Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 30, 2015

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

From My Shelf

Books on Stage

The theater is one of my favorite places to go, second only to a bookstore. I recently had the luxury of seeing Fun Home on Broadway, and can attest that the production does wonders with Alison Bechdel's memoir. My eyes were wet by the final bow.

Though many bookstores devote significant shelf space to theatrical scripts, I'm embarrassed to admit that I have always been a bit timid when it comes to exploring them. It might have been seeing ACT Theatre's outstanding production of The Invisible Hand (Back Bay, $14.99) in 2014 that finally snapped me out of my stupor. Not only is the play a sharp and provocative negotiation between a successful, wily financier and a militant group in rural Pakistan, but it was written by Ayad Akhtar, author of the acclaimed novel American Dervish (Back Bay, $15)!

Familiar names are everywhere, too: playwright David Hare, who adapted Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours for the screen, has also adapted for the stage Katherine Boo's hugely popular book on Mumbai, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15). Lin-Manuel Miranda credits Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton (Penguin, $20) for inspiring him to write his hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.

I could go on and on, because while these examples are recent, the theater has long been entwined in the business of books. If you're looking for a behind-the-scenes peek at happenings onstage and off, with a smorgasbord of juicy gossip on the side, Michael Riedel's Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway (Simon & Schuster, $27) promises to uncover everything you could want to know and more! The benefit of the book, too, is that you never have to worry about late seating. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Kate Morton: History and Mystery

photo: Davin Patterson

Australian native Kate Morton holds degrees in dramatic arts and English literature. She is the award-winning author of five novels, including The House at Riverton and The Secret Keeper. Her most recent novel is The Lake House (reviewed below). Morton lives with her family in Brisbane, Australia.

With the obvious joy and passion that Kate Morton instills in her work, it may be hard to believe that she didn't always aspire to write. "It never occurred to me that it was a job that real people could do. I don't know where I thought all the books I read were coming from, but it wasn't like now, where kids know who J.K. Rowling is and there're authors in schools," Morton says. Instead, she studied to be an actress but didn't end up pursuing a career in theater. "I did love it, but I had a limited idea about the kind of actress I wanted to be. I wanted to be on the stage doing Shakespeare and that was it. I don't know that I could have made a career out of that, certainly not in Australia," she explains.

So what triggered Morton's entry into the literary world? "A friend who's a writer made an off-the-cuff comment one day: 'Lots of people want to write, but you've really got to have a stubborn nature. You'd be able to finish a book.' I bought a notebook and wrote down an idea and started and that was it," she says. And she still begins each new book this way. Much like her character Alice, a mystery writer, in The Lake House, Morton has shelves of these notebooks. "I am quite pathological about my notebooks. I need to have one; I feel quite unhinged if I don't have one to jot ideas down in even if I never go back and read it. Something about that process from brain through fingers to paper sort of locks it in for me."

So from brain to fingers to paper, each of Morton's highly successful novels take shape. "Before I start writing--and this is almost my favorite part of the whole process--I spend about three or four months scribbling in my books. I can fill three or four of them just to come up with the one page of what the idea is. But all that work gives the color and the texture and the feel; the synopsis is never just a page of writing. I can then read it and the echoes of all of that scribbling come back and it's like a place I've been before," she describes. However, these months are just the beginning of researching and shaping her meticulously detailed novels, set in multiple time periods. "Because my books are so long and take so long to write, I take notes as I go and I research as I go. And I don't always know from the beginning that, say, shell shock will become as important as it does, so then I need to research shell shock or whatever the case may be. There are innumerable small research detours that I take along the way. And some of them end up being edited out and aren't important while others become fundamental."

