Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 11, 2013

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Chip Kidd: 'Failing Better'

For 26 years, Chip Kidd has designed book covers for Knopf--books such as Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, one of the most recognizable covers in the world. Now he's created a visual guide to graphic design, for kids from 10 to 100, introducing "ideas that I didn't start considering until I was in college," he says. Here he discusses his thoughts about Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (just published by Workman and reviewed below). Kidd lives and works in New York City.

One of our favorite lines in the book is the statement, "Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone."

Until you have to try to make some of this stuff, there's a tendency to think that it just sort of happens, or that you don't take into account you have to think of it or do it. This is sort of a side tangent, but after I wrote a book, I started thinking in terms of writing and critiquing: I don't think a critic is qualified to do something until they've tried it themselves.

On that same page, you point out that the milk carton's design was inspired by nature.

That's kind of hilarious. Let's make a milk carton that looks like a cow. It's considering the source of the material and following from there logically.

We liked that you admit your mistakes, such as the cover for The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes, the art critic.

My standing lecture for the last year has been called "Failing Better," one thing I didn't get into in my TED talk. That would be a completely different lecture to give, the importance of failure, and the importance of bouncing back from it. You have to look at it as an opportunity to do something better. That's very important in design. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Click here to read our full interview with Chip Kidd.

The Writer's Life

Ellen Stimson: 'In Love with this Whole Storytelling Business'

Everyone has had "the dream" while on vacation and asked: What if I lived here? Ellen Stimson answered with a resounding, life-altering: Yes! "I come from a long line of overreactors," she writes in her new book, Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another (see review below).

Stimson and her family moved from St. Louis to a "quintessential New England town" in Vermont, bought a "perfect" old farmhouse that, "with just a few renovations... would be a start to our new, magnificent Vermont lives," and then sealed their idyllic fate by taking over the town's "Lovely Quaint Country Store," which soon became HQCS (Horrible Quaint Country Store). Did they live happily ever after in their Green Mountain paradise? Well, not exactly, but what kind of book would that make anyway?

Your opening line is: "Falling in love makes you do strange things." Do you think the experiences chronicled in Mud Season have changed that for you?

Are you kidding me? I still get big goofy crushes all the time. Right now I am in love with this whole storytelling business. As a result, I am going on a book tour, which, believe me, is not a thing regular normal people do. It is, however, a thing a girl who has always been drunk on booklove does with enormous pleasure. Two months in bookstores with book people? Get out! It's like winning the lottery.

You note that you "have always been able to see a way to build businesses." Would the phrase "love is blind" describe how that ability was shortcircuited by Peltier's country store?

Blind, bedazzled, deaf, drunk, bewitched--take your pick.

Everyone on vacation has thought more than once: "What if we lived here?" Your book describes what happened when you took that next step for real. Any advice?

Do it. The life of our family became in all ways bigger as we chased that dream. (You might want to skip the whole buying the beloved town monument thingy, however.)

"Vermont is a strange place. Being a 'real Vermonter' is important," you write. In the 1950s and 1960s, I grew up in a Vermont that was almost annoyingly "local," occupied by far more "real Vermonters" than flatlanders. So, what is a Vermonter now? To what extent is Vermont a state vs. a state of mind?

I thought I could be a Vermonter on my first trip here back in 1994. It felt like I'd come home. Of course, real Vermonters are calm and sensible. They would have never bought the store. They know better. They tend toward a wry view of those other zany Americans out there. Especially when they decide to move here.

Real Vermonters use only the words that they need. So if you're the source of gossip, it's probably pretty juicy. But they form a community. They will dig your car out of a snow bank or jump out of the truck to cut up a tree in the road without thinking twice.

Real Vermonters take the long view. You may be just sure you need that wood delivered today--right now! Hurry! This minute! Because there's this party and the lovely fire you are imagining after dinner is going to be great. But these folks know that you will need it for something else next week and so your breathlessness will not make your imagined emergency their priority.

On the other hand, if your power goes out in January and you are out of wood, they will dig themselves out of a blizzard to get you wood at four in the morning. The decorative fire might not have been important, but taking care of a neighbor's family in winter sure is. Vermonters may not just love pedicures or lipstick but, by God, they are reliable.

