Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Forge: Project Namahana by John Teschner

From My Shelf

A Magical Series

Kim Harrison is just about wrapping up her series The Hollows with the release this month of the 12th book, The Undead Pool (Harper Voyager, $27.99). Harrison is a demon at writing urban fantasy seasoned with action, mystery, romance and a dry wit. An example: witch Rachel Morgan's pixy, Jenks, hanging out on her earring, snarks, "All I'm saying is you've been dating him for three months. Most guys you date are either dead or running scared by now."

So how does Harrison feel about nearing the end (she's planning just one more in the series)?

"How does one sum up a decade of literary work, of plot snags and sudden inspiration, of characters' growth and layers of worldbuilding, of a writer's pure love for the process--because let's face it, writing is not for the lazy--and all in pithy sentences. Well... you can't. At least I can't, but when faced with the goal of bringing readers up to speed for the last couple of books, I found it was easier when I dropped into my main character's voice and let her tell the story. And with over 10 books to recap, it's turned into more of a Hollows Cliffs Notes than flashy action scenes and fade-outs of vampire fangs and magic intended to spark interest in movie producers. 

"But it's a great way to remember where Rachel started, how she's seen her easy, black-and-white world turn colorful, her enemies become allies, friends show their true nature--both good and bad--and how complex are the problems she faces, that we all face. Rachel not only saves the world, but by the end of it, realizes out how beautifully chaotic and wonderfully messy that world can be, that there is no right or wrong way to do it, and to be what you are in celebration--always." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

To view the The Undead Pool trailer, click here.

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The Writer's Life

Jennifer McMahon: Scary Bedroom Closets

photo: Michael Lionstar

Jennifer McMahon, her partner and their daughter live in an old house in Vermont. Her fiction lies close to home--her six literary thrillers are all set in Vermont. The Winter People (see review below), McMahon's latest book, is set partly in the present day, where the mother of two girls has gone missing, and partly in the same house in 1908, where Sara Harrison Shea grieves the death of her young daughter.

Do you have a high tolerance for scary movies and books? How do you write such deliciously creepy fiction without scaring yourself?

I love scary movies and books, but the truth is I'm not all that brave--I'm really a big scaredy cat! I love a book or movie that makes me need to sleep with the light on (and it doesn't take much, believe me!).

And I do scare myself when I'm writing. When I'm sitting in front of the computer and I feel the hair go up on the back of my neck and get goose bumps, then I know I'm onto something good. There's one particular scene in The Winter People that terrified me when I wrote it and still scares me when I think about it--the bit where Martin wakes up and finds Sara sitting in front of the closet and he hears a scrabbling, scratching sound coming from inside the closet. I think we all had that deep, almost primal fear of our bedroom closets at night when we were kids, and I guess I never really got over mine.

The Winter People is your sixth book, and they all fall somewhere between literary suspense and supernatural mysteries. Do you think of yourself as falling into a particular genre? If so, which one do you claim?

Honestly, I don't think any of my books fit neatly into one particular genre and I'm certainly not thinking about trying to make them fit when I'm writing. I'm just doing my best to write the book that I would most want to read, hoping that if I do a good job, other people will want to read it, too. Even though it can be tricky at times, I really love that my books are enjoyed by mystery/thriller fans, paranormal/horror fans, women's fiction readers and young adults.

When you were writing The Winter People, which came first: the idea for Sara Harrison Shea's story (set in 1908) or the modern framework starring Ruthie?

I had Ruthie's storyline before anything else. It was inspired by a game my daughter, Zella, had me play several years ago. She could be kind of a bossy kid, and her games at the time were very tightly scripted.

The set up for this one went something like this:

"We're sisters. You're 19 and I'm seven. You wake up one morning and I'm in bed with you. I tell you our parents are missing."

"Missing?" I said. "That's terrible. What happened to them?"

Then Zella told me they were taken. Into the woods. She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and said, "Sometimes it just happens."

I wrote down this idea for a book with two sisters whose parents disappear into the woods, but it didn't go anywhere, so I put it away for the time being.

Years later, I had this idea for a book set during the Civil War. I was watching Ken Burns's Civil War, and there was a short bit in there about Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln's young son dying in the White House. Mary Todd believed the boy came back to visit her and started having séances in the White House. I dropped my Civil War idea and decided to write a book about a spiritualist at the turn of the century who loses her young daughter, but believes she can still communicate with her.

