Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Harper: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

From My Shelf

Famous Wives

There's no shortage of books about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. Three more novelizations of the couple's history have been released this year, with two (Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler and Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck) taking a particular interest in Zelda. Many readers' fascination with the lives--and wives--of the rich, famous and creative extends beyond the Fitzgeralds.

Paula McLain's The Paris Wife presents the story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. Though history spoils the ending a bit--knowing that Hadley was Hemingway's first wife implies the inevitable dissolution of their marriage--the novel is a touching tale of intimacy and of Paris in the 1920s.

Only a decade or so before the Fitzgeralds took the world by storm and Ernest and Hadley moved to Paris, Mamah Cheney shocked Chicago society by leaving her husband and children to pursue an affair with architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Loving Frank, Nancy Horan's debut novel, brings this little-remembered figure back to life, positing that Cheney had a considerable amount of influence on Wright's work even as she herself struggled to find a voice for her own creativity in an era not known for its feminist ideals.

The Aviator's Wife focuses on Anne Morrow, wife of Charles Lindbergh. Author Melanie Benjamin follows the arc of their relationship from early courtship through the loss of their son to their fallout over political differences, revealing details not only of an oft-troubled marriage, but of a woman strong enough to maintain her own identity through it all. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Thomas Nelson: A Very Dinosaur Birthday by Adam Wallace, illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

The Writer's Life

Janice Clark: Whalebone and Crow

Janice Clark is a writer and designer living in Chicago. She grew up in Mystic, Conn., home of Mystic Seaport and the famous whaleship Charles W. Morgan. She's also lived in Montreal, Kansas City, San Francisco and New York, where she earned an MFA in writing at New York University. Her short fiction has appeared in Pindeldyboz and the Nebraska Review and her design work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art. The Rathbones (just published by Doubleday; see our review below), which she also illustrated, is her first novel. (Watch the trailer for the book here.)

This is a big, ambitious and impressive first novel. It comes upon the reader like a breeching whale. What's the background to its genesis and writing?

The Rathbones started as a short story about 10 years ago, and I began developing it while in the MFA program at NYU. The novel took seven years to write. I think part of the reason for its ambition was that I came to writing late, with a few more decades of life to draw on than most debut novelists. As a divorced single parent raising a son on my own and running a small graphic design office, I had no time to devote to fiction, though I had loved writing when younger. After my son started college, I took a writing class and was hooked.

How much of an impact did growing up in Mystic have on your writing of the novel? And where did the Rathbone name come from?

Growing up near Mystic Seaport, a whaling museum, I of course wasn't at all interested in whaling and didn't become interested until I read a few books about the sperm whale as an adult. I've lived most of my life far from the ocean, always longing for it--though it wasn't a defined goal, writing about whaling kept me connected to the sea in a vital way. I grew up in a mid-century modern house in a town known for its 18th- and 19th-century architecture, and had always loved Mystic's austere Greek Revival houses perched on hills, many topped with widows' walks. There's also a wonderfully Gothic Victorian house in Noank, Conn., that in part inspired Rathbone House; local legend holds it to have been owned at one time by Charles Addams.

The novel's original title was Crow. Mercy Rathbone sends her surviving pet crow (its twin having met with a crushing end) off to witness scenes from the dark history of the Rathbone family. As the story ventured further and dived deeper into the family's history, the novel began to call for a more epic title, hence The Rathbones.

One of the great pleasures of The Rathbones is entering into the amazing, old New England fictional world you've created. How difficult was it to create this detailed world?

I love research--I can get lost for hours and feel only low-level guilt because, after all, I'm working; it's sometimes hard for me to tear myself away and do the hard work of actually writing. For me, it's less a question of achieving a detailed world than not becoming overwhelmed by detail. I'm not looking to place the reader firmly in a "historical fiction" past that's strictly matchable to a time and place, but to a fictional world that, though somewhat grounded in reality, has its own rules and its own reality.

Where did your great main character and primary narrator, 15-year-old Mercy, the "small and dark," come from?

Though my mother never walked a widow's walk, she was always waiting for my father--who was in the Navy when I was child--to return from sea. There's a little of Mercy in me in that I felt my mother's attention so often turned elsewhere. Since I always had my nose in a book as a child, and a proclivity for the dark and troubling, there's probably a little Jane Eyre and Wednesday Addams in there, too.

