Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 26, 2014

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

From My Shelf

The Reading Life

Like many readers, I'm incapable of leaving a bookstore without at least one shiny new read. There's something about an entire store dedicated to the reading life that is impossibly alluring, no matter how large or small the store, no matter how rambling or curated the collection.

That magic has been captured by Gabrielle Zevin in her heartfelt The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. On its surface, it's a novel about a widower struggling to keep his bookshop in business--and his life in one piece--after the unexpected death of his wife. But as the story unfolds, Zevin packs the book with odes to the power of books, bookstores and reading to bring together a family and an entire community.

Parnassus on Wheels, a 1917 novella by Christopher Morley (available as part of Melville House's Art of the Novella series), also explores the idea of bookselling as a life-changing activity: "When you sell a man a book,... you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night--there's all heaven and earth in a book." Morley makes bookselling as influential for the bookseller as for the reader, as Helen McGill decides to reinvent her life by buying a traveling bookshop.

Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookshop presents a bookshop very much of our time. His witty novel explores the intersection of printed books and technology, as a new bookseller at Mr. Penumbra's shop starts to explore the store's centuries-old secrets. A bonus: the dust jacket glows in the dark.

Lewis Buzbee, author, bookseller, writing professor, has written about the power of books and his experience as a bookseller in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. The short volume is packed with history and detail about publishing and the power of books and what it is like to spend one's life immersed in them--something we've all dreamed of. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Book Candy

Banned Books Week; Novel Tweets

It's Banned Books Week, welcomed by "readers who cherish this celebration of freedom of speech--and freedom of the written word," Word & Film wrote as it highlighted "10 great banned books adaptations."


It was the best of tweets. It was the worst of tweets. Bustle imagined "11 contemporary novels, summarized in 140 characters or fewer."


At the London Art Book Fair, artists, including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, shared their "shelfies," offering "a fascinating insight into their work," the Independent noted.


Pop quiz: "If your life was a children's book, which would it be?" asked PopSugar.


"The top 10 walks in books" were chosen by Duncan Minshull, editor of While Wandering, for the Guardian. "There are a thousand and one reasons for setting out, be they physical, psychological or spiritual, rational or bonkers," he wrote. "I like to think that the following people might inspire us to hit the road, too."


For the "most calming post you'll read today," try Buzzfeed's "10 best simple English pleasures as told through Winnie-the-Pooh."

Great Reads

Now in Paper: September

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton (Ecco, $15.99)
Not many people know about the World War II battle fought on U.S. soil, but Brian Payton draws upon that story in the novel The Wind Is Not a River, involving the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, a journalist stranded behind enemy lines and the wife who goes to heroic efforts to find him.

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indriðason, trans. by Victoria Cribb (Picador, $16)
Indriðason's popular Icelandic crime series continues, but this time Inspector Erlendur's colleague Sigurdur Óli takes the lead role when asked to dissuade a blackmailing husband-and-wife team from releasing explicit sexual photos. When Óli arrives at the blackmailers' house, he finds the woman beaten unconscious and chases her attacker before losing the man.

Cain's Blood by Geoffrey Girard (Touchstone, $16)
An ex-soldier and his unlikely sidekick pursue rampaging teenage clones of serial killers. At the top secret Dynamic Solutions Technology Institute (DSTI), Gregory Jacobson studies a gene nicknamed "Cain XP11" for its role in prompting murderous behavior, and encourages a number of DSTI's killers to escape. Recently retired Delta Force operative Shawn Castillo is recruited to clean up DSTI's mess.

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell (Back Bay, $15)
Daniel Woodrell's The Maid's Version is as rich in mountain vernacular as it is in the history and character of a region steeped in rural Americana. Drawing on a 1929 West Plains, Mo., explosion and fire that killed 39 mostly young ballroom dancers, Woodrell tells a story of tragedy and economic inequality in a small Ozark town. 

The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach (Voyager, $17.99)
The Mexican-American borderlands of Adam Mansbach's The Dead Run are crawling with crooked cops, religious fanatics, drug runners and rogue motorcycle gangs, but the irreverent and entertaining story isn't driven by drug cartel atrocities so much as the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca's plan to reclaim the continent from the Christian invaders.

