Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Writings on the Wall

photo: Dan Winters/Iconomy

Legendary basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also a journalist, cultural ambassador, philanthropist and author. His latest book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, is published by Liberty Street/Time Inc. Shelf Awareness spoke with him about this collection.

Cynicism steers public discourse, yet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remains idealistic. "One of the things I love most about America is the idea that people of good will, but differing opinions, come together to rationally discuss issues." He has little respect for the doctrinaire: "Many times I have modified my opinion based on persuasive logic by a conservative writer."

To Abdul-Jabbar, people don't fit into easy boxes. "We always find a way to judge people as inferior or superior based on something so insignificant as appearance." But "Humans must constantly suppress their lizard brains that foster irrational discrimination in order to allow their rational brains to dominate."

It is that rational, curious intellect that fuels his writing. He reads broadly, dropping references to sources as varied as The Matrix and the Journal of the American Medical Association; he quotes Nick Hornby as easily as he does Stevie Wonder. He reads not just Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me (a "powerful presentation about being black in America"), but also Coates's reboot of the Marvel comic The Black Panther.

We asked which black, female, or minority writers he feels are underrated and deserving attention. "Warsan Shire's poetry collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is one of the most dynamic and emotionally searing works about the effects of war and the violence against women." He also mentioned Issa Rae's The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, "a very funny yet poignant collection of essays about growing up as a shy black female with an excess of creativity and intelligence," and The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris, which "deconstructs the popular myths and stereotypes about black women that inhibit their progress and make us overlook their enormous contributions." --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

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The Writer's Life

Imbolo Mbue: Different Kinds of Dreamers

photo: Kiriko Sano

Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon, and holds a B.S. from Rutgers University and an M.A. from Columbia University. She's been a resident of the United States almost 20 years, and now lives in New York City. Behold the Dreamers (Random House), the story of a young Cameroonian family in New York, is her first novel. Our review is below.

What do you think the American dream means today, and do you think it's still a relevant concept?

I think the concept of the American Dream is still relevant because despite its flaws, America is a land of opportunities. All around us there are stories about immigrants who arrived here with very little and established a better life for themselves, a kind of life which was near impossible in their homelands.

That said, I question the accessibility of the American Dream. I don't believe the playing field is level and, as you can see in the Jongas' story, it is a long, arduous journey for many people--immigrants and citizens alike--to move out of poverty and live their dream lives in this country. And even when one is supposedly living the dream, like the Edwardses, it requires a lot of sacrifice to hold onto it. I think this is because the American Dream today is very much about material comforts and outwards symbols of success--a good job, a nice house, a nice car, fashionable clothes and accessories, yearly vacations, the latest technology--but striving for all this comes at a price and I believe that this novel, among many things, is about the prices we pay to see our dreams come true.

How much of Behold the Dreamers is drawn from your own experiences as an immigrant?

Like the Jongas, I am an immigrant from Limbe, Cameroon. And like them, I also lived in Harlem, and I've certainly had my share of poverty. I believe in the value of hard work and determination, like them, something I've found to be a common trait among immigrants. That, however, is where much of our similarities end--most of their story, and their experiences as immigrants, was based on stories told to me by other immigrants.

How did you research other immigrants' experiences?

Over the course of my time in America--I arrived in 1998--I've had opportunities to talk about life as an immigrant with dozens of my fellow immigrants. Some of them were friends, others were complete strangers I met in public places like bus stops and parks. Of course, at the times of these conversations I had no idea the seeds for this novel were being planted in me. It was only when I sat down to write that I realized that the story I was writing reflected numerous immigrant stories I'd been told over the years.

You add such depth to each character. To me, Neni is the heart of the story. What about you?

Thank you. I can completely understand why you think Neni is the heart of the story--she has agency and recognizes that merely being in America is an opportunity and thus she is determined to make the best of that opportunity.

For me, all four main characters--Jende, Neni, Clark and Cindy--are the heart of the story. I feel for each of them, and even though their choices and actions are sometimes not the wisest, I empathize with them because so often in life we do what we think is best in the moment, forgetting that there might be consequences down the road.

Neni considers extreme measures to keep her young son in the States when she may be unable to remain. Why does keeping him here feel so essential to her?