As I was writing this, my character, Sara, had a few surprises up her sleeve. One day, when I was writing, I got this line from her: "The first time I saw a sleeper, I was nine years old." I got chills, wondered what on earth a sleeper was (part of me wasn't sure I really wanted to find out, because I knew that whatever it was, it was going to scare the heck out of me!). The whole book took a turn and I soon realized I wasn't writing about a woman who believes she can communicate with her dead child, I was writing about a woman who believes she can bring her daughter back.

It was around this time that I decided I'd put my sisters with their missing parents in there, too. They'd live in Sara's house in the present day. They'd wake up one morning to discover their mother had vanished, and eventually come to realize that her disappearance was linked to a dangerous secret over a century old.

Was Sara's story inspired by any legends or stories from New England history?

I wish! Nothing specific, but when writing The Winter People, I definitely relied on the atmosphere of a long, hard Vermont winter, where shadows loom large and trees seem to morph into something more sinister, and if you listen hard enough, the creaking of the snow-burdened tree limbs could be mistaken for someone--or something--stealthily approaching.

You write about small-town Vermont very convincingly. Have you come across any haunted houses in your area?

Thank you! I grew up in Connecticut, but have been in Vermont since the late 1980s. Even though I've lived here ever since, any native Vermonter will tell you I'm a flatlander. I think not being a real Vermonter gives me a bit of outsider perspective that helps me to pick up on little details I might not catch if I'd grown up here.

I went to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., where there were ghost stories aplenty. There's a building called the Manor that now houses faculty offices and classrooms--it used to be the grand home of the Martin family, who owned the farm that would eventually become the Goddard campus. (I just looked it up, and believe it or not, the Manor was built in 1908--the year of Sara's diary.) It was full of curving hallways and alcoves, as well as some big echo-y rooms with old tile floors. If you went in there at night and sat quietly, you could just tell you weren't alone; doors would open, you'd hear the creak of what you'd swear were footsteps, and every now and then catch a shadow moving in the corner of your eye.

Here in Vermont, in all of New England, we have a lot of old houses and I have to believe that if a house is well over a hundred years old, there may well be a ghost or two hanging around.

Hopefully we don't have any sleepers hiding in closets, but you never know.... --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Tundra Books (NY): Professor Goose Debunks Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Paulette Bourgeois, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

Book Candy

Odes to House of Cards, Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss

"The president and Frank have a very Othello-Iago friendship." For fans of the Netflix series, the Huffington Post revealed "9 things House of Cards took from Shakespeare."


"Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!" is an exhibition of the good doctor's personal hat collection that is on tour for the first time in history. Theodor Geisel began collecting hats from around the world in the 1930s.


To celebrate Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday, Flavorwire shared "10 of the sexiest poems for literary lovers."


The "Red Wedding" from George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones was just one of "5 marvellous literary scenes made out of Lego" and showcased by Buzzfeed.


There's a Franz Kafka-inspired videogame. Laughing Squid noted that Russian game developer Denis Galanin said the player and the hero, named K. of course, "will experience an atmosphere of absurdity, surrealism, and total uncertainty."


Apartment Therapy offered "strategies for arranging the family bookcase."

Tyndale House Publishers: Long Way Home by Lynn Austin

Book Review


The Last Gift

by Abdulrazak Gurnah

In The Last Gift, Zanzibar-born British writer Abdulrazak Gurnah takes on the themes of cultural identity and the weight of family secrets. This moving novel probes the meaning of the stories we tell to answer the fundamental questions of our lives.

Abbas and Maryam met in England; he was 34, she was 17. He was a sailor from an unidentified African country, she had been shuttled among foster parents and finally adopted by an Indian couple whose kindness masked latent abusiveness. Years later, Abbas has kept the story of his origins from Maryam and their children, Jamal and Hanna. "What I want from them is a story that has a beginning that is tolerable and open, and not one that is tripped with silences," says Hanna. "I want to be able to say 'This is who I am.' " Instead, they live with persistent feelings of apartness and shame.