This process is similar in form for each of Morton's novels, but the inspirations vary greatly. For The Lake House, the inspiration stems from two seeds she was able to merge artfully into one enchanting story. "A book is thousands of ideas put together in hopefully the right order, but I had these two vivid ideas, and one was a missing child story. I had in mind a real-life Australian case called the Beaumont case--the Beaumont children were three siblings who disappeared in 1966 on a really hot Australia day. They went to the seaside by themselves and they didn't go home. They were never found, and to this day no one knows what happened to them. It changed the way people parented in Australia. I was thinking about that and at the same time an e-mail came to me, with pictures of a French apartment that had been locked up in the 1940s; the person who owned it had disappeared and it had just been re-opened again. The person who sent it said, 'This sounds like one of your books.' That is one of my books, gosh, what happened to that apartment? Where's the owner? How can I turn this into a story?" Feeling certain she didn't know enough about France to write a book set there, she considered Australia as a setting. Then Morton experienced an epiphany while talking to her English publisher: "She said, 'well, you know, there are abandoned houses in England, too.' And all of sudden the two ideas came together--the missing child and the abandoned house, and I had my story."

That story is the multi-layered tale of a kidnapping in 1930s Cornwall that goes unsolved and resurfaces in 2003 when a young police detective happens upon the long-forsaken home where the crime occurred. The use of multiple time periods is not new to Morton. "I don't seem to ever get tired of exploring that sort of story. I love history, but I love history even more when I'm looking at how much it's reached into the present world. I love visiting old houses, walking down a cobbled laneway now and imaging the clatter of horse hooves and women in Edwardian skirts, I just love that sort of conflation of the past and the present. So I guess it stands to reason that in my books, it's where I choose to spend most of my time." And her interest in history has personal benefits as well: "I have three sons and history gives you an excuse to talk about swords and war."

While swords aren't as common in Morton's novels, war certainly is. "Historically, wars are times of transition so they are very ripe periods to write about, not just the war, but what was happening at home socially. It's a very fruitful period to write about," she explains. In The Lake House, Morton examines the psychological effects of war on soldiers and those they return home to. "Shell shock--or post-traumatic stress disorder--is interesting in and of itself, but I wanted to take the other view and look at it from the perspective of the person who's been left at home, who loves the person who's suffering and never gives up hope that she'll find a way to fix him and put it all back together and make it how it used to be. I found that a very compelling thing to write about."

In the 2003 events of The Lake House, Morton introduces a new type of character for her: Sadie, a policewoman. But, Morton explains, "I always think of myself as a mystery writer even though nobody else on the planet does. I decided this book will be more explicitly a mystery story. So I'm going to have a detective. The challenge in my books is always, I've got to have a detective-type character who performs that function but they're not actually a detective. So I thought, 'Well, this time I'm just going to have a detective and then she can just be solving the mystery. Straight out, I won't have to hide it. That's what she's doing.'" But Sadie has other unique characteristics. As Morton points out, "It's very tempting as a writer to write characters like yourself--you know I love books and I use expressions like 'down the rabbit hole'--but I told myself, 'I'm going to set myself the challenge of writing a female contemporary character who doesn't read books. That's not her world. She's very different. She goes for runs and she doesn't go into libraries, and I'm going to see if I can do that.' " Kate Morton can now record that challenge as accomplished.

Writing plays an integral part in The Lake House, but is writing as relative to today's readers? Morton feels that it certainly is. "I think we've actually had a bit of a return to periods like the late Victorian, when lots of people kept diaries and scrapbooks. In today's online world, a lot of people who weren't writing things down are: they're keeping blogs or they're on Facebook or they've got Instagram accounts. People are writing all the time now because e-mail makes it so easy to communicate. People are taking photos on their smart phones and sending them around and getting those apps where you can join them together and make montages and tell stories and make little films. When I was growing up in the '80s, there was probably less writing because there wasn't the technology that makes it fun. So, in a way, people are, I think, curating aspects of their own life in written and visual form just as much as they did in the past. It's not quite so easy to discover in a trunk in the attic, but people are still recording."

As is Morton. She's excited about what's to come after The Lake House. "When I was deciding what to write for book number five, I was tossing up between the idea for The Lake House and another idea, which you'll be shocked to hear takes place in a big, old house full of secrets and history and mystery. I chose The Lake House, so I shelved the other one because you never know whether the urge or the drive will still be there. I pulled it out very carefully the other day and looked through it again and I felt the realizing of those fires. So now I just need to find the little extra bits that were missing last time and stopped me from writing it, because I think it's a good idea." --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Book Candy

All Hallow's Eve

"Winding up the dark staircase: A brief survey of haunted houses" was presented by Electric Lit. Bustle recommended "11 spooky books to read based on your favorite Halloween movies."

