Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 31, 2015


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

From My Shelf

Worst. Summer. Ever.

As a kid, I never went to summer camp. The farthest I ever got from home was family camping trips to the Oregon coast, and if it wasn't the mosquitoes, it was the rain that bummed us out. But had I known then just how terrible a summer vacation could be, I probably wouldn't have whined so much.

Edmund White's 1973 novel, Forgetting Elena, depicts a young man's summer on Fire Island. He carefully studies the movements of those around him, cautious not to offend yet craving popularity. White's island inhabitants pander to the wealthy, while delivering dramatic--even violent--rebukes to the pretentious. Their perceived slights, advantages taken, attention seeking and one magnificent house fire could give Tina Fey's mean girls a run for their money, while ruining a summer far more thoroughly than a few insect bites could.

This gaggle of socialites, however, might find themselves outmatched by Shirley Jackson's Hill House. Dr. Montague invites Eleanor Vance and two others to summer at the gothic monstrosity, but they might have fared better by just setting the whole thing ablaze right away. The Haunting of Hill House toys with its characters as much as it does its readers, mounting one psychological game on top of another, until somebody cracks up. Frightening noises in the night, the morose and unpleasant housekeeping staff, a sinister history of betrayal and the unsettling effect it has on its guests make Hill House far more foreboding than the tedious bickering of cliques and a little rain on a West Coast campground combined.

All things considered, I have much to be grateful for from the summers of my childhood; I could have had White or Jackson plan my family vacations. But as terrible as the summers they've written might be for their characters, they make for fine reading. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness


The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: James Smythe

photo: Philippa Gedge

Born in London in 1980, James Smythe has worked as a computer game writer and currently teaches creative writing. He also writes a blog for the Guardian. His previous novels include the Wales Book of the Year 2013 winner The Testimony, The Explorer and the Clarke Award–shortlisted The Machine. His new book, No Harm Can Come to a Good Man, was recently published by HarperCollins360.

On your nightstand now:

I'm trying very, very hard to only read books published in 2015 this year, which means my bedside table has collapsed under the weight of enormous hardbacks. Right now I'm swimming--engulfed, drowning, perhaps more accurately--in Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, which is just extraordinary. I know, so much has been said (or is currently being said) about it, but it's worth every bit of the praise. It's insane, how able she is to bridge so many characters and never lose them. I'm basically in awe. Ryan Gattis's All Involved was before that, and it's similarly superb--I keep dipping back to certain passages to make notes about the deep envy I feel for his skill. But then there's the last book I finished in 2014, William Gibson's The Peripheral, which I can't seem to let go of--such a ridiculously well-realized world, with a central story (as with so much of his work) so plausible and yet terrifying and yet wonderful and yet OH GOD that you never want it to end.

Oh, and there's also some nonfiction books, which are all research. James Barrat's Our Final Invention (about A.I.), Eric Schlosser's Command and Control (about the Cold War), Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach (about math and equations) and a giant coffee-table book about the history of Vogue magazine. My nightstand is crumbling under the strain.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I used to be in love with this kids' book called Tubby Tin and the Munching Moon. Basically: the moon is alive and eats everything. It's wonderful. I'm sure it's terrifying, as well, and probably explains a LOT of my adult neuroses, but there we go. Aside from that, I can chart my transition of loves: Narnia > Hardy Boys > Christopher Pike > Stephen King.

Your top five authors:

Five. Tough.

Okay, and in no particular order. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, Shirley Jackson, Bret Easton Ellis.

Hang on, that's six, right? Oh. I'm terrible at self-editing.

Kazuo Ishiguro. See? Terrible self-editor.

Book you've faked reading:

Ha. Okay. So, here's a confession. I'm doing a thing for the Guardian newspaper, where I reread every Stephen King book and write about them. (You can find it here.) So, I've read them all before. Ish. See, I told a little lie. There's one that I haven't read. I forgot that I hadn't. I will be admitting to this in the article, as we haven't reached it yet, but yeah. Pretty egregious lie that calls into question every other book I claim to have read, right?

Book you're an evangelist for:

Austin Wright's Tony & Susan. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It was first published in 1993, and then it disappeared. Then it was republished in 2010 by publishers with a good eye for a lost classic. And it's absolutely that. Amazing novel, terrifying and gripping. Maybe my favorite thriller ever, which given that it's a book about somebody reading a book, is quite something.

