Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Books for Pride Month

On June 6, Lambda Literary announced the winners for books published in 2015 at its annual gala ceremony celebrating the best in LGBTQ literature. Some of Shelf Awareness's favorites include Chinelo Okparanta's novel Under the Udala Trees (HMH, $26), award-winner for Lesbian Fiction; The Life and Death of Sophie Stark (Blue Rider, $16) by Anna North, for Bisexual Fiction; The Gracekeepers (Crown, $25) by Kirsty Logan, for LGBT science-fiction/fantasy; and Alex Gino's George (Scholastic, $16.99) for LGBT Children's/YA. Of course, between the winners and finalists, my personal to-be-read list just got that much longer.

And from right out of the gate, 2016 has been another banner year for queer writers. Alexander Chee has been causing a stir among readers with his masterpiece novel, The Queen of the Night (HMH, $28), which more than deserves its numerous accolades. It's the delectably picaresque story of a Parisian soprano who is as famous as she is enigmatic, and the opera role that could very well be her undoing.

For me, Saleem Haddad's Guapa (Other Press, $16.95) stands out as one of the best novels of the year, depicting a single, earthshattering day in one queer man's coming of age during the Arab Spring. And the harrowing experiences that Garrard Conley describes with such an elegant hand in his memoir of ex-gay therapy, Boy Erased (Riverhead, $27), remain some of the starkest reminders that progress is a slow and agonizing process still underway.

In YA, Meredith Russo has crafted a "starry-eyed, satisfyingly sigh-inducing" novel, If I Was Your Girl (Flatiron, $17.99), in which Amanda, the new girl in town, faces all the challenges and romances of high school as well as the violence that often targets trans women. And This Is Where It Ends (Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99) by Marieke Nijkamp follows four students through the tense 54 minutes of a school shooting in Alabama.

If I had more room here, I could go on. We are in a fabulous era for LGBTQ literature. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Yaa Gyasi: A Nation to Oneself

photo: Urvi Nagrani

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Ala. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she held a Dean's Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in Berkeley, Calif. Her first novel, Homegoing (Knopf, June 7, 2016), alternates between the parallel lineages of Ghanaian half-sisters separated by the African slave trade. See our review below.

Homegoing is a 250-year epic distilled to the size of a contemporary novel. How did you choose which characters to focus on to tell such an expansive story?

As I was writing, I didn't work off an outline, but I did work with a family tree that I pasted to the wall above my desk. It had the two branches of the family on either side of the paper, and then the names of the characters, their genders--if I knew them--the years that I thought the bulk of their story would take place, and then just one thing that was going on politically or historically in the background of that time period. I wrote chronologically with the hope that as I was writing one character I would get some ideas for what would happen to their descendants. I didn't plan it out; I hoped to be led by the stories as they were happening.

With such a broad scope to cover, you still plumb the depths of each character. How did you balance historical research and novelistic flourishes as you wrote?

I had received a research grant from Stanford University, where I did my bachelor's, to travel to Ghana and research a novel. I had a different idea in mind for the novel, but then I got there and it didn't really pan out. I was bummed about it, and a friend came to visit. We decided to go see the Cape Coast Castle, which I hadn't visited before and didn't know much about. We took a tour of the castle, and the guide started talking about how the British soldiers married the local women, which was something that I'd never heard before. He showed us the upstairs level, with the cannons facing out to sea and the church and all this splendor of that time period. And then he took us downstairs to see the dungeons. Just being there, it felt haunted. I knew that I wanted to write about it, but I didn't know how to approach it. I wrote in my journal that night that I was scared of how much research this book was going to take.

But I started with a book called The Door of No Return by William St. Clair; it's a book that looks at archival data about the Cape Coast Castle and its goings on during this time period. That was my entry point for the first few chapters of Homegoing, and after that I would find a book or two along the way that would give me some sense of what was happening historically during the time periods that I wanted to write about. Once I got enough to spark my imagination, I would set the book aside. I wanted the research to feel exploratory, to open up possibilities, and not make me feel closed off--like I can only write if I know what color shoes they would be wearing in 1870.

One of my favorite characters is Quey, a biracial Fante villager who falls in love with his friend Cudjo, but avoids him after Quey's return from years living in London. Later, Quey's son James exiles himself to Asanteland. In what ways do you think exile shapes individual identity compared to remaining within a close community?

Quey's exile is not self-imposed; he gets sent to England ostensibly for school but also, as we learn, because his father is frightened of Quey's sexuality. It shapes him because England in that time period obviously was very different from what he knew, but he also gets to see the slave trade from the British perspective, and he comes back with a choice: Does he work for the family business, or does he do his own thing?

