Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 2, 2014

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

From My Shelf

The Art of Autism

Jill Mullin is a New York City behavior analyst whose amazing book, Drawing Autism (Akashic), took form when she met Glenn Russ, an individual diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who liked to draw stylized stick figures depicting The Temptations and Jackson 5, his favorite bands. Inspired, Mullin began to solicit artwork from other individuals also on the spectrum.

Eleni Michael's Dancing with the Dog

The book's 2014 edition, an update of the 2009 version, includes 160 full-color pages with works from established ASD artists such as David Barth, Gregory Blackstock and Jessica Park, along with less well-known but equally talented contributors from North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

The book features many women artists--though Mullin notes that "ASD is almost five times more common among males (1 in 42) than among females (1 in 189).... Maybe more females on the spectrum are socially motivated by having their work or vision examined by the public?"

Asked whether Drawing Autism aims to highlight differences on the spectrum or blur the esthetic divide between "typical" and ASD artists, Mullin acknowledged that her goal embraces this delicate paradox: "Much of the artwork in the book is compelling in its own right. If you saw it hanging on a wall or in a book and knew nothing about the artist's background, it would still catch your eye. As a professional in the field, I know exactly what it means to say that autism is a spectrum disorder. But for those unfamiliar with the term, I think the book serves as a great point entry into understanding how ASD manifests differently in every individual." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

The Writer's Life

Astra Taylor: Our Relationship to Media

Astra Taylor is a Canadian-American documentary filmmaker, writer and musician, best known for her 2005 film, Zizek!, about the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and her 2008 film, Examined Life. Her new book, The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (Metropolitan), is an eye-opening look at media consolidation, the rapid growth of the Internet and the increased interactivity of its users, who have become equal parts consumer and creator.

The sort of paradigm shifts that took place in media consolidation 20 or even 10 years ago seem quaint today. How much of people's willingness to hand over their private information is a factor of the Internet being harnessed to enable these rapid shifts, and how much is people not caring what sites know about them?

Great question. It is indeed amazing how much consolidation there is in the media landscape. It seems like there's always some gigantic corporate fusion on the horizon. The thing is, it's actually an issue people care about. Whenever one of these mergers is on the table citizens call their representatives and sign petitions in droves, but they--that is to say, the people, all of us--simply don't have the lobbying power of these major corporations, which are only growing and getting deeper pockets in the process of combining and consolidating. The revolving doors of Washington don't help matters. Individuals work in government and after a stint they go work for the people they used to regulate, where they get paid a whole lot more. It's a vicious cycle.

Anyway, as your question indicates, there's a paradox in the contemporary mediascape that I underscore in the book, which is that even as this consolidation is happening and the giants are growing larger and larger, our relationship with media doesn't really reflect that on an immediate level--to the contrary, our relationship to media seems more self-directed and individualized than ever before. After all, no one can tell you what to click on, websites tailor their content to your preferences, and everyone has their own private screen they don't have to share with anyone else, etc. But these incredibly personalized services typically mean relying on centralized vendors and services, like Apple or Amazon or Verizon, that often control the hardware we are using and the content we consume, so there's a kind of vertical integration happening. What's more, the fact that we can have these personalized experiences online or that we can visit any website is used to justify consolidation in the digital sphere (when Google was being investigated by the FTC for anti-trust stuff company spokespeople would respond by saying "competition is a click away," which echoes comments made by Rupert Murdoch when he was trying to expand his empire--he basically said, who cares how many papers or TV networks I own now that the Internet exists). Somehow we need to be able to comprehend personalization and corporatization as two sides of the same coin, and not get distracted by the seeming bounty of choice.

What that means, to circle back to your question, is that our willingness to hand over private information is very much connected to the issue of consolidation, because these companies have a vested interest in tracking and tabulating our media habits so they can better target and market to us down the road. Personalization is profitable. Of course you're also right that people willingly give over lots of information, which can make it seem as though they don't have any problems with the current arrangement. But polls show that people are nowhere near as glib about handing over their personal data as someone like Mark Zuckerberg makes them out to be. The guy has a vested interest in making it seem like no one cares about privacy any more.

There's a subtle insidiousness to the way we allow ourselves to lose hours of time to the Internet. How can we tell where the line is between a healthy and unhealthy Internet use?

This relates to my comments about digital personalization. We feel like we are in charge of our media destinies, even if we are totally dependent on this very centralized, corporatized, and consolidated infrastructure. One consequence of this is that we have this feeling of agency and purposefulness when we're online, even if we have surfer's remorse when it's over.