Book you've bought for the cover:

For me, covers are all about the re-buy. So I'll get a copy with a review cover, or a hardback, and then there'll be an amazing paperback or a special edition that means I'll double-dip. Sometimes triple-dip. Recent purchases based on a) a love of the books and b) the covers are Jeff VanderMeer's Area X; the U.S. anniversary super-shiny edition of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities; the limited-edition exposed-spine edition of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. I'm an idiot who buys too many books.

Book that changed your life:

Stephen King's On Writing. Which really does hammer home how hard you need to work to actually be any good at this writing lark.

Favorite line from a book:

"O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark." That's from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which have provided an enormous inspiration for me in my writing.

Which character you most relate to:

Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I'd really like to read Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves for the first time. That book astounded me. I read it on a beach, aged 18, and I remember having to run to find a bathroom with a mirror so that I could read the bits that are printed in reverse; even though it was blisteringly hot, the middle of the day, I was scared. Actually genuinely unsettled. Rare for books to frighten me, and that really did. I want that feeling again.


Book Candy

NPR Books's Summer of Love Top 100

NPR Books's Summer of Love recommended "100 swoon-worthy romances," culled from a June poll that asked listeners for their "favorite romantic reads." NPR had to shut the poll down early when more than 18,000 nominations flooded in. After the votes were tallied, an expert panel broke down the categories and shaped the final list "into a love story for the ages."

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Noting that the abundant "pile of reading material" that constitutes sci-fi and fantasy fiction's "rich legacy of great books" can be daunting, io9 highlighted "10 books you pretend to have read (and why you should really read them)."

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"Airbnb reviews for famous homes in literature" were featured on Buzzfeed.

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Quirk Books highlighted the "best axe-wielders in literature & pop culture."

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Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, author of One Night, Markovitch, chose her top 10 wartime love stories for the Guardian.


Book Review

Fiction

Lovers on All Saints' Day: Stories

by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, illus. by Anne McLean


These seven stories from Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez (The Sound of Things Falling), written between 1998 and 2002, are set in Europe where Vásquez was then in self-imposed exile.

Like all of Vásquez's work, the stories in Lovers on All Saints' Day are uncompromising in their focus on the prosaic lives of his characters. Most of them are middle-aged men, bewildered by the turn their lives have taken. They pivot around partners in fractured pairings, two lonely people sometimes splintered by the long shadow of a third, someone often off-stage.

In "Hiding Places," a man staying with newly but unhappily married friends is asked by his landlord and the woman's father to spy on the couple. In "The All Saints' Day Lovers," a man clings to his failing marriage even as he spends the night comforting a young widow he's just met, holding her chastely while wearing her dead husband's pajamas. In "The Lodger," a man mourns the death of his best friend, unable to shake his memories of the man's affair with his wife long ago.

The stories' narrative voices are aloof, enhancing the sense of the characters as actors dwarfed by the vastness of their stage, their distance unbridgeable. They seem bewildered by the forces of fate that circumscribe their lives and leave them isolated and alone, longing for connection and meaning, each in turn hopeful but "uncertain... vulnerable to words and weather and the portent of love, a body in movement across a map, less alone than before, crossing meridians." --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Seven unblinking stories from Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez about the collision of fate and human hopes and dreams.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594634260

Lolito

by Ben Brooks


At 15, Etgar Allison's desires are simple: lie in bed, drink Nesquik and wait for his girlfriend to come back from vacation. But when he finds out she's been hiding something from him, his sole desire suddenly becomes to forget her. Drunk on his dad's liquor, he finds himself in an "adult" Internet chat room, where he meets the middle-aged woman who'll inspire his descent through a rabbit hole of weird, cringe-worthy and strangely sweet adventures. Lolito, released in the U.K. in 2013, is a raw look into the inner world of a teenage boy. It is the sixth novel by 23-year-old British author Ben Brooks (Grow Up).

Lolito is not for those easily offended by politically incorrect humor. But Etgar is one of the most compelling teenage voices in contemporary literature, with a seemingly endless capacity for imagination and wit. Not a thought in his head goes without embellishment. After falling down, he thinks, "I don't want to ever move. I want to be abducted by calm, quiet aliens who are searching distant planets for docile zoo exhibits." After hurting his head, he notices "there was a lump that felt like an extra head throbbing on the back of mine. It made me think of Voldemort's head on the back of Professor Quirrell's."

