Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

RIP Harper Lee, Umberto Eco

Harper Lee, the author of the iconic To Kill a Mockingbird--one of the most beloved works of American literature--died on Friday in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala. She was 89.

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became an immediate bestseller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into what has become a classic movie. The book was been a steady seller since it was published--most American students read it at least once in school.

Set in the 1930s in a small town like Lee's hometown, the story is a coming of age-Southern gothic tale dealing with pervasive racism, inequality and legal injustice from the point of view of a young girl, Scout. The book is revered for its narrative style, its sense of humor and its vivid and eccentric characters.

Lee was famously reclusive, declining interviews, uncomfortable with her fame and success. Still, she was a powerful presence in the world of literature--and we will miss her.

On the same day Lee left this world, another literary giant, Umberto Eco, died, at the age of 84. The New York Times said that the author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum "sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols... and published more than 20 nonfiction books on these subjects while teaching at the University of Bologna... But rather than segregate his academic life from his popular fiction, Mr. Eco infused his seven novels with many of his scholarly preoccupations."

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi praised Eco as "an extraordinary example of a European intellectual, combining unique intelligence of the past with a limitless capacity to anticipate the future. It's an enormous loss for culture, which will miss his writing and voice, his sharp and lively thought, and his humanity."

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Buzzfeed showed "27 products for people who are completely obsessed with books."


"There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk." Signature shared the "world according to M.F.K. Fisher in 8 sumptuous quotes."


Speaking of food, "this Harry Potter wedding cake from an NFL player's wedding is a muggle masterpiece," Bustle noted.


Infographic of the Day: Electric Lit featured's look at "15 books with more characters than you can keep track of!"


DIY: Quirk Books showed how to make a "Zombie-proof leather book cover."

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Name of the Rose

Umberto Eco's debut novel, The Name of the Rose, is a labyrinthine historical murder mystery full of theological, philosophical and literary allusions. In the year 1327, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his companion, Adso of Melk, travel to an Italian monastery suspected of heresy. Their arrival coincides with a suicide, followed by the mysterious deaths of several other monks. William slowly unravels the monastery's secrets through a postmodern puzzle of clues-within-clues centered on a maze-like medieval library.

The Name of the Rose, published in Italian in 1980 and translated into English in 1983, became an international sensation. Eco's later works of fiction include Foucault's Pendulum (1988) and The Prague Cemetery (2010); his final novel was Numero Zero (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Eco was also an accomplished academic, publishing many nonfiction books and scholarly works on everything from literary criticism, anthropology, medieval philosophy, and, his specialty, semiotics, the study of meaning-making. The Name of the Rose inspired a 1986 film starring Sean Connery; it was last republished in 2014 (Mariner, $15.95, 9780544176560).

Bruce Nichols of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Eco's longtime U.S. publisher, said that "even more than for his timeless works, we will remember him for his exuberance, his vitality, his intense loyalties, and his wonderful company." --Tobias Mutter

Now in Paper: February

Lincoln's Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge and the Making of America by Brian McGinty (Liveright, $15.95)
On May 6, 1856, the steamboat Effie Afton hit a pillar of the Rock Island Bridge--the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi. Both steamboat and bridge caught fire. McGinty places the trial and its issues solidly in a historical context that includes the role of the Mississippi in American economic life, the Dred Scott case, Abraham Lincoln's career and westward expansion.

Discontent & Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead, $16)
Novelist Mohsin Hamid offers an insightful collection of short, crisp essays on global issues and personal experiences. Living in Pakistan, the United States and England for significant periods of his life has afforded him a sharp perspective on an array of cultural forces.

Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen: An Ordinary Family's Extraordinary Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in Congo by Lisa J. Shannon (PublicAffairs, $14.99)
Lisa J. Shannon writes a vivid account of the atrocities endured by one Congolese family when Joseph Kony's militia terrorized their village. The story unfolds in bits and pieces as Shannon interweaves personal accounts taken from long interviews with the family with her own reflections on the tense and dangerous situations in which they found themselves.