On Migration: Dangerous Journeys and the Living World by Ruth Padel (Counterpoint, $16.95)
A lovely melding of prose and poetry on why and how animals and humans relocate, Padel's essays elaborate on the concepts she empathetically writes about in her poems. The great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, she brings readers an intriguing look at the vast subject of migration--the movement of birds, animals, humans, thoughts, concepts and perceptions.

Wilson by A. Scott Berg (Berkley, $22)
A beautifully readable, impeccably researched biography of the man who went from running Princeton University to running the United States in a decade, Berg's portrait of the president whom Truman called the "greatest of the greats" is magnificent. Scholars call books like this definitive. 

Just Tell Me I Can't: How Jamie Moyer Defied the Radar Gun and Defeated Time by Larry Platt and Jaime Moyer (Grand Central, $17)
A baseball player conquers physical and mental limitations to become one of the winningest pitchers in the major leagues. Jamie Moyer is the oldest pitcher to win a major league baseball game, and his passion for the game shines on every page of this detailed chronicle of what it takes to come back, time and again, amid the pressures of professional baseball.

Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw (Basic Books, $16.99)
John Bradshaw follows up Dog Sense by turning his attention to the domestic cat, the most popular pet in the world, in Cat Sense. Citing the old maxim "dogs have owners, cats have staff," Bradshaw sets off to examine feline science in an effort to understand better the enigmatic creature.

Marvelous Things Overheard: Poems by Ange Mlinko (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15)
A startling, imaginative collection from one of the most fearless young poets working today celebrates the wonder of language while exploring its failings. Mlinkodraws on her time at the American University of Beirut and her travels in Morocco, Greece and Cyprus, all conflict-ridden places of visual and cultural density.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury, $16)
National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward's memoir is a searing look at racism in the U.S. today--and a loving tribute to a lost brother and four friends. Ward ultimately sees these deaths not as random, but as the consequence of racism so ingrained it is almost unremarkable, though its expression is not.

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding (Simon & Schuster, $17)
Hanns and Rudolf is a fascinating dual biography of Rudolf Höss, kommandant of Auschwitz, and Lieutenant Hanns Alexander, a German Jew in the British army who captured Höss during the chaos after World War II's end. Thomas Harding chronicles these two lives driven by very different notions of duty and honor.

Book Review


Gutenberg's Apprentice

by Alix Christie

German scribe Peter Schoeffer has achieved a modicum of success at the university in Paris, but when his foster father, merchant Johann Fust, summons him home to Mainz, Peter never dreams that his life and career will be transformed. Instead of continuing as a scribe, Peter begins an apprenticeship studying a brand-new art under a mercurial, passionate man: Johann Gensfleisch, better known as Gutenberg.

Working in secret, dodging the city's powerful guilds and supported by gold from Fust's coffers, Peter and his colleagues in Gutenberg's workshop embark on a daring venture: printing copies of the Bible to sell. As the project drags on, requiring more and more funding, Fust grows impatient, often asking his son to spy on Gutenberg's activities. Peter, weary of being used as a pawn by the two men he respects, must eventually decide whether to throw his lot in with his father or with his master--or make a stand for himself.

Debut novelist Alix Christie draws a dark, evocative portrait of 15th-century Mainz, emphasizing the heavy hand of the city council, which often clashes with the archbishop over matters of commerce and religion. Gutenberg emerges as a clever trickster--erratic, smooth-talking, endlessly slippery--who manages to circumvent all restrictions, buying himself and his apprentices the time and resources to complete their ambitious project. Gutenberg's Apprentice has powerful parallels to the present day conflicts concerning old and new methods of distributing text. Drawing on historical accounts of Peter's real-life inspiration, Christie has created a rich, masterful tale of "the darkest art" and its powerful effect on the written word. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A rich, evocative tale of the birth of Gutenberg's printing press and the young scribe who found himself swept up in the invention.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062336019

The High Divide

by Lin Enger

In 1886, Ulysses Pope leaves a note for his family at his small Minnesota farm explaining that he's going to find work, and then apparently disappears. His wife, Gretta, hears no news of him for months and becomes increasingly desperate as their finances worsen. When Gretta wakes up one morning to find her sons Eli and Danny have left, too, she has no choice but to set out in search of her missing family.