She thinks it's essential because like millions of parents all over the world, she wants her child to have the life she never had. Neni is a big believer in the American Dream, and even when obstacles stand in the way of her becoming a successful pharmacist with a house in the suburbs, she continues striving, because she believes her dreams will come true. And when it appears these dreams might not come true, she thinks about what she can do so that if she can't have a dream life, at least her child can. It might seem shocking what she considered, but I've heard stories of mothers who made even tougher choices so their child could live in America--for example, Central American mothers who've paid coyotes to cross the U.S.-Mexico border with their child even though they knew of the dangers involved in such a crossing.

Why did you choose to set the story during the Great Recession?

Well, at the time I got the inspiration to write the story, the effects of the Great Recession were still very fresh in New York City and thus I was interested in exploring how the recession had affected the lives of New Yorkers from different backgrounds. The story starts in the fall of 2007 when the country seemed pretty stable and we were watching the rise of Barack Obama, which I thought was apt, considering that both the Obamas and the Jongas were dreamers--different kinds of dreamers, but still dreamers.

The timeframe also allowed me to present the Great Recession from Jende and Neni's perspective, and being that Clark Edwards is employed at Lehman Brothers, it also allowed me to imagine what it might have been like for employees at Lehman Brothers in the days surrounding the collapse of the bank.

How did you develop a vision for the characteristics and lifestyle of the Clark family?

Thanks to having lived in New York City for many years, I've had opportunities to meet people who share similar characteristics with the Edwards. I can't say I've spent as much time around the likes of the Edwardses as I have around the likes of the Jongas, but the interactions I had with them (in addition to stories told to me by friends who have friends from such backgrounds, as well as stories I heard from people who work for them) allowed me to piece together their lifestyle and develop their characters.

What can we expect to see from you next?

Thank you for already looking forward! Writing Behold the Dreamers was a long, complex experience, so for now, I'm simply enjoying talking about it. --Jacki Fulwood

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Great Reads

Rediscover: Silence

In 1639, two Portuguese priests, Sebastian Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe, sneak into Japan. They have two goals: to continue Jesuit missionary work in a country where Christianity is violently repressed and to discover the fate of their mentor, Father Ferreira, who has reportedly apostatized by denouncing his faith under duress. Rodrigues and Garrpe arrive at a fishing village in Southern Japan, where a community of hidden Christians still practice their religion even after the Tokugawa Shogunate banned it. The Fathers hide in a hillside hut during the day, deliver sacraments in secret at night and subsist on what little food the starving villagers can spare. It is the first of many trials they endure in Silence, the landmark work of 20th-century Japanese literature by Shūsaku Endō.

Endō (1923-1996), himself a Roman Catholic, won multiple prestigious Japanese awards for his work and is considered among the greatest of Japan's postwar novelists. Silence (1966) is a multilayered tale of deeply personal religious turmoil. Rodrigues, throughout the many tribulations leading to the novel's morally ambiguous climax, grapples with his beliefs in ways mirroring the author's own struggle between his Christian faith and Japanese culture.

Adapting Silence into a film has been a passion project of director Martin Scorsese since the early '90s. In his foreword to a new edition published by Picador Modern Classics ($16, 9781250082244) last January, Scorsese says Silence has "given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art." His adaptation, starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, will be distributed by Paramount later this year. The Endō estate has retained all e-book rights to Silence, meaning Picador's re-release is available only in paperback. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Behold the Dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue

In an accomplished and timely debut, Imbolo Mbue tears away the veil from the American Dream and measures both the uphill grind to achieve it and the lightning-quick ease of losing it.

After three years in Harlem waiting for Immigration Services to process his application for asylum, Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga thinks he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. His lawyer assures him asylum will be granted any day, and his wife, Neni, and six-year-old son, Liomi, have joined him at last after years of separation. In the New York City of late 2007, all things seem possible. With Neni in college and on track for pharmacy school, and the plum chauffeur job Jende's cousin Winston found for him, the family's dreams are coming true. Jende admires his new boss Clark Edwards, a senior investment banker at Lehman Brothers, and eventually Neni begins working part-time for the Edwardses at their summer home. But despite their initial impression of the Edwards family as elegant, happy and perfect, the Jongas quickly begin to observe fissures. 

