Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 14, 2015

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

From My Shelf

The 'Queen of Suspense': Still Going Strong after 40 Years

August 15 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Where Are the Children?, the breakout suspense novel by Mary Higgins Clark. The book, still in print, in its 75th paperback edition, features a woman who flees the devastating heartbreak of her first marriage and the horrid deaths of her two young children--along with shocking allegations brought against her. With a name change and her hair dyed red, the protagonist leaves her California life and relocates to the tranquility of Cape Cod. She starts her life over again--remarried, with two more beautiful children... until one morning, when the children go missing.

Mary Higgins Clark

In August of 1975, all six members of my family were riveted by and wore out our copy of the novel, personally autographed by the author, who lived only a few blocks away in our small New Jersey town. I don't think anyone in our suburb with only two stop lights could have conceived that Clark--a financially struggling widow with five children, who wrote at her kitchen table for two hours every day before work--would ever surpass the realm of local celebrity and emerge as the "Queen of Suspense," publishing in more than 50 books, which have sold some 100 million copies.

In the past year, Clark, a Grand Master and esteemed member of Mystery Writers of America, shared her "Game Night Chili" recipe in The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, and she edited the anthology Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America. Add to these titles a thriller, The Melody Lingers On, featuring a Bernie Madoff-like villain, and the continuing Under Suspicion series co-authored with Alafair Burke (daughter of crime writer James Lee Burke), and the 87-year-old Clark is showing no signs of waning in her productivity and passion for storytelling. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

The Writer's Life

Anna Badkhen: Storyteller as Outsider

photo by Kael Alford

Anna Badkhen has written about wars on four continents, including the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Chechnya. Her reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the New Republic, Foreign Policy and other publications. Walking with Abel (Riverhead) chronicles her journey walking ancient nomadic herding routes with the Fulani tribe of Mali.

The Fulani's ancient migration routes have traditionally been affected by adversity--drought, starvation, bandits, jihadis, rival clans and tribes. How does climate change affect them and what does it mean for their survival in the future?

The nomadic Fulani are entirely at the mercy of the weather. They may never have heard of climate change but they can describe with precision its symptoms: drier, hotter wind that blows for longer periods of time; desertification; shrinking pastures; dwindling waterholes; unpredictable rainy seasons; droughts that used to happen every decade or so and now whack the Sahel in rapid-fire succession. Like most Malians--like most people in the Global South, indeed--the nomads cannot afford to stop divining the sky for rain. They have nothing to fall back on in case animals die. There is no system of social protection for nomadic Fulani in Mali--not even as limited or broken as the one in the United States. If their animals are thirsty or hungry, they die. If the animals die, the people die. It's a very simple and terrible dependency.

And the weather in Mali is becoming hotter, drier. Meteorologists predict that it will continue getting worse. The weather, along with globalization and mass media, will be one reason why the Fulani ultimately may be forced to settle. Demographic experts forecast that within 100 years we all will be settled and living in cities.

Describe the mythology of walking and the relationship the Fulani have with the cow.

The 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote once, in a letter: "every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it [...] Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right." The 4th-century BC Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope promised that "it is solved by walking." It is nice to mythologize walking--to bestow upon it incredible healing qualities--but of course it is not a panacea. You cannot walk out of grief. You cannot walk out of loss.

But you can definitely walk into beauty. You can walk with your heart open and let it be filled with new knowledge, new friendships, with new ways of looking at the world. I think the Fulani--who have been walking incessantly for at least 10,000 years, following their cows on transhumance--have a different way of looking at the world because they are always on the move, mobile. They are experiencing the world at the pace of three miles an hour. My book, in part, is about what that is like.

The Fulani depend on the cow for sustenance. It is very much a working relationship. The Fulani milk the cow, drink some of the milk and barter the rest for other necessities--salt, grain, sugar, tea, matches, even money for clothes and jewelry (the Fulani are fashionistas of the bush). You will find a very similar relationship with cattle among ranchers and cowboys in the American West, the Southwest, in parts of the South. When I talk about American cowboys with Fulani herders, and when I talk about Fulani cowboys with American cattlemen in, say, southwest Texas, the degree of my interlocutors' curiosity and their attentiveness are very similar. Even the questions are similar: why do they (why do they not) neuter the bulls; why do they (why do they not) saw off cows' horns; when is the roundup; how far is the waterhole. It is my favorite conversation: the trade conversation of people who love their work, believe in it, take pride in it. It is an honor to be part of this conversation.