Vermont practically invented independent politics. So they may not like high taxes but you can damn well marry anybody you want, and if you are Dick Cheney, you might want to think twice about leaf peeping up here, since they likely indicted you for war crimes at town meeting. These are my people now, and I love them fiercely. (Even as I remain devoted to lipstick and pedicures and the occasional decorative fire in the library)

You often use the words "imagine" and "envision" in Mud Season when you recall getting ready to make important decisions. Then you deal with the consequences. Are dashed expectations a renewable resource for you?

I sort of see everything in life as either the wonderful or the horrible-that's-just-waiting-to-be-a-funny-story. I mostly tend to get something good one way or the other.

What are your favorite Vermont-themed reads?

The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook is one of my very favorite cookbooks. "My" famous buttermilk biscuits actually came from there. (Shh... don't tell my kids.) Novels like Crossing to Safety, The Secret History and Songs in Ordinary Time all feature Vermont as a character, which make them richer experiences for me. And I love, love, love the old church cookbooks. I pick them up at book sales all the time.

If you could change one thing about Vermont--and I mean a wholesale, as-if-it-was-never-like-that-in-the-first-place aspect of the state--what would it be?

I would make spring come in April like it's supposed to. Easter egg hunts should happen amongst jonquils, not knee-deep snow, for God's sake.

What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about moving to the state, besides bring lots of money with them?

Vermont is perfect just the way it is. That's why you came here, remember? Love it. Don't try to make it more like where you came from. There are no streetlights but we have stars. Yes, those white houses with green shutters are restrictive. But that's why it looks like a New England postcard. Okay, maybe there is one exception. We could use a few more nail salons so I'd vote yes if you want to open one of those. Just sayin'.

You recently sold your next book, Good Grief!, to Norton. What's it about?

It's what comes next in our Vermont story. If Mud is about the unexpected (though entirely predictable in hindsight) consequences of pursuing your dreams with joy and humor, then Grief explores the unexpected (and completely unpredictable even with 20/20 hindsight) consequences of parenting teenagers through the same funny lens. Also, there are dogs, loons, occasional inappropriate peeing and tiny little housefires. I love surprises--and good thing, too. Having teenagers means you get surprises on a whole new level. I mean, you can't make this stuff up. I had one kid who jumped naked out of a window to get to a girl. Good Grief! is that moment right after you foolishly say, "What next?" --Robert Gray, contributing editor

Book Candy

Nobel Winner Alice Munro; Book Club Benefits

To celebrate literature's newest Nobel Laureate, the Guardian featured the "top 10 things you need to know about Alice Munro." And the Toronto Globe & Mail offered "10 reasons why Alice Munro is a genius."


"You still have to wait 44 days until The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hits theaters, but in the meantime you can think up your own scenes with your favorite characters, as Katniss, Peeta, Effie and Finnick are all getting the Barbie doll treatment," Entertainment Weekly reported.  


Reading group members unite! Buzzfeed highlighted the "16 best things about being in a book club."


Who to believe? Flavorwire showcased "10 of literature's most unreliable narrators."


Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman singing "Makin' Whoopee" live. What else do you need to know?


Kate Spade New York is launching a line of book-inspired accessories and "book nerds with a big budget can splurge on... a bevy of new reader-friendly products in their Fall 2013 collection," the Examiner reported.

Book Review


The Hired Man

by Aminatta Forna

In the opening scene of Aminatta Forna's The Hired Man, Duro is out hunting when he notices a newish car approaching the small Croatian village of Gost. An Englishwoman has come to live in the old Pavic house, with her hostile teenage son and homely younger daughter. Duro is hired to clean the gutters, patch the roof, cut down the dead tree; he becomes indispensable. Stoic and single-minded, Duro is the kind of man you feel you can trust.

As Duro and the girl slowly restore an elaborate mosaic mysteriously plastered over on the side of the Pavic house, though, waves of hostility ripple through Gost and old grudges resurface. The most furious are Fabjan, the owner of the Zodijak café, who has bullied and manipulated the fortunes of Gost for decades, and Duro's former friend Kresimir, whose ruthless treachery has left scars on the whole town.

Forna, whose previous novel The Memory of Love won the 2011 Commonwealth Prize, has created a convincing narrator in Duro, an uneducated but well-meaning Croatian with a clear sense of life and the truth. His unpretentious and perceptive voice is one of the novel's key pleasures.

