Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 6, 2015

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

'You Can't Fall Off a Mountain' of Books

High on my list of 1,000 things I'll never do before I die is rock climbing, but I was absolutely mesmerized last month during the 19-day quest by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson to conquer the summit of El Capitan's Dawn Wall in Yosemite Park.

John Muir described El Capitan in his book, Yosemite, as "a plain, severely simple, glacier-sculptured face of granite, the end of one of the most compact and enduring of the mountain ridges, unrivaled in height and breadth and flawless strength."

The Dawn Wall quest inspired another expedition--one closer to my bookish heart--during which I discovered Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley: Celebrating the Park at 150 by Peter Galassi. The term "coffee-table book" does not begin to do this work justice. "Monumental" seems a more appropriate description of the approximately 150 images by the legendary photographer, including stunning shots of Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, Royal Arches and, yes, El Capitan.

As I was closely following the climb by Caldwell and Jorgeson, I also learned about Valley Uprising, an intense and entertaining new documentary film that chronicles their predecessors in Yosemite. I was surprised to discover a link to a novel that had a profound impact on me a few decades ago.

NPR noted that the film's story "begins in the 1950s, when beatnik culture was emerging in San Francisco, just 300 miles from Yosemite." Nick Rosen, who co-wrote and directed the documentary with Peter Mortimer, said, "This was really not only the birth of climbing but the birth of American counterculture. A lot of these early climbers were inspired by a book Jack Kerouac wrote in 1958 called The Dharma Bums."

Full circle: "Ah Japhy you taught me the final lesson of them all, you can't fall off a mountain," Smith (Kerouac) says. Japhy (Gary Snyder) replies: "And that's what they mean by the saying, When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing." --Robert Gray, contributing editor

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Ella Leya: The Power to Change the Ending

Ella Leya was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and received asylum in the United States in 1990. She is a composer and singer, and lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., and London. We recently had the opportunity to interview her and discuss folklore, art and her forthcoming debut novel, The Orphan Sky (our review is below).

How much of your novel is autobiographical?

When you start writing, you want to do everything according to your own life story. Then all the borders begin to blend, and after working back and forth and writing and revisions, you almost lose track of what's real and what's fictional. I grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, in a family that was very intelligent and quite high standing. My mom was a famous pediatrician in Baku, and my dad was the main engineer of five subway systems in the Soviet Union. I had a sister, a great classical pianist, so Leila is in a way a combined character of my sister and myself. I studied violin then switched to piano. The green door that opens and sabotages Leila's very cloudless Communist childhood partly is fictional, partly is right. There was a tiny music store that opened across the street from my school, and when I was 13 years old, I broke all the rules--I wasn't supposed to sneak inside it. That's where I heard jazz for the first time, and it shocked me beyond belief. All my love and passion for music was tested because I just knew that that's what I wanted to do, not just Beethoven and Chopin and Mozart. I wanted to do something with jazz because it was so real and so visceral.

Is your creative process the same for music and writing?

It is a natural transition. I was always in love with Russian poets of the Silver Age: Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai Gumilev, Osip Mandelstam. They made me see and express the world through musical metaphors. I started studying English through listening to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. I think that I caught a bug, poetic expression. When I came to America, I came with my little boy, and he learned English much quicker than I did. We'd spend a lot of nights in the hospital when he was sick, and he was writing poetry, I was writing music. That was my introduction to expressing myself through words.

I lost my son, and that horrible sense of loss and loneliness.... First I tried music. I recorded all the songs that we created together. Then I felt that I ran out of notes, and that's when I turned to words and I started writing. First it was just a chance to relive our past and look for some answers.

Did you find those answers?

I think that art never can answer questions. It only can create more questions, and maybe that's what's most beautiful to think about--it gives a sense of continuity.

How do you turn art and music into such beautiful literary imagery, particularly in a second language?