His son James makes the choice not to work for the family business, and self-imposes this exile. In James's chapter, his love interest talks about how she wants to be her own nation, and I think that's a big part of this novel. These exiles are about how you forge your own identity, forge your selfhood in the midst of these very large socioeconomic, political structures that are imposing themselves onto your life and onto your choices. How do you create your own identity? How do you say no to something that is so much larger than you? James tries to find a way, and whether or not he's successful is up to the reader to decide.

Each of these chapters has these gray moments as people try to figure out whether to go along with what's happening, or if they should make their own way.

Your characters display a broad spectrum of virtue and vice. Was it difficult for you to stay removed and let your characters be themselves amid something as inhumane as the slave trade?

It was difficult, but also it felt like part of the point, to show people in all of their humanness. Those of us in the present have a tendency to look upon the past, look upon our ancestors as though they were somehow less intelligent, less moral than we are, and that's why things like slavery or the Holocaust or whatever huge tragedy of whichever time period happened. But in fact, they were people just like us, with hopes like our hopes, and dreams like our dreams, and flaws like our flaws. I think it's harder to accept the fact that, if we were living in 18th-century Ghana, perhaps we would be doing the same things that these people did. It's harder to go against the grain if the grain is this large, bigger-than-you force of evil. It was really important for me to show that these characters are individuals just like us, that they are doing what they think is right, as awful as it sometimes may be.

The other half of the novel focuses on the side of the family sold into slavery in the United States. How did you approach writing the American history/landscape and writing those of Ghana?

I tried to read widely. I didn't read much fiction while I was writing, but before I started I was reading Achebe and Adichie, and also reading Morrison and Edward P. Jones, trying to get a sense of the different voices that are possible for West African fiction and for African American fiction. One way that I was thinking about this novel was as fables and folktales, these passed-down stories, not exactly realism, but just off of it so it feels believable yet still invites magic into it. Conceptualizing it that way, with the Ghanaian stories kind of as fables and the American stories kind of as folktales, helped me in terms of figuring out how to make the voices differ while keeping the main narrative voice consistent and cohesive. That was one of the biggest challenges of this novel, giving some texture to each of the chapters when we switch countries.

I loved your book, as well as Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go; would you mind recommending some more Ghanaian writers and books?

Oh yes! I would definitely recommend Mamle Kabu's writing, as well as Ama Ata Aidoo's. Along with Taiye Selasi, they are three to certainly look into. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

'I Do': Wedding Readings from Literature

Will you take these books? Bustle featured "10 funny wedding readings from literature that will have your guests laughing out loud."


Grammar & usage check: "Anarchic. Reliable. The period is here to stay, even in the digital age," Flavorwire wrote.


Aimée Carter, author of Simon Thorn at the Wolf's Den, chose her "top 10 shapeshifters in fiction" for the Guardian.


"She and Mark Twain were friends." Mental Floss listed "10 things you may not know about Harriet Beecher Stowe."


Literary real estate: F. Scott Fitzgerald's former house at 599 Summit Ave. in St. Paul, Minn., can be yours for $650,000. The Pioneer Press reported the listing "touts Fitzgerald's brief stay in the home in 1919, when he worked on This Side of Paradise."


Bookshelf featured Shape-A-Shelf, designed as an update on classic shelves "to be more flexible in their use and accommodate all sorts of things."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Russia at War

Tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, the code name for Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. On the morning on June 22, 1941, the largest invasion force in history--some four million Axis soldiers with 3,300 tanks, 2,700 aircraft, 7,200 pieces of artillery and 600,000 motorized vehicles, attacked along a 1,800 mile front stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The surprise attack sent the Red Army reeling back to the gates of Moscow by October, where their stubborn defense was the first sign that Hitler's plans for a swift victory had gone awry. The Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43 marked the beginning of the long retreat back to Berlin and the final German surrender in 1945.