Forna's characters reveal their secrets gradually, like the mosaic that is slowly exposed. The war scenes are quietly horrific; Forna humanizes her victims, which makes their deaths excruciating without being graphic. This is literature with a punch, a perfectly contrived artifice examining the unhealed festering wounds of wartime, in which Forna takes the Croatian nightmare and brings it to life as her own. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: An English family moving into a small Croatian village awakens long-buried anger and secrets from the town's wartime past in this slow-fuse, suspenseful masterpiece.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802121912

The Last Banquet

by Jonathan Grimwood

As Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Jonathan Grimwood is a well-known author of fantasy and science fiction. Set against the backdrop of Enlightenment France, his first mainstream novel, The Last Banquet, is shocking, at times verging on disgusting, but always compelling.

We meet Grimwood's picaresque hero, Jean-Marie d'Aumout, at the age of five, sitting on a dung heap eating beetles. His parents are dead of starvation, his home ravaged. He is rescued by a duke and sent to school.

At school, his friends are Emile, Jerome and Charlot. Jean-Marie saves Charlot's sister, Virginie, from being attacked by a wolf, earning her father's gratitude; when they wed, Jean-Marie receives land, a chateau and a title.

He is now free to pursue his obsession with knowing the taste of everything and becomes an expert cook--as evidenced by his recipes for cat, wolf head, snake, flamingo tongues, tiger, mouse and dog. His is the avidity of a scientist: he is more interested in taxonomy, in classifying and finding where each animal's taste belongs, than he is in the actual eating--except for Roquefort cheese, which he adores. His gustatory pursuits are equaled by his amatory adventures; lovemaking is essentially another tasting experience.

Jean-Marie carries on a correspondence with Voltaire, entertains Ben Franklin and his Creole mistress, writes to the Marquis de Sade, fights in the Corsican War of Independence and houses a menagerie of animals.

This eccentric, strange man remains elusive--a perfect example of the anything-goes-but-superstition Age of Reason. The last scene is a stunner, foreshadowed but still a surprise. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A picaresque novel about a young aristocrat lifted out of the dung heaps of pre-Revolutionary France who is obsessed with discovering the taste of everything.

Europa Editions, $26.95, hardcover, 9781609451387

The Night Guest

by Fiona McFarlane

On a remote beach near a quiet town in a secluded corner of the Australian coast, Ruth Field lives out retirement in splendid, sandy solitude--except for the tiger that's begun prowling around her house at night. She won't tell her new government-issued caregiver, the stoic and forceful Frida, about the situation--at least not until she's sure the woman is reliable. But with her husband dead, one son in New Zealand and the other in Hong Kong, Ruth soon relies on Frida more than anyone.

With Jamesian deftness, Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest leads readers into a domicile where one can't quite remember whether she can trust her own memories. How did Frida come to be Ruth's caregiver? Were there ever tigers in Fiji when Ruth lived there so very long ago? Did Richard, a man she'd known as a young woman in Fiji, ever really love her?

McFarlane's grand debut examines the mystifying creep of age into one widow's life, thrilling readers with the kind of magical wonder the world offers when everything appears fresh, revivified and unexpected. Each turn of phrase is splendid, and McFarlane's sense of tension and pacing lures the reader deeper into a dubious game of trickery, where one's own mind might be the one doing the fooling. The Night Guest is as gripping as it is gorgeous. --Dave Wheeler, bookseller, The Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle

Discover: The suspicious intrusion of strangers into the simple pleasures of one widow's golden years.

Faber & Faber, $26, hardcover, 9780865477735

The Tilted World

by Beth Ann Fennelly, Tom Franklin

Tom Franklin is known for his Southern gothics (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), Beth Ann Fennelly for her poetry (Tender Hooks). Husband and wife, they're teamed up on The Tilted World, staying close to home with an outstanding historical novel set against the disastrous Mississippi Flood of 1927.

April 1, 1927: Dixie Clay Holliver returns home to find her husband, Jesse, tied up by two Treasury Department "revenuers." Only her sharpshooting skills save him and their profitable still. He takes the men to nearby Hobnob Crossing, but she fears the worst. Meanwhile, two other agents, Ham Johnson and Ted Ingersoll, hear from Secretary of the Treasury Herbert Hoover about the missing original pair. He wants them found, quickly.

