Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 13, 2015

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

Mastering Your Gadgets

If you're like me, you've picked up your computer skills from being shown something--usually too quickly--and supplemented that with the so-called "help" feature and some Google searches. You learn a task one way, then perhaps discover there is another way; one of life's great mysteries is that the other way is always shorter and easier. But usually you are just mired in habit (and frustration).

Help is at hand with Pogue's Basics by David Pogue (Flatiron Books, $19.99 paperback). It's subtitled Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. And Pogue delivers. I have a Mac, and now I know how to type accents and symbols with the option key. ¡ © ∞ π ! Those Google searches for tech support? If you add "solved" to your query, you'll see only the discussions where your question is answered. Even more basic: don't turn off your laptop during the week; just close the lid, and shut it down once a week or if you aren't going to use it for a few days. On/off in an instant.

Pogue offers camera tips, too: direct sunlight makes for terrible portraits, and how to make a tripod using a table lamp or an eyehook and string. Smart phones: how to find your lost phone, save a map to use offline, bring a wet phone back from the dead, and what Siri is actually good for. E-mail: use temporary e-mail addresses for verification, so spammers don't get your actual info; fake e-mail stories--verify with Google: as in Pogue's other chapters, much information will be obvious to many users, but not all--I just learned that if I want to search for dolphins (the creatures, not the team), I type dolphins -Miami, and the minus sign eliminates the city.

225 tips to make life easier, from gadget basics to social networks: tweet that! --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

Olen Steinhauer: Spinning Stories in the Shadow World

photo: Rana Faure

Dashiell Hammett Award winner Olen Steinhauer is a Fulbright scholar who lived for more than a decade in Europe, which often serves as a setting for his spy novels. The first, The Bridge of Sighs, was published in 2003. He's best known for his Tourist trilogy featuring spy Milo Weaver. Steinhauer's 10th and most recent novel, All the Old Knives, is a cat-and-mouse tale that unfolds between two spies over one dinner.

While reading All the Old Knives, it was fascinating to figure out Henry's and Celia's end games, to discern who was playing whom. Since you've said you sometimes don't know where your stories are headed, what surprises did you encounter while writing this?

Knives was different in that I had most of it in my head before I even started writing--and I was pretty sure who was playing whom--but the question of "why" took the longest to figure out. I tried a variety of solutions, many of them pretty complex, before settling on the simplest of explanations. And then I had to figure out how the story would resolve itself, which turned out to be a surprise to me. Another surprise, which I ended up slipping into the text almost without noticing it, was that later on all of this would be revisited by the FBI, a fact that's only hinted at.

What were some of the challenges in writing first-person narratives of two characters who may or may not be opponents?

I've done multiple-perspective stories plenty of times, but usually in third person. However, I write a very close third-person voice, where you only know what any particular character knows, so a lot of the challenges were the same. The primary challenge is to tell the same story from different perspectives without succumbing to repetition. First-person, particularly in a story like this, presents the additional challenge of writing characters who know a lot more than they're telling, which means you have to carefully direct their monologues so the reader doesn't feel like he's being cheated. It's a balancing act--be free with your character's story but not so free that you're giving away the secrets.

Did you find yourself liking one more than the other at times? Did your alliance shift depending on whose chapter you were writing?

Yes, I did move back and forth. Even though I knew, in general terms, the story I was telling, the details--the actual meat of the story--came along in the writing itself. Unlike some novelists, I don't come up with character studies or the like, so it's while I'm writing that I meet and get to know my characters, their likes and dislikes and histories. Each time I learn something new about them, I like them a little more, until by the end I like everyone equally. It was the same here. As far as my allegiance, it's always with the story more than the characters, whom I admittedly treat poorly.

Did Celia need to leave Vienna and the shadow world in order to get married and have kids, or could she have done that and remained an effective spy?

I don't think she needed to--married agents with kids do exist--but she wanted to. Getting married and having kids was less her goal than a means to leave the shadow world, which was what she really wanted, particularly after the disaster at Vienna Airport. She'd had enough. 

Must a good spy be rootless?

I'm not sure. I've written characters who are rootless, but that's usually because I'm writing characters who, like me, feel rootless and desperately want to be tied to something. In lieu of anything else, my characters try to find roots in their career. I do think a field agent needs to be comfortable in unexpected locales and situations, but it could be that having strong familial and national roots is the best way to remain secure in yourself when your life keeps throwing you curveballs.

