Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 31, 2014

Zibby Books: The Last Love Note by Emma Grey

From My Shelf

Black History Month

Along with many history, biography and literature titles, two photography books stand out in celebration of Black History Month in February.

Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto by Camilo José Vergara (University of Chicago Press, $55) results from a project started in 1970, when author and photographer Vergara began documenting what he thought was the gradual collapse of an inner-city community. But he found, in 43 years, that "the destiny of depopulated, decaying neighborhoods is not simply a story of continuous decline." Harlem evolved: some areas declined, others prospered, and it's now a thriving, diverse community. Vergara begins with four young music students walking over rubble, and a man--a scavenger--in a horse-drawn cart. Some 350 pages later, we've seen Jimbo's Hamburger Palace and a music-themed McDonald's, a basketball game, a rainy noir corner on West 125th, the snowy wreckage of the Renaissance Ballroom and Casino, ruins and semi-ruins (artistically striking, as devastation often is), the Italianate townhouses of Strivers Row, community gardens and churches.

The Way We Wore: Black Style Then by Michael McCollom (Glitterati Inc., $30) chronicles African-American fashion from the Harlem Renaissance to hip-hop. Beginning with 1956 tinted portraits of McCollom's parents, the book resembles a family photo album--with very fashionable people (and a few "I can't believe I wore that!" shots). McCollom's 1977 homecoming dance photo has him in a velvet double-breasted blazer, "completely seduced by Vogue and GQ." On the facing page, nine years later, we see him sporting a very bad style decision. Miniskirts, Easter hats, some seriously long '70s sideburns, dapper uncle Archie in a zoot suit, radiant brides, proud grooms, Bobby Short in patchwork leather pants, author Susan Fales-Hill in her mother's elegant Worth of Paris evening dress-- the charm of this book lies in the personal, usually amateur photos. Here is style as it was (and is) lived, not airbrushed. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Kathryn Craft: Art and Courage

photo: Jackson Williams

A former dancer and dance critic, Kathryn Craft naturally gravitated toward the world of modern dance in her debut novel, The Art of Falling (see our review below), which explores the demands the world of dance makes on a woman's appearance and the healing power of art through the recovery of Penny Sparrow, an impassioned but large-framed dancer who survives a 14-story fall. Craft serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference. She is also a contributing editor to the Blood-Red Pencil blog. She lives in Doylestown, Pa., with her husband.

How did you develop the idea for The Art of Falling?

I've always been fascinated by stories of miraculous survival. The seed for this novel came from an actual newspaper account I read, back in 2003, about a woman who walked away from a high-rise suicide attempt with only a broken arm. And it was the second time she had tried to kill herself! This time she fell 14 stories--she was not messing around. I wondered how she felt to have survived, and what it might take for her to get the message that it might not be her time. That led to all sorts of questions that I wove into the story.

What role has dance played in your life?

I came to dance late--when I was 16--but realized at once I'd been looking for it my whole life. My freshman year at college I went along with a nervous but eminently more qualified classmate to the dance company auditions. She didn't make it, and I did--I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when that decision was made! Over the course of the next six years, while pursuing a master's in education, modern dance became an important part of my life. I began to choreograph my sophomore year and continued through my early 30s to create some 25 major works, several of them commissions.

I came to writing through dance. I was in a performance in Allentown, Pa., that our company publicist was trying to get reviewed by the local daily paper. Turns out they didn't have a dance critic. I applied for the position and ended up reviewing dance and writing arts features for 19 years.

I tapped both the choreography and dance writing skills for this novel, which required that I design movement in my head and then translate it into what I hope the reader will find to be evocative written images. I quit reviewing dance in 2002. In December, to be exact. After reviewing some 60 productions of it, I couldn't take one more Nutcracker.

Have there been tough times in your own life that influenced the development of this story?

In 1997, after 15 years of marriage, my first husband committed suicide. "I was going to divorce him," I'm always quick to say, as if that fact could explain his actions, or distance me from its horror. Once the shock abated, though, I thought, What does a writer do to come to terms with that kind of tragedy? You write, of course. Ultimately I decided fiction best fulfilled my lingering need to create, from the chaos of these events, a better story.