S O S: Poems, 1961-2013by Amiri Baraka (Grove, $20)
S O S provides a comprehensive compendium of the best of Amiri Baraka's 50 years of poetry. Selected by Los Angeles poet Paul Vangelisti, they cover the modern African American struggle for freedom and identity--but always in the lively voice with which Baraka shouted on the doorsteps of academic critics, Harlem organizers and Upper West Side intellectuals.

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China by Michael Meyer (Bloomsbury, $19)
In 2011, Meyer moved to his Chinese wife's hometown--a Manchurian village with what proved to be the inappropriate name of Wasteland. In his account of his months in Wasteland, Meyer walks the fine and often funny line between being both insider and outsider, telling a story that is at once intensely personal and broadly political.

From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 by Jorie Graham (Ecco, $19.99)
Nearly 40 years of challenging and demanding work by a Pulitzer-winning poet are gathered in this one volume. A Graham poem on the page is a work of art in itself; her poems use long and short lines, indentations and various spacing techniques to great effect.

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury, $17)
The second volume in Samantha Shannon's much-touted Bone Season series will leave readers clamoring for book three. Paige Mahoney is racing back to London after narrowly escaping Sheol I, where she had been held prisoner for months because of her unusual clairvoyant powers. In London, she must decide whether to rejoin her old crime syndicate or go it alone.

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link (Random House, $16)
Kelly Link graduated from the steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy schools of writing, so in her world, there's no idea or situation too strange to explore. In her collection's nine stories, she creates bizarre and fanciful worlds, but her controlled, simple prose makes the unreal seem downright dazzlingly real.

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy (Putnam, $16)
Joy's grim but satisfying story of the McNeely family faithfully echoes with the language and atmosphere of a largely lawless mountain culture. Choking in the tight hold of a ruthless drug-dealing father and largely ignored by a drug-addicted mother, Jacob quits school to take up his father's trade in a place with few options.

Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin (Dutton, $16)
Jess Dunne, the protagonist of Shanna Mahin's Oh! You Pretty Things, is 29 years old, recently divorced and third-generation Hollywood. But this funny, poignant novel is less about the gloss and excess than about finding one's identity and place in a slippery world full of illusions.

YA Fiction

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill, $11.99)
In her impressive debut, Sabaa Tahir constructs a novel set in a medieval city surrounded by desert; her plot pulls readers into her grasp and doesn't let go. Born enemies, Laia and Elias cross paths after the Masks take Laia's brother, Darin, prisoner because of a sketchbook filled with drawings of the forge where their swords are made.


Remembering Harper Lee

In 2005, I wrote Harper Lee to find out what book she credited turning her into a lifelong reader. My proposed story was axed, but two weeks later I got a letter back from Miss Lee. "Not many people are turned on by John Ruskin these days," she wrote, "but The King of the Golden River was an early 'fix' in a lifetime's addiction to reading; I've never sought a cure."

I was an editor at Publishers Weekly for 11 years and met so many authors that it's hard not to become somewhat blasé, but Harper Lee was the holy grail of authors and To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my all-time favorite novels. I wasn't about to let this correspondence die just because the story had.

Kevin Howell and Harper Lee

At the time, she was still spending half the year in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., and half in her one-bedroom apartment in New York City's Upper East Side. We continued writing letters, and when I reviewed Charles Shield's unauthorized biography of her, Mockingbird, I sent her my review and we bonded over our mutual apathy for the book. She wrote: "So much of what he wrote is just plain untrue that the book is worthless for any serious research. He will make millions."

A few months later, I met her in person at a Starbucks near her Manhattan apartment. Miss Lee hadn't given an interview in roughly 40 years, so I assured her that I wasn't turning our talk into an article. "Oh, I trust you," she said. We talked for 90 minutes. She loved being a transplanted New Yorker, she said. Later she wrote me: "A Manhattan neighborhood like mine is ideal for an old person: I can walk to everything I need--supermarkets (4 in 4 blocks!), drug stores (3), drs., churches, even an undertaker." She was unassuming, funny and a great storyteller.