On the way, they stop to get supplies and come upon a shootout scene: three people dead, a baby crying. Ted, an orphan himself, wants to protect "junior." In Hobnob, he asks if any family is willing to take the infant. Dixie is mentioned; her beloved Jacob died a year ago.

The lives of Ted, Ham, Jesse and Dixie intersect in unexpected ways under the looming shadow of an ever-weakening levee. Franklin and Fennelly tell their poignant tale of family and love, suffering and courage with a graceful pathos, using beautiful, poetic language. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Two talented writers--husband and wife--collaborate on a moving, exquisitely told historical novel about one of the country's most destructive natural disasters.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062069184

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Ghosts Know

by Ramsey Campbell

Prolific horror writer Ramsey Campbell (Ancient Images, The Darkest Part of the Woods et al.) crafts a suffocating atmosphere of paranoia and frustration in Ghosts Know. Graham Wilde is the outspoken host of a radio call-in show in Manchester, England, attracting racists and gullible eccentrics alike. When the station is purchased by a giant corporation, Graham faces pressure to increase ratings by cultivating even more drama. Frank Jasper, a "psychic," is scheduled to perform a live reading on Graham's show, and he's determined to expose Jasper as a charlatan on air--but their clash leaves Graham with a public relations-savvy enemy. When the family of a missing girl hires Jasper, the psychic produces a trail of circumstantial evidence implicating Graham in the girl's disappearance.

Ghosts Know revels in its uncertainty about Jasper's abilities and Graham's potential connection with the missing girl. It seems obvious at first that Graham is both innocent of all involvement and correct in his dismissal of Jasper. Campbell plants seeds of doubt, however, first in Graham's listening audience and then in the novel's readers. As the public and even his closest companions turn against Graham, Ghosts Know becomes an extraordinary example of what a skillful writer can accomplish with an unreliable narrator. Graham is either supremely unlucky or withholding a terrible secret--a mystery that will keep readers guessing right up to the eye-opening climax. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: After an on-air fight with a psychic, a radio talk show host is implicated in the case of a missing girl.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765336330

Biography & Memoir

Mud Season

by Ellen Stimson

The subtitle of Mud Season--How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another--gives you a fair idea of what to expect in Ellen Stimson's humorous memoir. Based on a single bucolic and romantic weekend in Vermont, Stimson and her family relocated from St. Louis to a small town in the Green Mountains. That decision turned Stimson's life upside down; her desire to run a "Quaint Country Store" became a financial and emotional nightmare. Being from "away," Stimson didn’t understand the conservative, stick-to-tradition mentality of her New England neighbors. From bringing in "foreign guys" to remodel their house--instead of hiring locals to do the work--to filling the local grocery store with gourmet food rather than what the locals wanted, which was "to buy their canned gravy, and their bread and milk and not have to fool with starstruck newbies who wanted to get their reactions to the new alpaca socks," life was one disaster after another.

With grit and a self-deprecating sense of humor, however, Stimson and her family learned to live a rural life. They raised chickens and sheep, bought produce from a local farmer, dealt with the spring mud and called 911 only four or five times. For anyone contemplating a move from the city to a small New England town, consider Mud Season a witty how-to guide on what not to do. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A former bookseller's amusing, misfortune-filled memoir about trying to run a village store in rural Vermont.

Countryman Press, $23.95, hardcover, 9781581572049

Jack London: An American Life

by Earle Labor

When Earle Labor was a boy, he named his dog Buck, after the protagonist of Jack London's The Call of the Wild. Labor grew up to become the curator of the Jack London Museum in Louisiana and the editor of The Portable Jack London. His affectionate, meticulous and beautifully written Jack London: An American Life--the definitive biography of the iconic "American Kipling"--is based on a half-century of study.

After a hardscrabble youth, London (1876-1916) lived a hobo's life, worked on a schooner, then attended UC Berkeley briefly before heading off to the Klondike Gold Rush. These experiences laid the foundation for his fierce socialist outlook on life. He read voraciously and committed himself to writing 1,000 words a day, six days a week.

He started to get stories published in the Black Cat and Overland, then Harper's and McClure's. The novels followed; with his third, in 1903, he struck paydirt. The Call of the Wild manifested a "special genius," written in what London called "a sheet of flame."