An infographic from Bookish offered ghoulish fashion tips to help you "pick your best literary Halloween costume."

And there are some haunting pop quizes. Buzzfeed challenged: "Can you guess the horror story from just one quote?" and Grammarly asked: "Which literary monster are you?"

Book Review


Welcome to Night Vale

by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale originated as a scripted podcast from Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who fused elements of Lovecraftian horror with small-town radio programs in creating the cultishly adored series. In their novelistic adaptation of the eerie yet comic landscape of Night Vale, Fink and Cranor have managed to create an excellent stand-alone book perfect for newcomers while also including plenty of winks to longtime fans.

They introduce the reader to a phantasmagoric world through Jackie Fierro, a pawnshop owner who is inexplicably decades-old and exactly 19 at the same time, and Diane Crayton, the emotionally distant single mother of an angsty, shape-shifting teenager. The plot is relatively simple: Jackie and Diane must find a town called King City for bizarre reasons involving a man who wears a tan jacket and carries a deerskin suitcase and, we are told, "had normal human features" (the book thrives on the juxtaposition of odd specifics with broad vagaries).

Fink and Cranor adopt a sink-or-swim attitude to Welcome to Night Vale's readers, gleefully throwing them headfirst into an ocean of weird. Some newcomers will undoubtedly be put off by sentences like this description of Night Vale's library: "Off the hallway were various reading rooms, for reading, and community rooms, for communing, and bloodletting rooms, for a different kind of communing"--but many more will be delighted by Fink's and Cranor's dry wit. In other words: "All hail the mighty Glow Cloud." --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Welcome to Night Vale successfully translates the creepy, hilarious podcast sensation into a creepy, hilarious book.

Harper Perennial, $19.99, hardcover, 9780062351425

Twain's End

by Lynn Cullen

Mention of Mark Twain evokes riverboats, wry quips, Americana, a white suit and an ever-present cigar. But as in her novel Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen reveals another side of a literary icon in Twain's End, exposing a volatile and narcissistic Samuel Clemens, a controlling father and a partner in a complex relationship with his secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, his "Lioness."

By 1902, when 67-year-old Clemens hired 39-year-old Isabel, he was internationally revered as the king of American humor. Cavalier with his public, privately he was beleaguered: his wife, Olivia, was bedridden; his headstrong daughter Clara manipulated him; daughter Jean, epileptic, avoided him; and he'd lost his beloved Susy to meningitis. Isabel Lyon intrigued him--smart and attractive, she was forced to work following her father's financial downfall. While Sam hired her as Olivia's secretary, he claimed Isabel's time and, in short order, her affection. As part of the household, she suffered the maid's jealousy, Clara's temper and Sam's moods, yet forgave him all. He expressed his love, but even after Olivia's death would not make a commitment to Isabel.

With the blessing of her "King," Isabel wed Sam's business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, in 1909. Within a month, however, they were abruptly fired. Sam and Clara hurled slanderous accusations, plus charges of impropriety and embezzlement. The spurned couple settled in Wisconsin, and Isabel remained gracious, never speaking against Samuel Clemens.

Twain's End is a well-researched love story and history. Cullen based the novel on Isabel's extensive daily journals, newspapers and memoirs, and readers will savor this accessible view of the enigmatic Mark Twain. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Samuel Clemens, beloved worldwide as Mark Twain, demonstrates a narcissistic and controlling side in his relationship with his loyal secretary.

Gallery Books, $26, hardcover, 9781476758961

All the Stars in the Heavens

by Adriana Trigiani

The glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age glitters in Adriana Trigiani's All the Stars in the Heavens, a novelization of the life of Loretta Young. But behind the scenes every star had a supporting cast, and Alda Ducci, Loretta's secretary, confidante and friend, shares Loretta's story.

