Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 20, 2017

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

From My Shelf

City of a Million Stories

In 1943, a meek young man met the electrifying Holly Golightly on the Upper East Side, and had his world turned upside down. In 1966, a determined Anne Welles moved to Manhattan to follow her dreams, and began a melodramatic life in the fast lane. New York City is replete with iconic fiction like Breakfast at Tiffany's and Valley of the Dolls, but some of the best stories it has to tell are neither romantic nor glamorous--simply true.

Cartoonist Roz Chast (Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?) has been telling her stories of the city for decades, with her characteristic sense of neurosis. Going into Town (Bloomsbury, $28) is her latest book, a thoroughly comic guide to moving about Manhattan, as well as a love letter to it. Fellow cartoonist Julia Wertz (The Infinite Wait) has also crafted an affectionate guidebook to New York City, Tenements, Towers & Trash (Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99). While Chast explains uptown versus downtown, Wertz geeks out over the fascinating diversity of architecture throughout the city. She also homes in on some of its quirkier historical tidbits (they outlawed pinball machines?). Together, the artists illuminate fascinating aspects of a vast and nuanced metropolis. (Read our reviews of both books below.)

Personal stories give a charming, eyes-on-the-street sense of New York, but if you want to see the larger picture, check out historian Mike Wallace's books. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for Gotham, Wallace picks up where he left off for the sequel, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898-1919 (Oxford, $45). He continues his gripping saga by diving into the ways titans of industry like J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller were shaping the city and its politics at the turn of the century.

Whether you're a wide-eyed ingénue, a jaded old-timer or someone in between, your story has a place in the city that never sleeps. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Nate Blakeslee: Uncovering the Mystique of Yellowstone's Wolves

photo: Jeff Wilson

After writing award-winning articles for Texas Monthly and the Texas Observer, Nate Blakeslee spent a few years investigating the Yellowstone National Park wolves, reintroduced in 1995 after an absence of 75 years. Focusing on the charismatic alpha female pack leader O-Six, American Wolf (reviewed below) covers the habits and habitat of the park wolves, the people studying them, and the political friction between the area's conservationists, ranchers and outfitters.

You came across O-Six when you joined a wolf-watching expedition at Yellowstone. Was it difficult switching gears from your Texas-centric stories to a wildlife story?

I met Rick McIntyre, one of the main characters in the book, in 2007, when he gave a presentation to a weeklong wolf-watching class I attended in Yellowstone. I had written several stories about the politics of wildlife management in Texas, but wolves were new to me. Rick's legendary dedication--he came to the park before dawn seven days a week without fail for years, spending hours watching wolves and documenting their behavior--had already made him a local celebrity. I thought at the time that he would make a great subject for a magazine profile, but I wasn't sure if telling his story was the right way to write about the political struggle over wolves in the West. When I heard that the park's most famous wolf, O-Six, had died in the first legal wolf-hunting season in Wyoming in generations, I realized that her life--seen through Rick's eyes--was the way into the story, and that the material was far too rich for a single magazine piece.

McIntyre--a reclusive National Park Service naturalist--strikes me as the most interesting character in the book. Was it difficult to get him to open up?

I found Rick to be the most intriguing character, too, at least among the humans in the book. He has spent most of his career talking to strangers about wildlife, yet he is a shy, private man, who--all things considered--prefers the company of wolves to people. He wasn't averse to the idea of being profiled in the book, but it was a challenge to get him to share his innermost feelings about the most tragic elements of his experience, especially the death of wolves he had followed for years. Like everyone who works for the Park Service, Rick is very cognizant of the complex politics of wolf management, and hesitant to criticize policies--like wolf hunting--instituted by state authorities in the areas surrounding the park, or those of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which made the controversial decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list in the Northern Rockies.

Wyoming outfitter and lifelong hunter Steven Turnbull is also quite a character, with his self-described "downwardly mobile" life. Since he probably figured you for a wolf-hugger, how did you get him to open up?

As the man who shot arguably the world's most famous wild animal, there is no question that Turnbull took a risk when he agreed to talk to me. He asked for no special consideration; only that he be allowed to remain anonymous. To that end (as I explain in a note to readers in the front of the book), I changed not only his name, but some identifying characteristics as well, while leaving in enough of his actual circumstances that readers will get a good feel for him as a character, his personality and motivations. He knows he will be the "bad guy" in the story for most readers. He cooperated because he wanted his point of view to be represented in the book, and I very much did as well.