Now that she knew my work and home phone numbers, we started chatting on the phone. (When my home answering machine died years later, I mourned the loss of some hilarious messages from her.) In March 2007, she had a mild stroke that affected her left side. She was in a Birmingham rehab hospital for months.

I got a chance to visit her in 2008 when I attended a booksellers convention in Alabama. I drove to Monroeville and spent the day with her at the cozy assisted living facility where she was then living.

She had a sweet tooth, so I brought cookies and baklava. She was in a wheelchair but could still stand and walk when she wanted. Because of her macular degeneration, she had a large overhead projector that helped her read books. (I mention these ailments because when Go Set a Watchman (her first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird) came out in 2015, many strangers wrote editorials claiming she was being taken advantage of by her publisher and citing her stroke, bad eyesight and hearing aids without knowing these were old ills.) I was with her for six hours. Post-stroke, she was still funny, smart, opinionated, kind and sharp as a tack. When I asked her if she was working on any writing projects, she slyly said, "A writer never stops writing."

After she made Monroeville her sole residence, she wrote, "Nothing goes on here with relentless regularity." She had family and friends in Monroeville, but she once wistfully wrote, "Isn't it curious: Jane Austen, I think, never went more than 20 miles from home, yet saw the world. Of course, she was a genius who could 'see the world in a grain of sand.' I do long to see the world of the City again--don't be surprised if I call you from 82nd Street! By then you will be an old man & I in my hundreds."

One of my favorite letters from her ends with, "I have never had a better friend." I'm sure that's not true but I'm adding it to my résumé: Harper Lee's best friend. RIP to a great lady and world-changing author. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Book Review


Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe

by Dawn Tripp

Though Georgia O'Keeffe is best known today for her stunning outsize flowers and Southwestern landscapes, there was much more to the woman and to her art. In her fourth novel, Georgia, Dawn Tripp (The Season of Open Water) plunges readers into a vivid narrative of O'Keeffe's evolution as an artist, her long and prickly marriage to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her complicated relationship with the publicity and recognition she received.

Tripp brings O'Keeffe to life through first-person narration. Though she allowed Stieglitz to photograph her and display his photographs--which made an instant sensation in the art world--O'Keeffe rebelled against critical reviews that insisted on tying her work to those images. As she explored new forms and subjects for her art, she also began spending summers in the Southwest, where the immense landscapes and sharp, unrelenting light captured her imagination. Tripp deftly contrasts the New York art world, crowded with political intrigue and complicated personal relationships, with the vast stillness of New Mexico, where O'Keeffe could live and paint as she wished.

Drawing on meticulous research into O'Keeffe's correspondence and career, Tripp goes beyond the public icon to imagine a character "so human, so flawed and imprecise, and beautiful for that." While it will appeal to fans of O'Keeffe's work, Georgia will also draw readers who love a compelling story. By exploring one woman's struggle to be seen and valued for herself, Tripp asks important questions about gender, love and the roles of criticism and public image in art. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Dawn Tripp's fourth novel is a dazzling exploration of Georgia O'Keeffe's artistic career and the woman behind the cultural icon.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9781400069538

Breaking Wild

by Diane Les Becquets

Breaking Wild is the first adult novel by Diane Les Becquets, author of highly praised young adult novels including Season of Ice and The Stones of Mourning Creek. Carefully crafted characters and measured pacing define this tale of two women's parallel personal journeys in the wilderness of northwestern Colorado.

Amy Raye Latour is a wife and mother, an accomplished outdoorswoman and a strong personality. She sneaks away from her hunting companions on the last morning of their trip to find the stillness and quiet required to get close enough to her prey to use her compound bow. When she doesn't show up again that night, her friends call authorities.