Have you ever received feedback from a real spy about your work?

Not directly, but I've received Facebook likes from retired officers who have worked in the field. My books once received some very critical attention from the CIA's in-house journal, but what I've noticed over the years is this: The analytical part of the CIA, in Langley, notices the details I get wrong, while the part that works overseas, collecting information through personal relationships with assets, tends to be more generous with my work. Which is okay with me, since my interest lies less with the details of protocol (which I still try to get right) than with the psychological reality of running agents in foreign locales. Of course, I'd love to be appreciated by all, but we don't always get what we want.

While living in Eastern Europe, you existed in what you called a "third culture," in which you were neither a local nor a tourist. Was it like that when you moved back to the U.S.?

When you're a novelist, no matter where you live, there's always a bit of "third culture," simply because you work from home and live so much of your life in a fantasy world. And, yes, for a little while after returning, I felt like I was living in the same bubble I'd existed in in Budapest.

But it's been so much harder to maintain that bubble. The practicalities of American life, the monster that is American health insurance, the constant salesmanship of consumer society (which in a foreign country you're really separated from), negotiating the education system for my daughter, the roller-coaster ride of finding a house--all these things have shattered my bubble. It may be a good thing in the long run, bringing me closer to reality, but the way it's interfered with my writing habits has been difficult.

Since the deal with George Clooney and The Tourist fell through, has there been any other progress toward turning the Milo Weaver books into movies?

Last year or so, The Tourist was picked up again, this time by Sony, but I don't know that anything's been done with it. This is the nature of the beast--books are optioned in moments of excitement, and unless things coalesce quickly, the excitement begins to fade.

Which is why I'm happy that All the Old Knives was optioned by producers Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz. They like to move quickly, and very soon after me writing the script they were able to recruit the wonderful director Neil Burger and are now casting. That, as far as I can tell, is how to get things done in Hollywood: Move fast. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja

Book Candy

Reading Anywhere and Everywhere

Slate presented "Photographic Proof That New Yorkers Will Read Books Absolutely Anywhere," a series of images by Lawrence Schwartzwald. And there are more on Schwartzwald's Facebook page.


Forget reading a book. How about typing it or writing it out? The Guardian notes that while Tim Youd has typed up more than 30 books--and is currently typing Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis--Jorge Luis Borges anticipated the idea in his story "Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote."


"The 26 worst things that can happen to a book lover" include "sitting next to someone who keeps talking to you even though you are clearly reading," Buzzfeed reported.


To cheer us up, Flavorwire offered "25 essential books about death and grief."


Why travel to Europe when you can get the same experience here? The Culture Trip recommended the Albertine bookstore, which opened last September, "one of the top five places in New York City that take you on a Eurotrip."

Book Review


Where All Light Tends to Go

by David Joy

First-time novelist David Joy (author of the fly-fishing memoir Growing Gills) lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern North Carolina--the same isolated setting where Jacob McNeely, the 18-year-old narrator of Where All Light Tends to Go, struggles with the dead-end life fate seems to have handed him. Joy's grim but satisfying story of the McNeely family faithfully echoes the language and atmosphere of this largely lawless mountain culture, a place where few "ventured without a good four-wheel-drive and a chainsaw," where people's broke-down shacks sit among broke-down trucks and cars such that "the whole lot was in dire need of a tetanus shot."

Choking in the tight hold of a ruthless drug-dealing father and largely ignored by a drug-addicted mother, Jacob quits school to take up his father's trade in a place with few options. As he sees it: "Blood's thicker than water, and I was drowning in it." He finds hope in Maggie Jennings, a top student and his much-coveted lover, who is not like the "girls who'd been raised on mayonnaise sandwiches in the holler." Like the FX series Justified or AMC's Breaking Bad, Joy's novel may be driven by hillbilly characters and a dope-dealing plot, but its heart is in its circumscribed setting. Maggie can get away to college, but Jacob sees the only other way out in death--"a place where all light tends to go, and I reckon that was heaven." Grim perhaps, but a story skillfully written. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A first novel told by a young man trying to escape a violent father and a hardscrabble Appalachian county.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399172779

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

A promising law clerk and a fine aspiring actor lease a meager apartment in Manhattan. The friendship forged there between Jude St. Francis and Willem Ragnarsson lays the foundation for their many years together in A Little Life, the astonishing second novel by Hanya Yanagihara (The People in the Trees). Interwoven with these two are their close friends, frenetic artist JB and stalwart architect Malcolm. The foursome's dynamic relationships comprise a lush backdrop for the greater drama gradually unfolding in the decades of Jude's adulthood.