Anyone familiar with the stages of grief knows of its anger, and I felt plenty of that after the suicide. How could he do this to our sons, who were only eight and 10 at the time? How could he do this to me? I sensed that the only path to forgiveness lay in empathy. Yet I'd always been an optimist; I had no way to relate to that kind of terminal despair.

I needed a character.

I began with a dancer at war with her body so that ongoing inner conflict underscored all else. I dismantled her support system. Took away the father she adored and left her with the burden of a mother who lived through her. Took away her mentor. Stranded her in a world with harsh body-level expectations, where competition can trump true friendship. I gave her natural talent and exclusive training, then whittled away at her faith and resolve with years of rejection. Then I gave her a taste of success--a taste of love--then yanked both away at the same time. Finally, at that point, I thought, maybe.

At this point, Penelope Sparrow came raging to life--and started fighting back. I knew then that I could not only bring her back from the edge, but from the depths of her fall.

Do you think the demand for a certain body type in dance will ever change?

It already has changed. By 2002, when I quit writing dance criticism, I could already see it, especially in modern dance (in ballet, womanly hips are not conducive to balancing en pointe). But companies like Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks have long used disparate bodies in their work. When parallel effort travels through a company's dancers, yet manifests differently through individual bodies, the effect is quite beautiful--and very American, just like modern dance.

An inspiration for my book was the work of Liz Lerman, who founded Dance Exchange, a company of intergenerational dancers. Assuming training and talent are at their necessary peak, each company is free to establish its own body politics. Such justifications would have been meaningless to Penelope Sparrow at the outset of the book, however, since she couldn't appreciate her body's unique strengths and talents.

Why is female body image an important theme to you?

My mother was never fond of her body, and I couldn't help but absorb the consequences of that attitude--I look much like her. I saw myself, through her eyes, as a girl who needed to be fixed.

All my life I've swung between the need to maximize my physical potential to trying to accept my body as is, never quite finding the balance. My book raises more questions than it answers.

While many men can relate to such feelings, I think that aberrant body image is a way we women hold ourselves back from true gender equality. There is no other like us. Our individuality is the source of our true creative contribution. I wanted to explore that.

What's next for your writing career?

Sourcebooks just offered me a contract for my second novel, While the Leaves Stood Still, based on the daylong standoff that resulted in my husband's suicide. Many elements will be fictionalized--it will be set in the current day, for instance. In the background will be the standoff between a desperate man and police, and in the foreground, a standoff within family relationships as two generations of women almost break under the pressure that those tense hours of uncertainty deliver. I feel everything in my life and my writing preparation has brought me to this moment, and I'm ready to take it on. Ultimately, it will be about the courage it takes to choose life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads

Zest Books (Tm): Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge

Book Candy

Super Reading Sunday; Top Cats in Children's Literature

Super Sunday for readers, too. Quirk Books featured "the book-lover's guide to covertly reading during a Super Bowl party."


Here's looking at you, readers. Buzzfeed highlighted "12 historic bars every book nerd needs to visit."


"Five writers who took romantic revenge in print" were featured on Mental Floss, which noted: "Rather than forgive and forget, these wordsmiths used their poison pens to deliver a healthy dose of literary revenge."


Read this, bro! The Huffington Post showcased the "17 best bromances in literature."


Noting that "good writing involves obsessing over punctuation marks," Vulture showcased the "5 best punctuation marks in literature."


Pip Jones, author of Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat!, selected her "top 10 cats in children's books."

Book Review


Why Are You So Sad?

by Jason Porter

You're sad, aren't you? You wish you could just curl up away from the world and read a good book, don't you? So does Ray, the main character in Jason Porter's Why Are You So Sad?, a silly yet ultimately poignant novel about what makes people tick and what gets us all through our days.