Pru Hathaway, an archeological law enforcement ranger, lives in the nearby town of Rio Mesa with her teenaged son, Joseph, and her dog, Kona, who is certified for search-and-rescue. When the local sheriff gets the call about Amy Raye, he turns to Pru.

The personalities of the two women shape the novel: they are both more complicated than they seem on first meeting. One of Les Becquets's triumphs is the tantalizingly paced release of new information: about Pru's personal history, about Amy Raye's troubles and the tangled web of her life, any strand of which may be implicated in her disappearance.

Les Becquets portrays a credible and compelling cast of characters, especially the strong women at its center. Breaking Wild is a rare novel in its mastery of both plot and character, with deliberate rhythm, thrilling suspense and a striking backdrop. Its breathless momentum carries through to a dramatic conclusion. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Set in the wilderness of Colorado, Breaking Wild is a masterpiece of characterization, taut anticipation and suspense.

Berkley Books, $26, hardcover, 9780425283783

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake

by Celeste Fletcher McHale

"It isn't always blood that makes a family," says one of the characters in The Secret to Hummingbird Cake, a witty and heartwarming first novel by Celeste Fletcher McHale. The story is set in the small town of Bon Dieu Falls, La., and follows three 30-year-old women, friends since the age of five and a kind of family.

Carrigan, the narrator, is a fiery redhead who's been married for 13 years. She harbors suspicions about her handsome husband's fidelity--and she has partaken in a secret, regrettable indiscretion of her own. Carrigan's spitfire best friend, Ella Rae, married her childhood sweetheart and is still so madly in love with him that Carrigan swears the two of them "breathed in unison." Laine, Carrigan's other best friend, is the responsible, levelheaded one of the bunch. Still single, Laine, caring and good-natured, is a much-beloved high school English teacher, famous for the creamy icing and sweet pineapple of her Hummingbird Cake, a Southern staple. Yet, she refuses to share her recipe even with her closest friends, even though they beg.

Carrigan grapples with her troubled marriage, trying to repair what's broken through the encouragement and support of her friends, who also face life-changing challenges and heartrending secrets. Fletcher McHale blends the sassy and the sentimental--drizzling spiritual crises atop everything--and whips up a wholesome story about the transcendent, everlasting bonds of friendship and love. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Three soulmate friends in a small Southern town sweeten each other's lives amid tests of faith.

Thomas Nelson, $15.99, paperback, 9780718039561

Interior Darkness: Selected Stories

by Peter Straub

The 16 short stories in Peter Straub's Interior Darkness are pulled from many of his previously published collections and showcase his macabre sense of horror. To Straub, terror comes in many forms: an older man preying on a young boy at the movie theater; the kindergarten teacher with a penchant for fantasies featuring kings, queens and evil stepsisters; the truth that lies between dreams and reality experienced during childhood; and the manipulations by an older brother of his younger sibling, which lead to an intense and vicious incident in the attic.

Straub expertly manages ghosts, fetishes, perversions and violence in many forms, while his focus is on the interior, psychological dilemmas and battles each character faces, an emphasis reflected in the title. Though the stories are rich in concrete details that set the scenes, what Straub leaves out of these pieces is at least as disturbing as what he writes, allowing the reader's imagination to fill in mysterious and ominous blanks in the stories. Some readers may wish for more detail and find Straub's style of writing difficult to follow, but the effort needed to comprehend the plot line in each of these gems is well worth the investment. This is a fine collection for those who want to experience the best Straub has written. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: These 16 short stories by Peter Straub, a master of horror, exemplify his life's work.