Behold the Dreamers approaches a difficult subject from a vulnerable perspective. Mbue, herself a Cameroonian native who emigrated to New York 10 years ago, keeps her story intimate rather than didactic by focusing tightly on her characters' reactions to their circumstances instead of the politics behind them. At once a sad indictment of the American Dream and a gorgeous testament to the enduring bonds of family, Mbue's powerful first novel will grip and move you right up to its heartfelt ending. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The lives of a struggling immigrant family and a wealthy Wall Street family intersect as they try to survive the economic collapse of 2008.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780812998481

Ashes of Fiery Weather

by Kathleen Donohoe

The O'Reilly men have been firefighters in Brooklyn, N.Y., for generations, long before the city's firehouses came under the jurisdiction of the FDNY. As the men pull 24-hour shifts or roll out of bed to answer fire calls in the wee hours, the O'Reilly women--mothers, wives, sisters, daughters--must learn the constant, often bitter lessons of grief and sacrifice. Kathleen Donohoe, a descendant of Irish immigrant firefighters, constructs a sweeping multigenerational story of love, dedication and loss in her debut novel, Ashes of Fiery Weather.

Donohoe's narrative begins with Norah, a young Irish woman who immigrates to the U.S. in her sister's place, ending up as firefighter Sean O'Reilly's wife, and later his widow. Through the intertwined stories of Norah, her daughter Maggie, Sean's mother Delia and four other women, Donohoe explores the difficult legacy of firefighting as a job, a calling and a tightly knit community. Her characters navigate turbulent historical events, including the Irish potato famine and the devastation of 9/11, and Donohoe vividly brings each period to life. But the novel's special strength lies in the quiet moments between characters: intimate exchanges and daily decisions that often ignite far-reaching changes in their lives.

Family, love and legacy are complicated entities, and Donohoe skillfully portrays her protagonists' struggle with each. Her characters vary widely in age and temperament, but they must reckon with their fierce (if complicated) loyalty to the firefighting community, and how their choices will affect those they hold dear. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Kathleen Donohoe's debut novel is a sweeping multigenerational story of Irish American firefighters in Brooklyn and the women who love them.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, hardcover, 416p., 9780544464056

Mystery & Thriller

Hell Fire

by Karin Fossum, trans. by Kari Dixon

Karin Fossum (Broken, The Murder of Harriet Krohn) is one of crime fiction's gems, and Hell Fire continues the stellar Inspector Konrad Sejer series, set in Norway. By all accounts, Bonnie Hayden is simply a single mother eking out a living as a caretaker, beloved by her elderly clientele. But someone was enraged enough to butcher Bonnie and her young son in an abandoned camper, and Inspector Sejer must apprehend the monster with little in the way of evidence.

Alternating between the investigation and the months before the murders, Fossum deftly weaves Sejer's perspective with Bonnie's, and draws in the Malthes as well, Mass and her co-dependent 21-year-old son, Eddie. Though not formally diagnosed, Eddie is troubled and obsessed with death. He searches the Internet for execution methods, dreams of frying newborn chicks and tries desperately to find his father's grave. A connection between the families may begin to seem ominously obvious, but Fossum is crafty enough to create doubt.

Fossum doesn't take violence casually, and while Sejer takes a secondary role in the plot, he effectively illustrates the impact of brutality on those in its wake. Hell Fire is more a compelling study of character and hardscrabble living than a strict procedural, and even the most dismal scenes and mundane tasks are absorbing. The plot is a tight, slow burn that details the hardships of two mothers and their sons, putting them through the wringer as the date of the murders approaches and their lives intersect. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Inspector Sejer aims to solve a brutal murder that involves several intertwined Norwegian families.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 272p., 9780544633377

The English Teacher

by Yiftach Reicher Atir, trans. by Philip Simpson

When former Mossad agent Rachel Goldschmitt makes a mysterious call to Ehud, the man who served as her handler, he immediately contacts the clandestine Israeli organization and they go on full alert. Rachel has knowledge of vital secrets, and no one knows where she is or what her intentions are. She's an explosive liability and must be found, but Ehud has always harbored a secret love for Rachel. He's divided between loyalty to his country and affection for this woman. His goal is to ensure both are safe, but the Mossad leaders want only the potential threat neutralized. In Yiftach Reicher Atir's first work translated into English, the former Israeli Army Brigadier General of Intelligence tells the story of the female spy in a series of flashback episodes, as experienced by both Rachel and Ehud, while the Mossad desperately tries to locate its rogue former agent.