The decades-long saga opens with Alda's dismissal from a San Francisco convent. Loretta's family, devout Catholics, needed a secretary and hired Alda, whisking her to Sunset House, their swank Bel Air home. The kind, fun-loving and down-to-earth family embraced Alda, who soon accompanied Loretta to the MGM studio.

At 21, Loretta was already a star. She worked hard, resisting Hollywood's temptations, mindful of the industry's code of ethics. In 1934, "good taste was in style, so were the traditional values of home and hearth." It was not a good time for her to fall for Spencer Tracy, Loretta's married co-star of Man's Castle.

Loretta and Spencer settled for friendship, but the next year Clark Gable and Loretta were alone on Mount Baker, Wash., while filming Call of the Wild, and the allure of the iconic Mr. Gable was too much. True love blossomed. Alda, too, lost her heart on location, and both women returned to Los Angeles forever changed.

As in her Big Stone Gap novels, Trigiani captures setting and time in descriptive prose and true-to-life characters. Classic movie figures come to life: Gable, Tracy, Niven, Harlow and more move through All the Stars in the Heavens, but Loretta and Alda steal the scenes. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: All the Stars in the Heavens reveals the full story of the lives of movie star Loretta Young and other famous actors during Hollywood's heyday.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062319197

The Lake House

by Kate Morton

In August of 1933, on the night of the Edevanes' Midsummer party, 10-month-old Theo vanished from his bedroom in the family's stunning Cornwall estate, Loeanneth. Despite the presence of hundreds of guests and Theo's nanny sleeping in the same room, no one saw anything and the case went cold.

Seventy years later, London detective Sadie Sparrow inadvertently encounters Loeanneth while running in the countryside. The estate is abandoned, and the once beautiful gardens, long neglected, are grown over. Sadie's curiosity about the grand old home leads her to the decades-old investigation and Loeanneth's owner, Alice Edevane. Theo's older sister and a successful fiction writer, Alice prefers her family secrets stay locked in the old lake house.

Driven by a desire to conceal her own secrets, Sadie picks at the Edevanes' and releases more surprises than anyone--even Alice--could have anticipated.

With a sumptuousness that mirrors the opulent gardens of Loeanneth, Kate Morton (The Secret Keeper) recounts a tragically beautiful saga of love and deception. She constructs an intricate psychological mystery, to which many hold clues but no single individual the answer. Her dynamic use of perspective in the novel builds a creeping suspense while the vibrant characters encourage emotional connection with readers.

Morton's robust plot is complemented by her vivid setting, an atmosphere that stimulates the senses and envelops the audience in a long-ago world of grand fetes and high society. Long-time fans and fledgling readers alike will readily--and willingly--lose themselves in the rich world of Kate Morton's The Lake House. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A 70-year-old cold case brings a young police detective and an octegenarian writer together for a mystery of fairy tale proportions.

Atria, $28, hardcover, 9781451649321

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Our Lady of the Ice

by Cassandra Rose Clarke

In Hope City--an Argentinian colony in Antarctica that produces nuclear energy for the mainland--not long after Last Night festivities (one evening of revelry before the citizens batten down for the long, cold winter to come), a woman of the aristocracy walks into Eliana's dingy office. Marianella Luna's business is delicate, she says. Like any PI worth her salt, Eliana responds that discretion is her specialty. Well known for her support of the independence movement, Marianella has come for help because some documents have been stolen from her home. Eliana takes the job, enticed by the exorbitant paycheck offered.

Cassandra Rose Clarke's Our Lady of the Ice has all the markings of a classic noir thriller: gangsters and PIs, corrupt politicians and femmes fatales, yet this is more than Raymond Chandler with a sub-zero setting. Marianella isn't human. She's a cyborg, a human-machine blend universally regarded as an abomination. There is a natural kinship between sci-fi dystopias and noir mysteries. They share a bleak view of human nature--these are tales where evil is chaotic and entropic, a feature of society rather than an aberration. All the characters, human and otherwise, are suffering from broken programming of one kind or another.