Death is a way of life for the Fulani. In the book, you describe discovering corpses and aged skeletons left out in the open. Many Fulani told you stories of losing children and loved ones to drought, war and starvation on their annual migrations.

One of my Fulani friends told me: "Is there a country without death?" Death is a way of life for everyone. Even if, in the United States, we have exiled death from the public eye, we still have to contend with it. We still lose our loved ones. We still mourn their loss. In the Global South, death is less sanitized than in the West--beautiful works of cultural analysis and philosophy have been written on the subject of this sanitization, most importantly by Phillippe Ariès--but it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist here. Human is the only animal that knows it will die. And we are missing it--our hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary development is making us miss the presence of death. So in its stead, as Eliot Weinberger points out astutely, we look for surrogate death: violent death on TV screens, online death, pretend death--the more violent, the better.

I think it may have to do with the irrational--but highly merchandised--obsession the West has with happiness. The oppressive, obsessive insistence that we must be happy! happy! happy! all the time. The business made of selling happiness to consumers. It doesn't work, of course, which is why the business is doing well--if you're not happy, it means you're not buying enough happy-making products or services. The truth is, our loved ones die. And, simply put, it is very sad. We in the West are in the process of a worrisome and dangerous unlearning to be sad.

You seem to have a connection to travel and the wandering life, both as an author and journalist and in your own Jewish lineage.

Being an outsider--a visitor, a transient--is a convenient excuse for being a storyteller. Being a storyteller is a convenient excuse for being an outsider.

You previously wrote from the war zones of Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya. Mali has had a long history of conflict, but not like those countries' large, industrial scale wars. How was writing Walking with Abel different? This book feels very personal.

It was a little intimidating in the beginning to commit to a long-term project not in a war zone. Of course, I was fewer than 100 miles away from one--that's how close a separatist war-turned-Islamist jihad is raging from where my hosts and I lived and walked. But the war was barely a factor in their lives, and so it barely is a factor in my book. I learned, from writing this book, that the flashy and horrible drama of war is not what makes good storytelling. What makes good storytelling is attentiveness, respect, dedication and a lot of very hard work. --Jarret Middleton

Book Candy

More Beach and August Reads

Den of Geek shared "13 geeky beach read recommendations," and in her Between the Lines column for the BBC, Jane Ciabattari suggested 10 books to read in August.


Tattoo time: "For wizards with commitment issues," Buzzfeed revealed "21 Harry Potter temporary tattoos that every fan will love." And Bustle highlighted "11 one-word tattoos every book-lover can appreciate and wear with pride."


"Sometimes you need a pick-me-up," Huffington Post Books observed in listing "12 books that will lift you up when you are down."


Quirk Books cued up "the best songs for the worst literary breakups."


"From Euclid's Elements to Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, and from Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex to Shakespeare First Folio," the Guardian highlighted "10 books that changed the world."

Book Review


The Invisibles

by Cecilia Galante

Nora Walker has built a safe, quiet life for herself, hiding from the trauma of her early years. Most of the time, she's content with her library job, her faithful dog named Alice Walker, and her growing collection of favorite first lines from novels. But a surprising phone call prompts Nora to board a plane to Chicago, where a reunion with her three best friends forces all four women to deal with past scars and present wounds. Cecilia Galante (The Patron Saint of Butterflies) tells a difficult story with sensitivity and grace in The Invisibles, her first novel for adults.

Thrown together as teenagers at Turning Winds Home for Girls, Nora, Grace, Ozzie and Monica formed a tightly knit group, dubbing themselves The Invisibles and holding regular meetings to discuss their fears and dreams. But the events of one terrible night in their senior year fractured the girls' bond, and when the other three left town after graduation, Nora stayed behind. Now, as the women reconvene at Grace's home, they must confront the lingering pain of that night and the choices they have made since then.

Though Galante's narration focuses on Nora, she gives each of the women the chance to tell her own story. All four have fought to overcome their broken families and difficult pasts, but it is their reunion--and their honesty with one another--that enables them to move forward with courage.

Fraught with pain but quietly hopeful, The Invisibles is a moving tribute to the strength of female friendship. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The story of four best friends from high school who reunite and must confront the pain of their shared past.