Based on actual events, The English Teacher is a slower-moving spy novel that focuses more acutely on psychological aspects than daring exploits and secret operations. Atir dissects the emotional and mental elements of his characters as they cope with their ambiguous identities. The compassionate depiction of individuals expected to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of their country is deeply moving, and exquisitely reflects the complexities--and commonalities--experienced broadly. The passions are not exclusive to a culture or religion; that universality in this meticulous translation makes The English Teacher both insightful and accessible, a welcome addition to the espionage genre. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The Mossad is in turmoil when a former agent who possesses secrets that could cripple Israel disappears.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 272p., 9780143129189

A Great Reckoning

by Louise Penny

Fans of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache will be thrilled with A Great Reckoning, the 12th entry in her delightful Québécois series. New readers will have no trouble starting with this novel as Armand Gamache leaves his retirement in the idyllic village of Three Pines and takes on a new job--head of Québec's police training academy. Gamache has dedicated his life to catching murderers and quashing corruption within the Sûreté, and now he seeks to discover why Sûreté officers are complaining that recent cadets are boorish and untrainable. Convinced that someone within the academy is brainwashing many trainees to be his or her personal thugs, Gamache undertakes the arduous and ultimately deadly process of revamping the staff and curriculum.

Along the way, a strange map found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines will have far-reaching repercussions, drawing the villagers into Gamache's dangerous task.

With her trademark poetry and wit, Louise Penny (The Long Way Home) perfects her portrayal of the quirky villagers, the truculent students, Gamache's charming wife, Reine-Marie, and the philosophical, achingly courteous Gamache himself. His determination to see the good in everyone around him may be his ultimate downfall, however, as he struggles to rehabilitate students who may have already slipped down the slope of sociopathy. Weighing themes of redemption and loss, and whether a reckoning for injustice will always arrive, A Great Reckoning is a gripping mystery. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: In this tense but beautiful mystery, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache seeks to root out corruption in Québec's police academy.

Minotaur Books, $28.99, hardcover, 400p., 9781250022134

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

by Kij Johnson

The plot is simple: Vellitt Boe, an inhabitant of the dream lands, professor at Ulthar Women's College and lifelong traveler, is sent on a mission to find a student who may have eloped with a man from the waking lands. On the way, she dodges ghouls and vengeful gods while subtly coming to terms with aging. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize nods to The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, right down to the cat that tags along; however, Johnson's luminous prose subverts Lovecraft's racism and misogyny.

Fantasy and science fiction writing can occasionally over-explain; authors will go to great lengths to provide background information. The better ones tuck that information into load-bearing sentences without slowing the drama. The best reveal only what is truly needed, and trust readers to infer--or imagine--the rest. Johnson is one of the best.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe gets right down to business. Instead of detailing every zoog and gug, Johnson (At the Mouth of the River of Bees) allows the reader to relish the implications of names and characters' reactions. She is extraordinarily economical that way--she's best known for her Nebula Award-winning short story, "Ponies," and the novella The Man Who Bridged the Mist, which won both Hugo and Nebula awards. She creates enjoyable, dreamlike worlds that simply don't require much explanation. While Dream-Quest doesn't appear to be designed with a series in mind, Johnson certainly leaves enough juicy crumbs to inspire volumes of fanfic. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This fast-paced, otherworldly story with a strong female protagonist is perfect for fans of Lovecraft, LeGuin's Earthsea series and The Night Circus.

Tor, $14.99, paperback, 176p., 9780765391414

Biography & Memoir

Elizabeth & Michael: The Queen of Hollywood and the King of Pop--A Love Story

by Donald Bogle

Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson were showbiz royalty and seldom off the radar of the tabloid press, so it's no surprise that, prior to this dual biography by Donald Bogle (Dorothy Dandridge), there were more than a dozen full-length biographies devoted to their lives--plus Jackson's autobiography and four books written by Taylor. Both led fascinating and compelling lives. Although seemingly dissimilar, Taylor (1932-2011) and Jackson (1958-2009) had a lot in common. Both radiated talent, survived the transition from child star to adult performer (Jackson joined the Jackson 5 at age five, and Taylor made her first movie at nine), produced award-winning work (she won two Best Actress Oscars; he won 13 Grammys), and held the public's fascination for decades with their lavish tastes and outrageous behavior.