In a story with many moving pieces, Yanagihara fleshes out each character with an empathy that fully embraces their desires and revulsions, so that every break of trust, every tender moment, every secret revealed reverberates across the novel's dazzling panorama. Still, she never loses sight of its enigmatic hub: Jude St. Francis, a man of indeterminate race, with no relatives to speak of, a suspect lack of sexual expression, an excruciating disability he insists not be mentioned, and an entirely inscrutable childhood.

To his friends, Jude is conspicuous in his desire to go unnoticed in the modern era of identity politics, but how long can they maintain the charade of overlooking his vacillating health and psychological distress before Jude becomes a danger to himself? The power of Yanagihara's prose levitates even the heaviest of sorrows. She is a master observer of the human psyche, in all of its fits and starts, and A Little Life vibrates with the hope of personal redemption, delivering something far greater than its humble title presumes. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Hanya Yanagihara's potent second novel unearths secrets one man has kept meticulously since childhood as he gradually comes to trust a few special friends.

Doubleday, $30, hardcover, 9780385539258

Young Skins: Stories

by Colin Barrett

Set in and around the small town of Glanbeigh, Ireland, Colin Barrett's debut collection of short stories plunks readers deep in the nightlife and gritty underbelly of Glanbeigh's seedier side. His male characters are tough, hard-drinking thugs, drug dealers and general losers. The women these men ogle are just as hard, often saddled with kids born out of wedlock, who titillate the men out of boredom or in the hopes of a free drink. Barrett uses expressive details to instill a raw energy into his characters and sum them up in very few words, like his description of Nubbin Tansey, a "town tough and marginal felon" who enters a bar wearing a T-shirt, "exposing veined biceps as tough and gnarled as raw root vegetables." His two bodyguards are "twin slabbed stacks of the densest meat, their breezeblock brows unworried by any worm of cerebration."

Although the spiraling cesspools that constitute their day-to-day existence threaten to suck them in deeper and deeper, the characters are striving to do something decent and genuine with their lives. In "Calm with Horses," a young father named Arm makes a point of interacting with his handicapped son, even though Arm has just beaten up a child molester and is headed to conduct a drug deal. The boy in "The Clancy Kid" declares his love for a girl who has already denounced him. Despite their toughness, rough edges and use of foul language, Barrett's characters are likable, and they show a side of Ireland many may not be familiar with. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Stark and uncompromising stories of local Irish life.

Black Cat/Grove Press, $15, paperback, 9780802123329

Life or Death

by Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham takes a break from his series character Joseph O'Loughlin for the standalone Life or Death, about a man named Audie Palmer who escapes from prison one day before he's scheduled to be released. Why would he turn himself into a fugitive when he could've been a free man the following day?

Perhaps the answer lies in his past. In 2004, robbers hijacked an armored truck. Sheriff's deputies chased and killed two perpetrators when the truck crashed. Audie survived a shot to the head at the scene, pled guilty to being the driver and received a 10-year sentence. The $7-million haul, however, was never recovered.

After he breaks out of prison, Audie is spotted outside the house of the former deputy--now sheriff--who shot him. This sets off a manhunt by local and federal law enforcement officers, including Sheriff Valdez and FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness. When more deaths occur, all blamed on Audie, Furness begins to question "official" versions of events, going back to the armored truck hijacking.

Audie is a captivating character, enigmatically enduring hell in prison with a Zen-like attitude. What keeps him going is an old promise he made, and readers will be eager to discover what that promise is. Well-developed supporting characters are painted in shades of gray, their motivations not all bad or good but plausible. Robotham, an Australian, convincingly evokes the feel and rhythms of Texas and its people, while telling a story that's as beautiful as a wide-open sky and as full of heartache as a country love song. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A man escapes from prison one day before his release in order to keep an old promise.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 9780316252058


by David Vann

Aquarium starts unassumingly enough, suspended in the blue hush of a Seattle aquarium. David Vann (Dirt; Caribou Island) introduces the reader to 12-year-old Caitlin, the voice of this high-velocity narrative. In a novel rife with violent exchanges of power, it's one of few moments when life might be described as peaceful. Hold on to that feeling, it won't last long.