Morrow, $14.99, paperback, 9780062363510

Flood of Fire

by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh concludes his Ibis trilogy (Sea of PoppiesRiver of Smoke) with Flood of Fire, a panoramic fictional re-creation of the lead-up to the Opium Wars of 1839 to 1842. This richly populated novel teems with characters on both sides of conflicts large and small; like the preceding novels, it's another mesmerizing story that captures rippling costs of human greed and ambition that alter lives and countries in profound and permanent ways.

Zachary Reid, the wide-eyed young American son of a slave, who passes as white and lived through the voyage of the Ibis in Sea of Poppies, reappears here as a central character. He is now in Calcutta employed as a "mystery," a repairman on a riverboat owned by the wealthy Burnhams. Mrs. Burnham soon coaches him in the fine points of giving and taking sexual pleasure, within the social confines of a rigid colonial society and a very illicit affair, even while he is schooled as an opium trader by Mr. Burnham.

Flood of Fire is vintage Ghosh. He mixes war drama with domestic comedy, playful glee with skewering critiques. He does not shy away from the human tragedies that serve to count the costs of geopolitical and colonial ambitions. Ghosh's skill at balancing the high and low is especially effective in the passages dealing with Zachary and Mrs. Burnham, where class, gender and race collide.

Sharp, epic, teeming with characters and activity, Flood of Fire is bravura story telling. It is world history writ large through the minutiae of social interactions by a master of the craft of fiction. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: An expansive tragicomedy that is satisfying on its own and as a fitting conclusion to Amitav Ghosh's extraordinary Ibis trilogy.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28, hardcover, 9780374174248

Coming of Age at the End of Days

by Alice LaPlante

The title of Alice LaPlante's third novel, Coming of Age at the End of Days, succinctly describes its plot. At the beginning, Anna Franklin is 16 and terribly depressed, fixated on death. Therapy and medication do nothing to bring her out of it. Her anti-religious mother begins reading to her from the Bible, just to have time together and to introduce Anna to literary references; this does not lighten Anna's world, but instead gives its darkness meaning, as Revelations resonates with her mood. What finally causes her depression to break is a new family in the neighborhood. Lars and his parents introduce Anna to their church, where it is preached that the Tribulation at the End of Days is coming. There will be blood, violence and suffering. Her heart sings at the news.

At the center of Anna's story--and of all these characters' stories--are obsessions. "Images. Sounds. The Red Heifer. Bosch's depiction of hell. A rock hitting a tree." Anna's mother is a deeply devoted pianist; her father is an earthquake nut, eagerly awaiting The Big One, in a secular obsession not unlike his daughter's. LaPlante (Turn of Mind) masterfully weaves a distressing plot in which complex, sympathetic characters, each with a complete and absorbing past, are brought to the brink of destruction and then seemingly asked: What kind of life, and death, will you choose? The reader's imagination will be won by this brilliant, thought-provoking and memorable novel. It perfectly captures the dynamics of family relationships and friendships, loyalties and priorities, and the nuanced workings of an unusual mind. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A disturbed teenage girl meets a doomsday cult and struggles for survival and identity.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802121653

All That Followed

by Gabriel Urza

In Gabriel Urza's first novel, three narrators tell a nuanced story that meanders over three events in Spanish Basque political history. It centers on the fictional north coast town of Muriga, rocked in the 1930s by the violence of the Spanish Civil War, when Francisco Franco's Falangists assassinated local Republican supporters. In the late '90s, a local Muriga councilman was kidnapped and killed by young students affiliated with the separatist Euskadi Ta Askatasuna organization. In 2004, when All That Followed begins, 190 commuters have just been killed and 1,800 wounded in the Madrid Atocha train station bombing, initially rumored to be the work of the ETA but then attributed to al-Qaeda.

Muriga, where road signs are written in both Basque and Spanish and close-knit citizens keep their politics to themselves, is a town with secrets--both political and personal. Against this rich historical background, Urza's novel focuses on the effect that political violence has personally on those caught in its turmoil. It's the story of the world as it seems now--fragmented, politically unstable, violent--and the ways people find to cope.

Urza--Nevada public defender, Ohio State MFA graduate and descendent of a Spanish Basque family--writes clean prose, scattering Spanish and Basque words as he goes. All That Followed positions today's young generation in a place where the future can't outrun the past, and the present--with all its tangled loyalties, politics, attachments and detachments--is all there is. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Citizens of a Basque town in northern Spain are caught in its past while dealing with its difficult present.