Porter tells the tale of Raymond Champs, an illustrator of assembly magazines for a home furnishings company who notices he's not happy in his life. His friends aren't, either. In fact, the more he thinks about it, the world seems pretty glum. What's gone wrong? Is it because of a virus? Worse? Maybe it's mosquitos. Raymond needs data, so he sends out anonymous surveys to his coworkers ("Are you where you want to be? Do you believe in life after death? Is today better than yesterday?"). The more obsessed he becomes with finding answers, the more he tries to make the world a better and happier place, the more those who know him best think he might be going nuts. Or are they the ones who are nuts?

It's okay to call Porter's book Shteyngartian (in fact, you'll find a Gary Shyteyngart blurb on the back cover). The novel is current. The novel is perceptive. The novel is off-kilter, like George Saunders is off-kilter, or Douglas Coupland. The only people who will be depressed are those who find themselves on the last page of Porter's novel and realize there's nothing more to read. --Jonathan Shipley, freelance writer

Discover: A goofy, though compelling, story of a sad guy looking for answers as to why he's so sad.

Plume, $15, paperback, 9780142180587

I Shall Be Near to You

by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Erin Lindsay McCabe's quietly fierce debut transports readers back to 1862, a time when women in military uniforms were unthinkable, to meet a young bride who defies society to serve alongside the love of her life.

Rosetta has never fit the mold of a perfect lady: she's more interested in farm chores than womanly arts. She marries her longtime sweetheart, Jeremiah, because of his Union army enlistment--widowhood is better than spinsterhood should he not return. But when he's deployed, Rosetta realizes she doesn't just need marriage; she needs the husband she loves. The solution is to become a soldier herself; one haircut and one duped enlistment officer later, Rosetta is reborn as Ross and reunited with Jeremiah. However, she must continue the ruse every second or face possible accusations of treason if she's discovered, and all of their problems will seem beside the point if either she or Jeremiah falls in battle.

McCabe's strength clearly lies in creating characters of emotional depth and complexity. Rosetta's determination and frank yet graceful voice will mesmerize readers. Jeremiah struggles realistically between his love for Rosetta and desire to support her independent spirit and his sense that what she's done breaks all bounds of propriety--and is highly dangerous.

McCabe avoids turning Rosetta into an action hero, allowing both heroine and reader a close look at the pain and loss of war. Rather than victory, showy heroism or moral superiority, McCabe emphasizes a less direct bravery. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A story set during the Civil War that is timeless in its exploration of love, bravery and the struggle to find individuality in a world of convention.

Crown, $24, hardcover, 9780804137720

The Last Enchantments

by Charles Finch

In The Last Enchantments, an engaging contemporary novel about a young American man coming of age at Oxford, Charles Finch departs from his usual historical mysteries (A Beautiful Blue Death, etc.). Twenty-five-year-old Will Baker has an enviable life: a career in politics he enjoys, a wealthy and sympathetic girlfriend and a glamorous lifestyle in New York City. Despite having what most Americans would equate to success, however, Will is restless and wants a change.

The years of his life Will recalls most fondly are those spent earning an undergraduate degree at Yale; on that basis, he applies to Oxford to study English literature. In the course of the novel, and primarily via the intense romance and friendships he experiences at Oxford, Will grapples with the consequences of his privileged upbringing and begins, painfully, to arrive at the truth about himself.

While relationships and coming to terms with adulthood are the focus of The Last Enchantments, it is also especially evocative of Oxford. Readers who are curious about Oxford parties, sports--particularly punting, which forms the backdrop for many social situations--and classes will find much to satisfy them. Above all, however, Will's story is about the space that perpetually separates the interim pleasures of college and the vagaries of adult life--and it is within that space that he must ultimately find some semblance of peace. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post

Discover: Charles Finch sidesteps from his Victorian-era mystery series with this engaging contemporary coming-of-age novel set at Oxford.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250018717

The Guts

by Roddy Doyle

Jimmy Rabbitte, the singular hero of Roddy Doyle's 1987 debut novel, The Commitments, makes a bittersweet yet triumphant return in The Guts. Now middle-aged, Jimmy has a successful suburban life with his wife, Aoife, and their four children, all of whom he deeply loves. Still in thrall to the music of his youth, he's run with Aoife's brilliant idea of finding the musicians from old bands and bringing them together to play their resurrected albums and has created a semi-profitable business. He meets his father regularly at the pub for a pint and conversation and even reconnects with some of the former members of the Commitments.