Unbeknownst to Gretta, Eli and Danny intercepted a letter from a woman out West, a woman who seems determined to make Ulysses her own. The boys jump trains heading toward Montana, but Gretta, clueless, decides to head for St. Paul, where she and Ulysses met. There, she uncovers Ulysses's history from before they were wed: the dark secrets that have haunted him for years and finally drove him away from his family and home. Scattered across the country, the four Popes face danger and uncertainty, and each will be forced to confront his or her own fears before all are reunited.

Lin Enger (Undiscovered Country) powerfully portrays Ulysses's quest for redemption--and the desperation that drives his wife and children to search for him. In emotional but careful terms, he paints a portrait of a family on the brink of collapse. The American West, with its miles of empty space, reflects both the barrenness of their memories and the wide possibilities of their future. The fate of the Pope family becomes intertwined with that of the West: this is a story of betrayal, destruction and forgiveness. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: One man's odyssey, a moving quest for redemption, on the Great Plains.

Algonquin, $24.95, hardcover, 9781616203757

How to Build a Girl

by Caitlin Moran

Johanna Morrigan, age 14, lives in '90s-era Wolverhampton, England, with her parents and four siblings (including two babies without names, known long-term as the Unexpected Twins). They are all on government assistance or benefits. Her mother is depressed and her father still clings to his rock-star dreams. Johanna is desperate to leave behind Wolverhampton, benefits and her virginity.

Her big chance comes when she's filmed for TV, reading her prize-winning poem on the theme of "Friendship," but it goes awry when she surprises even herself with a shameful impromptu Scooby-Doo impression. Being Johanna Morrigan is a losing proposition, so she sets about methodically building the girl she wants to be: Dolly Wilde, music critic.

Johanna's Dolly Wilde is constructed on the music of Hole, Bikini Kill, David Bowie and Kate Bush; the writing of Dorothy Parker, Orwell and Kerouac; and a blind ambition to reach London. She sends in one album review per day for 27 days until, amazingly, she is hired by Disc and Music Echo. Dolly's first encounter with live music ushers in an era of drink, sex and eventually drugs; she happily pursues the lifestyle of the rock stars she admires, but is challenged to reconcile this new life with her household back at home in Wolverhampton.

To fall in love with the clumsily charming, heartbreaking Johanna, readers will want to check their inhibitions regarding four-letter words and masturbation, but Caitlin Moran (How to Be a Woman) is cheeky, intelligent, thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. This novel (her first) reminds us that we are always learning and rebuilding, no matter our origins. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Caitlin Moran's debut novel features an irreverent, painfully self-conscious, triumphant and very funny self-made girl.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062335975

The Betrayers

by David Bezmozgis

In his afterword to this story about a discredited Israeli Minister of Trade's retreat to Crimea with his mistress, David Bezmozgis (The Free World) recognizes the risks of setting a contemporary, politically layered fiction in countries in the news. While acknowledging that Crimea's recent annexation by Russia and the armed conflict between Israel and Gaza have made his novel's settings more broadly recognized, he also "felt frustrated that world events conspired to undermine my designs for the book." To Bezmozgis's credit, The Betrayers tells such a rich story that it could be an enduring success regardless of the front-page news.

Baruch Kotler rose in Israeli politics as a dissident hero who survived 14 years in a Soviet gulag and championed Jewish self-determination. But in his mid-60s, his public repudiation of the prime minister leads to his political downfall and swift relocation to Yalta with his young mistress, Leora. He has hopes of a quiet life of love on the beaches of Crimea, away from his wife and adult children--until he discovers that the owner of his rental cottage is the same turncoat Russian Jew whose betrayal sent Kotler to the gulag. Caught in an emotional cauldron of lust, vengeance and regret, Kotler is forced to examine his choices and to attempt to do the right thing with regard to Leora, his family, his country and the former KGB informant.

Bezmozgis has engagingly captured all the historical and moral ambiguity hanging over the head of one man trying to sort out what's right in a world of wrongs. This is a powerful novel--both timely and timeless. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kans.