London went on to write other fine novels, including The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden and The Iron Heel, as well as a hobo memoir, The Road, that influenced Hemingway, Steinbeck and Kerouac. He continued to travel and built his own house and boat--though he and his wife barely survived their trip through the South Pacific. A busy life of writing and public speaking took its toll. In 1914, he wrote, "I shall go down into the darkness standing by my opinions, and fighting" for them. London died two years later, a few weeks shy of his 41st birthday. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Earle Labor's beautifully written, impeccably researched biography is the definitive book on Jack London.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30, hardcover, 9780374178482


The Big New Yorker Book of Cats

by Anthony Lane, foreword

The Big New Yorker Book of Cats is exactly what you'd expect: a delightful, entertaining, insightful look at the crazy, wonderful world of cats and humans, beautifully illustrated with cartoons, reproduced cover art, photographs and drawings of cats from the magazine's archives. The text is a combination of articles, fiction and poetry from writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, John Updike, Susan Orlean and Roald Dahl.

Need to trap a cat? E.B. White provides tongue-in-cheek instructions on how to build a wooden cat trap. Want to understand cat language? Vicki Hearne gives an in-depth analysis of why not to use cats in research projects: "The trouble is that as soon as [cats] figure out that the researcher or technician wants them to push the lever they stop doing it; some of them will starve to death rather than do it." There are cats who live in bookstores and strays who live in alleyways, cats who stalk penguins or are stalked by dogs, cats that look like leopards, an old lady who turns into a cat and a man who probably eats his cat (no worries, that one's fiction).

Whether told from the cat's perspective or the loving human companion's, the contents of this compilation will entertain and amuse cat lovers. Even those who've looked adversely toward cats may change their minds after indulging in this bowlful of cat cream. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A cat-centric collection from the New Yorker, with contributions by Anthony Lane, Haruki Murakami and Calvin Trillin.

Random House, $40, hardcover, 9780679644774

Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life with Dogs

by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

Although developed societies have relegated dogs to the status of pets, the instincts and loyalty of our four-footed friends have not diminished. In the 38 profiles collected in Devoted, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh delivers heartwarming evidence that despite all our advancements, we still need our dogs as much as they need us.

Accompanied by breed facts, informational sidebars and adorable portraits, each profile focuses on one incredible canine. The dogs in these true stories have watched over epileptic owners, helped nurse injured wildlife back to health, brought emotional healing to veterans and even surfed to raise money for a quadriplegic teen's physical therapy. Perhaps the most moving profiles, though, are those in which devotion runs both ways. Some of the dogs are included because of the loyalty of their owners, like the 72-year-old man who fought an alligator for the life of his terrier, the adventure junkie who had custom gear designed so his eager mixed breed could join him when diving in the ocean or from airplanes, and the firefighter who found a second calling as a clinical herbalist when traditional medicine couldn't control his rescued pit bull's cerebral palsy.

For anyone whose life has been changed by the love of a good dog, these beautiful snapshots of the human/canine partnership will confirm what you've always known: dogs and humans make each other whole. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Thirty-eight heartwarming true stories about the bond between amazing dogs and their adoring owners.

National Geographic, $14.95, hardcover, 9781426211584


It's Probably Nothing: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Implants

by Micki Myers

There's nothing funny about cancer--or is there? When diagnosed with breast cancer, Micki Meyers decided not to let the "C" word crush her. She used her sense of humor to get through the ordeal; It's Probably Nothing is a heartwarming volume of poems that offers an unusual and witty perspective on an otherwise terrifying experience.

From the initial lump in her breast to the surgery, through chemo and its myriad of nausea-producing drugs, to trying to decide where to have the nipples installed on her silicone-filled implants, Meyers's poetry is honest, refreshing and highly accessible. There's nothing to obstruct a person's understanding of a short poem like "Falsies":

"If you thought applying eyelashes was hard
when you had real ones to guide you,
try doing it without." 

The poems confront each stage of Meyers's cancer, the emotional and physical ups and downs of her treatment plan, the reactions of her husband, friends and children ("Mummy, I love your bald head!") and reflections on what life is like now with no breasts to warm her chest. "To find joy in life when life seems so precarious a proposition is to win, no matter what," she writes. "I don't think having cancer is funny. But I do find the absurdities it throws your way something to smile at. The smile says 'I've been there, get that.' " Readers with cancer and those who have been cured or know of someone facing a similar struggle will appreciate the drollness of Meyer's poetry--she definitely "gets" the big picture. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A poetic collection that honors life before, during and after breast cancer.