That said, I worry about the frame of healthy and unhealthy and am not sure it's the most productive way to start the discussion. Not that I don't completely identify with the problem you are getting at. I will confess that I have definitely crossed the line into what I consider unhealthy territory, entering a habitual relationship where I end up looking at my phone without consciously intending to, or where I start out doing online research and then wake up in a haze hours later, having gotten sucked into following the latest Twitter feud or just reading random articles or whatever. The fact that checking e-mail can often take place before drinking coffee--that's a sign of one major addiction usurping another!

But mainly I'm wary of healthy/unhealthy because I really think it's imperative we try to look at the bigger picture. If the book has one aim, it's to shift the focus from individuals to the broader social field; in other words, making it less about whether people are "addicted" to their gadgets or social media and more about the underlying economic forces that shape the development of those objects and services.

I will offer some practical tips for info overload and self-discipline, though. Working on this book meant I had to plug into the tech news firehose, which meant I often felt like I was drowning, and I found some filtering tools out there really useful. culls through your Facebook and Twitter and finds the most popular links, which can be nice--it's easier to read one daily digest than keep up with random updates from gazillions of people. Also the "read it later" feature is priceless. Now I log on and graze and mark things to pay real attention to in the future, instead of entering that muddled state where I am basically skimming everything and retaining nothing.

A good deal of your book advocates a change in the way people think about the Internet and how we use it. If you could wave a magic wand and change one concrete thing about the whole system tomorrow, what would that one thing be?

A magic wand! Well, with enormous power comes enormous responsibility, so I'd have to ponder this question for quite a while. I might do something drastic like make Google a public utility. We talk a lot about the Internet as a library, a repository of precious knowledge that everyone is entitled to access, but real libraries are funded by taxpayers and not advertisers, and that's a tremendous distinction. Of course, real libraries are seeing their budgets slashed in most states, so the problem I'm getting at goes way beyond the Internet--I'm talking about our society's willingness to hand over crucial public goods to private interests. Ultimately that's what I wish my imaginary wand could change. --Matthew Tiffany, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Book Candy

Words Coined by Famous Writers; 10 Best Sentences

"An authorism is a word, phrase or name created by an author or journalist; a literary neologism," the Huffington Post noted in featuring "15 words you didn't know were coined by famous writers."


Buzzfeed unveiled "45 things about Harry Potter you wouldn't know without reading the books."


Editors at The American Scholar shared their choices for the "ten best sentences," including this one from Toni Morrison's Sula: "It was a fine cry--loud and long--but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow."


Flavorwire suggested "25 essential graphic novels."


Berlin stories. Rory MacLean, author of Berlin: Imagine a City, highlighted the "top 10 Berliners in literature" for the Guardian.


A clever system designed by Erik Olovsson & Kyuhyung Cho "lets you create your own furniture with 25 blocks of furniture," including a very small bookcase, Designer Daily reported.

Book Review



by Jake Smith

When James McConnell learns that the cancer his nine-year-old son, Aaron, battled for four years--lymphoblastic leukemia--has returned, he rants, "This wasn't supposed to happen." Aaron's prognosis isn't good, and the news is heartbreaking for the tight-knit family from Michigan, including James's wife and young daughter. They pray for a miracle.

The bond of love between a father and son who share an affinity for baseball infuses Wish, a poignant debut novel by Jake Smith. James, now 34 and a high-school baseball coach, was once a promising player who gave up professional aspirations to live a more conventional life. Aaron is a whiz with facts and statistics, but has never been physically able to play the sport. James would love nothing more than to be able to play a simple game of catch with his ailing boy.

While Aaron is at the cancer research hospital, he's visited by one of his favorite ballplayers, the Detroit Tigers' starting shortstop, and Aaron makes a wish: he wants his dad to play in one major-league baseball game. Even if Aaron's aspiration is possible, it brings up questions of whether or not James really wants to return to that world and leave his family at such a critical time.

Lost dreams and life's what-ifs color this story about the physical and emotional minefield of cancer, for both patient and family. Smith's passion for baseball resonates in this touching, hope-filled drama that also brings the National Marrow Donor Program front and center. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A young boy battling cancer wishes for his dad to play in one major-league baseball game.