Jimmy has also been diagnosed with bowel cancer; the treatments leave him with memory lapses while his business flounders. In an effort to exploit the upcoming Eucharistic Congress, last held in 1932, he tries to track down original 1930s-era music, but when he fails to find it, he presses his eldest son into a dubious scheme to substitute his own.

As is Doyle's trademark, the characters in The Guts are laconic, their conversations matter-of-fact. A few pages of terse but pitch-perfect dialogue or text messages can carry complete subplots full of devastating emotional currents.

Jimmy makes his living by plying nostalgia, and The Guts rests on the notion of time's passing and what endures. It becomes a celebration of the quotidian guts of life--its difficulties and hard, arbitrary tragedies, but also its joys. This novel is a triumph, and the last section in particular, with everyone at the climactic music festival, is as exuberant and celebratory as we all want life to be. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Roddy Doyle's often funny, bittersweet and unsentimental follow-up to The Commitments re-introduces Jimmy Rabbitte, now facing his mortality yet still finding joy in the music and people he loves.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670016433

The Art of Falling

by Kathryn Craft

Book clubs, take note: it's not every day you find a story as moving, thoughtful and discussion-provoking as Kathryn Craft's The Art of Falling.

After falling from the 14th story of an apartment building, Penelope Sparrow wakes up in a hospital bed, unable to move and with no memory of the accident. Recently squeezed out of the modern dance company that had once looked like her big break, Penny isn't sure if she fell or if she jumped. While recuperating, she makes an odd pair of new friends: Marty Kandelbaum, the baker who saw her land, and Angela Reed, a 29-year-old cystic fibrosis patient with a zest for life but little time left to live it. Marty and Angela become Penny's lifeline to the world beyond the artistic community that rejected her because her talent came with a body too tall and powerful to fit expectations.

As Penny progresses from regaining a full range of motion to wondering if she might one day dance again, she must finally face older problems, such as the fear of becoming as overweight as her mother, a fear that's kept her from fully assuaging her hunger for years. Penny also has to contend with a persistent journalist who wants to write an exposé of the prejudice against diverse body types in dance.

Craft's experience as both a dancer and a critic help her tell Penny's story without damning either the artistic community or Penny's actions. Her ability to capture the glory of human motion exemplified in modern dance imbues Penny's voice with a joy that keeps the reader cheering her on. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Kathryn Craft's debut novel introduces readers to a dancer struggling to rebuild herself after a 14-story fall (or jump?) nearly takes her life.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781402285196

Mystery & Thriller

This Dark Road to Mercy

by Wiley Cash

In his debut novel, A Land More Kind than Home, Wiley Cash, a native of North Carolina, wrote about the South as only one who knows it can. This Dark Road to Mercy revisits the same geography and puts Cash's storytelling genius to work with different people, equally snake-bit (this time metaphorically).

As in A Land More Kind than Home, the narrative in This Dark Road to Mercy is told in three alternating voices: 12-year-old Easter; her court-appointed guardian, Brady; and Pruitt, a man carrying a vendetta that has festered for years.

When their mother dies of an overdose, Easter and her six-year-old sister, Ruby, are consigned to the foster care system. Just as they are settling in, Wade--who previously had waived his legal rights as their father--comes in the night and spirits them away.

While Brady is looking for Wade and the girls, he unexpectedly turns up a story about Wade finding a stash of stolen money. Pruitt is also pursuing Wade, seeking revenge for past wrongs, as well as a big payday from the "owner" of that stolen cash.