When everyone is at their worst, even the most fallen have a shot at redemption. In Our Lady of the Ice, Cassandra Rose Clarke (The Mad Scientist's Daughter) uses old tropes to their very best effect, showcasing the chilling wisdom of genre fiction at its best. --Emma Page, bookseller at Island Books in Mercer Island, Wash.

Discover: A private investigator in Antarctica takes a case from a cyborg member of the aristocracy.

Saga Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9781481444262

King of Shards

by Matthew Kressel

According to Hebrew legend, there are 36 righteous men (the lamed vav) per generation who keep the world from destruction by their own merit or being. Nebula Award-nominated author (and amateur Yiddishist) Matthew Kressel takes this legend and expands it in his fascinating first novel, King of Shards, set across a multiverse that includes Earth as well as accursed places from Hebrew lore, like Sheol and Gehinnom.

Daniel Fisher is unaware that he's one of the lamed vav until a strange old man with glowing eyes interrupts his wedding. This demon in human form, called Ashmedai, abducts Daniel from the ceremony, to save him from his bride-to-be, Rebekah, whom the old man claims is the demon Mashit.

Ashmedai and Daniel arrive in Gehinnom, a shard of reality that contains various Bronze Age cultures, intent on meeting Rana, a young woman who aspires to great works of architecture and sculpture. They enlist her help as they journey to see Ashmedai's brother, the angel (or demon, depending on perspective) Azazel, who has power enough to send the adventurers across the multiverse to stop Mashit from killing other lamed vav.

King of Shards is the first entry of the Worldmender Trilogy, and its use of Hebrew culture and legend to build a complex, dynamic setting serves to imbue every page with an epic mythos. Kressel presents a compelling alternate reality that readers can escape to while also pondering the nature of what is real. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A compelling fantasy novel, built upon the foundation of Jewish mysticism, in which ordinary people must conquer the extraordinary nature of the universe.

Arche Press, $17, paperback, 9781630230289


Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

by Sarah Vowell

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by public radio's favorite historian, Sarah Vowell (Unfamiliar Fishes), reminds readers who the Marquis de Lafayette was, and how he came to aid the Yankees in the War of Independence.

Lafayette was a gallant, if occasionally inept, ally, to the colonies that declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. He was the first in a steady influx of French soldiers promised prestige in the colonial army. However, this war was severely underfinanced. Good humored as she is, Vowell isn't one to sugarcoat the past, and her depiction of the American rebels frequently points out the fledgling nation's shortcomings, shortsightedness and shortness of cash. Armed with Benjamin Franklin's politesse, George Washington's valor, Thomas Jefferson's brains and young Lafayette's optimism, the colonial soldiers had little else to their names, including clothing, a fact that frequently left their French comrades clutching their pearls. With plentiful archives of letters and diaries, and educational vacations taken with her sister and nephew, Vowell brings to life a chapter in American history as only she--and the handful of kooky reenactors she meets along the way--can.

Though Lafayette's early fame is documented by names of roads, parks, squares and buildings throughout the United States, it's clear "that Americans [have] forgotten France's help in our war for independence in general and the national obsession with Lafayette in particular." With wit and candor, Sarah Vowell does fine work to undo this amnesia. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The American Revolution is presented in comedic Technicolor by popular historian Sarah Vowell.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594631740

Current Events & Issues

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath

by Ted Koppel

Ted Koppel (Off Camera) is a broadcast news icon. In Lights Out, his first book of investigative journalism, he builds a strong case that a cyber attack on U.S. electrical power grids is likely, potentially devastating, and that the government has failed to prepare for it.

Cyber attacks may come from nations or small groups, and are deniable in ways that a nuclear attack is not, which means that attackers need not fear immediate retaliation. Koppel refers to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analysis that found that "if nine of the country's most critical substations were knocked out at the same time, it could cause a blackout encompassing most of the United States." It might be tempting to dismiss these extreme scenarios as fearmongering, if it weren't for Koppel's reliance on reams of studies and reports, and interviews with top-ranking national security experts and policy makers from all levels of government and industry, including power company officials, the military, NSA, FEMA and Homeland Security.