Tyndale House, $19.99, hardcover, 9781414391564


by Cynthia Bond

Cynthia Bond's debut novel, Ruby, manages fully to explore memory, racism, community and the resilience of the human spirit--no small task--by creating a sort of dream in which human kindness and cruelty are shown as they are: inextricable.

The once beautiful and literally haunted Ruby Bell, who fled her Texas town and her own demons in the 1950s, returned some years later, though her tenuous grasp on sanity slipped away soon after. She became the locus for all the town's fear and shame. For all, that is, but Ephram Jennings.

Ephram remembers her as the girl he has never stopped loving, and asks his sister to make one of her legendary "white lay angel" cakes--light, sweet, precious, coveted. Dressed in his Sunday best, he tries to carry it through the woods to Ruby's house, a place of nightmare and squalor. It is a hero's journey, fraught with danger and trial. Cake in hand, Ephram falls and tears his clothes, fends off questions from passersby, encounters racism and harassment from the law and forces himself to lie about his destination. With each obstacle, we learn a little more about the history of the town, of Ruby, and of Ephram's connection to her.

Much of Ruby involves situations and events that are dark and difficult but within and around these are also the powers of love and kindness. Cynthia Bond renders all of it with exceptional grace and insight. This is an unusual, rare and beautiful novel that is meant to be experienced as much as read. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Discover: A lush, poetic debut novel about a man who breaks barriers to save the scorned woman he loves.

Hogarth, $25, hardcover, 9780804139090

The Giraffe's Neck

by Judith Schalansky, trans. by Shaun Whiteside

Like the titular animal in The Giraffe's Neck, Judith Schalansky's novel is strange and aberrant, difficult to compare to other works. It forgoes plot, opting instead for psychological evaluation. It abandons any attempt at the traditional narrative arc, and it might well be argued that, at the novel's close, protagonist Inge Lohmark is the very same character she was on page one. Still, for something so defiant of literary custom, this is a full and fruitful work, one that demands attention and deserves to be examined on its own dark, humorous, unconventional terms.

The focus barely strays from biology teacher Inge's consciousness; the close third-person perspective borders on claustrophobia. We follow her through the hallways of her German school, where she despises her peers and falls into scientific reveries, matched within the book by diagrams of jellyfish or the rings of a tree. From beginning to end, the central conflict lies in the middle-aged woman's animosity for the world at large: a festering, ever-present hatred that permeates her relationships with students as well as her marriage.

In its most fascinating moments, the novel is a reminder of the ever-present, contemporary legacy of the Berlin Wall. Inge's memories--dropped like breadcrumbs--are compelling clues that inform us of her development at a strange crossroads in history, pathologizing a character whose innermost thoughts are often still inscrutable.

The Giraffe's Neck is neither easy nor obvious--initially, it might even be jarring. But as the reader becomes enmeshed in Inge's thoughts, the experience challenges the parameters of what a novel can be. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: A darkly comic view of a German teacher's daily frustrations in a small town shadowed by the legacy of the Berlin Wall.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620403389

Mystery & Thriller

The Marathon Conspiracy

by Gary Corby

Gary Corby (The Ionia Sanction) has managed an unlikely feat with his series starring Nicolaos, a detective in classical Greece: he's written mysteries that combine funny characters and intriguing crimes with accurate history.

Pericles, the biggest political player in Athens, has asked Nicolaos to investigate the suspicious death of one schoolgirl and the disappearance of another at the Sanctuary of Artemis. The two girls had found a cache of scrolls apparently written by Hippias, the last tyrant who controlled Athens before its democratic experiment began. There has always been controversy surrounding Hippias's defeat at Marathon, and Pericles fears that the recent crimes might have been engineered by a traitor to the Athenian cause.

Nicolaos, mere weeks from his wedding, is reluctant to involve his fiancée, Diotima, but since Diotima was formerly a student at the sanctuary, she insists on assisting him. They find a collection of odd characters at Diotima's old school, including a priestess who likes to run naked through the woods and a strangely taciturn handyman.

As in his earlier books, Corby manages to disseminate a wealth of information about real life in Athens and the cultural and legal rules governing its citizens. But The Marathon Conspiracy is never dull, thanks to the amusing bickering between Nicolaos and Diotima and the hilariously complicated situations Nicolaos keeps stumbling into. The escapades of the detective (and his pesky, intellectual little brother Socrates) will keep readers laughing, while the history lesson will leave them feeling a little bit smarter. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A rollicking historical mystery set in classical Athens.