The novel hinges on an encounter between Caitlin and an elderly man at the aquarium, the implications of which threaten to shatter her precarious sense of family. Vann's greatest triumph is his illustration of the personae orbiting Caitlin like so many moons--her mother, Sheri, a volatile shipyard worker who feels robbed of her own adolescence; her mother's affable but ineffectual boyfriend, Steve, who fails to intercede during Sheri's bouts of rage; and Shalini, Caitlin's more-than-best-friend, whose refinement and international upbringing stand in stark contrast to the Seattle of Caitlin's life. Save for the tropical fish in their tanks, which she visits daily, she has known only a city cold and lacking in color. Vann includes helpful photographs of each underwater specimen, like the square-headed, grumpy silver ghost and twig-like, luminescent ghost pipefish.

Occasionally, the language falters--"I wanted all of the sadness to stop and everyone to just come together," says the otherwise eloquent Caitlin--but the dialogue is so sharp it's sometimes painful. Sheri's epithets are simultaneously stringent and sickeningly believable. Steve's kindly ineptitude is heartbreaking, then infuriating. Caitlin begins as a helpless child, but by the novel's close, she navigates her perilous circumstances with the grace of a fish in midstream. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: An unflinching novel about adolescent revelations and a family on the brink of implosion.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802123527

Mystery & Thriller

Who Buries the Dead

by C.S. Harris

In 1813, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is rather enjoying domesticity and his new son. But he's called to help the Bow Street magistrates yet again, when the body of a socially ambitious man is found on a bridge, with his head stuck atop a spike. The victim, Stanley Preston, is best known for three things: his cousin is the Home Secretary, he owns a large plantation in Jamaica and he's an obsessive collector of historical artifacts (and isn't too picky about their provenance)--which perhaps explains the coffin strap, reading "King Charles, 1648," found nearby.

Investigating Preston's life draws Devlin into the scary, hidden world of grave robbers and smugglers, as well as high-society events where government officials, debutantes, lords and plantation owners mingle. Using his own contacts, and those of his father-in-law, who is close to the Prince Regent, Devlin will stop at nothing to find Preston's murderer. Unfortunately for the safety of Devlin and his family, the killer is equally determined to keep his identity hidden.

With excellent historical detail, Harris again brings the Regency era to life in Who Buries the Dead, the 10th thriller starring Devlin. Who Buries the Dead also includes sly, tongue-in-cheek references to Jane Austen's books, since Jane herself is a close friend of Stanley Preston's daughter. Those who enjoy historical mysteries, Jane Austen and Regency fiction will enjoy Who Buries the Dead on its own. And longtime fans of the series will be happy to see intriguing developments in Sebastian's unduly complicated personal life. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A thrilling historical mystery set in Regency London.

New American Library, $24.95, hardcover, 9780451417565

Too Bad to Die

by Francine Mathews

In this historical thriller, Ian Fleming, tired of being a deskbound intelligence officer, spends his spare time writing stories featuring a British agent known as 007. But in November 1943, Fleming's real life becomes much more exciting than his imaginary one. He accompanies Winston Churchill's retinue to Egypt, where they convene with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, before heading on to Iran to meet with Joseph Stalin.

Fleming intercepts a message implying that a high-ranking Nazi spy known as the Fencer, who has been outwitting the Allies for years, plans to infiltrate the Tehran summit and kill the three world leaders. In his race to stop the assassinations, Fleming will have to overcome the doubts of his superiors, the daggers of his enemies and the determination of the Fencer.

Both an intense thriller and the gripping life story of a complicated man, Too Bad to Die will keep its readers on the edge of their seats. Mathews has done an excellent job of reimagining history, as she did in her earlier novel Jack 1939, and creating suspenseful yet plausible events. Those familiar with the real Ian Fleming's novels will appreciate the sly nods to the James Bond oeuvre, as when Fleming encounters a Soviet spy who orders his martini "shaken, not stirred." Likewise, Mathews portrays the major historical figures--FDR and Churchill among them--with apt believability. Too Bad to Die is a thrilling and enjoyable read, a mystery not to be missed. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In 1943, Ian Fleming must race to defeat a Nazi superspy in order to save the lives of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594631795

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Edge of Dark

by Brenda Cooper

Charlie Windar is a ranger on Lym, one of the last surviving planets in human galactic civilization. He helps return the planet to a more primitive state, healing it after humankind's long exploitation of its natural resources. Nona Hall is a wealthy young woman born on the Diamond Deep, a planet-sized space station containing most of the current human population. Nona hires Charlie for a tour of Lym after her father dies with a parting request that she "see a sky." Nona's childhood friend Chrystal lives in a quad marriage aboard space station High Sweet Home, working with her three partners to produce a new strain of herd animal for the good of humanity. Until, that is, her entire station is stolen by the Next--a civilization of machine-based beings--and she wakes up one day inside a robot body.