The one-page O-Six lineage chart you include is helpful. Did you set up some sort of matrix and/or map of all the Yellowstone wolves in order to understand how the ecosystem evolved?

Dedicated wolf watchers like Rick McIntyre can recite the lineage of every pack in the park, going back to 1995, when wolves were first reintroduced to Yellowstone. (They had been hunted out by the 1920s.) The history can get pretty byzantine. Pack leadership changes frequently--often as a result of violent conflict with neighboring clans--and there is a constant flow of young wolves leaving their natal packs to join others, or to start new families of their own. But this is one of the reasons wolves are so compelling: their intricate social lives and tribal ways set them apart from other animals, and make their stories feel familiar to us.

Rumor on the Internet is that Leonardo DiCaprio has movie rights. How do you feel about that?

Leonardo DiCaprio's production company has optioned the book and a screenplay is in the works. If it comes to fruition, I'm hopeful we'll see an accurate depiction of wolves and their behavior. So often we don't; more than one recent film has shown wolves chasing and attacking humans, for example, which in reality is an extremely rare occurrence. There hasn't been a single such incident in the Northern Rockies in the two decades since reintroduction, and there are very few recorded attacks in American history, even though wolves were found virtually everywhere on this continent when Europeans first arrived.

For centuries, wolves were a symbol of evil in Western culture, which is a legacy of our pastoral roots. Any creature that preyed on livestock was considered a threat, but wolves--as the most widely distributed land mammal on the planet--posed the biggest obstacle by far for shepherds and the communities that relied on them. It is no exaggeration to say that almost every expansion of human civilization in the northern hemisphere since humans left Africa came at the expense of wolves. It was a dynamic that held until very recently, when wolves began to make a comeback, aided by programs like the Yellowstone reintroduction. Yet they still inspire fear and resentment in some circles, which, in my view, puts the onus on anyone depicting wolves in popular culture to be as responsible and accurate as possible. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Book Candy

Celebrating Lincoln in the Bardo

To celebrate George Saunders's Man Booker Prize win, Bustle shared "21 Lincoln in the Bardo quotes that prove this is a baffling, beautiful novel."


Halloween is coming: Mental Floss toured "the charming English fishing village that inspired Dracula" and told "the spookiest ghost stories from all 50 states." And Bustle noted that Frankenstein author Mary Shelley "was Goth before it was cool, and these 15 surprising facts prove it."


"From the mind-bending potion in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Don DeLillo's cure for the fear of death," author Jeff Noon picked his "top 10 imaginary drugs in fiction" for the Guardian.


Taurus: Charlotte Brontë. Bustle explored "what your Zodiac sign says about which famous author you need to be reading."


Bookshelf featured Philippe Nigro's Spiral bookcase, "a plywood spiral around vertical supports."

Book Review


Five-Carat Soul

by James McBride

National Book Award-winner James McBride (The Good Lord BirdKill 'Em and Leave) delivers pure gold with Five-Carat Soul, a collection of short stories. Each piece in this compilation features compelling characters with distinctive luster. As the richness of their interactions and relationships builds, readers are sure to find the resulting treasure irresistible.

Five-Carat Soul starts with "The Under Graham Railroad Box Car Set." A toy collector discovers the gem of all gems: a one-of-a-kind toy train General Robert E. Lee commissioned Horace Smith to build for Lee's five-year-old son, Graham. But after Graham died unexpectedly, the slave tending him escaped with the train, and its whereabouts remained unknown for more than a century.

McBride also includes two sets of related stories: "The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band" and "Mr. P & the Wind." The first series features a ragtag bunch of kids from "The Bottom" in Uniontown, Pa., who start a band. The other employs zoo animals as the protagonists. Their casts struggle with their respective obstacles--for the kids their poverty, for the animals their imprisonment--to discover strong purpose in their lives. In these sections, McBride blends his unmistakable humor and insight to brew the satire for which he is so well regarded.

Five-Carat Soul shakes with laughter, grips with passion and oozes wisdom. Readers should put aside any prejudices they might harbor about short fiction because together these stories are a masterpiece that will enrich everyone it touches. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An inspiring collection of short fiction by National Book Award winner James McBride splendidly showcases his exceptional wit and wisdom.

Riverhead Books, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780735216693

The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour, National Book Award-winner Alice McDermott's eighth novel, is a multi-generational saga set in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the early 20th century.