When Abbas suffers a debilitating stroke and finally reveals the circumstances behind his exile from Zanzibar, it is neither so shaming as feared nor a climactic release. Instead, it is part of the process of living an unresolvable life. Gurnah seamlessly shifts the point of view among Abbas, Maryam, Hanna and Jamal; the transitions don't interrupt the narrative or jar the reader. His complex, memorable characters are utterly human. Everyone lives inside his or her own skin, and this occasionally profound novel reveals four lives inside and out. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A sensitive novel about identity and exile from the Booker-shortlisted author of Paradise.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620403280


by J.W. Ironmonger

Are our lives ruled by destiny or chaos? J.W. Ironmonger (The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder) examines this question from every angle in his heady, seductive new novel, Coincidence.

On Midsummer's Day, 1982, three-year-old Azalea Ives is found wandering around a fairground in Devon, England. She is turned over to social services and eventually adopted by Luke and Rebecca Folley, but this is hardly the end of Azalea's story. A year later, the badly decomposed body of a woman is discovered on a beach in North Devon. A policeman wonders if the child and the woman--both redheads--might be mother and daughter, but without any concrete way to prove it, the speculation is shelved.

Luke and Rebecca eventually take Azalea with them to a mission Luke's grandfather founded in Uganda. Joseph Kony, the real-life warlord and leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, attacks the mission and on Midsummer's Day, 1992, Azalea's adoptive parents meet their deaths.

Later, we meet Thomas Post, a lecturer in applied philosophy who is better known as "The Coincidence Man." When he and Azalea "meet" in a seemingly chance encounter, she wants to talk with him about the Midsummer's Day occurrences and her powerful belief that she knows the date of her death.

Kony's rebel army of kidnapped child soldiers is familiar to Ironmonger, a native of East Africa, but Coincidence does not become overly polemical or political. Instead, Ironmonger masterfully ties complicated plot elements together into a satisfying, plausible outcome. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A compelling story examining chance and determinism as two very different people find their way.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, paperback, 9780062309891

Mystery & Thriller

The Winter People

by Jennifer McMahon

West Hall, Vt., the setting of Jennifer McMahon's The Winter People, appears to be a typical small town. Over the last century, however, a half dozen people have vanished from its environs without a trace. It all began in 1908 when Sara Harrison Shea, whose daughter had died tragically a few months earlier, was found gruesomely murdered behind her house. Legend has it Sara knew the secret of raising "Sleepers," dead people who could walk again; and many people claim to have seen her around West Hall in the years since her death.

Now, another family lives in the same old farmhouse: Alice, her 19-year-old daughter, Ruthie, and her younger daughter, Fawn. Their life is mostly normal, except that Alice insists on living off the grid--which presents huge problems when she goes missing. While searching her mother's room for clues, an increasingly desperate Ruthie comes across Sara Harrison Shea's diary and realizes her mother's disappearance may be more sinister than she'd thought.

McMahon (Promise Not to Tell) has woven together a fascinatingly creepy tale. The historical foundation and the modern mystery blend together seamlessly, making the reader eager to find out the secrets Sara Harrison Shea might have known, while the exploration of mother-daughter love and loss makes both Sara's and Ruthie's narratives irresistible. Not a book to be read late at night, or in a creaky old house, The Winter People is a literary thriller to savor. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Jennifer McMahon sets her latest thriller in a small town with a deadly supernatural secret.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385538497

Midnight Road

by Jada M. Davis

It's always a pleasure to rediscover a noir writer from the days of pulp. After reissuing One for Hell, a classic novel by Jada M. Davis (1919-1996), Stark House Press has found the previously unpublished Midnight Road, set in the Depression-era West Texas where Davis grew up. This is rock country--a landscape of valleys, fields of green, cottonwoods and willows--making the novel a hybrid, a western noir. Like most noir novels, it's told in the first person, but the narrator isn't a grizzled detective--he's a 15-year-old boy, and the novel is really a coming-of-age story.