The Eastern Front, opened by Operation Barbarossa, was the largest military confrontation in history and a cataclysm for civilians caught in the middle. Roughly 30 million of the estimated 70 million deaths caused by World War II occurred in this theater. For the Russians, it became the Great Patriotic War. Alexander Werth (1901-1969), a Russian-born, naturalized-British journalist, used his first-hand experience inside the wartime Soviet Union as a BBC correspondent in his monumental 1964 work, Russia at War: 1941-1945. Werth's BBC press credentials and language skills gave him unusual behind-the-scenes access to Russian civilians and soldiers during the war. Russia at War's combination of eyewitness authority and sweeping breadth puts it on par with William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was last republished by Basic Books in 1999 (9780786707225). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by Yaa Gyasi

With her first novel, Yaa Gyasi crafts a captivating and potent narrative. Homegoing alternates between the parallel lineages of Ghanaian half-sisters Effia and Esi. Born in an 18th-century Fante village, Effia never knows her mother, Maame, a slave to the girl's father who flees to the nearby Asante village, where she later gives birth to Esi. As the girls age, Effia is given in marriage to a British slave trader, "all the better for [the village's] business with them." Meanwhile, Esi, captured and raped by slavers, bears a family destined for continued abuse--bought, sold and shipped to the New World. Demonstrating a firm grasp on several hundred years of Ghanaian and American history and brutal details of the African slave trade, Gyasi portrays the effect of personal and political decisions unto the seventh generation.

Years pass but family ties bind the sisters' offspring. Their hopes, regrets and secrets alike are handed down like the twin glimmering black-gold stones that Maame bestowed upon both girls. Each of Gyasi's 14 main characters faces distinct quandaries of submission and resistance to social systems of oppression. Their narratives are rich with poignant details about the lingering colonial influence of Christian missionaries in Ghana or the infuriating machinations of Jim Crow laws in the U.S.

Rarely does a grand, sweeping epic plumb interior lives so thoroughly. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is a marvel. It reminds readers that, every step of the way, the African diaspora has been shaped by individuals at their best and at their worst, vulnerable human beings craving the safety of a place to call home. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Several generations of one Ghanaian family experience the far-reaching consequences of the African slave trade and diaspora.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9781101947135

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

by Lionel Shriver

In 2029, the world abandons the dollar as the global reserve currency, and the United States's first "Lat" president, Dante Alvarado, responds by renouncing the country's towering national debt and making owning gold in any form a crime, sparking a catastrophic chain reaction. Inflation quickly balloons to an annual rate of 80%, and the ensuing stock market crash wipes out any vestige of investment wealth. Four generations of the Mandible family, heirs to a diesel engine fortune that eventually dwindles to a few pieces of silver service, are left to cope with their ever more straitened circumstances.

Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) keeps a tight focus on the tribulations of the Mandibles. Douglas, a former literary agent in his late 90s, is now unable to live out his final years in expected comfort. Meanwhile, Willing Darkly, his great-grandson, is a teenager whose preternatural knowledge of economics allows him, above all other members of the family, to comprehend what lies ahead. Their experience of society's descent into a Hobbesian nightmare, where apartments are "house-jacked" at gunpoint and settled economic relations evaporate overnight, seems, in Shriver's portrayal, frighteningly plausible.

The Mandibles is a smart cautionary tale about how quickly the veneer of civilization can crumble when our leaders blunder. But more than that, this shrewd novel reveals how intimately our very identities are bound up with our relationship to money: how we save it, how we spend it and how our hopes for the future are built on assumptions about it that may turn out to be far more tenuous than we'd ever dare admit. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Lionel Shriver's canny novel portrays how one family grapples with the collapse of the United States economy in the uncomfortably near future.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062328243

So Much for That Winter

by Dorthe Nors, trans. by Misha Hoekstra

Two novellas by Dorthe Nors (Karate Chop) compose So Much for That Winter, translated by Misha Hoekstra from the Danish. They are as stark and unusual in form as they are bleak in mood. The first is "Minna Needs Rehearsal Space," which is told entirely in declarative sentences, each on its own line. They range from the mundane to the philosophical: "People love wistful pop"; "Hope is a roe deer on a bluff." This austere narrative style reveals a more complex story, about a woman who has suffered a breakup and seeks space--literal and figurative--for her work as an avant-garde composer. She hides away in her apartment, daydreams a relationship with Ingmar Bergman, and flees to an island she hopes will mend her.

"Days" follows, formed of numbered lists that make up the days of a woman's life: a diary of sorts. The unnamed character is a frustrated writer, also with a relationship recently ended. Her days are inordinately filled with walks in cemeteries and lots of ice cream. Again the prosaic details blend with moments of poetry: "2. Sorted laundry, two piles, Tuesday"; "But the one who writes must dare to stand with her fledglings stuck to her fingers and surrender them in showers of spittle and roses."

The result of these startling, experimental novellas is both somber and playful, the themes of romantic disappointment and creative blocks heightened by the minimalist style. So Much for That Winter is a compelling investigation of form and emotion. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Experimental in form, these two novellas explore everyday frustrations in love and art.