Baseball is a subtext in the novel: Wade and Pruitt are ex-minor leaguers, and the story takes place in the summer of 1998, when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire battled to break Roger Maris's home run record. Cash pulls all the threads together as his characters converge on Busch Stadium in St. Louis for an exciting climax. The story doesn't end there, though, and Cash leaves the reader hopeful that present good intention might override past errors in judgment. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Wiley Cash's second novel is a heartfelt story about family, the effort to right past wrongs and the hope of outrunning the past.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062088253

Tiger Shrimp Tango

by Tim Dorsey

There's something in the waters and winds of Florida that spawns crime writers--bestselling ones at that. From John D. MacDonald, Charles Willeford and Elmore Leonard to Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and Dave Barry, the wackiest of the group may be Tim Dorsey, the creator of the series (18 novels and counting) featuring self-appointed Florida historian laureate Serge Storms and his toked-up sidekick, Coleman. In Tiger Shrimp Tango, Serge and Coleman traverse Florida's roadside attractions, historical landmarks and Miami Beach swank in their black Firebird Trans Am to investigate the state's world-class scam artists and punish them with ingenious Rube Goldberg-type weapons cobbled out of Home Depot supplies.

The reliable pleasure of Dorsey's novels is neither their plots nor their characters--both of which are pretty much the same in every book. Rather, the great fun is discovering some new exotic fact about the "Sunshine State" and listening to Dorsey's rambunctious language and riffs on historical trivia. Once he gets Serge and Coleman going on a subject, Dorsey clearly has a hard time containing himself.

In a stop at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's home on the way to an off-the-grid ostrich farm, for example, Serge explains the history of Rawlings's house, the background of her novel The Yearling and the nuances of her memoir, Cross Creek. With his usual booze and weed clarity, Coleman sums up this literary history succinctly: "Rawlings made Florida her b***h." To which Serge responds: "You've broken new ground in literary criticism." One might just as easily update Coleman: Dorsey has made Florida his b***h. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan

Discover: The latest antics of Tim Dorsey's wacky Florida amateur crime fighters.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062092816

North of Boston

by Elisabeth Elo

At the opening of Elisabeth Elo's accomplished debut literary thriller, North of Boston, Pirio Kasparov is crewing her friend Ned's fishing boat when a hulking gray ship emerges from the fog outside Boston harbor and smashes into them, hurling her overboard into the cold Atlantic. She watches Ned and his boat disappear and endures four hours in the ocean, clinging to flotsam. Her miraculous survival earns her the local tavern sobriquet "The Swimmer" and prompts the U.S. Navy to enlist her in SEAL research into her metabolism's unusual defenses against "what the Navy calls thermal exposure and what I call freezing to death."

Elo expertly explores Kasparov's personal life as the daughter of a Russian immigrant who is now confronting a terminal disease; she stands to inherit his successful perfume empire after his death. As the loyal friend of a college classmate with a drinking problem and a precocious son by Ned, Kasparov is also a godmother and babysitter. The more she learns of Ned's former employer, a Japanese-owned fishing conglomerate, the more she becomes suspicious that the "hit and run" collision at sea was a murder to cover up illegal whale killing in Baffin Bay. With a deft hand, Elo turns a survival story into a tense international mystery.

Elo's descriptive language is equally at home in Beacon Hill society as in the rough bars of Boston Harbor. Pirio Kasparov is not only a woman with an extraordinary physiological tolerance for cold water; she's also a character with legs. Watch for Elo's future adventures of this plucky Boston woman who follows her instincts and heart more than her head. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Elisabeth Elo's first novel is a literary thriller that takes her feisty protagonist from the white linen of Boston's Beacon Hill to the cold, empty waters of Baffin Bay.

Pamela Dorman/Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670015658

Biography & Memoir

My Life in Middlemarch

by Rebecca Mead

In the wonderful and thoughtful My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead revisits her love of George Eliot's novel to consider the ways life and art inform and imitate each other. The result is a lively, wide-ranging appreciation of one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Middlemarch was published in eight installments in 1871-1872, and Mead has structured her book in eight parallel chapters. She was 17 when she first read and fell in love with Middlemarch; she identified completely with Dorothea Brooke, who longs for a life of love and significance and whose unfocused yearning reflects the young Mead's own inchoate hopes.

