story about Buster ("the lucky dog") leads him to read, here as Rocket reads his drafts to the owl, she asks, "Then what happened?", providing more fodder for his story as a friendship blossoms. Once again, Hills delivers a double dose of smart tips on learning while also illustrating how to be a good friend. More please! --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The follow-up to How Rocket Learned to Read, in which the winsome pup pens a story and gains a new friend.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9780375870866

Cold Fury

by T.M. Goeglein

Debut novelist T.M. Goeglein hooks readers with his fugitive-slash-vigilante heroine, who's trying to rescue her parents and brother from her crooked uncle--with the help of a powerful hereditary phenomenon.

After her family goes missing, Sara Jane Rispoli, a 16-year-old boxer with braces, finds herself on the move, with a steel briefcase containing $96,000 in cash, a Sig Sauer .45 conceal-and-carry, and an old leather notebook that holds the secrets to potenza ultima--ultimate power. It turns out the family business, Rispoli & Sons Fancy Pastries, was a front for the Chicago Outfit, a criminal organization that traces back to Al Capone. This was one of many secrets harbored from Sara Jane, the other being a family trait called "il ghiaccio furioso," loosely translated as "the cold fury," an attribute once exclusive to the Sicilian men in the Rispoli family until Sara Jane channels it.

Fueled by cold fury, Sara Jane overcomes her anxiety about the upcoming spring dance--an anxiety with seemingly no roots in reality, given that Max Kissberg is charming and shares similar interests to hers. Sara Jane focuses on rescuing her family from their questionable fate. Goeglein brings chills with his psychotic ski-masked assassin and thrills with corrupt cops chasing Sara Jane. This will appeal to Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider readers, especially those who cheered for the hero's pursuit of retribution. The cinematic writing, mesmerizing twists and turns, and rivalries within one family make for a fascinating adventure. --Adam Silvera, former bookseller and reviewer

Discover: A teenager who learns that her family is part of the Mob and who must rescue them after they are kidnapped.

Putnam, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 12-up, 9780399257209

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