When Irish immigrant Jim commits suicide, he leaves his pregnant wife, Annie, in a tenement apartment that's almost burned down by his act. Suicide and depression are not spoken of in this mostly Catholic community, but the kind nuns of the local Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor convent are determined to care for Annie and her new baby girl. Elderly Sister St. Savior finds Annie a job helping Sister Iluminata in the convent's basement laundry, where vibrant baby Sally grows up among the beloved nuns.

Although the story focuses on Sally, it spans generations to encompass her mother and her children, with the nuns a constant presence. The Little Nursing Sisters have surrendered their lives in order to serve their community, and Annie and Sally hold a special place in their hearts. Time marches on and young Sister Jeanne grows old; still, Annie's husband's suicide reverberates through the family and the community for decades.

McDermott's elegant prose pulls the reader into a vivid portrait of immigrant life in Brooklyn in the 20th century. This immersive and poignant novel explores life and love, sacrifice and heartbreak, secrets and consequences. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: One man's suicide affects generations of his family and the local community of nuns in a moving and eloquent story.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9780374280147

The Visitors

by Catherine Burns

Marion Zetland, 54, has never married, held a job or moved from the family home, where she lives with her domineering older brother, John. Although she rooms in the attic, Marion can hear the screams coming from the basement she has never been allowed to enter. John keeps that level padlocked, as did their father before him. 

Catherine Burns's debut, The Visitors, is dark and atmospheric, and its imagery is quite evocative, perhaps owing to the former bond trader's studies at the Moscow Institute of Film and her later position teaching film theory at Salford University. Through vignettes from Marion's point of view, Burns slowly layers morbid details as she unravels the disturbing Zetland history.

Marred by bullying, John's violent tendencies and family power struggles, Marion hides within dark, ill-fitting clothing, takes comfort in stuffed animals and hears the voice of her chastising mother in her head. As she caters to John and cedes to his authority, Marion shuts out what's going on around her and daydreams of alternate lives with a loving family.

When circumstances change and Marion is forced to confront what's in the basement, the shift in power creates an imbalance with dreadful consequences. Burns is a fantastic writer and her work builds wonderfully, the morbid settings vividly informing her character profiles. Although it has the earmarks of a traditional thriller and is fraught with tension, The Visitors is more akin to a fascinatingly detailed study of lives at their bleakest. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: When her authoritarian brother falls ill, a middle-aged woman must confront her gloomy life, along with what has been kept locked in the basement of the family home.

Scout Press/Gallery, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9781501164019

The Good People

by Hannah Kent

When Nora's husband dies unexpectedly, she is left alone to care for her ailing grandson, who can neither walk nor talk. Desperate for help, Nora turns to Nance, the valley's "bean feasa," known to the locals for her ability to commune with the fairies and heal uncommon illnesses.

"Some folks are forced to the edges by their difference," Nance is told early in her life. This has not always been a bad thing; for many years, she was seen as "the final human before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of stars. She was a pagan chorus. An older song." Such music is being cast out in the face of new customs, however, as the newly arrived parish priest speaks out against talk of fairies and curses and charms.

The Good People, Hannah Kent's sophomore novel after Burial Rites, unfolds with a building sense of desperation: Nora seeks a cure for her grandson's illness; Nance wants to prove her abilities; the valley's neighbors latch on to any explanation for the misfortunes that have befallen their community. That desperation powers Kent's compelling story forward with a sense of urgency that will captivate readers from the first page, but not at the expense of historical detail. Rich with the language, customs and traditions of 19th-century Ireland, The Good People breathes life into the mythologies of Irish folklore. It unfolds the story of two women desperate to reclaim what little power they can over lives touched with hopelessness and despair in a changing time. --Kerry McHugh, blogger with Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Hannah Kent blends history and myth in a heartrending story of women and power in 19th-century Ireland.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780316243964

Mystery & Thriller

Best Day Ever: A Psychological Thriller

by Kaira Rouda

This uncomfortably creepy thriller from Kaira Rouda (The Goodbye Year) capitalizes on the current buzz about the prevalence of narcissists and psychopaths, and will surely leave readers wondering how well they really know their loved ones.

Paul Strom seems at first glance like a relatively normal, if somewhat arrogant, husband and father. Lately, though, his marriage has turned distant. Paul blames Mia's anxiety over her inexplicable weight loss and fatigue, as well as rumors of his infidelity--which he assures both Mia and the reader are pure fabrications. He plans to spirit Mia away for a perfectly planned getaway at their cabin on Lake Erie, the ideal romantic retreat, and give her the best day ever. However, Mia seems not only disengaged but downright tense on the drive to the lake, and Paul's increasingly patronizing and entitled attitude begins to signal something beyond mere egotism. By the time Paul and Mia reach their cabin, readers will realize Paul is not the doting husband he appears and wonder what he really has in store for his wife. Mia, on the other hand, has a few surprises of her own.