Lights Out is suffused with the anxiety that comes from trying to predict an uncertain future. Readers may want to retreat from this mass of alarming facts and figures. However, Koppel offers British World War II civil defense measures of his childhood as an example of national training that put "an organized structure in place. There was a level of civilian discipline that served the country well." No matter what disasters come our way, he believes we could benefit from building prepared communities and a national emergency plan to hold society together until the lights come back on. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Broadcast journalist Ted Koppel argues that we aren't prepared for terrorist cyber attacks on the American power grid.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780553419962

Nature & Environment

Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life

by Joan Chittister

In Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life, Joan Chittister (a Benedictine nun and author of The Gift of Years) provides readers with spiritual guidance in the form of touching personal stories about her pets. Though the meaning she derives from each story is profound, part of what makes them so sweet is that they are not of the heroic or headline-making variety. Rather, they are the most ordinary occurrences--spotting one of her dogs playing with butterflies in the garden or catching another stealing a plate of sweets off a table. Each story is a sort of parable, containing a gem of wisdom about modern life, from the importance of self-awareness to the perils of overwork.

As co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality, Chittister has served for many years as a spiritual leader and speaker. As such, Two Dogs, in addition to honoring animals, sheds lights on the lives of those who've devoted themselves to faith. Recalling a time when her dog played for hours in an automatic door, Chittister uses the story to stress the value of play. The idea that the spiritual world is populated by "the dour of soul, the dry of heart, and the neurotically well-disciplined," she explains, is a myth that does a great disservice. On the contrary, Chittinser and her fellow nuns, like the animals they've loved so dearly, seek joy, fun and warmth in everyday life. --Annie Atherton

Discover: Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, lecturer and author, offers spiritual guidance in the form of stories about her pets.

BlueBridge, $18.95, hardcover, 9781629190068


You Don't Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism

by Alida Nugent

"Being a feminist means one thing to me: it means letting women make the decisions for themselves, and women having the opportunities and the equal playing field it takes in order to make those decisions for themselves. To me, everything else is just noise." The Frenemy blogger Alida Nugent (Don't Worry It Gets Worse) reiterates this belief in each of the essays that make up You Don't Have to Like Me. With unguarded honesty, blunt language and astute sarcasm Nugent confronts dieting, female friendships and sex. She humorously shares advice she's received and lessons learned in an attempt to invalidate negative stereotypes associated with the label "feminist."

While the content is presented in a playful manner, the underlying messages remain serious. Nugent dissects the logic of expecting women to be flattered by catcalling and highlights the dangers women confront daily, which require them to take precautions and be alert. She makes a stand against the discrepancies in subconscious lessons we teach boys and girls, how those messages need to change in order to create an equal playing field for both genders.

Nugent is forthright and at times quite explicit, which may make some readers uncomfortable. She doesn't expect every reader to want or need the same things she does. Her goal is, however, to have each reader realize those decisions are hers to make, and it's okay if their choices are different. You Don't Have to Like Me is wonderfully empowering and delightfully entertaining. For women or men, this collection of essays has valuable insight for everyone. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A young woman celebrates feminism in an effort to help others understand its true meaning.

Plume, $16, paperback, 9780142181683

Children's & Young Adult

Listen to the Moon

by Michael Morpurgo

This uplifting, heartrending story by British author Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) opens in May 1915 in the Scilly Islands, 25 miles off the English coast of Cornwall.

Jim Wheatcroft and his son, Alfie, are fishing near the island of St. Helen's, when Alfie hears an "almost human" crying coming from the centuries-old quarantine site, the Pest House. Alfie and Jim discover a half-starved waif and row her home to their farm on Bryher. "Lucy" is the only word she speaks, but her blanket, marked with the name Wilhelm, identifies her as possibly German--"a lousy Hun," jeers Cousin Dave. Still, "Lucy Lost," who is a mystery, a silent mermaid or ghost child to the whispering locals, is a welcome distraction from the growing list of wartime casualties in France and Belgium. As Lucy gets color back in her cheeks, it's as satisfying as when sickly Mary Lennox starts to blossom in The Secret Garden. The bountiful love of the generous Wheatcrofts, her music and drawing, and a "whiskery old horse" named Peg that won't let anyone but Lucy ride her slowly bring her back to the world. Morpurgo invites readers into the sights, sounds and smells of island life, with vivid descriptions of the screeching gulls, boats and changing tides, as well as the delightfully nuanced characterizations of the colorful islanders themselves.