I always felt that whatever it is, melody, or combination of colors, or a beautiful line, if you can put it in words, they don't necessarily have to be understood. But I would write a line, and then I would bother all my friends: "Do you think that Americans will understand what I'm trying to say?" I had that freedom of putting my second language forward in several combinations, creating a mosaic of my feelings, and that's what I always did with music. I believe both mediums have close ties in terms of melody, rhythm, modulations, changing of the key. Schubert described the E minor key as a maiden in a white dress with a red rose. Kandinsky generally painted using music polyphonies, Bach's polyphony. Conflicts of colors, melodies, connected with spontaneous images of nature, gave me the tools to express feelings--hopefully understandably enough.

You weave several folktales into your narrative. Are they the stories of your childhood?

Yes, especially the Maiden Tower legend. Maiden Tower is that place in the past where all dreams begin. To me, legends are ways to expand, to add an additional dimension to a feeling. It's like a treasure chest, and every time you open it, you find another compartment that you missed last time--whether it's wisdom, whether it's just a tiny little nuance of the relationship. When I grew up, I always had a book of legends and fairy tales under my pillow. I believed that if I had them there, then something will come into my head.

Maiden Tower legend was the first legend I think I heard. My mom took my sister and me to the top of Maiden Tower, and she told us the legend of the girl who fell in love with a young knight. But her father--this was Byzantine times and incest was quite normal--the shah, her father, wanted to marry his daughter, and she, in order to delay the process, asked him to build a tower that would reach the sky, hoping that he will change his decision. He didn't; the tower was built. The lover came for her and had a battle with her father and won, but the princess saw the battle from the tower and thought her father won, so she threw herself into the Caspian Sea.

I remember climbing those stairways to the top of Maiden Tower, hoping that I will find this princess before she leaps into the sky, into the sea, and that I can stop her, be two minutes early to let her know that it's a mistake! I wanted to take that legend and believe that I had this power to change it, and in this novel, I think that I satisfied my childhood desire to alter the ending, that at the end, there is some kind of solution.

The aesthetics of the East are so interesting even when applied to the stark period of 1970s Soviet Azerbaijan. They helped me to show that underneath that starkness, there was the real, ancient soul. I hope that folklore helped me to bring it to the surface.

The Orphan Sky highlights other conflicts and inconsistencies in Leila's Communist world. Is that what you felt as a teenager?

I called it the kingdom of darkness. It's this terrible constant game of truth and lies, darkness and light. Leila is trying to find light. She loses her ability to play because her soul is filled with darkness. How do you get back to music, if you have darkness in your soul? I have to admit this is what I've been living for many years, despite all successes and failures. To overcome darkness in your soul is a much more difficult challenge, and Leila lives with it for years, even after she escapes the external darkness. She still cannot achieve freedom because of that, and I think that this is me. I always say that I'm half romantic, half terrible cynic because of my upbringing. Because there's something we carry in our souls throughout life, me and a lot of my friends. That's our inheritance from the Communist past. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Book Candy

50 Books About the Female Experience; What TV Characters Read

Noting that "classic, canonical growing-up books, at least in American culture, tend to represent the male experience," Flavorwire featured a "girl canon: 50 essential books about the female experience."


Buzzfeed tuned in to "9 books that television's most famous characters read for fun."


Thought Catalog divulged "17 times your love of books was officially out of control."


To mark the late author's 101st birthday, Dazed gathered a collection of "things you might not know about William S. Burroughs," including: "He really liked cats."


Sophia Tobin, author of The Widow's Confession, chose her "top 10 novels featuring works of art" for the Guardian.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Sparrow

In Mary Doria Russell's debut novel, The Sparrow (Random House), first published in 1996, humankind discovers an alien world called Rakhat, on which live two races known as the Runa and the Jana'ata. The Jesuit order sends a secret mission, led by Father Emilio Sandoz, to travel to Rakhat on a starship built from an asteroid and make contact with the aliens. Decades later, Sandoz returns to Earth as the expedition's sole survivor and is subsequently interrogated as part of a Jesuit inquest. The story switches chapter-by-chapter between flashbacks to the expedition and Sandoz's interrogation in 2059. The book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and in 1998 Russell followed up with a sequel called Children of God. On March 3, Ecco will publish her next book, Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral, the subject of our Maximum Shelf this week.