Discover: Timeless moral questions of betrayal and loyalty in the timely context of Crimean and Israeli history and politics.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316284332

Mystery & Thriller

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany

by Donald E. Westlake; edited by Levi Stahl

Many fans of crime fiction and capers consider Donald E. Westlake among the best writers in the field. He published more than 100 books and received a Grand Master citation from the Mystery Writers of America. Those who love his work and such memorable characters as Parker, John Dortmunder and Sam Holt can now rejoice; collected here are essays, letters (one to Stephen King), interviews, an autobiographical fragment (in which he explains why being born in Brooklyn saved his infant life) and a recipe for John Dortmunder's companion May's tuna casserole. Some pieces have never been published before. All this is thanks to editor Levi Stahl, promotions manager at the University of Chicago Press.

As Lawrence Block writes in his foreword, Westlake never wrote a "bad sentence, a clumsy paragraph, or a dull page." He was also a "wonderfully witty man." Westlake considered Peter Rabe's Kill the Boss Good-Bye one of the "most purely interesting crime novels ever written," but claimed that Rabe "wrote the best books with the worst titles of anybody I can think of."

In a piece on Rex Stout, he proclaimed Stout a "far better writing craftsman than Conan Doyle." In an essay on "Hardboiled Dicks," Westlake suggested that Raymond Chandler's "homosexual content" gave his stories their "texture and fascination." Also included is a lengthy list of book titles Westlake never used, including Read Me (an apt directive for any of his books). As Stahl writes in his introduction, this is a "book for fans... lots of us." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A wonderful collection of Westlake-on-Westlake odds and ends.

University of Chicago Press, $18, paperback, 9780226121819

To Dwell in Darkness

by Deborah Crombie

In the 16th entry in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie (The Sound of Broken Glass), Duncan and Gemma are still juggling their intense jobs with their hectic home life (they have a foster daughter, two sons from previous marriages, plus a small menagerie of pets). Gemma, a Detective Inspector in South London, is investigating the rape and murder of a young girl. Duncan, recently demoted from Scotland Yard, is heading up a major-incident team in Holborn.

Duncan's team is called in to St. Pancras Station when a protest goes awry and fire breaks out. Someone (a man?) dies horribly in the conflagration, and the closure of this major transit hub interrupts train service across England and Europe. Duncan's team is under pressure from the higher-ups to assess quickly not only who died but also whether the apparent self-immolation was a terrorist attack or an accident. Struggling to cooperate with team members resentful of his appointment, Duncan finds himself searching for the truth through unofficial channels. But will his investigation put him at risk of more than another career setback? Meanwhile, Gemma is struggling to find hard evidence to link the dead girl to the man she believes to be guilty.

To Dwell in Darkness showcases Crombie's trademark blend of happy family minutiae and disturbing murder details. But the darkness of the crimes spills over into the protagonists' household, creating a sense of conspiracy and unease that will keep readers anxiously turning the pages. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Duncan Kincaid investigates a fiery attack at St. Pancras Station while Gemma James searches for a child's killer.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062271600

The Stone Wife

by Peter Lovesey

At a Bath auction house, professor John Gildersleeve, an authority on Chaucer, is bidding on a medieval stone statue that possibly depicts the Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales. Armed robbers try to steal it, and in an attempt to stop them, Gildersleeve is killed. Superintendent Peter Diamond, head of Bath CID, and his team are bewildered by the crime. Who would try to steal a massive stone statue of dubious provenance? It's possible that the statue wasn't the real target; Gildersleeve's planned attendance at the auction was widely known, so any of his potential enemies could be sure to catch him there.

As the team struggles to uncover a motive, the statue sits in Diamond's office, looming. The detective starts to believe that the Wife of Bath is mocking him for his ineffective investigation as he continues to interview Gildersleeve's colleagues and family. When Sergeant Ingeborg Smith finds an unlikely lead and goes undercover into a world of guns and gangsters to look for answers, her dangerous mission contrasts with the erudite literary circles in which Diamond mingles.

The Stone Wife, the 14th book in the Peter Diamond series by Peter Lovesey (The Tooth Tattoo), will appeal to fans of the series. Its slightly absurd premise might not be the best starting point for a new reader, but Diamond's short temper and quirky investigative tactics are still pleasing, and readers familiar with English literature are sure to love all the Chaucerian allusions. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Superintendent Peter Diamond investigates a murder with a Chaucerian twist.