Our family, like all Navy families, moved frequently, and there's a story that my oldest sister slept in a dresser drawer for a while, before furniture from the latest move arrived; I think Mercy's diminutive size came in part from this. But the "small and dark" also gestures at how unformed Mercy is at 15, having known such a sheltered life in Rathbone House; as she moves out into the light and air on her adventure she lightens and lengthens.

I also worked with the ideas of "dark" and "light" to paint in broader strokes: the small and dark Rathbones are compact, nimble, connected to nature and the sea; the long and golden Starks attenuated and weakened. The family patriarch, Moses Rathbone, "knew that the blood of the golden wives had thinned the Rathbone veins, had stiffened their sea legs and bled their dark strength to white."

Moby Dick has to have been an influence, what with Moses riding on the backs of whales, Ahab-like, harpoon drawn.

Definitely. Moby Dick is for me the greatest American novel; nothing else comes close to the deep and rich strangeness of Melville. I've always loved Rockwell Kent's illustrations for the 1930 edition of Moby Dick; I drew the little illustrations that head each chapter in homage to Kent.

What other books influenced you?

The Odyssey was a major influence. Also the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels, which I love not for their 19th-century naval battles, but for their characters, particularly Stephen Maturin, whose enthusiasm for natural science shows up in somewhat twisted form in Mordecai Rathbone; and for the spirit of high adventure. Though The Rathbones aspires to a larger story about America--our exploitation of nature; the immense resources and immense greed possible only in a continent so vast and so rich--my hope was to couch the cautionary tale in an adventure story. Many readers I know, most of them women, are weary of delicate domestic dramas. They may love Jane Austen but they also love Game of Thrones.

The book is a fascinating mix of realism and magical realism. It's not every day we read about crows lifting up a small girl by her braids. Can you talk about your genre-bending narrative?

I didn't really think about genre. I just knew that I wanted it to ride that divide between the possible and the improbable; there's a tension there, a liminal place, that I find exciting.

This is a rather dark and dangerous gothic novel. How did you come up with the style and tone?

I joke that writing is my substitute for therapy, but I'm only sort of joking. I'd much rather plumb my dark and disturbed inner life for story than fully understand myself. The half-seen and half-understood is always more exciting. Judging by early reactions to the book, there are many more equally dark and disturbed readers out there than I would have guessed.

Moses Rathbone, the family patriarch, the bringer of children, the man who seems part whale--where did he come from?

Though the novel suggests that Moses may be a Native American or Inuit from somewhere to the north, I didn't want to put in the foreground issues of race but rather to suggest that Moses is a man deeply connected to nature, to the whales and the sea; he's the ground zero of the Rathbone family's arc from one-with-nature to emptied out, spermless and dry.

And Mordecai, Mercy's loyal cousin, who counsels her and accompanies her on her odyssey?

Mordecai is the nadir of the family's sad trajectory from powerful to weak. Up in his attic in Rathbone House under the hull of a whaling ship, he instructs Mercy in those things her mother--busy carving her whale bones--should have taught her: lessons in deportment, the proper pouring of tea. Along with the other mysteries of the novel--why Papa has been gone so long, what happened to Mercy's brother, why Mama is so cold--the reasons for Mordecai's exile in the attic with his specimens and logbooks are at the heart of the story.

The image of bones is a key one in the novel. How did that image develop?

In working on the novel I spent many hours looking at scrimshaw--whalebone artifacts, carved by sailors in their months and years at sea: delicate portraits incised in great sperm whale teeth; jagging wheels and carved cricket cages and busks for corsets. And also from two Grimm tales, "The Singing Bone" and "The Juniper Tree," in both of which long-hidden bones, uncovered, sing of their misfortune.

Where did that strange song about the "mother who murdered me" that appears here and there throughout the novel come from?

"Father, Father" was inspired by the heft and sorrow of old English ballads. I think there's also a little of the wonderfully creepy Victorian poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes in there. I wrote a tune for the song, and sang it often while writing.

The use of the slowly developing Rathbone family tree illustration is a beautiful touch.

I first drew the family tree to help myself navigate the complicated genealogy of the family, then thought that successive reveals, as Mercy and Mordecai uncover more and more of the Rathbone past, would be fun as well as helpful to the reader. It was so much fun drawing the little portraits that augment the often unsavory details of the Rathbone family tree.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a novel in which trees are as important as whales were to The Rathbones. It begins with 13 lumberjacks who live in the trees and never come down. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Chronicle Books: Oh No, the Aunts Are Here by Adam Rex, illustrated by Lian Cho

Book Candy

Harry Potter Fun Facts; Reading Cats

"Did you know Robbie Coltrane, aka Hagrid, got a fruit bat stuck in his beard once?" Buzzfeed offered "17 fun facts about the Harry Potter movies." And if that's not enough HP for you, check out "12 incredibly intricate Harry Potter-inspired manicures."