"There was a time I required all staff to have read The Sparrow," said Valerie Koehler,  owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex. "Over the years, that has changed, but not our love for this parable of human nature set in the future. There is one scene on the asteroid that will change your life!"

Book Review


The Orphan Sky

by Ella Leya

In a debut novel devastating both in its sorrow and its beauty, Azerbaijani-American musician Ella Leya delves into the oppression of artists under the Soviet regime as well as the human spirit's unending capacity to follow art and music to freedom against all odds.

In 1979 in Baku, Azerbaijan, Leila epitomizes the perfect Soviet teenager. She proves her dedication to her government by competing for the glory of her homeland as a gifted concert pianist. Leila, daughter of a prominent oilman and born into privilege, lives a life with advantages, such as residence in a luxury apartment and access to music lessons. When Comrade Farhad, an important city committee member, judges Leila's attitude too elitist, she redeems herself by spying on a suspected capitalist sympathizer who runs a music shop.

Expecting corruption, she instead finds Tarhid, a passionate consumer and creator of art, music and literature whose time in the West opened his eyes to a liberated world. He unveils Communism's hypocrisy, showing her the poverty in their allegedly classless city and his family's sad history; he also introduces her to the smoky, forbidden flavor of jazz.

Leya captures a tense period in the history of a country that blended Turkish, Persian and Soviet cultures, where communist corruption mingled with the remnants of sharia law. She inexorably shrinks the cage around Leila until her wings beat at the bars and she must show that she is no canary but rather the Firebird of her homeland's folktales. Breathing music and color into the direst moments with her lyrical prose, Leya shows that she herself is a talent who cannot be confined. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A brilliant young pianist finds herself at odds with her strict Communist upbringing in 1979 Azerbaijan.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781402298653

Funny Girl

by Nick Hornby

In his novels, Nick Hornby (About a Boy) has demonstrated a keen talent for warmhearted portrayals of flawed but ultimately sympathetic characters. Funny Girl, the story of a reluctant beauty queen who becomes an unlikely BBC sitcom star in mid-1960s London, shares the same delightful literary DNA.

From the moment Barbara Parker renounces the crown of Miss Blackpool and heads south to London in pursuit of her ambition to become the British Lucille Ball, it's clear there is something special about her. The theatrical agent who discovers her and wants to turn her into a swimsuit model is quickly disappointed when Barbara improbably finds herself a leading role on a television comedy that focuses on the domestic life of a young housewife and her husband, an employee of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Her show is entitled Barbara (and Jim), the parentheses a not so subtle statement about nascent feminism and the impetus for one of the story's many sharp comic scenes. The novel's plot traces the TV show's steadily growing popularity over several seasons (alongside the tensions that creates in Sophie's personal life), as it deals more frankly with sexual and gender issues.

Hornby's genial temperament and accessible style make it easy to become engrossed in the emotional lives of Sophie and her colleagues. As much as Funny Girl provides an entertaining glimpse inside the world of television and of a society at a time of ferment that will leave it forever changed, it's a timeless, winning portrait of a young woman striving to realize her life's dream. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A gently humorous story of a young woman's rise to stardom on a 1960s-era British sitcom.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594205415

Get in Trouble: Stories

by Kelly Link

Attention, fans of George Saunders and Karen Russell: if you haven't yet read the stories of Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners), jump now at the chance to read her collection Get in Trouble. Link graduated from the steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy schools of writing, so in her world, there's no idea or situation too strange to explore.

"The Summer People" is an O. Henry Prize winner that turns "there's no place like home" on its head. Teenage Fran takes care of homes that belong to the summer people. One is inhabited by strange creatures who have created a "pocket universe" within their house--here, a full tent folds up to fit in your wallet and a bed, when slept in, reveals "your heart's desire." Fran, bored with her work, is under a magical contract to stay unless she can find someone to take her place.