Jeff lives on a ranch with his mom and Bant Carr, whom he loves though he knows Bant isn't his father. (People say Jeff looks more like Kenty Hooker.) Their neighbor is crusty Old Trails and his daughter, Sam; she and Jeff are in love. She has a brother, Coy, who's getting meaner and meaner. And there's another brother, Fergus, shy, reserved, over-looked. They all come together in this tale of murder, attempted murder, scandal, lynching and violence. It may be a "quiet noir," as Rick Ollerman suggests in his introduction, but Davis's rural Americana can still be plenty dark and violent. Kudos to Stark House for bringing us Midnight Road. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Lust, madness and murder in a previously unpublished noir, written in the 1950s, of a young man's coming-of-age in rural Texas.

Stark House, $19.95, paperback, 9781933586540

The Innocent Sleep

by Karen Perry

On his wife's birthday, Harry is making dinner in their home in Tangier while the couple's three-year-old son, Dillon, sleeps. Harry realizes he left Robin's gift at a friend's house and goes to retrieve it, leaving Dillon behind since the friend's place is nearby. While Harry is out, an earthquake hits, and he rushes back to discover his house, with Dillon inside, has been swallowed by the earth.

So begins The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry (a pen name for Irish writers Paul Perry and Karen Gillece). The story fast-forwards five years later, when the couple has moved back to their native Dublin. On the same day Robin finds out she's pregnant again, Harry sees a little boy on the streets he's certain is Dillon. He decides not to tell Robin and risk upsetting her newfound sense of hope; instead, he plunges into a dizzying chase to find the truth about what happened to his son.

Many psychological thrillers have been undeservedly compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, but this one really does have strong similarities: a person goes missing on a day meant for celebration; a husband and wife take turns telling the tale; readers' perceptions and allegiance toward each narrator will likely change as the story progresses. But Perry and Gillece's voice is their own, blended nicely, offering insights into a marriage affected by grief. Save for a few big coincidences (a character does say that things may seem "very unlikely, but not impossible"), the revelations are twisty and riveting, leading to an ambiguous ending that should invite discussion. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja

Discover: In this psychological thriller written by two Irish novelists, a guilt-stricken father searches for the son everyone thought died five years earlier.

Holt, $26, hardcover, 9780805098723

A Burnable Book

by Bruce Holsinger

A young prostitute watches horrified from the bushes as a woman is beaten to death--then looks down at the book in her hands, placed there by the victim moments before. A London "fixer" and minor poet named Gower is asked by his friend Geoffrey Chaucer to track a missing book. The court surrounding the new and untested King Richard II worries over the new games of playing cards and a book rumored to contain a series of verses circulating London regarding the deaths of kings past and present. This one book that troubles bawdyhouse prostitutes, the royal court, bureaucrats, poets and criminals holds potentially great consequences for England's future. It is treasonous, a "burnable book."

Bruce Holsinger, a prolific and respected medieval scholar, turns his hand to fiction with A Burnable Book. His academic background makes him well suited to render diverse settings in 14th-century London, from the Southwark stews to the grand halls of Westminster. The young woman murdered outside the city walls is only the first victim, and Gower is not the only one searching for the book in question, for scruples are scarce when the stakes are so high: England's royal command itself is under threat. Murder mystery, political intrigue and the engaging world of Chaucer's London are brought to life with a cast of complex, sympathetic characters who are far removed from and yet also familiar to our modern world. Holsinger's expertise with medieval times is put to good use in a thriller filled with suspense and literary taste. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A medieval scholar takes a fictional turn in 14th-century London, in a story full or murder, literature, politics and intrigue.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062240323

Blotto, Twinks and the Bootlegger's Moll

by Simon Brett

How bad could burst pipes be for a manse? The Dowager Duchess--Mama to Blotto and Twinks--finds out, when water floods the hall of portraits, and her empty coffers means no plumber, no restoration and, soon, no Tawcester Towers! Mama's repair plan is simple: marry Blotto off to a wealthy American. In Blotto, Twinks and the Bootlegger's Moll, Simon Brett's fourth Blotto and Twinks madcap mystery, the siblings take an ocean liner to the States--and get into more trouble than even superannuated plumbing rained down.