Simon & Schuster, $19.99, hardcover, 9781476712741

Children's & Young Adult

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design

by Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd, the designer of such iconic book jackets as Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, treats readers as peers with this indispensable book about critical thinking by way of a guide to graphic design.

"Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone." Kidd's thought-provoking statement introduces a range of design decisions, from the shape and look of a container to type sizes to color coordination. He pictures a milk carton with a pattern resembling a Holstein cow ("drawing inspiration from nature"), then points out the tiny type that states its volume--also a design decision.

An eight-page "brief tour through the history of graphic design," connects images in a flow chart of milestone events, beginning with the first visual forms of communication--the cave paintings at Lascaux, France, and extending through inventions such as the Gutenberg printing press in the 1450s and the first Apple computer (1984), which "started a revolution in how ordinary people interface with machines," and much more. He constantly brings the narrative back to readers and gives them the tools to analyze their own experiences with design. Readers learn type terminology ("font," "kerning," "leading"), tricks of the trade (how to juxtapose big and small, things seen and unseen), plus color combinations and their effects, among many other crucial design ideas.

Like a great ballet dancer, Chip Kidd marries form and function in a way that looks deceptively easy to achieve. Yet he's also an excellent teacher: he wants kids to understand the fundamentals so that, with practice, they, too, can become graphic designers. This book may well inspire a generation to follow in his footsteps. Kidd introduces readers to his vocation as a hidden world, then helps them unlock it. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A graphic design guide that lifts the veil on a hidden world and gives kids the tools to navigate it.

Workman, $17.95, hardcover, 160p., ages 10-up, 9780761172192

Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea

by Valerie Martin, Lisa Martin

In their first joint effort, niece-and-aunt team Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin construct an enchanting bildungsroman with cats and follow their unintentional but adventurous travels across the sea.

The feline brothers lead different lives on Nova Scotia's coast. Cecil actively seeks travel as a ratter on schooners, living by the motto "Don't be a chicken, be a cat! Be adventurous!" Anton, however, prefers to stay in town, reticent to wander too close to the ships for fear of impressment. The town brims with tales of those who were conscripted into service and never seen again: "Anton felt a little ill thinking of how it might happen to any cat, at any time." When homebody Anton disappears one day, their mother implores Cecil to take to the seas on a rescue mission. Cecil pursues his quest, guided by a cryptic sea legend, "It is where lost things are found. You must go where the eye sees the eye." In the brothers' separate narratives, they encounter a wealth of new creatures on land and sea.

In her first children's title, Martin (Orange Prize winner for Property) continues her tradition of historic scholarship. She and her co-author effortlessly submerge readers into the setting through well-chosen dialogue and prose. The extensive ship and seafaring terminology will educate and enlighten, accompanied by Kelly Murphy's charming illustrations. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: A charming story of loss, love and self-discovery that just happens to feature seafaring cats.

Algonquin, $16.95, hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9781616202460

Hit the Road, Helen!

by Kate McMullan

Hades, the cheeky narrator of the Myth-O-Mania series, returns to set the record straight about the face that launched a thousand ships. Who is responsible for dividing the Greeks, the Trojans and the gods themselves? Not Helen of Troy, but rather "a four-letter word that starts with Z and ends with S," hints the god of the Underworld, back for his first original tale in a decade.

Former teacher McMullan (I Stink!) provides plenty of context for the fun and games that reign among the immortals. Maps, family lineage and a glossary guide kids through this retelling of Zeus dallying with Leda as a swan, resulting in Helen as progeny. The author handles the situation with discretion, setting the scene ("I'm going to marry her," Zeus proclaims), then pointing out the resemblance between Leda's offspring and Zeus. McMullan skillfully weaves in other tales--the courtship of Odysseus and Penelope, the tale of the golden apple and the legend of Achilles' heel--as Hades cautions, "Stick with me here. You'll see.... it all leads back to Helen." (As well as, of course, that "four-letter word that starts with Z....") And indeed it does, just as promised.

All the while, Hades interjects his irreverent asides (he's named his steeds Harley and Davidson, and admits "Even down in the Underworld, I couldn't escape the fighting"). Some of the best moments transpire between Hades and his bride, Persephone. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A funny, smart addition to the Greek myth category as Hades puts the blame on Zeus for the Trojan War.

Capstone, $10.95, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9781434262196

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