Rouda understands that true horror comes from that skin-crawling feeling when ordinary life suddenly looks not quite right. Just as Mia cannot escape from Paul, Rouda's use of him as narrator means the reader is in too deep to get away as his apparent normalcy morphs into paranoia and cruelty. Though the feeling of seeing through the eyes of a monster may not suit every reader, adventurous thriller lovers and fans of Lee Irby's Unreliable will find Best Day Ever a similarly mind-twisting walk on the sinister side. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A husband plans the perfect weekend for his wife, but his pretense of romance hides dark truths.

Graydon House, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781525811401

Graphic Books

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York

by Roz Chast

For almost 40 years Roz Chast has interpreted life's ordinary moments in her New Yorker cartoons. Her candid and funny graphic memoir about caring for her elderly parents in their Brooklyn apartment--Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?--earned a National Book Critics Circle Award and a 100-week run on the New York Times bestseller list.

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York was originally conceived as a reference tool for Chast's daughter, Nina--leaving their suburban home for college in Manhattan. This is "not a definitive guidebook," but rather a gift so Nina might fall in love with the city as Chast did. With hilarious asides (she depicts her children calling fire escapes "those West Side Story things") Chast's advice is practical. She explains the street grids (East Manhattan vs. West, avenue vs. street, uptown vs. downtown) and the exceptions: "No one calls Sixth Avenue 'Avenue of the Americas' because GIVE ME A BREAK!"

The drawings are in her classic style. A stereotypical "herd of out-of-towners" surround one boingy-eyed woman with an "OMIGOD why aren't these people MOVING?!" thought bubble. The subway chapter explains its numbers and letters, acknowledging the sometimes "devil-may-care" schedules. "Stuff to Do" showcases Central Park with a "slightly squished" map. Manhattan wildlife? Meet mice, rats and giant rats, and learn to resist that "cute discarded bedbug-colonized throw pillow."

Chast closes with a thank-you note to New York alongside a photo of her as a little girl with her mother, together on a street of the city she loves. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Classic New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast's homage to New York is framed as a guidebook for her daughter.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 176p., 9781620403211

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City

by Julia Wertz

Cartoonist Julia Wertz (Drinking at the Movies) fell in love with New York City after growing up in Northern California. She spent a decade there, contributing illustrations to the New Yorker and Harper's, before being illegally evicted from her Brooklyn apartment in 2016, a disruption that sent her back west to regroup. Nevertheless, her heart fixated on New York. Showcasing her extraordinary artistic talent, Wertz digs into an eclectic survey of the city's past, and the remaining architectural relics, through her large-format illustrated history, Tenements, Towers & Trash.

Wertz occasionally nods to her personal experiences, with short comic strips about riding the subway and finding an apartment. But she largely keeps to the margins as she guides readers through New York's nuttier anecdotes, like the Great Pinball Prohibition of the 1930s, the infectious 1960s career of Typhoid Mary and the preponderance of Ray's Pizza shops--a complicated multiplicity with early ties to Mafia drug trafficking. Wertz covers the progression of public transportation and includes an incomplete list of her favorite independent bookstores. What stands out most, though, are her elegant architectural sketches. Several gorgeous pages at a time feature detailed line drawings of what a given building or block looks like: open the book and you might see Smith St. and Douglass St. as it looked in 1928 compared to 2013, or 1507 40th St., Brooklyn in 1933 and 2016.

The final chapter takes readers on one of Wertz's favorite long walks through Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. She depicts the city through her own eyes, concluding with a beautiful, moving love letter to the place her heart belongs. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Take a walking tour of New York City's eclectic architecture and history through cartoonist Julia Wertz's outstanding artwork.

Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99, hardcover, 284p., 9780316501217

Biography & Memoir

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired the Little House Books

by Marta McDowell

Countless children--girls in particular--grew up romanticizing the frontier life through Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. In addition to a prairie life of log cabins, covered wagons, shanties and earthen dugouts, Wilder's works offer a fascinating study of the American West before mass settlement. "For many of us, Wilder's books introduced us to a life in and dependent on nature," writes horticultural designer Marta McDowell (Emily Dickinson's Gardens; Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life) as she considers the landscapes that the Ingalls and Wilder families inhabited.