Doubleday, $28.95, hardcover, 9780385541053

Private Citizens

by Tony Tulathimutte

With Stanford degrees, plenty of drugs and alcohol, and a fragile sense of purpose, the four friends in Tony Tulathimutte's first novel, Private Citizens, struggle to succeed in early 21st-century San Francisco. A Stanford graduate himself, Tulathimutte is wise to the jargon, angst and self-centered preoccupations of these smart Silicon Valley millennials buzzing around the edges of adulthood. There's recently defunded post-doc scientist Henrik, who finds refuge with his generous friend Will, a "short Asian guy" with a vast digital porn collection and a fixation on the disabled entrepreneur and former teen pageant queen Vanya. Child of privilege and aspiring social-activist Cory is annoyed by her libertine former roommate Linda's seeming ease among San Francisco's underground--although would-be writer and transplanted New Yorker Linda has nothing nice to say about the City by the Bay: "This little ukulele-strumming cuddle party... was nothing but a collapsed soufflé of sex kitsch and performance readings, book clubs, writing workshops... [where] the little journals and bookstores were on a drip-feed of pledge drives, and the only thing to say about the McSweeney's tweehouse of interns was that they had nice packaging."

Tulathimutte transcends the easy potshots at millennial sanctimony to capture the sincerity of his protagonists' friendship, and their real desire and effort to be decent participants in an adult community. School's over, and it's time for them to be "private citizens" in a world they may not have made but which is all the world they have. He has put his hyper-critical generation under a magnifying glass and found compassion and generosity after all. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Tulathimutte's funny, observant first novel tracks the lives of four self-absorbed Stanford graduate millennials trying to make it in San Francisco.

Morrow, $14.99, paperback, 9780062399106

Biography & Memoir

Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir

by Joel Grey

Tony and Academy Award-winning actor Joel Grey was 82 when he made international headlines in 2015 by announcing he was gay. A year later, his memoir Master of Ceremonies takes readers on a compelling and painfully candid journey through the highs and lows of his career and personal life. "It's taken me a lifetime to understand and accept my own particular set of contradictions," Grey writes. What makes Grey's journey of self-discovery so ceaselessly fascinating is his willingness to delve into his contradictions.

Although his first same-sex encounter was at 12, Grey was living at a time when homosexuality was not only against the law, it was labeled a psychological pathology and treated with electroshock therapy, chemical castration and lobotomy. As his stage career began to take off, he kept his affairs undercover. At 27, he fell in love with and married actress Jo Wilder and began the family he'd always wanted. He almost turned down the 1966 Broadway show Cabaret because he thought the master of ceremonies role was inconsequential. His wife urged him to reconsider, and he won a Tony Award for his signature performance. When he re-created the role for the 1972 film, he and director Bob Fosse were constantly at odds but Grey won an Oscar for his performance.

"If you don't tell the whole truth about yourself, life is a ridiculous exercise," writes Grey. After 24 years of marriage, Grey felt secure enough to tell Jo about his gay past. She filed for divorce. Grey's long path to self-acceptance is as entertaining as it is thoughtful and illuminating. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Tony Award-winning actor Joel Grey's intense and thoughtful memoir recounts his journey toward accepting himself as a gay man.

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 9781250057235


Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre

by James F. Brooks

The pick and shovel work of archeology sounds boring: all that careful mapping, scraping and digging. But when its artifacts are enhanced with anthropological legends from Arizona Amerindian cultures, intergenerational oral histories from descendants of the original Hopi and Tewa clans, and archival photos and maps, the resulting package is absorbing. Bancroft and Francis Parkman Prize-winning historian and anthropologist James F. Brooks (Captives and Cousins) pulls together a focused history of the massacre of the Antelope Mesa's Awat'ovi community in 1700.

Mesa of Sorrows begins with the Peabody Museum's archeological expedition to the site in the late 19th century, where important ceramic pottery sherds dating back centuries were eclipsed by a significant cache of human skeletal remains exhibiting signs of violent dismemberment and torching. Brooks then shifts to the centuries-long history of the Arizona Indian tribes that migrated in and out of the area's buttes and mesas in response to war, starvation, trade and drought. Hopi pueblo communities were already a multi-clan, multi-lingual territory when Spanish Franciscans came along in the 16th century to add a new disruptive element to the mix. Finally, drawing on stories of the Hopi historian Albert Yava (née Nuvayoiyava--Big Falling Snow), Brooks ties together science, history and legend to explain the seemingly uncharacteristic Hopi-on-Hopi violence at Awat'ovi. He speculates that the massacre fit a long tradition of periodic Hopi purging of Pueblos who had lost their way--concluding that the tribal leaders decided that "the corruption at Awat'ovi... must end so balance could be restored." Brooks makes archeology and anthropology fascinating. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: James Brooks marshals archeology, anthropology and oral history to explain the mysterious massacre at an Arizona Hopi pueblo in 1700.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780393061253