Holt, $25, hardcover, 9781627792431

Days of Awe

by Lauren Fox

"Death smashes a crater into your life, and you're left alone to sort through the rubble," says Isabel "Iz" Applebaum Moore, the 43-year-old, witty, self-aware heroine who narrates Days of Awe, an insightful novel by Lauren Fox that explores how grief can make every arena of life feel suddenly disorienting.

The book opens at the funeral of Josie Abrams--Iz's best friend and coworker, a fun-loving, whimsical art teacher at the local middle school--who was killed when her rusty Toyota skidded off an icy road and crashed into a guardrail. Josie's death is shocking and devastating for all who loved her, including her husband, Mark, as well as for Isabel and her husband, Chris. The four were close friends who shared many experiences and good times together. Josie's death soon becomes a force that begins to unravel all of their lives. Isabel's 15-year marriage to Chris frays and their 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, who considered Josie an "honorary aunt," becomes plagued with insomnia and moodiness.

Humor brings levity to Fox's frank, thought-provoking story that adds surprising depth and meaning, layer upon layer, page by page. As in Fox's other novels, Still Life with Husband and Friends Like Us, she presents scenes of seemingly mundane life that resonate with much larger and deeper dramatic implications. By employing a wry, likable narrator to chronicle the aching, pull-and-tug of grief and the joys and perils of domestic life, Fox once again explores, with a smart and refreshing perspective, the underside of friendships, marriage, love and loss--and the range of emotions that can burden and liberate the human heart. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A woman's sudden death challenges her best friend to reassess the meaning of her life, her marriage and motherhood and to consider a second chance at love.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780307268129

The Casualties

by Nick Holdstock

In Edinburgh, Scotland, there was once a neighborhood called Comely Bank, whose denizens included some eccentrics, with stories that warrant telling. Hinted at, just out of the reader's line of sight, is the calamitous event that wiped it out, and Edinburgh, and all of Western Europe and beyond. This catastrophe motivates the unnamed narrator's storytelling, told almost entirely in flashback.

Following a brief and ominous opening in which Comely Bank's destruction is promised, the daily lives of local residents form the focus of Nick Holdstock's debut novel, The Casualties. Sam Clark is a very curious man. He runs the charity bookshop in the neighborhood, where he carefully sifts and sorts through donated books looking for the ephemera tucked forgotten between their pages: he's after photographs, letters, airline tickets, notes and cards that shed light on the lives of strangers. He carefully observes the people around him, seeking their stories. The reader won't learn what he's really looking for until well into Holdstock's meticulously ordered narrative.

Holdstock vividly presents his odd and varied characters, and places them in a world that is at once both colorful and recognizably everyday. The protagonists' personalities and actions are quirky but believable, and given added weight by their place in time: The Casualties is a twist on the post-apocalyptic novel in that it reexamines the world just before its end. This perspective, and the continuing mystery of the narrator's identity, nudge the reader into asking uncomfortable questions about life and its length and meaning. Strong characterization and a creative plot, both familiar and bizarre, give this novel enduring allure. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A memorable first novel that examines a Scottish neighborhood's eccentrics with the benefit of hindsight following an apocalypse.

Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250059512

Mystery & Thriller

In a Dark, Dark Wood

by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware's chilling, atmospheric thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood is her first novel and the inaugural title published by Simon & Schuster's new imprint, Scout Press.

Nora is a writer of crime novels, a loner who buys her groceries online and appreciates her solitude. But when she gets an invitation to a hen party being thrown for a woman she hasn't spoken to in 10 years, her carefully structured life is disrupted. Against her instincts, she agrees to attend, and the party's setting serves as a disturbing beginning: an isolated castle of steel and glass set deep in the English woods, populated for the weekend by nervous guests, each apparently with secrets to keep.

In the novel's disjointed timeline, Nora later wakes up in the hospital with fractured memories of being covered in blood, running through dark woods with a sense of urgency; the police are waiting outside her door. What happened to her? Or... what has she done? As the narrative switches between Nora's confusion in her hospital bed and the events leading up to her hospitalization, she and the reader together begin to wonder: Can she really not remember, or does she not want to? Both timelines accelerate with building suspense toward the big reveal, and eventually Nora will have to go back and recall events from her past that she'd rather leave forgotten.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is peopled by mysterious characters set to a classically spooky backdrop and culminating in blood, broken glass and memory loss. Readers who appreciate being unnerved will be charmed. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An enchantingly unsettling thriller with mysterious characters and a classically spooky setting.