TV guidebooks: The Huffington Post gathered "a list of book references in Breaking Bad."


"Reading books is serious business, and no one knows that better than these twelve cats," Buzzfeed noted.


Feeling old? Buzzfeed recommended "40 books to read before turning 40."


Hirsute literati: Flavorwire revealed the "great mustaches of French decadent writers," while Buzzfeed found the "10 most impressive beards in literature."


"Stacking objects to hold up bookshelves": Netherlands designer Emiel Remmelts "considers construction and joints as a starting point, so what better way to create an object than by using other objects as construction and joints?" Design Milk noted.

Running Press Kids: Nerdcrush by Alisha Emrich

Book Review


Love and Lament

by John Milliken Thompson

One of Mary Bet Hartsoe's earliest memories is of a faceless rider on a black horse coming for her, only to turn aside at the last moment; another is of the deaths of twin siblings Annie and Willie to consumption. The youngest of the Hartsoe children, Mary Bet struggles to find her place in her rural North Carolinian family. Her siblings all seem talented in ways she is not: Ila, the caregiver; Myrtle Emma, the musician; O'Nora, the adventurer; Siler, the genius. Yet, one by one, they too are claimed by death while Mary Bet can only watch and try to maintain the crumbling bonds of her family. Eventually, Mary Bet must choose: Will she allow her life to proceed as a pale imitation of the death that has claimed her kin, or will she commit herself to forging new bonds of living familial love?

In Love and Lament, John Milliken Thompson binds together the best of the southern gothic tradition of William Faulkner and postmodern studies of human character and psyche like Joanna Greenberg's I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Mary Bet is a deeply sympathetic character, even--or especially--in her darkest moments, and Thompson's handling of detail makes the novel's early 20th-century setting feel real. Love and Lament captures the complexity of coming of age in the face of death and rapid industrialization, and the sense that although things will never be the same, life may yet endure. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: Thompson's second novel (after 2011's The Reservoir) is an exploration of death and commitment to family written in the southern gothic tradition.

Other Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781590515877

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen

by Lindsay Ashford

When Jane Austen died in 1817, little was known about her illness except that she suffered from a "bilious attack" that turned her looks "black and white and every wrong color." The cause of her death remained a mystery until 1964, when an analysis of Austen's symptoms yielded retrospective diagnoses of Addison's disease or Hodgkin's lymphoma. But the British mystery writer and journalist Lindsay Ashford details an alternate hypothesis in The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, an intriguing novel that attributes Austen's demise to arsenic poisoning.

Ashford uses Anne Sharp, a governess working for Jane's brother Edward, as a witness to various conspiracies surrounding their brother Henry, such as frequent visits to sister-in-law Elizabeth that coincide with her child-bearing confinements. Jane and Anne first meet in 1805 and develop a friendship over a mutual love of reading and care for Jane's nieces. Yet, as the years progress, Anne's conspiratorial imagination and infatuation with Jane threaten to ruin her both professionally and personally.

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen is a fantastical period piece true to the language and mannerisms of its inspiration, but one that takes free license with pivotal moments in Austen family history. While Ashford delivers a suspenseful and highly entertaining work of fiction, she also incurs the anger of diehard Janeites, whose reverence for the image of piety and purity so carefully sculpted by the Austen family post-mortem conflicts with the scenes Ashford paints so vividly. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A fictional account of the last days of Jane Austen's life proposes a scandalous explanation for her death.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781402282126

The Rathbones

by Janice Clark

"The bones tell their story," writes Janice Clark--the story of The Rathbones. The bones, sea, whales, crows, a family, a little girl, a missing brother: these are all part and parcel of Clark's amazing, fabulously entertaining debut novel, set in Naiwayonk, Conn., in 1859 and narrated in large part by the "small and dark" 15-year-old Mercy Rathbone. It's the tale of her cold Mama, Verity; her father, Benadam, gone these 10 years at sea whaling; her uncle Mordecai--and the bones.