Soho Crime, $26.95, hardcover, 9781616953935

Food & Wine

We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America's Craft Brewers

by Sean Lewis

Sean Lewis was working as a sportswriter in 2010 when he got his first writing assignment from Beer Advocate--a profile of the infant Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, Mass. He worked there as an unpaid intern, learning the brewing ropes, and admired what he calls "the Tao of the brewmaster." Many brewery tours and interviews later, in We Make Beer, he relates the "spirit and artistry" of craft brewers from coast to coast, from garages and barns to the largest brewhouses in the nation.

Lewis visits with major players (Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada, Stone), younger, smaller efforts (Nebraska, Jackalope), brewpubs and production breweries, and explores various approaches to the concept of growth. For example, Sheepscot Valley Brewing Company has chosen to stay local to Whitefield, Maine, and the community has repaid that effort, while West Coasters Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas have recently opened East Coast locations to serve their expanding markets. In language that will make readers thirst for a well-crafted pint, and with graceful transitions between topics, Lewis undertakes what is clearly a labor of love--much like the businesses he writes about. His celebration of the women and men of craft brewing is both accessible to the novice (see his one-page appendix on the brewing process, and explanation of the pronunciation of "wort") and thoroughly rewarding for the beer aficionado. A comment about a collaboration between three breweries is equally applicable to the larger concept of Lewis's book: "It just seemed like a fun thing to do." --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Anecdotes and observations of American craft brewing that will make readers thirsty.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250017710

Biography & Memoir

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League

by Jeff Hobbs

Robert Peace was born in 1980 in a Newark, N.J., ghetto. His parents had high hopes for him, pushing him to receive the best education possible, though his father ultimately ended up in jail and his mother struggled to make ends meet. Still, their efforts paid off: despite growing up in a city riddled with drugs and gangs, Peace succeeded in high school and earned a place at Yale, where he graduated with distinction with degrees in molecular biochemistry and biophysics. At age 30, he was shot to death in a marijuana den in the basement of a Newark home. Jeff Hobbs (The Tourists), Peace's college roommate, asks the obvious questions in The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: How could this happen, and why?

Hobbs captures Peace's life with great detail, assembling observations and thoughts from those who knew the promising man before, during and after his Yale years, and makes it clear when assumptions have been made in place of records or hard facts. One part biography and one part study of poverty in the United States, Hobbs's account of his friend's life and death highlights how our pasts shape us, and how our eternal search for a place of safety and belonging can prove to be dangerous. Peace's life was indeed short and tragic, but Hobbs aims to guarantee that it will not go unmarked; this affecting story is a tribute to the many people that Peace touched while he lived, and a lens through which we can better understand poverty and opportunity after his death. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A heartbreaking biography of one man's short life that shines a light on poverty in the United States.

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 9781476731902

Social Science

A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention

by Matt Richtel

In 2006, 19-year-old Reggie Shaw was headed to work when he veered over the double line in the center of the road and skimmed the side of an oncoming car, sending it spiraling out of control; the crash took the lives of both of that car's occupants. Investigators subpoenaed Shaw's cell phone records and found that he had been sending and receiving text messages in the minutes--and seconds--leading up to the accident.

What followed was a years-long legal battle as the state of Utah struggled with the issues involving texting while driving, and how much control the state could exert over drivers' actions behind the wheel. Ultimately, Shaw's own testimony proved indispensable in pushing through legislation that would limit drivers' use of cell phones and make more people aware of the dangers of texting and driving.

Matt Richtel won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times series on the subject of distracted driving; A Deadly Wandering is his account of Shaw's accident and the ensuing legal battles. Not content with simple reportage, Richtel weaves in accounts from neuroscientists who are studying distraction, technology and how we can become addicted to our devices. Though Richtel sometimes offers too much detail, presenting more biographies of the players in the court case than might be necessary, his book ultimately serves as a testament to the power of journalism to retell a story with added layers for maximum impact. In a world where 89% of American adults believe it's dangerous to text and drive (though 64% still admit that they do it), that impact is clearly needed. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A personal and emotional account of the consequences of distracted driving, combined with a scientific look at how technology interacts with our brains.

Morrow, $28.99, hardcover, 9780062284068

Children's & Young Adult

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen

Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen strike gold again with this charming addition to the Mercy Watson story-verse.