Young girls build pyramids on the California coast in the dark "Valley of the Girls," where most people have a "Face," a sort of real-life stand-in who interacts with the world on a person's behalf. A girl with two shadows inhabits "Light." A dilapidated Land of Oz theme park is home to a young female superhero in "Origin Story."

Link tiptoes up behind these characters and gives them a push; get in trouble, she seems to say, show us what you can do. She perfectly captures the same weirdness of the classic Adventures into the Unknown comics, but her controlled, simple prose makes the unreal seem downright dazzlingly real. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Nine bizarre and fanciful worlds in Link's personal fifth dimension--her amazing imagination.

Random House, $25, hardcover, 9780804179683

Blue Stars

by Emily Gray Tedrowe

The questionable health-care and housing conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center serve as the inspiration for Blue Stars, which imagines the experiences of two very different families brought together at Reed by their wounded soldiers.

Ellen Silverman, a literature professor at the University of Wisconsin, is the widowed mother of adult children Jane and Wesley and legal guardian of Michael, a high-school friend of Wesley. At Jane's 19th-birthday dinner, Michael offhandedly mentions that he's enlisted in the Marines. Jane is simply furious, while Ellen's responses to his departure for training and later deployment to Afghanistan are more complicated. When Michael's foot is nearly blown off and he's shipped to Walter Reed, Ellen knows she has to go to him, but she's unsure what else will be expected of her.

Personal trainer Lacey Diaz is married to an Army Reserve captain and most of her friends in the Bronx are fellow "mil-wives" ready to support their troops and one another. Once Eddie ships off to Iraq, Lacey learns the hard way that much of the official support system for military families is sadly inadequate. By the time Eddie winds up at Reed, brain-injured and blinded, Lacey has grown accustomed to working the system, but the hospital presents a new set of challenges.

Emily Gray Tedrowe (Commuters) takes her time with Ellen and Lacey's individual experiences until the women meet at the hospital. Their alliance soon grows into a friendship, the kind that blooms in shared adversity. Blue Stars is a timely and engrossing novel of the challenges faced--and connections formed--on the home front during wartime. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: How wounded soldiers bring two women together at a troubled veterans' hospital.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250052483

The Big Seven: A Faux Mystery

by Jim Harrison

After prolific Jim Harrison mastered other genres, he turned to the mystery. The Great Leader introduced us to retired Detective Sunderson from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In The Big Seven, another "faux" mystery, Sunderson is enjoying rest and recuperation after a brief foray to New York City to track down his runaway adopted daughter.

Using $50,000 he secured via a creative bribery scam when he was in New York and now recovering from a fractured back that said scam led to, Sunderson has purchased a nice cabin in the woods to help fuel his fishing passion and control his drinking. But now he has to deal with the neighboring Ames family, fond of shooting at each other for fun and mistreating their women--a "human junk pile." He hires pretty Lily Ames to clean his cabin, but after finally settling in, all is disrupted when Lily is killed in a "duel" with her brother Tom, who had been abusing her for years.

Sunderson then hires Monica, Lily's sister, to help with cleaning, cooking and, unexpectedly, warm sexual sustenance. While Tom's recovering in the hospital from Lily's bullets, he's poisoned with cyanide. Days later, two more Ames men are poisoned--a woman's weapon. Monica? Harrison's trenchant, straightforward, nearly comma-less prose mirrors his detective. He's smart and honest, clear in his thoughts and feelings. Harrison lovingly shows us how this "lucky old fool" of a man tries to navigate the seven deadly sins, death and evil in rural Michigan. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Jim Harrison's "alter ego" detective is hard at work again trying to set things right, while drinking, fishing and big woods philosophizing.