The Rathbones live in a fantastical mansion in sight of the sea; Mordecai lives in the attic. Then there are Mercy's pet crows, who can lift her up by her braids, as they do one night to save her from the "man in blue" who's sleeping with her mother. The next day, Mercy and Mordecai set sail in a small skiff for Mouse Island, and their odyssey on the "route of the spermaceti" begins. Waves and rocks break up their boat; they are saved by the women of the island, some of the 17 wives of Moses Rathbone, whaler extraordinaire.

Moses... if he went away from the sea, "it pulled him back." He would swim with whales, listen to their beating hearts, their songs. He could see and identify a whale from miles away. His crew were Rathbones, boys and men, borne by the women, year after year. But where were the girls? What were those "curls of dark hair" tossed into the sea? And what is significant about that strange song Mercy keeps hearing about the "Mother who murdered me?"

Little by little, Mercy completes her family tree and her story, until in the end, "that which remained when all else had been hacked away and buried away, [was] reduced to irreducible bone, quiet and still." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Taste the sea's salt spray and hear the crows' caw in this dreamlike, lushly gothic debut novel, New England kin to Absalom, Absalom.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385536936

The Night of the Comet

by George Bishop

George Bishop's sophomore novel, The Night of the Comet, takes readers back to the first exciting awakening of adolescence: the painful insecurities, the overpowering flush of first love and the magical certainty that anything is possible.

Set in the sleepy town of Terrebonne, La., in 1973, the tale is told by 14-year-old Alan Broussard, Jr., a lower-middle-class kid with no discernible talent--and the burden of a father who's the geekiest science teacher at his high school.

After Bishop (Letter to My Daughter) establishes a pitch-perfect mood, Alan's world is shaken by Comet Kohoutek's impending appearance. The whole town prepares for this momentous event. Suddenly Alan's father is no longer a joke, but an expert to be revered and respected. The young teen experiences his own kind of cosmic epiphany when he falls madly in love with the rich, gorgeous Gabriella, who has moved in across the street--but he is not the only one entranced by her captivating beauty.

Bishop's stunningly crafted coming-of-age novel of yearning, devotion and choices will bring readers back to their own first love. The time period is captured brilliantly and the story is hauntingly realistic. As if the outstanding plot and lovingly developed characters weren't enough, the book is interspersed with enough fascinating nuggets about astronomy and sky watching that it wouldn't be surprising if it sparked a run on telescopes after its release. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A poignant coming-of-age story that will touch your heart and make you remember the agonizing bliss of being of being young again.

Ballantine, $25, hardcover, 9780345516008

Mystery & Thriller

The Memory Key

by Conor Fitzgerald

In 1980, Stefania Manfellotto blew up a train station full of people. Thirty years later, after serving a long prison sentence, she's shot in the head on the campus of a Roman university. The magistrate investigating the attempted murder is convinced a bystander named Sofia Fontana must have seen something, but before he can ascertain that, she is killed.

The magistrate doesn't trust the local carabineri to do a proper job, so he turns to Commissario Alec Blume--the protagonist of three previous mysteries by Conor Fitzgerald--to do a little unofficial investigating. Blume's bosses aren't happy about him getting involved in yet another off-the-grid investigation; neither is his girlfriend, Caterina. But Blume can't help himself, he's intrigued by the intertwined stories of Stefania and Sofia. He starts to probe into their lives, and quickly discovers a strange professor--a man who claims to have the key to memory, enabling anyone to remember anything--who had connections to both. As the case heats up, and more deaths occur, Blume must race to find the truth.

With The Memory Key, Fitzgerald has created another gripping mystery featuring the irresistibly stubborn Blume (following 2012's The Namesake). Blume pigheadedly continues down the path he has chosen, no matter the consequences--yet readers cannot help but root for him. Fans of Donna Leon or Andrea Camillieri are bound to enjoy The Memory Key and its vivid Roman setting. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Commissario Alec Blume struggles in his personal and professional relationships as the investigation into the shooting of a terrorist takes over his life.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620401118


The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

by Lauren Willig

With nine novels in the Pink Carnation series under her belt, it's obvious that Lauren Willig has hit upon a winning formula: mix Napoleonic spies with a dash of intrigue, add buckets of humor and romance. But the irreverently named The Passion of the Purple Plumeria contains a fantastic surprise in the form of its heroine: the irascible, eminently practical and decidedly middle-aged Miss Gwen.