Lolito is reminiscent of Superbad and Youth in Revolt--stories about being a teenager caught between adult desires and childish emotions, and using humor to get through it (or least to forget about how embarrassing it all is). --Annie Atherton

Discover: A dark comedy about a 15-year-old British boy who meets a middle-aged woman in an Internet chat room.

Regan Arts, $14.99, paperback, 9781941393352

Bennington Girls Are Easy

by Charlotte Silver


To enter the world of Cassandra Puffin and Sylvie Furst is to join an uneasy sorority of sniping, snark and impeccable taste. It's an invitation to buoy oneself against reality with beauty. It's not that these privileged women, groomed on Bennington's leafy New England campus, have everything; it's that they expect it, and their plummet to earth takes turns both devastating and delightful.

What John Updike did for the minutiae of men's lives--brand names, domesticity and office trivia--Silver does for the Bennington graduates she follows from Vermont to their apartments in Fort Greene, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Like the spritz of L'air du Temps Cassandra sprays on a letter to her ex, the novel is positively infused with sensory details, mostly in the form of luxurious objects--orange silk scarves tied just so, artisanal oatmeal sprinkled with extra cranberries, Hermès, Italian suede and silk lingerie. To say that Silver steeps the reader in these details is only appropriate, since their cumulative effect is that of a heady brew, permeating the post-grad disasters and discoveries that propel these characters forward. In this way, she asserts that the objects furnishing women's lives can be telling and evocative, important despite and because of their superficiality.

The plot, like life, is a series of episodes, tracing the pair's path from wide-eyed dewiness to urbanity. Even at the novel's close, you'd be hard-pressed to call either protagonist "likable," but it's their tenacity that makes them winsome, two "easy" Bennington girls whose shells have grown just hard enough. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: A detailed, heady novel about two best friends and Bennington graduates as they navigate adulthood, New York City and their own expectations.

Doubleday, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385538961

Let Me Explain You

by Annie Liontas


The many characters in Annie Liontas's first novel, Let Me Explain You, can't quite explain exactly what's going on. A twice-divorced father of three is convinced he's dying in 10 days; he's not sure how or why, but he knows his death is looming with the same confidence that he knows that his family never respected him and the world will miss him when he's gone.

The novel's perspective shifts from the family's patriarch, Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, to the women in his life who he feels disrespected him, alternating accounts for a story that is equal parts farcical humor and heartbreaking character study. Mavrakis came to the United States from Greece almost three decades before the events of the novel, as a new husband, an abused and forgotten son and a delusional optimist. He's obsessed with the idea that he's too good for Greece and is immediately disappointed that the U.S. isn't good enough for him. When he's finally built a life for himself and realizes he's still unfulfilled, he has a vision of his own death and writes his daughters a letter that tells them all the ways they've managed to ruin him.

Let Me Explain You depicts an immigrant's experience in the U.S. and treats its characters with so much empathy and tenderness that it's hard not to think of the Mavrakis family as any other than the reader's own. Like all families, immigrant or otherwise, the Mavrakises encounter profound struggle, but what marks their true character is the way they navigate it. --Josh Potter

Discover: A humorous and heartfelt drama focused on a Greek immigrant to the U.S. and his family.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781476789088

Mystery & Thriller

Zagreb Cowboy

by Alen Mattich


If 20 years of news about the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia into a half dozen ethnically embattled countries is confusing, perhaps Alen Mattich's entertaining first Marko della Torre thriller can help. Set in Croatia just before the U.S.S.R. unraveled and Yugoslavia splintered, Zagreb Cowboy unveils former dictator Tito's infamous federal secret police agency, U.D.B.A. (Yugoslavia's version of the K.G.B.), and the corrupt local cops and bureaucrats of Croatia's capital. Raised in Ohio by his now-deceased American mother and Croatian professor father, della Torre has lived in Zagreb with his father since his 20s and works for the newly established U.D.B.A. internal affairs division. To open doors in his investigations, della Torre finds himself selling classified documents to the powerful Zagreb police Captain Strumbic, who then resells them to add to his illicit wealth. Neither trusts the other, but when one document threatens to expose a secret international sale of weapons-grade nuclear fuel centrifuges, both men find themselves targets of inept Bosnian assassins hired by old-school Belgrade politicos.