Graywolf Press, $15, paperback, 9781555977429


by Simone Zelitch

Judenstaat is an alternate history noir in the vein of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, set in an invented nation in the late '80s. In Simone Zelitch's vividly realized version of post-World War II events, a group of Jewish socialists known as Bundists and a handful of influential Jewish leaders helped to found Judenstaat as a refuge for Jews. Instead of emigrating to Israel, thousands of concentration camp survivors chose to adopt the defiant Bundist slogan "We Are Here" and make their home in the German region of Saxony.

Forty years later, documentarian Judit Klemmer grieves for her assassinated husband and attempts to come to grips with her nation's morally complicated history. The noir elements of the novel are introduced when she receives a mysterious note: "They lied about the murder." Klemmer embarks on an investigation into her husband's death that unwittingly leads her closer to dark secrets surrounding Judenstaat's relationship with the Soviet Union and the so-called "Saxon Question."

As in Dick's masterwork, Judenstaat is much more concerned with ordinary people struggling to survive in extraordinary circumstances than in gunfights or car chases. Zelitch explores the idea of an entire nation founded in response to trauma, inevitably drawing comparisons to the moral and psychological state of real-life Jewish enclaves, primarily Israel. Judenstaat reveals the dichotomies fracturing Jewish life--religious and secular, reactionary and reformist--in an attempt to engage with the larger question of what it means to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Judenstaat is a daring alternate history noir that imagines a documentarian's investigation into her husband's murder in a post-World War II Jewish state in Saxony.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765382962

I Like You Just Fine When You're Not Around

by Ann Garvin

Tig Monahan--responsible, people-pleaser extraordinaire--is being pulled in many directions. The 30-something relationship psychologist, named after Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, is grappling with guilt ever since she was forced to give up the care of her mother, Hallie, and admit her into a nursing home for patients with advanced dementia. Tig's fit, triathlete beau invites her to join him for a sabbatical in Hawaii, only to suddenly disinvite her at the 11th hour. Her prodigal older sister, "wild and winsome" Wendy--always her mother's favorite--suddenly re-emerges after a two-year disappearance, pregnant and alone.

One day, resentful, annoyed and exhausted, Tig snaps and lashes out at a husband and wife, patients she'd been counseling in couples' therapy. Tig's outburst leads to new beginnings that include the loss of her job, a lawsuit and an invitation to host Is That Fair?, an edgy, tell-it-like-it-is psychologist-driven radio call-in program. Amid the changes that throttle Tig's life, she suddenly discovers a chest of old letters and trinkets in her mother's belongings. When secrets are revealed, Tig is forced to examine her own life, wondering why she's been unable to set boundaries that would keep her from helping people to the extent that she often hurts herself.

Ann Garvin, as in her other novels (On Maggie's Watch, The Dog Year), presents a thought-provoking story that deals with loss and upheaval in a humorous way, making otherwise difficult subject matter not only accessible to readers but entertaining as well. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: When a stressed-out psychologist admits her dementia-stricken mother to a nursing home, her life unravels, leading to unexpected new beginnings.

Tyrus Books, $16.99, paperback, 9781440595455

Biography & Memoir

Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life

by Kim Addonizio

It would be easy to compare Kim Addonizio's memoir Bukowski in a Sundress with the writings of Anne Lamott or the humor of Amy Schumer, or to match her to, as she writes, " 'Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu,' or possibly 'Emily Dickinson with a strap-on' " but that would not do justice to Addonizio and her quirky, irreverent, incredibly funny writing. In these short essays about her personal and writing life, Addonizio (The Palace of Illusions) takes aim primarily at herself. She brings humor to middle age, life as a writer with a certain level of achievement, her drinking and drug use, many one-night stands, her marriages that have failed and falling in love with a younger man.

In the essay "A Word of It," she gives a shout-out to her father, who turned her on to the power of poetry and words when he gave her a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In "Flu Shot," she ponders the twists of life for her mother, a former tennis champion, who's in an assisted-living facility and needs help with all aspects of daily care.

Throughout, Addonizio doesn't shy away from swearing and discussing her vices, her desire for love or just a good sexual encounter. Yet, unlike many memoirs that cover similar topics, she writes with a tone and attitude that leaves the reader wanting just a tiny bit more, kind of like the vodka and lemonade she's fond of imbibing. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A successful poet pokes fun at herself and the writing process in 26 essays that are equal parts funny and tender.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 9780143128465

Social Science

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline

by Simon Parkin

Death by Video Game is the first book by Simon Parkin, a British journalist with a special interest in video games. It combines new essays with previously published writings to offer a broad view of the current state of gaming and the place of video games in modern culture.