Soho Crime, $26.95, hardcover, 9781616953874

Black Lies, Red Blood

by Kjell Eriksson, trans. by Paul Norlen

Kjell Eriksson's Swedish police squad returns for a fifth time in Black Lies, Red Blood. While Beatrice Andersson and Sammy Nilsson head up the investigation of a murdered homeless man who'd just begun to turn his life around, Ann Lindell works on a missing person case--a 16-year-old girl who disappeared without a trace on her birthday. Ann is determined to find out what happened to the teen, but she's also quietly keeping one eye on her coworkers' murder investigation; the journalist she's secretly been dating is a prime suspect, and he's abruptly left the country.

As Ann tries to find her lover and unravel his connection to the murder, she examines her life and the emptiness that continues to plague her. Though Black Lies, Red Blood is a later entry in an established series, the mystery is easy to pick up without having read the other titles; the necessary background is incorporated without superfluous detail. The emotionally damaged detective is a common trope in crime fiction, and Ann fits easily into that role.

The writing is rich and compelling, though at various points it's uncharacteristically crass--this may be due in part to the translation. Eriksson's characters lack any distinctive qualities to be true standouts, but the plot is captivatingly constructed. Clues and red herrings pop up in sparse enough quantities to avoid spoiling the outcome but frequently enough to keep readers guessing. Fans of a plot-driven mystery should find Black Lies, Red Blood a criminally good treat. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A homeless man's self-betterment cut short by his murder, and a police officer whose secret lover may be involved.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312605049

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Heaven's Queen

by Rachel Bach

Deviana Morris, hero of Rachel Bach's Paradox trilogy (Fortune's Pawn; Honor's Knight), can take on nearly any adversary with her space-marine combat suit, pistol and energy sword. She also carries with her what may be the only hope for the universe: a highly volatile virus activated by her anger. It's the only thing that has a chance against the ultra-dimensional beings that only Devi can see.

Unfortunately, it's incredibly dangerous to both herself and the universe as a whole, so she'd like to rid herself of this virus on her own terms, but two warring races--the Terrans and the Lelgis--have other plans. They both want to use her as a weapon, to different ends. This final volume neatly concludes Devi's story, bringing resolution to her relationship with special agent Rupert Charkov, a powerful human with alien DNA that makes him even more capable than Devi herself. Devi's winding path to the novel's end is riveting, and even if readers haven't read the first two books in the series, the ending is satisfying.

There is quite a bit of romance in this science-fiction novel, but it plays out as a mirror to classic Heinlein motifs: here, it's an incredibly tough woman who still finds time to connect emotionally to her man, even as she wonders whether or not it's wise to place him in such danger by becoming attached. Bach manages to balance the scales of space opera and romance, making Heaven's Queen a captivating read for fans of both genres. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A tough-as-nails female marine fights to save the universe as she knows it in this conclusion of the Paradox trilogy.

Orbit, $15, paperback, 9780316221122

Biography & Memoir

Dreaming Bears: A Gwich'in Indian Storyteller, a Southern Doctor, a Wild Corner of Alaska

by J. Michael Holloway

When Mike Holloway set out with two companions for a summer of Alaskan hiking in 1961, little did he realize the lifelong impact the trip would have. By chance, he and his friends were introduced to an older Gwich'in couple living off the land, far from any town or city. A traditional medicine man and his wife, Johnny and Sarah Frank welcomed Holloway into their simple lives and a deep friendship soon developed. After finishing his medical studies in South Carolina, Holloway returned to the homestead the Franks had carved for themselves near the banks of the Chandalar River.

Along with tales of hunting bear, moose and wolves, Dreaming Bears collects the Gwich'in stories Johnny told Holloway over their more than 10 years of friendship. After finishing a bowl of stewed rabbit, a plate of fresh graylings caught in the nearby stream or bear meat with bannock bread, Johnny would share tales of the tricky chickadee that ate the woodpecker or of trapping predators on the wild lands. Unpretentious descriptive passages bring the Alaskan outdoors to life: "Our knoll was on dry ground in spruce and birch with a good view of the lake where grebes, gulls, and several species of ducks searched for food. A large lynx emerged from the woods...."

Holloway eventually moved to Alaska to work as an orthopedic surgeon, and continued to visit the Franks, bringing his young son to listen to, learn from and live with them as well. These refreshing stories of life in the bush nicely preserve the Gwich'in stories Johnny knew so well. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A rich blend of friendship, life in the bush and Alaska Native stories.