More than half of Elizabeth & Michael's nearly 400 pages consists of alternating chapters telling each performer's life story prior to their meeting in 1985. Together or apart, there is no lack of drama, which makes for lively and engrossing reading. Apart, there are Taylor's eight marriages, life-threatening health problems (including scoliosis, a broken back, pneumonia, brain tumor, alcohol and prescription drug addiction, and congestive heart failure) and AIDS activism; and Jackson's dysfunctional early family life, sexual abuse allegations, compulsive plastic surgery, two short marriages and financial woes. Together, they forged a fiercely loyal friendship and, according to Taylor, "told each other everything."

Despite having enough material for two solo biographies, Bogle's compressed merging of these two active lives never feels rushed or perfunctory. Bogle's Elizabeth & Michael is a skillful, fast-paced biography filled with compelling anecdotes. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Donald Bogle's hefty Elizabeth & Michael is a lively and compelling retelling of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson's separate lives and fiercely loyal friendship.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 400p., 9781451676976


American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address

by Stephen Puleo

In the early days of World War II, poet Archibald MacLeish, the director of the Library of Congress, worked with the Secret Service to move the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and thousands of other precious documents to hiding places, including Fort Knox, where they would be safe in case of enemy bombing. In American Treasures, Stephen Puleo (The Caning) uses the story of MacLeish's undercover librarianship as a framing device for the documents' history as a whole, from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, through the development of 21st-century restoration and conservation techniques.

Puleo never loses track of the documents' dual nature as both artifacts and symbols. He describes their drafting and publication as well as the political debates that surrounded their creation, bringing new life to familiar stories in the process. He traces the documents' physical deterioration, attempts to preserve them and bureaucratic infighting over their control. In what is possibly the most fascinating section, Puleo compares the singlehanded efforts of Stephen Pleasonton, a senior clerk in the office of the Secretary of State, to save the documents when the British attacked Washington in 1814, with MacLeish's carefully executed plan. (Pleasonton hid them in an abandoned farmhouse. Not exactly Fort Knox.)

Ultimately, American Treasures is an engaging exploration of Archibald MacLeish's assessment that "they are not important as manuscripts, they are important as themselves." --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: This book surveys the history and care of the United States' most important historical documents.

St. Martin's Press, $28.99, hardcover, 432p., 9781250065742


The Yucks: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History

by Jason Vuic

Sports fans love a winner, but they also love a heroic loser. A standout in the lovable loser ranks was the 1976-1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs (tagged the Yucks by loyal fans) launched their NFL franchise with 26 straight losses. Their first ever touchdown was a fumble return. After two games, their announcer Jack Harris commented, "when your punter's your MVP, you've got a problem." On one early season kickoff return, they failed to lay a hand on the ball--leading their acerbic, cigar-smoking, quip-spitting coach John McKay to rant: "These guys are getting paid money. They should at least be able to fall on a football."

Writer, historian and childhood Buccaneer fan, The Yucks author Jason Vuic knows his losers--he wrote the book on the car that Time magazine called "the Mona Lisa of bad cars... [like] something assembled at gunpoint": Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car of All Time. With ample research and abundant quotation, Vuic describes the Bucs' local promoters; its Jacksonville owner--notorious tightwad tax attorney Hugh Culverhouse; the politicized franchise negotiations with iron throne NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle; the antics of coach and curmudgeon John McKay; and the revolving door of has-beens, never-wills, rookies, and Canadian and World Football League cast-offs who had the misfortune of donning helmets bearing the creamsicle orange logo of Bucco Bruce ("a cross between a 1970s Bee Gee and a swashbuckler"). The Yucks is a great way to kick-off the new rock-'em, sock-'em NFL season. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Historian and longtime Bucs fan Jason Vuic has fun with the story of the NFL team everybody (including its coach) loved to lampoon.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781476772264

Reference & Writing

Why Write?: A Master Class on the Art of Writing and Why It Matters

by Mark Edmundson

In Why Write?: A Master Class on the Art of Writing and Why It Matters, University of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson, author of Why Read? and Why Teach?, first offers readers a multitude of reasons why not to write. The list goes on and on: the lack of any substantial amount of money for most authors; the loneliness inherent in the writing process; the little pleasure revenge writing actually incurs; the probability of receiving a bad review that limits the scope and connotations of one's book. So why do so many people write? Edmundson states, "Because writing is one of the best acts a human being can turn his hand to.... By coming up with fresh and arresting words to describe the world accurately, the writer expands the boundaries of her world, and possibly her readers' world, too."