McDowell combines history, travelogue and a how-to gardening primer, weaving the memories and gardens of her own Midwestern family with Wilder's: "As so often occurs with Laura Ingalls Wilder's writings, her memories evoke my own." At her disposal are historical maps, photographs, botanical drawings, original illustrations by Helen Sewell and Garth Williams, and the ample descriptions of scenery in the series. Through these, McDowell examines Wilder's relationship to her environment and its importance as a historical document of the ecosystems of the American West. She also touches upon how the region's overreliance on wheat production contributed to conditions leading to the Dust Bowl--contrasting the early failures of settlers in South Dakota, Kansas and Minnesota to the successful, sustainable farming methods employed by the Wilders at their settlement at Rocky Ridge Farm in the Missouri Ozarks. McDowell's exhaustive research adds scientific context to the legacy that Wilder's books preserve. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Marta McDowell provides a snapshot of the gardens, plants and land that influenced Laura Ingalls Wilder's frontier life in the Little House books.

Timber Press, $27.95, hardcover, 390p., 9781604697278

Social Science

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

by Caitlin Doughty

A mortician and owner of a nonprofit funeral home, Caitlin Doughty (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory) acknowledges that her personal comfort with death isn't widely shared in the Western world, as evidenced by many Americans' reluctance to initiate conversations with loved ones about their end-of-life preferences. Curious to learn more about other cultures' approaches to death, Doughty traveled to remote corners of the globe (and several United States locales) to observe and participate in rituals that may initially seem bizarre and macabre, but are rich in tradition, dignity and deep meaning.
Doughty observes Mexico's Días de los Muertos parade and travels to Indonesia for the ma'nene', an elaborate annual ceremony where the mummified dead are exhumed after several years, outfitted with new clothes and marched around the village in house-like structures. In Spain, families rent rooms in oratorios (chapels) and "spend the entire day with their dead, showing up first thing in the morning and staying until the doors close at 10 p.m.," while the deceased is visible under glass. Green burials are explored in North Carolina; an outdoor cremation on a natural pyre is held in Colorado. A swipe of a coded key card at Japan's high-tech Ruriden columbarium allows mourners to instantly identify their loved one's resting place among 600 other souls represented by an illuminated wall of Buddhas.

Accompanied by Edward Gorey-like illustrations by Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is part travelogue and part commentary on America's corporatized, sterile death industry. Doughty's sharp wit and wry humor make for an amusing journey that provides an enlightening glimpse into the nuances of customs and cultural practices related to death and imbued with honor, respect and love. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: A fascinating global journey exploring traditional death rituals throughout the world.

W.W. Norton, $24.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780393249897

Nature & Environment

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

by Nate Blakeslee

American Wolf by investigative journalist Nate Blakeslee (Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, a PEN/Martha Albrand Award finalist) is a savory blend of hardcore journalism, biodiversity analysis, weather and terrain reporting and good old-fashioned storytelling.

Once numbering in the millions, the continental United States wolf population was alarmingly low by 1920. Wolves suffered from the loss of their primary prey (bison), high demand for their pelts and aggressive bounties. With no wolf population to trim the herd, elk were overrunning Yellowstone and spilling into the surrounding states. In 1995, the Park Service decided to embed elk predator Canadian wolves into northeast Yellowstone's Lamar Valley. They thrived in the rough mountain terrain--and with the growing packs came biologists and tourists to observe the roaming wolves. An extraordinary mother, hunter and leader, a third-generation wolf born in 2006 (hence the "O-Six" sobriquet) became a star of the park--boldly defending her turf, raising pups from three litters and bringing down elk to feed her pack. The end for O-Six came with the federal government's 2012 decision to take wolves off the endangered species list in the states neighboring Yellowstone. Near the small Wyoming town of Crandall, lifelong hunter Steven Turnbull was in the Absaroka mountains when O-Six appeared in his gun sight. His kill shot made the New York Times under the headline "Famous Wolf Is Killed Outside Yellowstone."

American Wolf is the tale of an extraordinary wolf and those absorbed with her storied life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Journalist Nate Blakeslee explores the lineage, habitat and behavior of Yellowstone National Park's most famous wolf and the people with a personal and professional stake in wolf management.