Listen to the Moon is a story that, refreshingly, unwinds at its own pace, mirroring the steady day-to-day kindness and patience of the Wheatcroft family that form the cornerstone of this beautiful novel. Indeed, kindness from unexpected corners saves many lives in this touching wartime story. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Michael Morpurgo tells a moving story about a girl who's discovered on a deserted island near England's Cornwall in 1915.

Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, $16.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9781250042040

Newt's Emerald

by Garth Nix

Esteemed Australian fantasy writer Garth Nix (Sabriel and the rest of the Old Kingdom series; A Confusion of Princes) infuses a witty, engaging 19th-century Regency romance with the right touch of magic to shake up that tried and true genre.

At the 18th birthday celebration of Lady Truthful, nicknamed Newt, her father, Admiral the Viscount Newington, wishes to show off the huge, heart-shaped and magical Newington Emerald. Unfortunately, the Admiral, a weather-wizard, inadvertently conjures up a gale, and in the ensuing chaos, the priceless stone is stolen right off the dinner table. Eager to recover the heirloom, Truthful heads to London, where she thinks the thief will go to sell it, and takes up residence at the fashionable Grosvenor Square home of her great-aunt Ermintrude. A proper lady can't exactly wander about London talking to pawnbrokers, so Ermintrude casts a glamour spell to disguise Truthful as a man, specifically her French cousin Chevalier de Vienne. With her charmed mustache in place and some sorcerous powers of her own, Truthful obtains the help of the surly but handsome Major Charles Harnett, and they set out to locate the lost emerald. They soon discover that the jewel theft may have involved a malignant sorceress and several murders! The pair encounters ruffians, turncoats and spies in their dangerous pursuit. By the end, many secrets--and secret identities--are revealed, and romance is in the air.

Newt's Emerald has all the societal trappings, banter and misconceptions necessary for a satisfying period piece, and the addition of magic--along with an appealing cast of characters--makes for a truly enjoyable, action-packed romp. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: Garth Nix mixes sorcery with a Regency romance, as Lady Truthful disguises herself as a man to track down a magical heirloom stolen from her family.

Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $18.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 13-up, 9780062360045

Big Bear, little chair

by Lizi Boyd

Big things are contrasted with little things--and then tiny things--in this stylish, tall and skinny picture-book exploration of relative size by Lizi Boyd (Inside Outside, Flashlight).

It's not the usual contrasts of big and small, like elephant and mouse. For example, Boyd pairs a "Big Zebra" with a "little broom." Zebra's standing on his hind legs with his broom, sweeping up a big pile of... something like soap flakes. What is that pile? Each graphically bold, gouache illustration has a crisp linocut quality, a perfectly composed tall rectangle in black, white and gray, with red spots of color. And each illustration, simply labeled, hints at a bigger story. There's a "Big Forest." What's that "little tent" doing there? Who might be camping there? As the book progresses, "tiny" things are added to the mix, labeled in a tiny font. There's a "Big Penguin" wearing a "tiny hat," perched atop a "little iceberg." A story-within-a-story quietly unfolds between little bear and Big Bear. On the opening page, "Big Bear" contemplates the empty "little chair," but a few pages later, "little bear" is reaching up to an empty "Big Chair." Later still, little bear (next to "little chair") is sweetly reaching up to "Big Bear." In a warm and friendly scene, "Big Bear" is sitting on his big chair next to "little bear" on his little chair.

Boyd's final spread celebrates "tiny stories... everywhere!" in a graphic mélange of the book's menagerie... and by this time, happily, little bear's made it all the way into Big Bear's lap. --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A winning, elegantly designed picture-book exploration of relative size by Lizi Boyd.

Chronicle, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781452144474

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