The incursion by these inscrutable and powerful machine entities sets the story in motion, one that follows the physical, mental and spiritual journey of all three people as they learn more about the mysterious Next and their plans to return to human space.

The first in the Glittering Edge series, Edge of Dark takes place in the same universe as Brenda Cooper's two Ruby's Song novels (The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep); Nona Hall is the great-granddaughter of Ruby Martin, the protagonist of the earlier books. The characters in Edge of Dark are sharply drawn, and the plot is full of action and deep insight into the future of human society as it takes to the stars. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An entertaining, thoughtful novel about three people in the far future who confront their own humanity as they face the possible end of their entire way of life.

Pyr, $18, paperback, 9781633880504

Biography & Memoir

Travels in Vermeer

by Michael White

Poet Michael White's unusual and riveting memoir, Travels in Vermeer, opens in the midst of a nasty divorce and custody battle. Reeling, he flies to Amsterdam ("all I'd wanted was an ocean behind me"), and heads to the Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandts. But he is attracted instead by The Milkmaid, a tiny painting by Johannes Vermeer. The maid evokes a "tingling at the back of [his] scalp," and for the next 14 months, White chases the life-changing insights and soothing, healing effect provided by the Dutch master's small-scale, intuitive paintings, in which he sees expressions of love.

White studies biographies and art criticism about Vermeer, while visiting museums in The Hague, Washington, D.C., New York City and London, and sheds light as well on Vermeer's difficult childhood. While the artist occupies the bulk of this brief, eloquent book, a few scenes from White's battle with alcoholism and his tentative success with Alcoholics Anonymous round out a self-portrait sketched with great feeling in few words. Only a poet could communicate so economically, in language deserving of contemplatively paced reading.

White's descriptions competently guide even the most unfamiliar or untrained reader through an appreciation of the mechanics and mysticism of Vermeer's art. Readers will regret the lack of reproductions of the paintings under consideration; but, as he observes upon meeting Girl with a Pearl Earring, "reproductions are useless."

Travels in Vermeer is a thoroughly user-friendly piece of art education, but it is even better as a thoughtful, spare memoir of pain and recovery, unusually formatted and exquisitely moving. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A poet's quiet, beautifully composed, powerful story of self-healing by viewing the paintings of Vermeer.

Persea Books, $17.95, paperback, 9780892554379

Nature & Environment

Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment

by Denis Hayes, Gail Boyer Hayes

Much of Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment is deeply disturbing. In addition to the ways in which beef taxes the environment and the health of consumers, the authors detail the inhumane treatment of these sentient creatures.

However, Denis Hayes (environmental attorney, professor of engineering at Stanford) and Gail Boyer Hayes (writer, environmental attorney) believe the current situation can be remedied. They were inspired to write Cowed after Gail discovered the impact cows have on almost every major environmental problem: "conventional grain-finished feedlot beef produces five times more global warming per calorie, requires 11 times more water and uses 28 times as much land" as other meat sources. The couple's mission became finding solutions to the myriad problems caused by CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).

Fortunately, the Hayeses found conscientious ranchers, dairy farmers and artisanal cheese makers who treat their animals humanely, live sustainably and make a living. Unfortunately, they are the exception, and a major paradigm shift may be required to encourage consumers to seek organic dairy products and grass-fed and -finished beef in order to dismantle the stranglehold CAFOs have on the industry. The most promising examples come from the E.U. and Australia. However, a few glimmers of hope do appear in the U.S.: Central Vermont Public Service Corporation has a program to turn cow manure into electricity; Avon, N.Y.'s Worm Power--vermicomposting--turns cow manure into valuable soil. Ultimately, Cowed is both fascinating and a call to action. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: A fascinating journey through the complicated beef industry that will make meat-eaters reconsider what they put in their grocery carts.

W. W. Norton, $27.95, hardcover, 9780393239942

Children's & Young Adult


by Tor Seidler, illus. by Chris Sheban

Tor Seidler (The Wainscott Weasel) applies his considerable talents to an interspecies friendship in Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have just been re-introduced.