Posing as chaperone to Miss Jane Wooliston, while secretly serving as second-in-command to the secret agent known as the Pink Carnation, Miss Gwen has reveled in the independence and adventure of her double life. But when Jane's youngest sister goes missing, Gwen reluctantly discards her costume breeches and false mustaches to investigate the girl's disappearance. She is thrown into the company of roguish Colonel William Reid, newly returned from India, whose daughter has also vanished. Following the trail leads them to secret orgies and back-alley ambushes, but Gwen finds in Colonel Reid himself what may be her most stimulating adventure yet.

One of Willig's strengths is writing hilarious and faintly ridiculous characters who can, at the drop of a hat, become deeply, poignantly real. Gwen and Reid are both well drawn, with nuanced back stories, and the two come together by thoroughly entertaining fits and starts. The scene is effectively stolen, however, by the subtly corroding relationship between Gwen and Jane, which gives us tantalizing hints at the true personality behind the Pink Carnation and will leave readers salivating for Willig's next book. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: A formidable heroine who learns, to her astonishment, that it's never too late!

NAL, $15, paperback, 9780451414724

Graphic Books

March: Book One

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illus. by Nate Powell

Congressman John Lewis, one of the last living icons of the civil rights movement, has teamed with co-writer Andrew Aydin and Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell for March: Book One, the first installment in a three-part graphic novel series.

March begins with a pivotal moment in the movement--the Bloody Sunday march of 1965 in Alabama--before backtracking to document Lewis's life from his humble beginnings as a sharecropper's child to the struggle for racial equality as a nonviolent protestor during the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s. Education and a road trip north with an uncle open the young Lewis's eyes to a world where black and white can coexist on more equal footing, but the turning point in his transformation from dreamer to advocate occurs when he listens to a radio broadcast of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is then he realizes the possibility of change through peace, love and nonviolence and emerges as a champion of racial equality and social justice.

Through Powell's powerful graphical recreation of Lewis's life, we slip past the political struggles and into the soul of a man of courage and belief. Though much has been accomplished in diminishing the racial divide, much remains to be done to erase the economic divide; and in that, Lewis's story carries the same relevance today as it did for a generation nearly 50 years ago. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Congressman John Lewis offers a poignant and touching graphical memoir about growing up in the segregated South and the struggles of the civil rights movement.

Top Shelf Productions, $14.95, paperback, 9781603093002

Food & Wine

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese

by Michael Paterniti

In 1991, as a struggling young writer working as a proofreader for the fabled Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., Michael Paterniti chanced upon a description of the most expensive cheese the deli sold. The rich, dense and intense cheese was made in small batches in Guzman, a tiny hill town in Castille, Spain, from an ancient family recipe, with milk collected daily from cheesemaker Ambrosio Molinas's own sheep.

Still obsessed a decade later, Paterniti found himself in Ambrosio's "telling room"--a harvest room and neighborhood gathering place--listening to the story of the "world's greatest cheese," along with hints about the terrible betrayal that led the end of Ambrosio's cheese business. Seduced by the charismatic cheesemaker and his larger-than-life story of accomplishment, loss, revenge and betrayal, Paterniti was determined to write a book about the mysterious fate of the cheese. He returned to Guzman often over the next 10 years, even moving with his growing family for months at a time. As he uncovered the information that finally solved the puzzle, he began to understand his real story was not about the cheese, but about one man's attachment to an idealized version of life--and his ultimate acceptance of his own choices.

Funny, exuberant, celebratory and sometimes over-the-top in its enthusiasms and story-telling, with digressions and footnotes as long as stand-alone chapters, The Telling Room will entertain while it reminds the reader of the human need for story and, finally, acceptance. --Jeanette Zwart

Discover: Paterniti (Driving Mr. Albert) tries to solve the mystery behind the betrayals that doomed the world's greatest cheese, finding the real story is his own.

Dial Press, $27, hardcover, 9780385337007


The Lost World of Fossil Lake

by Lance Grande

An animal is caught in a landslide of ash, or perhaps stone, its bones preserved for millions of years exactly as it was in the moment of death--for kids, that's like a time machine made real. Some children are so impressed that a fascination with prehistoric creatures sticks with them into adulthood. Lance Grande is one such person, and along with his work in paleontology he teaches future scientists. His interest has led to The Lost World of Fossil Lake, a combination of complex scientific examinations and curiosity-inspiring stories centered on a paleontological treasure trove in Wyoming.

Millions of fossils have been excavated from Fossil Lake over the last 150 years, with hundreds of different species found. Grande describes it as "the most comprehensive picture of Eocene life that we know of," and while we may be far from exhausting Fossil Lake's repository of history, the record he assembles reads like a comprehensive overview of the region.