Gallery/Scout Press, $26, hardcover, 9781501112317


The Lure of the Moonflower

by Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig (That Summer; The Other Daughter) has wrapped up her enjoyable Pink Carnation series with another excellent entry.

In The Lure of the Moonflower, which finishes the story begun 12 books earlier in The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, the intrepid British agent Pink Carnation (otherwise known as Miss Jane Wooliston), finally gets a love story of her own.

Jane is in Portugal, desperately attempting to find the queen, who was spirited away when the rest of the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil as Napoleon's troops invaded. In spite of all her other espionage-related talents, the Pink Carnation doesn't speak Portuguese. She turns for assistance to the notorious Moonflower, aka Jack Reid. Jack is an Anglo-Indian turned French agent, then turned back into British spy, and Jane can only hope that his assistance is reliable.

With a dour and wintry Portuguese setting, The Lure of the Moonflower isn't quite as frothy as some of the other books in the series. But it includes Willig's characteristic tongue-in-cheek humor, and the framing modern story, which continues the shenanigans of Eloise, academic researcher of early 19th-century espionage, is sure to make readers laugh out loud. Something like Bridget Jones meets The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Lure of the Moonflower is a must-read for lovers of chick lit and historical fiction. With tidy conclusions to Eloise's modern-day romance and to Jane's escapades nearly two centuries earlier, The Lure of the Moonflower is a fitting finale for a fun series. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: The final entry in the fabulous historical Pink Carnation series.

NAL, $16, paperback, 9780451473028

Biography & Memoir

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis

by Abigail Santamaria

Today, Helen "Joy" Davidman is known primarily as the wife of C.S. Lewis. But before she became the cherished companion of one of the 20th century's leading theologians and writers, she had worked hard to build her own writing career. A poet, critic, onetime ardent Communist and lifelong spiritual seeker, Joy was a brilliant but difficult woman. Abigail Santamaria explores the many facets of Joy's life and career in her new biography, titled simply Joy.

Intellectually curious yet hungry for a cause she could follow, Joy believed in the Communist Party, and her association with the Party helped her career to flourish for a time, as did several summers she spent writing at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. In time, however, Joy became disillusioned with the Party. She also had several experiences of what she called "moments of grace," which set her on a journey toward the Christianity she would later embrace.

Frustrated by professional setbacks and the failure of her first marriage, Joy uprooted her life--and that of her two young sons--to travel to England in 1952. She had struck up a flourishing correspondence with Lewis, and she set out to woo her literary lion. Santamaria chronicles the difficulties of Joy's life in England and Lewis's reaction to her arrival, but shows that, in the end, they did fall deeply in love. As Joy's health began to fail, her relationship with Lewis flourished, and their last few years together were blissful.

A clear-eyed, insightful portrait of a fascinating woman, Santamaria's biography adds important depth and richness to the popular image of Joy Davidman. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: This insightful biography of Joy Davidman reveals new facets of the brilliant, complicated woman who married C.S. Lewis.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 9780151013715

Travel Literature

Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain

by Charlotte Higgins

British journalist Charlotte Higgins (It's All Greek to Me) has always been fascinated by the classical world, but that fascination didn't extend to Roman Britain. She thought of Britain as an unglamorous outpost on the edge of the Roman Empire--an opinion shared by most Romans of the time. A visit to Hadrian's Wall changed her mind. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain is the story of her search to understand Rome's 360-year occupation of Britain and its influence on the British sense of history and identity.

Higgins travels across Britain in an unreliable camper van, searching out traces of ancient Rome. She walks the tourist-friendly Hadrian's Wall, and tracks down the ruins of Londinium through modern London with the help of a map published by the Museum of London. She visits small museums, major museums and a tourist trap called Iceni Village. She interviews archeologists, museum curators, farmers-turned-innkeepers near Hadrian's Wall, and a full-time Roman centurion who appears at museum events and school programs. She considers the unexpected cache of Roman "postcards" known as the Vindolanda tablets; an influential 18th-century forgery of a Roman text; and re-imaginings of Roman Britain by later generations of British antiquarians, poets, military engineers and composers, including Benjamin Britten's soulful Roman Wall Blues, composed for a radio play by W.H. Auden.

Under Another Sky weaves Britain's history and contemporary landscape together into a complex and fascinating account that is part travelogue, part history and wholly charming. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Part travelogue, part history, Under Another Sky examines Imperial Rome's legacy in modern Britain.

