Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

The Envelope, Please...

No matter who wins Oscars this coming Sunday, books will be winners. That's because this year even more than usual, nominations in a variety of categories involve movies based on books. For best picture, for example, six of the nine nominees are adapted from books, and another, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, stars several literary figures from the 1920s, including Gertrude Stein, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot and Djuna Barnes. (In the movie, Corey Stoll offered a masterful portrayal of Ernest Hemingway.) It's enough to make you wonder what would happen to the movie business if books vanished. For an annotated list of this year's many book-related nominees, click here.

While many moviegoers try to catch up on the nominated films in the week before the awards, it's also a good time to catch up on--and celebrate--the books that provided such fertile ground for Hollywood last year. One bookstore, Encore Books in Yakima, Wash., has a kind of warmup contest for fans of both books and movies. With polls open through Saturday, the contest focuses on the books behind the movies in six Oscar categories--voters cast ballots for books and characters based on the books, not the movies.

This year the adaptations were generally well done, so that fans of the books needn't cringe at the film versions. A very happy Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants, who apparently connected with producer and screenwriter Alexander Payne, told the Independent: "Almost every line of dialogue was right out of the book, every sequence, the music I'd mentioned, the clothes they wore, the places they went to." For more on her experience and the mixed results of other authors whose books were made into movies, click here.

So this Sunday evening, do enjoy the books--and the movies. But first a moment of silence for Damien Bona, the co-author of Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, who died last month. A delightful handbook of Oscar trivia, the book has gone through several editions but, as far as we know, not sold film rights. --John Mutter

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Josh Bazell: Noir in a Nutshell

Josh Bazell's new novel, Wild Thing (Reagan Arthur Books), is the sequel to his debut, Beat the Reaper, "an outrageous, shocking, darkly humorous thriller, with footnotes, no less." When we noted it was not necessary to have read his debut to enjoy Wild Thing, he said, "I wanted it to be as different as possible, but still meet the expectations of the fans of the first book. You try and replicate some of the effects on the reader without replicating the book." He went on to quote author James Rollins: "When was the last time the 18th book in a series was your favorite?"

Wild Thing takes place fairly soon after the events in Beat the Reaper. The main character from the first book, Pietro Brwna, has a new name--Lionel Azimuth--and a set of fake medical degrees. He's working on a cruise ship, curing hangovers and avoiding the other staff as much as possible.

Azimuth "started out more as an exemplar of my own anxiety of having my personality erased if I went to medical school. I wanted someone who would get through med school and not lose his personality, so I needed someone strong, and ideally someone with a personality that was oppositional to medicine. So it made sense for him to kill people, instead of save them, in his other life."

In addition, Bazell said, for the character, the job "is not only innately unbearable, but particularly unsuited to him because he has issues with the ocean. There's an obvious element of self-punishment in his choices of where to end up, which he likes to portray to others as his only choice.

"What I love about him as a character is that he thinks he's perfectly cynical, but he always ends up in situations where the world turns out to be even worse than he thought it was. To me, that's sort of noir in a nutshell."

The obvious question, then, is why does Josh Bazell--who's on leave from a medical residency at University of California, San Francisco--identify with such a cynical character? "Medicine is a difficult field of study," he said. "People tend to do it because maybe they feel that whatever they were doing previously did not have value. What I love about medicine is that you can be depressed, you can be unsure of where your life is going in the long run, but you spend the day doing something that at the end of the day, you're glad you did. At least you helped somebody, even if it wasn't yourself."

The romantic interest in this book is Violet Hurst, who's a fully realized character, not just a foil for Azimuth. And Violet will be back: Bazell is working on a third book right now, among other projects. It will be bigger in scope than either of the first two, with the main antagonist from Beat the Reaper coming into sharper focus to help close out the Mafia plot line, one that is "essentially on hiatus in Wild Thing."

Bazell addresses some current issues in his books. "The thing with the environmentalism in Wild Thing is that I went after it as sort of a typical noir example of corruption being harmful to the innocent," he said. "Nonetheless, I think those environmental issues are quite real. When one gets out of the typical short-term reporting of such things and reads actual books on the topic, one gets pretty frightened about what's going to happen."