Crown, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9781101902783

Children's & Young Adult

Her Right Foot

by Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris

Early on in Her Right Foot, the omniscient narrator says, "Did you know that the Statue of Liberty comes from France? This is true. This is a factual book." The defensiveness is the tip-off to readers that this is not a typical biography of an iconic national monument--and hallelujah for that.

Her Right Foot's first half adopts something of the customary "fun facts" approach to children's biography. (Who knew of Thomas Edison's ultimately torpedoed idea to install a gigantic record player inside the statue so she could "speak?") But toward the book's middle, the narrator cuts to the chase: "This is the central point to this book--a point the author apologizes for taking so long to get to." The point is the great green lady's little-discussed mid-stride right foot. Its significance consumes the narrator ("How can we all have missed this?") until the book's "idea," "theory," breathless epiphany: "If the Statue of Liberty," an immigrant herself, "has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States, then how can she stand still?... In welcoming the poor, the tired, the struggling to breathe free./ She is not content to wait."

Readers needn't be versed in the day's headlines to leave Her Right Foot with an arm in the air, raising not a torch but a fist. As in This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, his children's book about the Golden Gate Bridge, Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) pairs his fourth-wall-breaking narrative with invitingly chunky illustrations, this time construction paper tableaux by debut picture book artist Shawn Harris, whose earthbound scenes are nevertheless transcendent. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: Dave Eggers ingeniously turns the Statue of Liberty's story into a timely immigrant's tale.

Chronicle, $19.99, hardcover, 104p., ages 5-8, 9781452162812

The Player King

by Avi

In 1486 England, King Henry VII has stolen the English crown and imprisoned the rightful heir, Edward, the Earl of Warwick, in the Tower of London. Lambert Simnel, an orphan, is nothing more than a lowly scullion at an Oxford tavern until a friar, Brother Simonds, purchases him and claims he is the prince, escaped. Under the priest's tutelage, Lambert learns to be a proper king, but no training can prepare him for manipulative royals, murderous traitors and a bloody battle for the crown.

Avi (The Unexpected Life of Cromwell Pitts; The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) develops narrator Lambert from a cheeky, sarcastic kitchen boy who sees himself as nothing to a powerful, confident king who wholeheartedly believes his royal status. Choosing to home in on the internal changes Lambert experiences, rather than focusing on details about his physical training and studying, keeps Lambert's journey swiftly moving and utterly engrossing. But The Player King's real strength comes in the form of language. Avi's use of alliteration helps readers slow down and appreciate the images he's creating: "I heard the sound of sacred singing, slow and sorrowful, as if from another sphere." And 15th-century English words and phrases sprinkled throughout--table-leavings, roistering, cock-brained--ground the narrative in its place and time period without being too heavy-handed.

In The Player King, Avi tells a story that seems too outrageous to be true, but an author's note confirms it all happened. That--the fact behind the fiction--is what truly makes this book a worthy read. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: In this historically accurate rags-to-riches story set in 1486 in Oxford, England, an orphaned kitchen boy becomes a king under the advisement of an ambitious friar.

Richard Jackson/Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 8-12, 9781481437684


by Julia Denos, illus. by E.B. Goodale

"At the end of the day, before the town goes to sleep, you can look out your window... and see more little windows lit up like eyes in the dusk, blinking awake as the lights turn on inside: a neighborhood of paper lanterns."

A child gazes out the window of his comfortable-looking living room as a little dog impatiently waits to be walked. As the boy gets ready, he looks out the window at the neighbors' dusk activities: children talk to each other from two different balconies, an older couple does yardwork, an older and a younger child walk hand-in-hand down the street.

The child walks the dog out into "the almost-night" of a friendly city neighborhood. He sees a cat and a raccoon, two friends using a tin-can phone and, of course, little slices of life in the windows: "One window might be tall, with the curtains drawn, or small, with a party inside.... There might be a hug, or a piano, and someone might be learning to dance."

Julia Denos's (Swatch) second-person text invites the reader to be an active participant in this pleasing book--you are reading this book, you are looking in the windows, you are a part of this beautiful, flourishing neighborhood. And what a neighborhood it is. The illustrations are sheer joy, giving vibrant glimpses of the everyday through each window. E.B. Goodale brings her very own Somerville to brilliant life in her first picture book, using ink, watercolor, letterpress and digital collage. Each page is awash with the colors of dusk as the sun slowly sets until, finally, "you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside. Someone you love is waving at you, and you can't wait to go in." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A young child walks the dog at dusk, seeing slices of life through all the windows in the neighborhood.

Candlewick, $15.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9780763690359

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