Grove, $26, hardcover, 9780802123336

Mystery & Thriller

The Kind Worth Killing

by Peter Swanson

In The Kind Worth Killing, a masterful modern reworking of Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, Peter Swanson (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart) introduces his two protagonists, Ted Severson and Lily Kintner, on an airplane. Ted is a wealthy, successful businessman who discovered that his beautiful bohemian artist wife is cheating on him with the contractor building their new dream home. Lily is a woman with a difficult past--some experience of unhappy families, cheating and murder. Playing a game of truth after several drinks and the full telling of his tale, Ted casually admits, "What I really want to do is kill her." And that makes sense to Lily: "Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner...."

The resulting intrigues follow Highsmith's outstanding original in atmosphere and spirit more than in specific details, which is a fine choice, because the new plot lines showcase suspenseful twists and turns, expert pacing and a breathless race to a surprise ending. Thus Swanson brings the best elements of Strangers on a Train--compelling but increasingly worrisome characters, the momentum of a chance meeting--to a fresh new setting, split between the Boston metro area and the rugged coast of Maine. Even readers unfamiliar with Highsmith will be enchanted by this captivating, powerful thriller about sex, deception, secrets, revenge, the strange things we get ourselves wrapped up in, and the magnetic pull of the past. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A modern retelling of Strangers on a Train that is every bit as chilling as the original, with new twists.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062267528


Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made

by Richard Rhodes

The Spanish Civil War was a precursor to World War II, and served as a practice field where medical and military leaders experimented with new technologies and refined strategies. Creative minds from around the world drew inspiration and horror from the conflict, yielding Picasso's Guernica, Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Miro's El Segador and Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. In Hell and Good Company, Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) examines the Spanish Civil War not in exhaustive chronology or complex international intrigue--although both are present--but in its gifts, good and bad, to the world that followed.

As Germany and Italy begrudgingly contributed to the Spanish nationalist (fascist) side, and the Soviet Union just as reluctantly supplied the republicans, new military technologies met old. Advances in aircraft were matched by new strategies, including "carpet bombing," a term used for the carnage at Guernica. In response, doctors and nurses from Spain and abroad innovated as well: while reliable blood typing and preservation for blood banking had been under development since World War I, safe transfusions in the field were born in the Spanish Civil War, as was the autochir (a mobile, sterile surgical unit).

Rhodes follows various individuals, famous (Hemingway, Picasso) and less so (volunteer doctors, nurses and soldiers from around the world), providing a vivid, wrenching view of war, art and love. While it scrutinizes world-changing new technologies and ways of life, Hell and Good Company is also a fine, accessible introductory history of the Spanish Civil War, and an evocative human story. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The Spanish Civil War, and its medical, military and artistic contributions to modernity.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 9781451696219


This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?: From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets of What's Inside Everyday Products

by Patrick Di Justo

This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth was inspired by the following drunken inquiry at a Super Bowl party: "Did you ever, like, really wonder what's, like, really in [Kraft Easy Cheese]?" This simple question evolved into a monthly column for Wired magazine where Patrick Di Justo investigated the ingredients in common household items--from food to lotion to just about everything.

Di Justo's intent is not to provide "shocking stories of the gigantic corporation conspiracy to poison America through its processed foods... [my] purpose isn't to scare you, or to enrage you, or to get you to e-mail your congressman." Di Justo is simply curious, so his inclusion of chef Alton Brown's (Good Eats) witty asides in the first entry on A.1. Steak Sauce is a perfect fit. Di Justo also interviews scientists, doctors, inventors, food manufacturers and product marketers to discover what each ingredient is and provides the information in a humorous, easy-to-understand manner. Some of the more interesting items under the microscope include Beano ("Like the Kardashians, industrial-quality potato starch is a flavorless, odorless, colorless substance that exists mainly to take up space") and coffee ("cocainelike brain chemicals and juice of death"). Di Justo also includes a section on things we don't put in our mouths, examining products like Axe deodorant, contact lens cleaner solution, mascara and Noxzema. Di Justo's curiosity is contagious--and quite funny--and the result is primarily informative, secondarily entertaining, and only slightly worrisome --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Exactly what ingredients make up the common products we put in our mouths and on our bodies.