The Duchess is a quick thinker, and by the time she's revealed her plan, she's already selected the heir to the Chapstick family meat-packing fortune to be the dashing but thick Blotto's bride. Since his idea of bliss is a rousing cricket game rather than marriage, he turns as always to his brilliant sister. Twink comforts her brother all the way to Chicago, where she sets to work orchestrating a cancellation of the nuptials. Alas, Mary Chapstick adores Blotto, her father is eager to link the family with British aristocracy and mobster Spagsy Chiaparelli and his speakeasy chanteuse Choxy Mulligan both take an interest in Blotto, though for different reasons. While Choxy thinks he's a dreamboat, Spagsy wants to know if Blotto is "Cosa Nostra," to which the clueless chap replies, "No, Church of England."

Overcoming her brother's dim wit, the mob and a close call near the Chapstick factory's machinery, Twinks saves the day--and, in the end, even Mama wins. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: The brilliant Twinks deflects an arranged marriage for her baffled brother and brings justice to Prohibition-era Chicago in the fourth novel in Simon Brett's series.

Felony & Mayhem, $14.95, paperback, 9781937384920

Biography & Memoir

The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man's Unlikely Path to Walden Pond

by Michael Sims

As he did with E.B. White in The Story of Charlotte's Web, Michael Sims has produced a well-researched and richly detailed portrait of a cherished American literary figure. The Adventures of Henry Thoreau explains how a "quirky but talented young man named Henry evolves into an original and insightful writer named Thoreau."

In 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne described Thoreau as a "wild irregular, Indian-like sort of fellow, who can find no occupation in life that suits him." That characterization aptly summarizes Sims's Thoreau--a man constantly chafing at society's strictures before moving fitfully toward his true calling as a writer, philosopher and activist.

Sims thoroughly explores Thoreau's relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influence was so powerful Thoreau began to mimic his voice and posture. It was on land purchased by Emerson that Thoreau erected his hut at Walden Pond. But contrary to the picture some may have of Thoreau's 26 months there, he was no hermit. He was less than two miles from Concord, allowing him to enjoy family visits and dinners at the homes of the Emersons or the Alcotts. During this period, Thoreau indulged his lifelong passion for scientific observation and natural history, while refining important elements of his political philosophy.

The Henry David Thoreau portrayed here is no "marble bust of an icon." He's restless, prickly and possessed of a relentless intellectual curiosity--a complex, fully realized human being. With this picture in mind, anyone who admires Thoreau's life and work will view him with fresh eyes. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: An engaging portrait of Henry David Thoreau's first 30 years.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 9781620401958

Current Events & Issues

Trapped Under the Sea

by Neil Swidey

Neil Swidey's Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness tells the unforgettable story of an ambitious engineering project and the disaster that could have been averted. Boston Harbor, widely recognized as the most badly polluted in the United States, was an environmental ruin. When the state finally mandated a cleanup, the city built a highly sophisticated waste-treatment plant on Deer Island. By 1999, the costly, overdue project was nearly complete, but one final task required five divers to travel 10 miles into a narrow tunnel deep underneath the harbor. In an accident that seems unavoidable in hindsight, two of the five died.

Swidey, a staff writer for the Boston Globe magazine and finalist for the National Magazine Award, tells his story with exhaustive research--and with passion. What makes Trapped Under the Sea stand out from other disaster narratives is Swidey's largely balanced analysis of the corporate and political pressures and the human ambitions that led to a series of bad decisions, with insights into organizational behavior and culture and the ways decisions can go tragically wrong. An arrogant engineer who misrepresented his experience, corporate jockeying, cost-cutting, the intense pressure of deadlines on a long-delayed, very expensive and very public project: that these factors are common in projects at every level makes them no less deadly--or preventable.

Swidey's focus beyond the accident, its roots to its aftermath, will leave the reader gripped, saddened and infuriated in equal measure. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: An exposé of the personal, political and corporate factors that led to a preventable engineering disaster that will appeal to fans of A Perfect Storm and A Civil Action.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780307886729

Performing Arts

Mad As Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies

by Dave Itzkoff

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" It's one of the most iconic lines in American film (even if most people get it slightly wrong, substituting "it" for "this"), shouted by Peter Finch as TV anchorman Howard Beale in 1976's Network. But "the angriest man in movies" in the subtitle of Dave Itzkoff's Mad as Hell isn't Beale, it's screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky--and Itzkoff's book is pretty much his story. It's a good one, too, very well told.