Political Science

This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century

by Paul Engler, Mark Engler

Journalist Mark Engler (How to Rule the World) and organizer Paul Engler (founding director of the Center for the Working Poor in Los Angeles) argue that mass protests are not spontaneous eruptions, but "forces that can be guided with the exercise of conscious and careful effort." Drawing on vivid worldwide historical examples and interviews with scholars and organizers in the "tradition of strategic nonviolence," This Is an Uprising is a well-structured and engaging guide to "the art of unarmed uprising."

The authors refute the idea that there is anything weak about nonviolent civil resistance and provide strong evidence that nonviolent movements have been "twice as likely to succeed as violent ones" in both democracies and dictatorships. However, without substantial structure and funding, revolutionary movements often struggle to maintain and build on their achievements. The authors reflect on what triggers uprisings and how organizers may take advantage of such moments of "whirlwind." Organizer Judi Bari's work with Earth First! illustrates the effectiveness of nonviolent strategies compared to violent ones in the same context, and other examples show the self-destructive effects of violent revolutionary action.

"Strategic nonviolence does not offer a secret formula for success, and its development is hardly the work of a single mastermind." Engler and Engler have distilled decades of complex and often discordant theories into an accessible guide to effective lasting civil resistance and organization building. This is a book that is likely to be read and reread for years to come. --Sara Catterall

Discover: The history and key ideas of nonviolent revolt are distilled into an essential guide to the most effective strategies for creating lasting social change.

Nation Books, $26.99, hardcover, 9781568587332

Social Science

Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World

by Baz Dreisinger

"I believe in the human capacity to innovate, to imagine, to create. Prisons are a failure of imagination in the most tragic sense of the term," says Baz Dreisinger (Near Black), associate professor at John Jay College and founder of Prison-to-College Pipeline. She spent two years visiting prisons around the world--Incarceration Nations is the astounding culmination of her undertaking.

Armed with compassion and a vast knowledge of incarceration history, Dreisinger explores facilities from Rwanda to Australia. She examines innovative programs implemented to reduce recidivism, such as restorative justice in South Africa, rehabilitation through music in Jamaica and reentry in Singapore. She works up-close and personal with inmates while teaching a creative writing course, a drama workshop and a nonfiction class. And the details of her travels are supplemented with related background and staggering statistics.

Dreisinger's zeal to change the penal system is contagious. Her optimism is reflected not only in her words, but also in the meaningful relationships she forms with prisoners, prison employees, even her taxi drivers. And her narrative illustrates the vital connection between those individuals, underscoring the enlightened theory she encounters in Norway, "Treat them like human beings and they will act like human beings." Incarceration Nations is crucial reading for the world's largest jailer (United States) and the rest of the global population because, as Dreisinger points out, "changed policy is a product of changed public consciousness. We all have a hand in that mission." --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A college professor and prison reform proponent travels the globe in search of innovative ideas to change a failing U.S. penal system.

Other Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781590517277

Body, Mind & Spirit

The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life

by Jessa Crispin

While typical books on tarot describe the meaning of the cards so one can interpret the future, Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin's The Creative Tarot does much more. Crispin (The Dead Ladies Project) begins by explaining the Major Arcana, the suite of 22 cards pertaining to big life changes, and the Minor Arcana, which consists of four suits, each with 14 cards that represent daily life activities and choices. From there, she designs a system to help people look at, and better understand, their creativity through tarot, using it to solve artistic conundrums. Her insights are sensible and easy to follow for beginners, and experienced readers will find new information and ways to reframe their readings.