Eliot's letters written at that age reveal an ardent young woman, religious and judgmental to the point of priggishness and ostentatiously eager in her ambitions, like many people on the verge of adulthood. In later chapters, as the characters in the novel age, Mead follows Eliot as she loses her faith, moves to London and becomes a well-known editor; she is spurned by a possible suitor but makes a happy match with George Lewes, whose is estranged from his wife but unable to divorce. She becomes stepmother to Lewes's sons in all but name. Mead reflects on her own journey to marriage and a blended family, finding the spirit of her experience in Eliot's life and in the novel.

Ultimately, Mead argues, Middlemarch's greatness goes beyond its scope and its ability to hold and reflect all of life's experience. It is Eliot's generosity, which forces readers to see themselves in even the most unsympathetic character, that makes this a novel not just for the young, but for all--and makes My Life in Middlemarch essential for any lover of literary fiction. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A wonderful blend of biography, literary criticism and personal memoir, through an insightful close reading of George Eliot's Middlemarch.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780307984760


Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English 1500-2001

by Carolyn Forché, Duncan Wu, editors

Poetry of Witness is a companion to Carolyn Forché's landmark 1993 anthology, Against Forgetting, which collected poems from around the world bearing witness to the war and devastation of the 20th century. This time, Forché, in collaboration with fellow Georgetown professor Duncan Wu, concentrates on English-language poetry--but widens the scope to encompass the last half-millennium.

There are 300 poems anthologized here, from Shakespeare and Milton to the Irish radical William Drennan, American abolitionist Eliza Lee Follen and the Indian poet Agha Shahid Ali. The selections are chronological and fall into six categories: the Age of Tyranny, the Civil War (the one in 17th-century England), the Age of Uncertainty, Revolutionary Upheaval, Civil War and Civil Liberties and the Age of World War.

"In conditions of extremity" such as war and suffering, Forché writes, "the witness is in relation, and cannot remove him or herself. Relation is proximity and this closeness subjects the witness to the possibility of being wounded... the witness who writes out of extremity writes his or her wound, as if such writing were making an incision." More radically, she suggests that the very act of reading such poems, as the poet's trauma is "made present before us," is itself a bearing of witness, as "the text we read becomes a living archive."

Forché's living archive is testament to the travails of men and women over the last 500 years, collected and curated with infinite care. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: An anthology of poems bearing witness to history that belongs on every library shelf, both personal and public.

Norton, $29.95, paperback, 9780393340426

Children's & Young Adult

What's Your Favorite Animal?

by Eric Carle, editor

Thirteen celebrated picture book creators reveal their favorite animals in this smartly designed volume that's a pleasure to pore over.

Each two-page spread uses a distinct type and design that serves the individual artwork and accompanying text. Eric Carle tells an amusing incident involving his cat Fiffi, a green bean and a shoe. Peter Sís recalls a tradition from his childhood in the Czech Republic centered on the tradition of eating carp at Christmas. Carle's is a realistic rendering that heightens the humor; Sís's fantastical image of a fish stresses his tale's magical, hopeful quality.

These two-page vignettes serve as both ideal introductions to author-artists children may not yet have encountered, as well as continuations of their works for youngsters already familiar with them. Lane Smith's elephant thematically and visually resonates with his Grandpa Green. "Duck" by Jon Klassen uses the deadpan humor associated with his Hat books: he likes ducks and "watching them walk around," yet shows his duck flat on its back. Lucy Cousins, ever mindful of her preschool audience, loves leopards "because yellow is my favorite color." Mo Willems, in a portrait that may remind Little Prince fans of the boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, depicts as his favorite an "Amazonian Neotropical Lower River Tink-Tink" making its way through a snake's digestive system. "(It is also this snake's favorite animal.)," he writes. Erin Stead identifies with penguins; Chris Raschka's snail, with its surreal accents to play up its shell, becomes a metaphor for all artists. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An album of 13 picture-book creators favorite animals, both realistic and stylized.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 36p., ages 4-8, 9780805096415

Don't Play with Your Food!

by Bob Shea

Sometimes a scary-seeming monster just needs a friend, as the bunnies in this story know and Buddy soon discovers.