As Itzkoff, a culture reporter for the New York Times, sees it, the "thick, sturdy, stubborn, and unrelenting" Chayefsky invested his script with all the "angst, anxiety, and paranoia he had ever felt." He harnessed that anger into his magnum opus, the last film he put his name to--and one that cost him nearly everything to make the way he wanted. (Although, before Finch was cast, he had approached Paul Newman with the idea of playing Beale.)

Itzkoff digs into every nook and cranny of the film's production--and also interviews contemporary television journalists such as Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly and Anderson Cooper to discuss its impact. Besides winning four Academy Awards, including Chayefsky's nod for best original screenplay, Network accomplished something "truly remarkable and even radical," Itzkoff tells us: it used Hollywood's money and means of production to criticize not only a rival medium but the entire field of mass communications. This is a very sharp and insightful book. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Popular cultural history at its best, from the author of the memoirs Lads and Cocaine's Son.

Holt, $27, hardcover, 9780805095692

Children's & Young Adult

A Snicker of Magic

by Natalie Lloyd

Sixth-grader Felicity Juniper Pickle knows her first name means "wondrous joy," but these days she just feels tuckered out. She and her little sister, Frannie Jo, have already lived in six states. As they drive into their mother's hometown of Midnight Gulch, Tenn., Felicity has a glimmer of hope that this might be their last stop.

Midnight Gulch was once a magical mountain town, but most agree the magic vanished decades ago with the feuding Brothers Threadbare. Felicity dives into the town's secrets with the help of the "weirdly wonderful" Jonah Pickett, a boy in a wheelchair who may be her first friend ever. Does she, the frequently tongue-tied "Queen of Dorkville," have some of that town magic in her veins... even if only a leftover "snicker?" Is her family--is she--somehow the cursed party in a long-dead witch's cryptic riddle? Sometimes Felicity finds answers in the sky. A "word collector" and "poem catcher," she sees words everywhere. She starts to realize that magic does still live in the citizens of Midnight Gulch. Dr. Zook's Famous Ice Cream Factory adds a Willy Wonka touch to the enchanted town.

Felicity's passion and knack for words shapes the book. As flurries of words appear to her, she scribbles them in her blue notebook or on her shoe, and they are scattered throughout the story to "shimmer-shining" effect. This buoyant, soul-satisfying debut novel is a synesthetic, "fine as frog hair" story of love, hope and magic told in poetry, banjo chords, curling smoke and pounding hearts. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and children's book editor

Discover: A spellbinding debut novel starring Felicity Juniper Pickle, who sees magic in the people around her, and whose world view is curiously contagious.

Scholastic Press, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780545552707

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You've Done

by Stephan Pastis

Timmy Failure, Stephan Pastis's (Pearls Before Swine) detective of greatness, returns with his 1,500-pound pet polar bear in another comical mystery to be solved by Total Failure Inc.

As with Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, Pastis starts with a small-time crime. Classmate Nunzio Benedici's Spooney Spoon goes missing. One of the book's abundant drawings depicts the utensil: "Don't ask me why there's a dog's head on it," says Timmy. His fee remains the same: $4 a day plus expenses. And readers will once again decipher the clues before Timmy does. But there's a bigger mystery here: Superintendent Dobbs's globe disappears, and a multi-school contest invites students to earn a $500 prize if they find the culprit. Timmy's mother has lost her job, so the two move in with great-aunt Colander, widow to a wealthy businessman, and a would-be entrepreneur herself if only her Boom Boom Shoewheels would take off (picture roller skates without the boots).

Great-aunt Colander is the gem of the series thus far. She truly "gets" and seeks out Timmy, and she's the resourceful and clear-eyed antidote to the discombobulated detective. She stands by him, and he treats her like a normal person, unlike the charity board members with whom she serves (who mainly want her inheritance). Bobble-headed Rollo, starry-eyed Molly Moskins, and the One Whose Name Shall Not Be Uttered (Corrina Corrina) all return as well as great-aunt Colander's topiary-sculpting gardener named Bingo. This heartwarming companion will make Timmy's fans even more eager for the third adventure, planned for this coming November. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The second case to be cracked by Total Failure Inc., from the creator of Pearls Before Swine.

Candlewick, $14.99, hardcover, 290p., ages 8-12, 9780763660512

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