In particular, Crispin recommends additional books, films, music and other works of art, up to four for each card, that can help readers better understand the tarot deck. These additional sources have been carefully selected to reveal a deeper meaning and greater understanding of the symbolism, themes and stories behind each card. To understand the Lovers better, her suggestions include reading Henry James's The Tragic Muse and watching the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch. For the Star, she recommends David Bowie's album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and David Cronenberg's film Dead Ringers. Crispin believes that readers can be better, more inspired artists after exploring such diversity of expression, and promotes the use of tarot as a means of self-reflection and self-awareness to further creative pursuits. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: Readers can learn the tarot while recharging their own creative spirit.

Simon & Schuster, $22, paperback, 9781501120237

Children's & Young Adult

The Night Gardener

by Terry Fan, Eric Fan

There's magic in topiary--taking something free and alive like a tree and transforming it, with the snip of sharp blades, into a dragon or elephant. More broadly, there's the magical-seeming power of art to surprise and delight and transform a community.

In this deeply lovely picture-book debut by Canadian author-illustrators Terry Fan and his brother Eric Fan, there is one such maker of magic on the glum, rather monochromatic Grimloch Lane of yesteryear: an older Asian gentleman who shapes trees into owls, cats and rabbits in the night while people are sleeping. One morning, a boy named William wakes up to a commotion. He looks out the orphanage window, then races outside to find a big tree shaped into an enormous owl. Each day after that, there is a new topiary creation to discover: "Something was happening on Grimloch Lane./ Something good." The Fan brothers capture the thrill of stumbling upon something unknown and unexpected... something that is not magic, but feels like magic. The gorgeous graphite illustrations are exquisitely detailed, and the greenish gray hues of the moonlit night scenes in particular evoke the hush of darkness, allowing readers to almost hear the Night Gardener's steady scissor snips.

In the end, William spots the bespectacled topiary artist, with his ladder and tools, and becomes his co-conspirator. As the whole town comes out to marvel at the elaborate, leafy menagerie they created, the previously muted artwork blooms into full color. After the night gardener works his curious brand of magic, no one--not the town, not William--is ever the same. The Night Gardener is visual storytelling at its best. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The Night Gardener brings magic to Grimloch Lane when he shapes the trees into owls, dragons and rabbits while the villagers sleep.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781481439787

Behind the Canvas

by Alexander Vance

On a field trip to an Illinois art museum, 12-year-old Claudia Miravista sees a blue-eyed boy peering out of a 17th-century Dutch painting. When the boy appears again in her own bedroom, in a painting the budding artist has painted herself, she knows she's not just going crazy.

Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance (The Heartbreak Messenger) is the story of Claudia's fantastical, sometimes comical adventures in the world "behind the canvas," where every oil painting ever painted is a gateway between realms. The Dutch boy from the painting is Pim, who tells Claudia that 360 years ago, he was cursed by a witch to live out his days in a perilous parallel reality. The two lonely children become fast friends, and Claudia vows to help him escape his unbearable prison. But to do so, she must break the witch's curse, which means venturing behind the canvas herself. Once ensconced in this realm of patchwork landscapes, Claudia learns that she may be a magical Artisti, and the scope of her mission escalates dramatically. Run-ins with a rash of Cubist clowns and the Mona Lisa, who says "like" a lot and spits on Monet's water lilies, keep things hopping as Vance explores the idea that art is its own sort of magic.

Extensive footnotes--funny and irreverent--document famous artists and movements, and while reading, it's fun to search for images to understand better, for example, why a person might not want to tumble into a grisly Caravaggio painting or meet Saint George's dragon (as painted by Rubens) in person. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An art-obsessed girl encounters a blue-eyed boy in a 17th-century Dutch painting, and she vows to free him from the world behind the canvas.

Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 10-13, 9781250029706

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