Epicenter Press, $17.95, paperback, 9781935347309

The Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty... and Terrible Dresses

by Eimear Lynch

As the subtitle promises, there are heaps of awful dresses featured in Eimear Lynch's anthology of wild stories from anonymous ex-bridesmaids. The variations on these shiny, frilly atrocities are as diverse as the bridesmaids and weddings; while there are showers of stories featuring raging Bridezillas demanding their maids-in-waiting lose weight or throw them three bachelorette parties, there are also some touching accounts of when being a bridesmaid really matters. A gay couple tying the knot asks some female friends to act as "muses" during their nuptials, giving each woman a chance to be creative and special. A male bridesmaid shares his joy at being the man of honor for his sister, flying her gown across country and calling her a wimp when necessary. A laid-back bride asks her maids to visit thrift shops to buy wedding apparel the day before the ceremony, and another chill bride trusts her maids to sew a piece of satin fabric on her in lieu of an actual dress. It would be marvelous if more brides-to-be made their maids feel so honored.

Sadder tales involve friendships torn apart by the financial and emotional demands put on bridesmaids; more touching still are the poignant tales of terminally ill brides and the loved ones who really did stand up for the couple. As long as there are brides, there will be bridesmaids. This insider's look at the bridesmaid experience compiled by Lynch is fun to read, as well as a cautionary tale for both bridesmaids and brides. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A collection of tales both wacky and touching dished out by bridesmaids from all walks of life.

Picador, $16, paperback, 9781250041777

Nature & Environment

A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park

by Edward O. Wilson

Biologist Edward O. Wilson's latest book of essays serves as a gentle reminder of how preserving biodiversity is critical for human survival. In 2011, Wilson journeyed to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique with American conservationist Greg Carr to study and catalogue its flora and fauna. Before Carr intervened to save the park in 2004, Mount Gorongosa had been on the verge of destruction, ravaged by nearly two decades of war, illegal poaching, farming and human activity. After several years of restoration and recovery, the area is thriving and active, home to one of the densest wildlife populations in Africa.

Wilson explains that the loss of one piece of minor habitat can have devastating consequences for all its dependents. Through conversational prose and gorgeous photography by Piotr Naskrecki, he asserts that propagating nature's gene pools confers a form of immortaility, and therefore, a possible eternity. His appeal for protecting biodiversity is even-handed and urgent.

"The balance of nature in every ecosystem is thus an equilibrium teetering on a razor's edge," writes Wilson. "I believe that the ten billion people expected to be present at the end of the century would enjoy a far better quality of life if we conserved half of the planet for nature than if we consumed nature entirely." A Window on Eternity is not one of Wilson's more ambitious efforts (On Human Nature won the Pulitzer Prize; Sociobiology paved the way for a new field of study), but its quiet solicitude will undoubtedly provoke the same levels of reflection. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The role biodiversity plays in human survival, illustrated by a scientist's journey to Mozambique.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 9781476747415


Shotgun Lovesongs

by Nickolas Butler; read by Scott Shepherd, Ari Fliakos, Maggie Hoffman, Gary Wilmes and Scott Sowers

One rarely hears people argue the merits of a book versus its audiobook, but with novel like Nickolas Butler's Shotgun Lovesongs, in which five characters from the same small town tell you about their dreams, struggles and escapades as if they were confiding in you over a beer, the audiobook must have the edge--assuming the voices are not miscast. Happily, the actors who read Shotgun Lovesongs give such distinct and natural performances that they render Butler's fictional Little Wing townspeople in a convincingly flesh and blood manner--if you were driving around Wisconsin, you'd half expect to bump into one of them at the VFW.

The narrators of Shotgun Lovesongs grew up together but the listener meets them as adults on the precipice of settling--or not settling--into midlife. Henry and Beth, a pair of high-school sweethearts with two kids and a farm, don't know each other as well as they think they do. Leland, a musician whose breakout album gives the novel its title, is torn between the muse of home and his fiancée, an actress who craves the city. Ronny, a damaged rodeo star, chafes under his friends' hyper solicitousness and yearns for more agency in his life. Kip, a Chicago moneyman, has moved back to Little Wing with a high-powered wife and big dreams for commercializing the town's derelict mill.

Let these five citizens of Little Wing tell you what they've been up to. Their storytelling is so unshowy, yet so confident, that you'll be all ears. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: Grownup life in barely fictional Little Wing, Wis., in the voices of five great storytellers.