Devotees of the beginning reader series will recognize Leroy Ninker, former thief and current concessionaire at the Bijou Drive-In, kicking off this early chapter book series. Leroy, a small man with a big dream, wants to be a cowboy. He has boots, a hat, a lasso and ambition. But there's one thing he lacks--a horse. When an ad for a horse appears in the local paper, Leroy sets off to "take fate in his hands and wrestle it to the ground" and find a true equine wonder. What he finds instead is Maybelline, "a particular horse" with a big personality. For both, it's love at first sight. In order to take good care of her, Leroy must remember three things: Maybelline loves compliments, Maybelline loves grub, and Maybelline hates being alone. When Leroy inadvertently forgets one of the three, disaster strikes and Leroy must make it right.

As with her Mercy Watson books, DiCamillo manages something extremely difficult in an early reader series--a delicious sense of language that is playful and poetic while also staying accessible and appropriate. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is full of immensely likable characters, unexpected plot twists and humor that will appeal equally to kids and adults. Chris Van Dusen's personality-filled illustrations perfectly complement the writing, making this a very enjoyable read-aloud. Leroy and Maybelline contribute greatly to the wonderfully wacky world of Deckawoo Drive in a tale the whole family will enjoy. --Kristen McLean, former head of the Association of Booksellers for Children, founder and CEO of Bookigee

Discover: Two-time Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo and artist Chris Van Dusen present a hilarious early chapter book extension of Mercy Watson's world.

Candlewick, $12.99, hardcover, 96p., ages 6-9, 9780763663391

Lockwood & Co.: The Whispering Skull

by Jonathan Stroud

Fans of The Screaming Staircase, book one in Jonathan Stroud's (Bartimaeus quartet) excellent Lockwood & Co. series, will be happy to reconnect with this team of appealing psychic investigation agents for a second installment. From genteel Anthony Lockwood, head of Lockwood & Co. Agency, to scruffy, research-loving George and Lucy, who can hear spirits speak, there is plenty of chemistry among this group. Their job is to rid London of malevolent ghosts, while trying to stay one step ahead of their rivals at the Fittes Agency.

With London overrun with supernatural activity, Lockwood & Co. is hired to oversee the exhumation of a dangerous grave. The grave, which belongs to a dark arts practitioner who died horrifically, is thought to house a "Type Two Visitor." When they open the coffin to seal the bones "with a bit of silver," a terrible relic is found, and George's fascination with it allows the nasty ghost to escape. When the relic itself goes missing, Lockwood & Co. are pitted against a Fittes team headed by the odious Quill Kipps, to locate the relic before it falls into the wrong hands.

This second book neatly wraps up its investigation, while leaving a few loose threads to be examined in future episodes. The Whispering Skull blends a suspenseful, creepy mystery with a fine touch of wry humor. Readers will eagerly await the third episode in this charmingly gruesome series. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: An action-packed supernatural thriller, with plenty of personality to keep readers hooked.

Disney/Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 448p., ages 8-12, 9781423164920

The Iron Trial: Magisterium: Book 1

by Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

Twelve-year-old Callum "Call" Hunt doesn't fit in at school. He has a mangled leg, a pronounced limp, an acerbic wit and a reclusive father. But Call has even more worries. At 12, all children with magical potential are summoned to the Magisterium for the Iron Trial, a test to determine who has enough ability to train to be a mage, a master of magic. Call's father believes magic is evil, and blames a mage war for his wife's death when Call was young. "When mages go to war, which is often, they don't care about the people who die because of it." Call tries to fail, but discovers instead that he has so much potential, he could be dangerous without training. At the Magisterium, he thrives for the first time in his life. He learns mage history, and that they are training to fight an evil mage, the Enemy of Death, Constantine Madden. A tentative truce has kept him at bay but his threat is ever-present, and he is expected to resurface. While Call studies magic, he learns even more about himself, his family and his future.

Holly Black (Doll Bones) and Cassandra Clare (the Mortal Instruments series) stylistically complement each other. The novel brims with magic in a fantasy that breezes along with snappy dialogue and quick pacing, plus a surprise twist. It's sure to attract even the most reluctant readers and to keep them returning for the episodes to come. While Call's adventures are just right for middle grade, the story will also appeal to Black's and Clare's myriad YA fans. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: A high-profile collaboration that launches a projected five-book fantasy series for middle graders about friendship, destiny and magic.

Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780545522250

Powered by: Xtenit