Narrator Maggie is a magpie born with curiosity who pines to see what's outside of her nest at the Triple Bar T ranch in Montana. Maggie soon sets out to see the wider world, throwing in her lot with a wolf recently captured in Canada and released in nearby Yellowstone. The wolf saves Maggie from a fox, and she decides to guide him back to his family. Blue Boy--named for his blue-black coat--and Maggie become hunting companions; Maggie spies the prey and Blue Boy brings it down. Adventure soon follows. A human shoots a bullet that hits Blue Boy's tracking collar, releasing it, but the bullet lodges in his neck. Three wolves answer Blue Boy's plaintive howl; instead of killing him, they help him heal. The four--plus Maggie--form a pack. Seidler grants his magpie narrator the power of speech and the ability to understand all species. Still, Maggie remains true to her nature--except for the abandonment of her mate. Her aberration sets the stage for Blue Boy's son, Lamar, the firstborn in his litter, to manifest errant behavior such as empathy and a curiosity that sometimes distracts him from the hunt.

Seidler lays out the tradeoffs of interrupting nature's flow without ever taking sides. Maggie's unusual perspective allows readers' affections for the wolves to grow along with hers, as she earns her revered place in the pack. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Tor Seidler deftly explores an interspecies relationship, set against the dazzling backdrop of Yellowstone National Park.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9781481410175

The Alex Crow

by Andrew Smith

The author of Grasshopper Jungle and 100 Sideways Miles delivers yet another cutting-edge novel.

Fourteen-year-old Ariel hid from rebel soldiers inside a walk-in fridge and emerged the sole survivor in a small town in an unnamed country poisoned by gas. A year later, Ariel lives in West Virginia with his adoptive American parents and brother. The father, an inventor, works for the Merrie-Seymour Research Group, which focuses on "savings things from nonexistence." One of its products is the family pet, Alex, a bionic crow reincarnated from its centuries-old extinction who is "overwhelmingly disappointed by his existence." (Depression is a side effect for revived animals.) While outlandish, Smith makes this speculative element feel grounded, and sets up future events with a sure hand. The second narrator, Leonard, often referred to as "the melting man," is taking a huge bomb, assembled in a U-Haul, to destroy the Beaver King because Stalin's voice in his head told him to do so. This narrative can be suffocating, appropriately because of Leonard's anxious and suspicious imagination, but it's not nearly as smothering as the third narrative voice, unveiled through the diaries of an Arctic explorer whose ship, the Alex Crow, has been frozen for five months on an 1879 voyage to absolute north.

Readers must reach the end of the story to understand and appreciate fully the magnificence of Smith's interconnected narratives. The author sweeps up readers in a story filled with memorable characters and scenes, laugh-out-loud jokes and plenty of genre-defying strangeness for those who think they've seen it all. --Adam Silvera, children's bookseller

Discover: The author of Grasshopper Jungle interweaves three stories set in a world that includes a 15-year-old refugee's miracle, a resurrection-by-science and a depressed, bionic crow.

Dutton, $18.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780525426530

Naptime with Theo & Beau

by Jessica Shyba

Anyone who has loved a baby or a dog, and especially those who adore both, will clamor for this equivalent of a family photograph album.

Originally begun as a chronicle of naptime for Beau, her son, and Theo, their puppy, on Jessica Shyba's blog, Momma's Gone City, this captivating book offers enough variety of perspectives and high-quality photographs to keep children and parents returning again and again. It begins with Beau getting droopy ("Beau is sleepy"). His blond hair, the color of a white fleece throw beneath him, and a black long-sleeve T-shirt accentuate the markings of Theo's fur. Next, the pooch's eyes are at half-mast ("Theo is sleepy"), reclining on raspberry and peach sherbet–tinted pillows. "Time to dream" accompanies an image of the two nestled together against gold star–patterned sheets. They sleep on their backs and on their bellies. "Cheek to cheek" is astonishing; the photograph captures the slumbering puppy's cheek atop the sleeping child's cheek.

Anyone who knows toddlers or puppies will be certain these can't have been posed. Who could stay still long enough? And yet.... The lighting looks as if it's streaming through a window--natural yet otherworldly in its perfection.

The strength of the text stems from its construction as a kind of conversation, with a wink, between child and pet. The outtakes on the endpapers will captivate readers as much as the interior images. And the happy outcome is: everyone will want to take a nap! Delectable. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A photograph album tailor-made for baby and puppy lovers.

Feiwel & Friends, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 2-8, 9781250059062

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