Overlook Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781468310894

Children's & Young Adult

Bob and Flo

by Rebecca Ashdown

Part mystery, part parable about the merits of sharing, this charming debut introduces penguins Bob and Flo, who meet and make friends at preschool.

In a palette of primarily pink, yellow and blue, Flo takes the stage with a bundle of fish neatly tucked into a pink bucket that matches her new bow. A penguin named Bob tells Flo, "I like your bucket." While Flo paints, Bob eyes her bucket. Rebecca Ashdown is a master of deadpan humor. Flo looks up from the easel, and sees that her bucket is missing (readers will notice the fish strewn across the floor), "and there was something different about... Bob." Preschoolers will delight in noticing what Flo does not: that Bob looks different because he is wearing Flo's pink bucket on his head while pulling a train set behind him like a pet. ("Flo went to look for her bucket.") Ashdown balances each composition: Bob vertically builds a tower of blocks in the same color scheme as the train, which stretches out horizontally, thus drawing attention to the bucket on which Bob stands. In the pages that follow, children will notice the clues of the bucket-size sand castles, and the telltale train disappearing at right. Finally, Flo spots her bucket, only to lose track of Bob. Thick black outlines keep Bob, Flo, her bow and bucket front and center, while everything else supports their growing friendship. The bucket plays a key role when Flo comes to Bob's rescue.

This pair will quickly become a favorite among preschoolers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A preschool penguin pair debut in this charming picture book--part mystery, part parable.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780544444300

Fowl Play

by Travis Nichols

Travis Nichols (Matthew Meets the Man) serves up a graphic novel–picture book hybrid brimming with idioms and wordplay, starring a host of creature detectives in the Gumshoe Zoo.

When Quentin, the goat on duty, gets a call from Mr. Hound about a broken store window, he sends out an alert to his colleagues. Nichols paints the goat as the hub, with arrows stretching like the spokes of a wheel (to Mike, a bull in a china shop; Steve the monkey in a barrel; and Morgan the chicken, counting eggs before they hatch--to name a few). The creatures find it nearly impossible not to insult a teammate as they announce their findings. Josie the fish admits "there is some definite monkey business at hand," then apologizes to Steve. Josie the rat "suspect[s] foul play," then apologizes to feathered friend Morgan ("No need, Josie. That was F-O-U-L. I'm a chicken. That's F-O-W-L," says he). Sharon the duck finds the telltale clue that leads to the mystery's solution. Offbeat colors such as eggplant, burnt orange and forest green give the book a retro feel, and an ending announcing the threat of a "beast of oxymoronic proportions" promises another case for the Gumshoe Zoo.

For best results, give this to a kid who enjoys puzzles and witty turns of phrase. Helpful endnotes explain the term "idiom" and the book's most prominent examples of them. Readers will be clamoring to solve the next installment. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An idiom-filled mystery to be solved by the feathered, finned and hooved members of the Gumshoe Zoo detective agency.

Chronicle, $14.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 8-10, 9781452131825

Job Wanted

by Teresa Bateman, illus. by Chris Sheban

This winning picture book trumpets the merits of hard work and loyalty.

Teresa Bateman (Keeper of Soles) unspools her tale with a storyteller's command of language and pacing: "An old farm dog plodded down a dirt road--paws sore and stomach empty." The pooch marches right up to a farmer and asks, "Do you need a dog?" The farmer declines: "Dogs just eat and don't give anything back," unlike cows, horses and chickens. "Do you have an opening for a cow?" asks the dog. Chris Sheban's (Catching the Moon) watercolor, graphite and colored pencil illustrations depict a modest yet thriving farm. The dog returns before dawn, herds the cows into place, and the farmer does his milking "in jig time." Even so, the man tells the dog there's no job for him at the farm. In what becomes a can-do refrain, Bateman writes, "The dog was disappointed but not discouraged." The pup does the same with the horses (leading them along with the promise of carrots) and the farmer again turns him away ("the dog was disappointed but not discouraged"). Three's the charm when the dog tries to fill an opening for a chicken. Sheban takes the perspective of the fowls, looking out from inside the dark coop into the light-filled farmyard where the furry fellow stands (he tidies up the coop and chases out a fox). At last, the farmer finds just the right job for his canine applicant.

This pooch is a model of the power of persistence. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A canine hero embodies the power of persistence.

Holiday House, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9780823433919

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