These games offer consistent and just worlds that reward hard work with success and a sense of belonging, attractions that can be strongest for those with the least rewarding lives, he writes. Many provide "all of the psychological benefits of sport--the excitement, the fervour, the racing pulse, the strategy--without the lactic acid chaser. Indeed... a video game can be played almost indefinitely without the need for rest or interruption.... For some people, devotion to improving at a video game begins to mimic the unbreakable grip of substance addiction." Parkin describes how video games mirror aspects of our world and allow players to act out fantasies and nightmares in a safe environment. They also offer opportunities to play with distant friends, find a peaceful refuge or build empathy by experiencing the perspective of another person--a border guard, a parent or an Iranian revolutionary.

Parkin looks at the generation gap in understanding video games as another new form of entertainment, and even art, and how they differ from previous forms of entertainment and art morally, legally and artistically. And he cites studies that challenge the idea that first-person shooter games cause violent behavior. "If you are feeling hateful in the real world, the game provides a space in which to act hatefully. Wherever you go, there you will be." --Sara Catterall

Discover: A British journalist and gamer explores the pleasures, risks and potential of video games and their place in modern culture.

Melville House, $25.95, hardcover, 9781612195407

Reference & Writing

The Mindful Writer

by Dinty W. Moore

Dinty W. Moore (Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy) is often asked to explain how Buddhism influences his writing practice. In struggling to answer this question articulately, he found himself shaping "The Four Noble Truths of the Writing Life." From these musings was born 2012's The Mindful Writer, a slim volume of very short, koan-like chapters offering writing advice and formed from quotations by other writers.

In its expanded second edition, The Mindful Writer offers a new introduction and for the first time includes writing prompts that follow the same concepts and quotations as its chapters. Words of wisdom from William Faulkner, Gustave Flaubert, Dorothy Parker, Stephen King and many more pose opportunities to ruminate on how to see and observe, how to work, how to think and live like a writer. Moore examines the sources of creativity as well as the plain hard work of writing, and "the freedom and importance of lousy first drafts." Refreshingly, he reminds his reader that his advice "should be taken in the spirit of suggestion, not edict... it is not a good idea to cling too fiercely to the advice of others." Moore is, as usual, funny but also takes his subject seriously. Its short chapters and encouraging prompts make this a guide to keep close at hand, for regular reference.

Its neatly packaged bits of wisdom mean that writers from beginners to experts equally will find inspiration and new perspectives in Moore's unassuming manual of writerly mindfulness. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This expanded second edition of the popular title about writing from a Buddhist perspective is a small book with big ideas.

Wisdom Publications, $9.95, paperback, 9781614293521


The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy

by Jennifer McCartney

Jennifer McCartney's The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place is a satirical response to the minimalist movement--most notably, the "KonMari" method touted in 2014's bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. "Break free from the bonds of tidiness," writes McCartney (Cocktails for Drinkers), "and triumph over the boring faces of uniformity and predictability. Every tidy home looks the same... but a messy home, now that's a better way to live."

This tongue-in-cheek approach to messiness continues throughout the book, as McCartney scoffs at the idea of thanking our socks for their service; mocks the thought of books as clutter; and encourages readers to collect at least a dozen cute dog sweaters for the numerous puppies in our homes. The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place takes the mockery a bit far at times, but McCartney's approach to keeping every item ever owned is ultimately no more extreme than the minimalist idea of getting rid of every item that serves no functional purpose (no matter its what-if or sentimental value). McCartney invites readers to embrace their clutter, giving permission to laugh at the notion of cleaning house and accept the imperfections of a non-minimalist lifestyle. "It's about living now with what we have and giving ourselves permission to be messy, slightly untidy, busy-as-f*ck normal human beings."

The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place may not be for everyone, but those looking for permission to keep at least some of their belongings will delight in the absurdity of McCartney's work. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In response to the anti-clutter movement, Jennifer McCartney encourages us all to embrace our messy lives and make peace with our stuff.

Countryman Press, $14.95, hardcover, 9781581573879

Art & Photography

Pen to Paper: Artists' Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art

by Mary Savig, editor

Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mary Cassatt and other artists are best known for their paintings, drawings and other visual works. But their creative spirit spilled over into other areas of their lives, including their correspondence. Drawing on the rich resources of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art, Pen to Paper showcases an exuberant, varied collection of letters by these artists and nearly 50 others.