Macmillan Audio, $39.99, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., 9781427236357

Children's & Young Adult


by Jason Chin

A hidden world awaits readers in Jason Chin's (Redwoods; Island) most ambitious and successful foray into the scientific realm.

The title page kicks off a series of images that constitutes a meta-reading experience: the word "Gravity" appears in uppercase letters above a partially visible moon in deep space, hovering above the surface of the earth. In the next illustrations, the author-artist plays with the positioning of the title-page spread and the view widens in the following pages (to a sliver of sky, then a shoreline vista), which complete a central idea: "Gravity/ makes objects/ fall to earth." In the illustration that completes this phrase, Chin depicts the book dropping spine-first in front of a child playing with a spaceman action figure and a toy rocket ship. Chaos ensues with the next two spreads: "Without gravity, everything would float away." The boy clings to a rock formation as the spaceman and rocket ship (among other things) enter deep space. Chin continues to mix science and imagination as he proclaims the facts ("The moon would drift away from the earth./ The earth would drift away from the sun") while also depicting time-lapse images of the action figure tumbling head over heels, the moon receding, and the earth increasing its distance from the sun.

The author-artist playfully mixes familiar and surreal elements as he clearly explains the concept of gravity in 60 words and a captivating sequence of images. He ends with a humorous twist that brings all of the objects back to earth--though not necessarily where they started. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Jason Chin explores the phenomenon of gravity, in his most ambitious and successful foray into the scientific realm.

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 6-9, 9781596437173

The Art of Secrets

by James Klise

James Klise (Love Drugged) delivers a clever mystery told in many voices--through journal entries, interviews, letters and monologues--allowing each character to deliver his or her own spin to the events.

When a fire destroys high school sophomore Saba Khan's apartment in Chicago, friends and neighbors rally to her aid. A family at Saba's school donates for their use, rent-free, a luxury condominium, and students at Highsmith School organize an auction to benefit the family. Everyone brings donations to raise money so that Saba and her family can get a fresh start. Kendra Spoon, who leads the effort, wants to "make sure they're better off after the fire than before." But trouble looms when an album of paintings, "a potential art treasure," is found among the donated items and attributed to outsider artist Henry Darger. An art expert verifies the authenticity of this windfall, and the paintings are insured for $550,000. But shortly thereafter, the paintings go missing. The police are called in, and questions abound. Where did the album come from? Who should benefit from the insurance money? And, most importantly, just what is the real truth here?

Klise's short chapters do more than efficiently advance the story. Readers will be fascinated to see how unfolding events can be interpreted in so many different ways. Greed and jealousy go head-to-head with kindness and good intentions. The author weaves a satisfying mystery here and, yes, everybody has secrets. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: A mystery surrounds valuable paintings donated in a fund-raiser to help a student whose home was destroyed in a fire.

Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95, hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9781616201951

It's Catching: The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes

by Jennifer Gardy, illus. by Josh Holinaty

Author Jennifer Grady, senior scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and a self-proclaimed "disease detective," uses an engaging voice to describe microbes in terms children can readily understand.

Some microbes act as agents of good, such as the funghi that makes bread rise (yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and mushrooms grow (Agaricus bisporus), and the mold used in penicillin. Others are harmless enough--until they see a way into your body, such as Staphholococcus aureus at the first sign of a cut, and E. coli (short for Escherichia coli 0157:H7) when it's ingested. These "unfriendly microbes" are called pathogens, or germs. In a chapter called "Get to Know the Great Germs!," Grady explains nine of the most common manifestations of germs (e.g., the common cold, influenza, food poisoning, rabies, etc.) tracked by the World Health Organization and displays each on a single card the way WHO would, including its common name, scientific name, transmission, symptoms and "DangerMeter." Because Grady frankly lays out the mortality caused by some of these, the book may be best read with an adult or kept for independent readers who will stick with the book long enough to see the antidotes in the following chapter, which discusses vaccines and antibiotics.

Clear flow charts and diagrams chart the information, while often humorous depictions of the bacteria inject some levity. Grady gives a balanced view of how to stave off and eradicate infection while also encouraging readers to maintain a healthy respect for the damage germs can do. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A fascinating, illustrated introduction to microbes--good and bad--and the scientific field devoted to tracking and managing them.

OwlKids, $13.95, paperback, 64p., ages 9-12, 9781771470537

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