Three Rivers Press, $15, paperback, 9780804139885


A Matter of Breeding: A Biting History of Pedigree Dogs and How the Quest for Status Has Harmed Man's Best Friend

by Michael Brandow

A Matter of Breeding should be required reading before the purchase of any pure-bred dog. After spending years as a dog walker in New York City, caring for breeds whose exaggerated anatomical features clearly reduced their quality of life, Michael Brandow--whose background includes journalism and community activism--decided to explore why so many dog owners embrace inbreeding despite the great cost to their canine companions. He begins with the wildly popular English Bulldog, which requires "rape stands" and Caesarean births to breed and is so compromised physically that a simple walk around the block is torture, and moves on to include many other favorite breeds like the Boston terrier (a descendent of today's "pitbull"), Labrador and Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds.

Since studies confirm that inbreeding leads to higher rates of cancer, structural deformities, eye and ear infections, skin conditions and many more genetic afflictions, Brandow wondered where the desire for physical characteristics that impair quality of life first arose (Victorian England and Nazi Germany), and why so many "dog lovers" support an industry that perpetuates suffering. He concludes: "Dog breeding... is a favorite hiding place for values and beliefs we're no longer supposed to have... [including the] crackpot notion that officially 'recognized' dogs are racially superior to dogs that are not.... If we're going to impose human values and belief on non-humans, shouldn't we at least use the ones we profess to have?" Brandow argues our canine companions should no longer be sacrificed to outdated beliefs in eugenics, racial inequality and class distinctions. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: The price pure-bred dogs pay for superficial standards of beauty and why dog lovers should refuse to contribute to the senseless suffering of our canine companions.

Beacon Press, $18, paperback, 9780807033432


S O S: Poems 1961-2013

by Amiri Baraka; edited by Paul Vangelisti

S O S: Poems, 1961-2013 provides a comprehensive compendium of the best of Amiri Baraka's 50 years of poetry. Selected by Los Angeles poet, broadcaster and anthologist Paul Vangelisti, these poems cover the modern African-American struggle for freedom and identity--but always in the lively, street-savvy, music-centric, angry voice with which Baraka shouted on the doorsteps of academic critics, Harlem organizers and Upper West Side intellectuals.

Forerunners of rap and hip-hop, his poems toast the earthy heart of the black man's experience. In these concluding lines to "Monk's World" from his 1995 collection Funk Lore, Baraka sings of the power and beauty of black culture:

"Oh, man! Monk was digging Trane now 
w/o a chaser he drank himself 
in. & Trane reported from  
the 6th or 7th planet deep in 
the Theloniuscape.

Where fire engines screamed the blues 
& night had a shiny mouth 
& scatted flying things." 

Even in his mellowing old age, Baraka could brandish his political voice, as in the recent poem "Mississippi Goddamn!" (referencing Nina Simone's 1964 song) to challenge black support of Hillary Clinton:

"I saw Hillary Clinton in Mississippi with two giant coons
One on each side, like Mandrake the Magician
With her own two Lothars...
Is this the meaning of integration or the effects of segregation?"

S O S is the perfect place to hear the voice that influenced, if not defined, decades of black political struggle when few were listening--and even fewer were doing anything. Baraka did something. Man, he did plenty. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A well-selected compendium of Amiri Baraka's consistently provocative, lyrical poetry.

Grove Press, $30, hardcover, 9780802123350

Children's & Young Adult

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

by Sally M. Walker, illus. by Jonathan D. Voss

Winnie-the-Pooh fans can get the real story behind the bear that inspired A.A. Milne's stories of the Hundred Acre Wood in Sally M. Walker's (Written in Bone) picture book account.