So who better to represent the current political climate about climate change? Sarah Palin, of course. Said Bazell: "The book is in some sense about how far you can push reality away, and the way in which it storms back when you do that. I wanted somebody to come in--I wanted that feeling of invasion in the book."

Bazell sees novels as unable to be apolitical, even when they expressly pretend not to be. At the end of the day, however, he's engaged in entertainment. "If a novel is not entertaining," he said, "then it's not good and it needs to be redone. I spent a lot of effort on making it fly as a novel. My goal is always to require the reader to bring as little energy as necessary to the book and nonetheless be able to get through it and have a good time."

Bazell has a few words of wisdom for the would-be novelist: "Write the book you want to read. People go to the bookstore and see a lot of crap and think they should just write crap; that's not a successful strategy. Anybody can write crap. Just figure out what you want to write or read right now, and go from there." --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Bike Bookshelf; Authors' Obsessions; Tebow Reading Time

A "bookshelf for your bike" was showcased in the Atlantic. Designer Chris Brigham's "intuitive reverse engineering and affinity for minimalist design led him to build the Bike Shelf."


Truman Capote loved tap-dancing. Noting that "authors are real people (thank goodness) and sometimes they can surprise us by being into something that seems a little off-kilter for them--or just in general," Flavorwire highlighted a selection of "famous authors' unlikely obsessions."


It's Tebow time... for reading. Watch Denver Broncos quarterback and host of America's Biggest Storytime Tim Tebow read his favorite Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham, as part of his partnership with the BOOK IT! reading incentive program sponsored by Pizza Hut.


Unfilmed Novels; Steve Jobs; YA Fantasy; Harriet the Spy Mixtape

Good books, no movies. For NPR's Three Books series, Tessa Harris, author of The Anatomist's Apprentice (which was originally written as a screenplay), recommended her "favorite novels that have never made it to the multiplex."


Apple of your eyes: The Huffington Post featured "9 fascinating reads about Apple and its co-founder," noting that long before Steve Jobs died last fall, "the whole world was fascinated not only with the man who helped transform Silicon Valley but also by the mystery surrounding the company he helmed."


Blogger Lisa Parkin (Read.Breathe.Relax) offered her picks for the "top 10 young adult fantasy books you should read" at the Huffington Post.


For Harriet the Spy's Literary Mixtape, Flavorwire imagined "she'd be into any kind of music that fed her spying and consoled her when she felt all alone. Here's what we think Harriet would make her spy route rounds, lose her notebook, and get covered in ink to."

The Artist and the Language of Silence

In a throwback to old times, The Artist, a French silent movie, has garnered 10 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. It's as if 80 years from now, assuming the most dire predictions come true and there are only e-books published, a physical book becomes book of the year.

In 1927, when Hollywood's studios saw audiences were enthralled with the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, the switch to talkies was instant, although silent pictures were a 30-year-old art form with many accomplished directors and actors. Like CDs replacing vinyl, the public wasn't polled and the change was jarring for many. 

The studios saw the dollar sign of the times. But at what cost?

Visually driven, silent pictures, far more than talkies, were an international cinema, without the language barriers that can divide audiences. "It was creative. It was exciting," British filmmaker Mike Leigh said in an interview for my book Shoot It! Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film. "When the talkies came in, everything became script-bound."

Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist isn't the only recent movie adept at silence. Canada's Guy Maddin, who has used silent stylings in films such as Brand Upon the Brain!, might be the world's most famous filmmaker had talking pictures never been invented. England's Steve McQueen used silence exquisitely in Hunger

The Romanian New Wave broke from decades of fascist and Stalinist imposed silences to make cinema that often features silence. Corneliu Porumboiu opens his Police/Adjective with a lengthy silent scene in which a policeman follows a "suspect." When the cop finally speaks, the words explode on screen, heightened by the contrast with the long silence. "I think silent movies were the best," Romanian filmmaker Bogdan Apetri told me. "Cinema means visuals. Talk has so many other arts--theater, literature, music. And silent movies were just cinema at its purest." --David Spaner, author of Shoot It! Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film

Book Review


I've Got Your Number

by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series, has written another fun, frothy tale starring a heroine with a predictably complicated love life. As I've Got Your Number opens, Poppy Wyatt, happily engaged to the very attractive Magnus, loses an expensive heirloom emerald ring. Then, to make matters worse, her cell phone gets stolen. Panicked, Poppy seizes a phone lying in a nearby trash bin and gives the number to everyone in the vicinity, telling them to call if they find her ring.