Zagreb-born Mattich is a London columnist for the Wall Street Journal with a flair for comic dialogue and an eye for Croatia's "artificially lit, nicotine-tinted wash of concrete tower blocks." He propels his thriller down the dark roads of imploding Yugoslavia and across borders to the wealthy Hampstead parks of London. Della Torre's estranged wife describes him as just "an unreformed Communist, already nostalgic for the days when you could pass a whole leisurely morning queuing up for a loaf of bread." Who needs CNN when Mattich can nail the heart of old Yugoslavia so precisely? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The first in a series of crime thrillers featuring Croatian secret police watchdog Marko della Torre.

House of Anansi, $15.95, paperback, 9781770891081

The Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham)

by Carrie Bebris


On their first visit to the up-and-coming Sussex village of Sanditon, Elizabeth (née Bennet) and Fitzwilliam Darcy are invited to a dinner party. But when their hostess, the wealthy widow Lady Denham, disappears before dinner is even served, the Darcys organize a search while trying to determine who would want to harm Lady Denham. Carrie Bebris (The Deception at Lyme) draws on Jane Austen's final (unfinished) novel for her seventh Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mystery, The Suspicion at Sanditon.

Bebris's setting and characters--Miss Charlotte Heywood, Lady Denham and her young companion, Miss Brereton, the Parker family--are mostly drawn from Austen's Sanditon. The mystery, however, is Bebris's own, and includes several classic elements of gothic fiction: a local ghost story, star-crossed lovers, a mysterious old mansion containing secret passageways. (Austen's heroines--or perhaps the author herself--would approve.) As the Darcys and their fellow guests search for Lady Denham, the other ladies of the party begin to disappear one by one. Concerned for their own safety and that of their new friends, Elizabeth and Darcy must find the culprit before anyone else comes to harm.

Many Austen fans delight in her entertaining minor characters, and Bebris's supporting cast is certainly quirky, though they often tip over into absurdity. Several romantic subplots, including one related to the ghost story, add depth to the narrative. The mystery's solution is a bit far-fetched, but the pleasure of the book--as of any Austen pastiche--lies in the period detail and familiar characters. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An enjoyable cozy mystery inspired by Jane Austen's Sanditon, wherein Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy solve a missing persons case.

Tor, $23.99, hardcover, 9780765327994

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Dark Orbit

by Carolyn Ives Gilman


Dark Orbit does what good science fiction should do: it tells readers of a distant future in which we see our present.

Hugo and Nebula Award nominee Carolyn Ives Gilman (Ison of the Isles) opens her novel among the Twenty Planets on which humanity lives. Much of space has been explored and colonized, and people are faced with the struggle of finding work and room in their increasingly crowded and governed existence. When an old starship unexpectedly sends a beacon about a new habitable planet, people clamor to be part of the first contact team.

Sara Callicot did not think she would be a part of this group. As an exoethnologist, she negotiates between humans and native inhabitants; however, her fondness for subverting authority, disobeying rules and not doing paperwork (causing her last job to go horribly awry) has left her without the prospect of employment. When an old acquaintance offers her a place aboard the ship going to explore the new planet, she can't refuse the opportunity. While she is trained in making first contact with new populations and life forms, her role abroad the ship is to spy on one of the crew members, Thora Lassiter, an unpredictable woman from an influential family with ties to the trip.

Gilman's characters are delightfully imagined. The cultural wellspring from which Gilman drafts the future of humanity is deep and lush. She delves into thought-provoking speculative science one expects alongside philosophy as ancient as Plato's cave. Dark Orbit is a stimulating and absorbing story. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: This exceptional work of science fiction explores the farthest reaches of the universe while revealing the limits of human perception.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765336293

Biography & Memoir

Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy

by Frank McLynn


By 1206, Temujin had consolidated power over the quarrelsome confederation of tribes on the Mongolian steppe. That year a quriltai, or general assembly of Mongol nobles, named Temujin Genghis Khan, recognizing his sole leadership over a nation of two million nomads. Genghis and his genius generals--including Subedei, the most successful military commander in history--swept into northern China, then home of the Jin dynasty, where they consistently defeated numerically superior forces. Genghis then turned west to the Khwarezmian Empire, whose shah had foolishly executed Genghis's envoys, among other insults. The Mongols made an even greater showing in Khwarezmia, though their treatment of civilians bordered on genocidal (cities that surrendered immediately were spared, the rest were massacred). The Mongol tide continued through Khwarezmia into Eastern Europe, stretching from Poland to Korea at its height under Ogodei, son of Genghis.

Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn (Richard and John; Marcus Aurelius) is a staggeringly ambitious biography of history's greatest conqueror and a singularly divisive figure. McLynn treads a fine line between propaganda (like inflated civilian casualties tallied by Genghis's contemporary foes) and recent historical revisionism depicting the Khan as a champion of tolerance and civilization (like in the bestseller Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford), finding a still blood-soaked middle ground between these extremes. Though Mongolian names and Central Asian geographic features may run together after the first hundred pages, Genghis Khan is fascinating enough to appeal to any history fan. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: An ambitious biography of history's greatest conqueror.

Da Capo Press, $32.50, hardcover, 9780306823954

Driving Hungry: A Memoir

by Layne Mosler


After 10 months of working as a line cook, Layne Mosler's fantasy of opening her own restaurant fizzled, so she moved to Buenos Aires to follow another passion, the tango. But after one terrible night of dancing, when her partner committed the ultimate insult by abandoning her on the dance floor, Mosler needed solace, which she had always found through good food. She asked her taxi driver about his favorite restaurant and suddenly discovered a new way to learn about a city--through its food as recommended by the local drivers. Inspired by this, she started a blog, the Taxi Gourmet, to document her adventures.

After almost three years in Argentina and running out of tourist visas, she moved to New York, another city of taxis and good food, to continue her experiment. But when drivers there failed to recommend good places, Mosley became a taxi driver to find restaurants on her own, and discovered it was quite different to be behind the wheel in a huge city. Months passed, with Mosler still searching for something intangible. She eventually moved from New York to Berlin and continued interviewing taxi drivers for their restaurant recommendations.

Mosler's memoir is filled with lyrical explanations of dancing the tango in Buenos Aires, mouthwatering descriptions of the many meals she ate in Argentina, New York and Berlin, and humorous moments as passenger and as driver. She skillfully integrates her personal life, full of passions, problems, expectations and disappointments, with brief portrayals of the varied lives of the men and women drivers she met as she explored these three different cities. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: With the help of taxi drivers, a woman explores and enjoys the food of Buenos Aires, New York City and Berlin.

Pantheon, $24.95, hardcover, 9781101870310

Humor

Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties

by Patricia Marx


It's not easy growing older, but for Patricia Marx, the decline of the mind provides fodder for a smart, often laugh-out-loud exploration of the human brain--"the three-pound wrinkly glop of glopoplasm in your skull [that] contains about a hundred billion neurons." In Let's Be Less Stupid, Marx--former Saturday Night Live writer, contributor to the New Yorker and the author of Starting from Happy--presents a candid, loosely structured memoir about her four-month mission to understand better and boost her brain, which she claims is, "the size of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's fist, the consistency of flan, and weighs as much as a two-slice toaster." She states, "If you were a plastic surgeon, you'd say my brain needed a facelift."

Marx believes the modern world inundates minds, especially hers, with an overabundance of information--"the shoe size of my ex, the names of Sarah Jessica Parker's children, the calories in cottage cheese"--and, with age, the brain becomes a clogged think tank where "our cerebrums are filled with more facts than are contained in all the editions of Trivial Pursuit." Thus, she sets out to examine and test ways of transforming and rejuvenating her ol' noggin. She offers a trove of neuro-knowledge factoids and clever self-help strategies fortified with statistical data, word problems, quizzes, brainteasers and "Middle-Age Mad Libs"; graphics, doodles, photographs and charts; physical and nutritional enhancements, medical tests and meditations. These accoutrements illustrate, reinforce or dispute theories Marx encounters amid her hilariously sophisticated, often literally mind-boggling, "get-smart" crusade. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A curious, comic writer tries to understand better, sharpen and boost her middle-age brainpower.

Twelve, $22, hardcover, 9781455554959

Children's & Young Adult

Maple & Willow Apart

by Lori Nichols, illus. by Lori Nichols


In this original take on the back-to-school tale, Lori Nichols (Maple; Maple and Willow Together) steps into the shoes of the younger sibling left behind when her older sister begins kindergarten.