Big, hairy, orange-striped Buddy is all mouth, jagged teeth and googly eyes when he announces to a trio of rabbits, "I'm going to eat all you bunnies!" The bunnies reply, "Oh, no!" as they hop up from a board game and a poker chip goes flying. Bob Shea (Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great) nicely cuts the fright factor with humor as he next depicts the potential prey as if seen through Buddy's dark and cavernous mouth, against a bright orange background. "No, please, no! We were about to make cupcakes!" Pink-, orange- and lime-frosted baked goods fill up the monster and postpone his threat--for now. The bunnies hold off Buddy the next day with an invitation to swim, and the following day by flattering him with imitation (they paint an orange stripe across their white bellies) and forming the "Stripey Stripe Club in your honor." Day by day, the bunnies' number has increased; his suggestion that the bunnies climb into his mouth is voted down (seven to one).

Heavily doused in humor, this romp contains a pleasing recipe for winning over lonely monsters who perhaps just need some kindness and company. Pair this with Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon, for another take on unlikely friendships (and clever bunnies). --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A pleasing recipe for winning over lonely monsters who just need some kindness and company.

Disney/Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781423168072


by A.G. Howard

After the trip down the rabbit hole in Splintered, Alyssa Gardner chose life in the human realm with her boyfriend, Jeb, over the magical madness of Wonderland--despite having been crowned its Red Queen. It is increasingly difficult for her to ignore her netherling (magical) side, however, as her dreams and artwork have become riddled with scenes of a ravaged, war-torn Wonderland. Everything--bugs, flowers, Morpheus (her smoldering netherling mentor and tempter)--begs for her return. Then, the unthinkable happens: Wonderland finds its way into the human realm, and suddenly everyone she loves is in danger.

Unhinged is characterized by complexity rather than action, as Alyssa learns more of her family's history and her own responsibilities toward Wonderland. Every revelation brings with it more questions, causing her to grapple with her identity and to realize that she is indelibly human and netherling. Layered between these personal struggles are matters of the heart, as Jeb and Morpheus vie for Alyssa's affection and loyalty. A.G. Howard's generous use of sensory language creates a lush, vibrant landscape on which her story plays out. Howard's references to Carroll's Alice stories keep the originals at the heart of her own tale, yet never give the impression of being derivative. A dark beauty fills the novel's pages, which will mesmerize teens with a taste for magic, romance or suspense. Unhinged lays the groundwork for a third book where anything could happen--it is Wonderland, after all. --Julia Smith, blogger and former children's bookseller

Discover: A war in Wonderland spills into the human realm, reminding Alyssa Gardner of her netherling roots and drawing her into the fray.

Abrams/Amulet, $17.95, hardcover, 400p., ages 13-up, 9781419709715


Author Buzz

The Grave Robber
(A Charley Davidson Novella)

by Darynda Jones

Dear Reader,

Have you ever seen a ghost? I think we all have stories the defy explanation. Some are creepy and some are downright traumatizing. That's what I wanted to explore in THE GRAVE ROBBER.

What would happen to a woman who'd been haunted her whole life? Who'd been at the mercy of an enraged poltergeist hellbent on revenge? And how will she respond when her father stumbles across a man who says he can help?

I hope you enjoy her story!

Darynda Jones

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Grave Robber (A Charley Davidson Novella) by Darynda Jones

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
September 5, 2023


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

The Heirloom

by Beverly Lewis

Dear Reader,

In 1997, I released my first Amish novel, The Shunning, and now I am delighted to present this long-awaited prequel about Ella Mae Zook, a beloved character from that book and others, who readers have asked for more of. I've been planning this novel for years, as my stories must simmer in my heart until they are ready. I'm delighted to now be able to share this story with readers, and to celebrate, I’m giving away 5 copies. 

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Beverly Lewis

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AuthorBuzz: Bethany House: The Heirloom by Beverly Lewis

Bethany House Publishers

Pub Date: 
September 12, 2023


List Price: 
$17.99 Paperback

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