There are certainly sections that might be clearer to someone with a background in fossil research--there's no oversimplification to be found here. The bulk of the text, in fact, would likely be more engaging to someone already exploring a career in paleontology. Where the book shines is in its remarkable photography, showcasing a wide swath of creatures and flora fossils. Come for the amazing pictures, stay for the science; if Grande aims to inspire young people to learn more, he can consider The Lost World of Fossil Lake a success. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo

Discover: A look at a paleontological treasure trove in southwest Wyoming: come for the amazing pictures, stay for the science.

University of Chicago Press, $45, hardcover, 9780226922966

Performing Arts

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke

by Rob Sheffield

Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield's previous memoirs, Love Is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, relate meaningful moments of his life to rock and roll, as does his latest, Turn Around Bright Eyes. It's a comedic chronicle centered on karaoke--a practice he defines as "a temporary but intense bond between strangers, a shipboard romance, a republic we create where we gladly consent to treat the other people around us like rock stars." Yet it also a book about grief: Sheffield's wife died while he was still in his 20s, and he lived in New York's Financial District during the 9/11 attacks.

Karaoke proved deeply therapeutic. Singing a Neil Diamond song, he explains, "makes you engage with your own emotions on a more extravagant level. And when that spills over into your everyday life, it brings out the sequins in your soul."

As Sheffield's humor relies on getting his references, Turn Around Bright Eyes will be most appreciated by those who also love rock and roll. He is fond of threading popular lyrics (like "every now and then I fall apart") seamlessly into his sentences, without calling attention to them. Recognizing the allusions feels like sharing a light joke, and is a reminder that amid tragedy, there is humor, love and music. --Annie Atherton

Discover: In a follow-up to his comedic memoir Love Is a Mix Tape, Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield describes how karaoke saved his life.

It Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062207623

Children's & Young Adult


by Aaron Becker, illus. by Aaron Becker

With this wordless tour de force, Aaron Becker gives a nod to the likes of Crockett Johnson and Shaun Tan--but in a completely original work.

The title page sets the tone, as a girl rides a red scooter beneath a blue lantern on an otherwise gray and beige city street. With the turn of a page, the girl sits on her stoop, her red scooter parked within arm's reach. Two stoplights glow red, and a boy nearby holds a purple crayon. A cutaway view of her house shows a mother, father and sister involved in various activities. She tries to engage each of them but returns to her room alone. Even her cat departs, but in its former resting place is a red crayon. With the crayon, the girl draws a red door into a verdant world, a red boat that floats into a city of interconnected canals, and a red balloon to save her from a waterfall. While in flight, she witnesses the capture of a purple bird by the crew of a steampunk airship, and becomes determined to free it. The book comes full circle when the bird leads her to a boy with a crayon the color of its feathers.

Becker's breathtaking urban and bucolic scenes map out a visual narrative that reflects the girl's journey--both external and internal. By the conclusion, readers see that all she needs is a likeminded friend. Here's hoping there's more to come from this talented newcomer.  --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A wordless story of a girl who uses her red crayon and imagination to take off on a flight of fancy.

Candlewick, $15.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780763660536

The Shade of the Moon

by Susan Beth Pfeffer

In Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer showed us what might happen if the moon was hit by a meteor large enough to knock it off course. As the new orbit brings it closer to Earth, a rash of volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes ensues, fouling the air and causing temperatures to plummet. Food becomes scarce. In The Dead and the Gone and This World We Live In, Pfeffer continued her story of people struggling to cope with new and horrific conditions.

Now, in The Shade of the Moon, readers see just how much society has changed. Seventeen-year-old Jon Evans lives with his stepmother and stepbrother in the privileged enclave of Sexton, Tenn. His own mother, along with his sister and her husband, live nearby in the "grubber" town of White Birch. Society has polarized, with clavers reaping all the privileges while grubs scrape by, doing all the labor. When Jon's girlfriend points out how unfair the new system is, Jon is tempted to listen to his newly awakening conscience. But Jon isn't a full-fledged claver: he slipped in on a technicality, and he knows that one careless mistake will see him ousted, bringing irreparable harm to his entire family.

At times, the dialogue seems a bit stilted, but the plot hums along. Pfeffer makes us care about this "cold and sunless world" and the mounting problems its inhabitants face. A page-turning addition to a series that has captivated readers. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: The fourth book in the Life As We Knew It series, featuring a society reeling from the effects of the moon's new orbit.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9780547813370

Powered by: Xtenit