The author-artist depicts sisters Maple and Willow as inseparable all summer long: jumping rope, playing leap frog and mimicking squirrels. When Maple leaves for "big-girl school," Willow must figure out how to fill her day: "Home wasn't the same without Maple." Nichols gets Maple's voice pitch-perfect as she reports nonstop on her teacher the moment she gets home. "I had fun, too," Willow says, "I played with Pip." The author-artist tucks into the pictures clues to Pip's identity, and readers will figure out before Maple does the identity of this mysterious new friend who seems to be taking the older sibling's place in Willow's world ("He has a bumpy head and he is afraid of squirrels"). Nichols embellishes Willow's adventures with full-spread images framed by gorgeous autumn-tinted maple leaves. The ghosted typeface of the older sister's after-school reports indicate how detached Willow feels from them, and when Willow tells a bike-riding Maple that Pip "taught me how to ride," Maple conveys how hurt she feels, "But I wanted to teach you how to ride." Willow responds, "I know, but you're gone a lot." The girls' honesty results in a breakthrough: they can be apart during the day and still have fun together at home.

Once again, Nichols depicts the riches of the imagination as well as how capable children are of working out challenges for themselves. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An original twist on the back-to-school tale, in which a younger sibling must fill her days while her sister attends kindergarten.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780399167539

R Is for Rocket: An ABC Book

by Tad Hills


Many of Tad Hills's characters make cameos in this humorous approach to the alphabet, starring the beloved canine reader and writer.

With the passion of a convert, Rocket touts the most important tool for reading: learning the ABCs. Each page highlights a different letter in the alphabet, repeated in bold at the start of a string of words: "Rocket finds acorns. Owl draws an angry alligator." On the opposite page, the squirrel from Rocket's 100th Day of School enters with the letter B: "Bella balances on a ball while a big butterfly watches." Owl coaxes a crow to stop cawing by offering it a cookie and a crayon on the next spread, and, with another turn of the page, Emma digs a deep hole in the dirt by the daisies. Even Goose passes through in "the tall green grass." Hills moves between silhouette images (such as Bella before and after playing "in the ivy"--why does it make her itch?), full-spread landscapes of Owl flying kites or with Bella on the beach, and even a vertical view of Bella up in a tree while Rocket, on the ground, "wonders, 'Is it windy up there?' " Yes, xylophone appears for "X" (Bella plays it), and the Little Yellow Bird ends the adventure with "zest and zeal." Hills wraps up with a favorite refrain that Rocket's fans will readily recognize: "Ah, the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet."

What better teachers could youngsters wish for than Rocket and the Little Yellow Bird to launch their own journeys as readers and writers? --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The beloved canine from How Rocket Learned to Read shares what he knows with youngest book lovers.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780553522280

Why Dogs Have Wet Noses

by Kenneth Steven, illus. by Oyvind Torseter


A line of animals marching onto an ark on the title page offers a hint of what's to come in Kenneth Steven's clever story involving "a man named Noah."

A bearded man stands under an umbrella, overlooking a valley, as the story starts: "A long, long time ago, not long after the world began, it started to rain." As the rain continues, the man "began to build a lifeboat" and called it "the Ark." Oyvind Torseter's line drawings on a cream-colored background, with a patch of blue to represent sky and a large swath of salmon pink for the interior of the vessel, depict its mammoth size, as Noah saws a plank six stories up. Comic touches include an alligator sporting a backpack, a monkey pulling a suitcase on wheels and Noah with a pea-green tattoo on his left forearm as the passengers arrive. A dog boards last. Several pages in, "Land had long since vanished." Children will pour over the details in Torseter's cutaway view as creatures play cards, a crew member draws a map, and the dog shadows Noah carrying supplies. Twenty days in, the Ark springs a leak, and what do you think is the remedy? (Hint: It answers the title question.) As an extra bonus, Noah needs no dove when he has man's best friend on board to catch a whiff of land.

Whether or not children are familiar with Noah and his Ark, they will clamor for repeated readings of this original retelling that doubles as a pourquoi tale. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The story of Noah's Ark reimagined as a witty pourquoi tale.

Enchanted Lion, $17.95, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-8, 9781592701735

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