Edmundson defines writing as that which provides instruction and entertainment, and he offers exemplars of good writers--such as Keats, Yeats, Melville, Whitman, and Woolf--to back his philosophical, sometimes humorous, occasionally snarky, commentary on the writing life. Sex, alcohol, fame and fortune; the ability to think and learn about oneself; and the need for expression play roles and are expanded on in Edmundson's methodical, edifying and pleasurable consideration of the ups and downs of the writing life. Rather than a how-to-write book, Why Write? ponders why so many people try their hand at something that can be so time consuming and contain so many pitfalls, and Edmundson offers satisfying answers for readers and writers alike. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A university professor offers sage commentary on the process of writing and the writer's life.

Bloomsbury USA, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781632863058

Children's & Young Adult

Full of Beans

by Jennifer L. Holm

In her Newbery Honor-winning Turtle in Paradise, Jennifer L. Holm introduced a scrappy bunch of barefoot kids living in Key West during the Depression--including the Diaper Gang that takes care of people's "bad babies" in exchange for candy. Ten-year-old "Beans" Curry is Turtle's cousin and the founder of the Diaper Gang; Full of Beans, the dryly funny prequel to Turtle, is his story.

"Look here, Mac. I'm gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie," says the no-nonsense, rather jaded Beans in the novel's first line. Beans has been the "man of the house" for his impoverished family since his father left to find work in New Jersey. This heavy responsibility inspires the boy's "life of crime," helping out a rum-runner named Johnny Cakes. He's trying to do the right thing by earning a buck, but he gets himself into moral hot water that makes coconut ice cream taste like sawdust in his mouth. Beans spends the rest of the book working hard to redeem himself.

Holm's vividly described Key West drips with heat, sways with Cuban music, buzzes with mosquitoes and stinks of garbage. The town is so smelly and decrepit, in fact, that the federal government has taken it over, vowing to shut it down if it's not spruced up. (This really happened, as the author's note explains.) Holm, who has family ties to Key West, captures this colorful slice of Depression history with her usual vivacious wit and colorful expressions like "Mind your own potatoes." Children will love Beans, with his good heart and only occasional bad judgment. A fine and welcome companion to Turtle. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A ragtag posse of barefoot kids in Depression-era Florida's Key West takes center stage in Jennifer L. Holm's lively prequel to the Newbery Honor-winning Turtle in Paradise.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 8-12, 9780553510362

Dog Man

by Dav Pilkey, color by Jose Garibaldi

Revered by kids and reviled by (some) adults, Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series launched a generation of graphic novel-adoring readers. Fans of the misbehaving and occasionally ingenious fourth-graders George and Harold will not be disappointed by Dog Man, which is just as full of farcical superheroes, amazing inventions and funny-bone-tickling adventure.

Here, George and Harold, fictional creators of comics like The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers, revive an "epic novella" they wrote in kindergarten, even before "they" wrote Captain Underpants. Through a stupefying chain of events involving a diabolical cat, an explosive "KA BLOOEY" and a quick-thinking surgical "nurse lady," a crime-fighting hero is born who has the body of a strong but not-so-bright cop and the head of a smart but physically limited dog. As in the Captain Underpants series, action, suspense and "laffs" follow. Dog Man outsmarts a giant vacuum cleaner ("Let's get ready to Roomba!"), a villainous mayor ("So, Dr. Scum... How is our evil robot coming along?") and Petey the cat, whose plot to destroy all the books in the world has disastrous results ("Behold! I just invented the Word-B-Gone 2000™"). Dog Man is also always getting in trouble for licking his boss's face, chewing slippers and peeing on the floor of police headquarters.

Naturally the famous "Extra cheesy Flip-O-Rama" is still part of the mix, and Pilkey offers a laughing nod to grownup readers with lines like "Philly, don't be a gyro! Don't be a fool with your life!" Next up: Dog Man Unleashed. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey's Dog Man is a hero with the head of a dog, the body of a man and an endless capacity for hilarious hijinks.

Graphix/Scholastic, $9.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 7-up, 9780545581608

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