"Handwritten letters are performances on paper," writes Mary Savig, curator of manuscripts at the Archives of American Art and editor of this collection. Illustrating her words with plentiful full-color scans of the letters, Savig explores the overlapping connections of handwriting, visual art, public image and private relationships. Arranged alphabetically by artist, the letters then provide vivid (if sometimes barely decipherable) glimpses into the lives of their creators. Many entries are embellished with sketches, drawings and unusual lettering that often (but not always) reflects the artists' signature styles. Each letter is accompanied by a brief essay from a scholar or curator, giving historical background or providing artistic context. For those eager to read every word, transcriptions of each letter appear at the end of the book. Where available, photographs of the artists and their work round out each entry. Readers may enjoy the variety of letterhead, formatting and marginalia as well as the handwriting.

Engaging and unusual, Pen to Paper is a celebration of correspondence and a treasure trove for those who love both visual art and the written word. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An eclectic collection of handwritten letters by American artists from the Smithsonian archives is a showcase of creativity and whimsy.

Princeton Architectural Press, $27.50, hardcover, 9781616894627

Children's & Young Adult

The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs: Doodle Adventures (Book 1)

by Mike Lowery

It's widely considered taboo to write in books, but it's mandatory to write in this one. In the first fill-in-the-blank comic-strip romp in Mike Lowery's clever and comical Doodle Adventures series, the reader is recruited to grab a pencil and help the rather hyped-up, bespectacled narrator Carl the Duck navigate his top-secret outer-space mission.

"Oh, good. You're FINALLY here. We don't have time to small talk," Carl the Duck addresses the reader on page one. "We need to hurry!" The first task breaks the ice: draw a cat wearing sunglasses. (The style of the existing comic-strip panels is simple and sketchy--inviting, not intimidating, and printed in orange and blue ink.) After a little "paperwork," where readers answer questions--from "least favorite food" to "requested super secret agent name"--the adventure begins! Someone has stolen a jar, a priceless artifact, from a collection of "weird things that explorers have brought back from all over the world." And Carl thinks he knows who the perpetrator is, based on the slimy residue at the crime scene: "Captain Sleezoog, the ruler of K-82, the planet of slugs." After the reader designs a spacesuit and draws space supplies (and snacks), oh, and a rocket ship, the vital mission can proceed in its super-slapstick fashion.

Kids will love making this story their own, and it may well hook a new crop of readers who haven't yet experienced the joy of fully engaging with a book. Next in the series: The Pursuit of the Pesky Pizza Pirate. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This entertaining Doodle Adventures series debut demands that readers help tell the story by--gasp--drawing in the book.

Workman, $12.95, hardcover, 107p., ages 8-up, 9780761187196

The Ballad of a Broken Nose

by Arne Svingen, trans. by Kari Dickson

Arne Svingen is one of Norway's most prominent authors of children's and teen literature. With The Ballad of a Broken Nose, English-speaking readers will understand why. The novel is like a many-layered slice of cake: in every bite there's a mix of flavors, textures and mystery ingredients, adding up to a delicious read.

Twelve-year-old Bart Nuram--named for Bart Simpson so he, too, would be "a funny wise guy who'd get by in life"--walks the line between being mildly unpopular and being too weird, between boxing lessons and opera singing. Though most of Bart's public-housing neighbors are addicts or otherwise down-and-out, he finds "Ninety-nine percent" of them to be nice. Bart is remarkably philosophical: "No matter how bad things seem, there's always someone who has it worse."

Unfortunately, Bart's equanimity can't hold up to the trouble coming his way. His house of cards begins to topple when the pathologically indiscreet Ada--a pretty, popular girl who actually seems to like him--gossips about Bart's home life, which nudges him across the line into bully-bait terrain. Then, his obese, alcoholic mother is hospitalized on his 13th birthday. One would think this would be an excellent time for Bart's obsession with finding the father he's never met to pay off. But heroes come in unlikely forms in this story. Deliberately unobtrusive Grandma knows more than she's let on about their dire straits, and is right there when her grandson needs her.

Bart's dry wit, compassion, wry self-knowledge and unwavering loyalty to his mother make him a tremendously appealing protagonist readers won't soon forget. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Norwegian author Arne Svingen's beguiling novel, immensely likable 12-year-old Bart struggles between being a secret opera singer and just another under-the-radar kid.

McElderry/Simon & Schuster, $16.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9781481415422

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