Veterinarian Harry Colebourn spies the cub from a train window and hops out onto the platform to "see the bear for himself." When the man holding the cub's leash says, "She's for sale," Harry buys her for $20 and climbs back on the train. Debut artist Jonathan D. Voss shows a rail car filled with men in uniform, as Harry assures his captain that he'll take care of the cub. "Winnipeg can be our mascot," Harry says. (He named the bear after their military company's hometown.) Several vignettes depict man and bear playing hide and seek and sharing bear hugs, and Winnie sleeping under Harry's cot. When the company ships out to England, Winnie goes, too, and fares better than poor seasick Harry does. But after the soldiers are ordered to a battlefield in France, Harry must leave Winnie behind in the London Zoo. The scenes of Henry and Winnie parting are among Voss's most emotional paintings. But readers will be uplifted by images of Winnie settling into her new surroundings and a blossoming friendship with frequent visitor named Christopher Robin that served as inspiration to the boy's author father. An endnote gives a timeline for the book's events.

Children will be delighted to learn more about an extraordinary bear whose spirit is so aptly captured in Milne's stories. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The story of the real bear that inspired the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh tales by A.A. Milne.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-9, 9780805097153

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

by Kat Yeh

In Kat Yeh's (The Magic Brush) first novel, she introduces a smart, winning narrator in 12-year-old narrator Galileo Galilei ("GiGi") Barnes.

As much as GiGi loves her older sister, DiDi, who's raised her ever since their mother's death, she misses her mother terribly. And somewhere deep down, she's not convinced her mother's dead. DiDi, determined to get her and GiGi out of their South Carolina trailer park, wins a bake-off contest to the tune of $1 million and moves them to Long Island in New York. Throughout the narrative, Yeh scatters recipes with funny names such as Mama's Turn Over a New Leaf Turnovers, Love at First Salad and the title's Famous Twinkie Pie. Gigi also has her own Recipe for Success; chief among the ingredients is "hang out with real friends my own age." And that's what happens when she meets Trip: "I've always been what you might call a Front Row type of girl, but Trip led me all the way to the back," she says. Certain that her mother is still alive, GiGi returns to South Carolina to search for her. What she finds down South surprises her, and what she discovers about Trip (aka "Perfect Boy") and Mace (aka "the evil supervillain) surprises her, too.

GiGi's authentic voice will pull readers into her story, with universal themes of leaving a town you love, making a friend, having it threatened and redefining your recipe for success. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A smart, winning 12-year-old narrator being raised by her sister struggles to attain her "Recipe for Success."

Little, Brown, $17, hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9780316236621

Juna's Jar

by Jane Bahk, illus. by Felicia Hoshino

Debut author Jane Bahk introduces a charming young heroine with an imagination that helps her deal with her best friend leaving the neighborhood. 

After Juna's family empties the large jar of kimchi, she gets to keep it, and it becomes a vessel for flights of fancy. Juna and her best friend, Hector, use it in the park to capture a caterpillar. Felicia Hoshino's (A Place Where Sunflowers Grow) soft watercolor illustrations depict a diverse, thriving city neighborhood with small vibrant shops, people and pets. One morning, Hector isn't there when Juna goes to visit. His Abuelita takes Juna in her arms to tell her that Hector has moved away with his parents. Juna wasn't home when he came to say good-bye. The look in Juna's eyes expresses her profound sense of loss at Hector's departure. Her big brother, Minho, helps fill this void by buying a fish for her kimchi jar. While everyone else sleeps, "Juna put on a diving mask and fins and dove into the water." A Van Gogh–esque perspective of Juna's room gives way to an underwater scene of her swimming with her fish. Hoshino's playful approach makes clear what's real and what's in Juna's imagination.

The jar becomes a bean plant–turned-jungle, then a home for a cricket that takes her on a ride through the night sky, to Hector's house. The trip assures her of Hector's well-being, and opens her up to the prospect of a new friend by story's end. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A charming young heroine'ss imagination helps her deal with her best friend leaving the neighborhood.

Lee & Low, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-9, 9781600608537


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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