Handsome high-powered businessman Sam Roxton shows up, demanding the phone, which belonged to his former assistant. Poppy makes Sam a deal: if he'll let her use it while she waits for a call about her emerald, she'll forward all his business e-mails and texts.

Sam and Poppy find themselves in a delicate situation; sharing a phone is surprisingly intimate. Suddenly they know a lot about each other's careers, friends and love lives. As Poppy plans her wedding and tries to solve the ring dilemma, Sam attempts to pull off a huge business deal and protect the reputation of his mentor. Can they pull it off with only one phone?

Told in the first person by Poppy, with copious footnotes inspired by Magnus's academic writing, I've Got Your Number is a lighthearted look at getting to know a stranger. Poppy's antics will keep you laughing and make you wonder how much of your own life is in your phone. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A happily engaged woman unexpectedly finds herself sharing a cell phone with a handsome stranger....

Dial Press, $26, hardcover, 9780385342063

Other Waters

by Eleni N. Gage

Eleni N. Gage was raised in Greece and the United States; she knows something of the push and pull that different cultures exert on a young woman. Her fascination with cultural rituals and traditions led to a degree in folklore and mythology at Harvard, then an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia, followed by a memoir (North of Ithaka) about living in the small Greek village where her father was born. Now, in her first novel, Other Waters, Gage continues her exploration of divergent cultures and their influence on character development.

At the start of Other Waters, Maya seems to have everything a young woman could want: a blossoming career as a psychiatry resident, a loving boyfriend and a close-knit family (the members of which are all as accomplished as she). When her beloved grandmother dies in India, however, a disagreement with a family servant triggers a cascade of worrisome events for Maya and the other members of her family. Believing her family to be cursed, Maya travels back to India with her best friend to investigate the troubles and to attend a family wedding. It is during this trip that she is able to recognize the limitations of her relationship with her boyfriend, the strengths of her family ties and the importance of her cultural heritage.

Gage has written an appealing story, and she moves between cultures easily; perfectly placed details allow readers to feel comfortable as characters travel between work, home and family (both along the East Coast and in India). Appreciative readers will enjoy Other Waters, and may find themselves looking forward to Gage's future works as well. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: An impressive exploration of the cultural divides between a young woman and her loved ones in the U.S. and India.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312658519


by Thomas Mallon

The scoundrels and victims at the heart of America's worst political scandal come to life in Thomas Mallon's (Dewey Defeats Truman) imaginative re-creation of Watergate, from the bungled break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the building that gave the scandal its name, through the battle over the Oval Office tapes to Richard Nixon's resignation two years later. Mallon unravels the tangled threads of this well-known chronology, employing multiple points of view--from Howard Hunt and Rose Mary Woods all the way up to Richard Nixon, his characteristic mix of combative self-pity on display--to show how swiftly an administration at the height of its power morphed into a criminal enterprise.

At the center of this account of the legal and ethical meltdown is Fred LaRue, a Mississippi businessman and aide to Attorney General John Mitchell who became ensnared in the effort to silence Hunt and the other burglars through generous hush money payments. LaRue's effort to suppress the truth of his mentor's complicity in the coverup mirrors his own fear that a long-buried personal secret may be exposed.

The novel offers intriguing theories to explain some prominent aspects of the story: the motivation for the break-in; the 18 ½-minute gap in the tape of the meeting where Nixon discussed the burglary for the first time; and his insertion of a jarringly inapt quotation from Theodore Roosevelt in the maudlin farewell speech to his staff on the morning after his resignation. But where a lesser writer might indulge in pure sensationalism, Mallon hews closely to the historical record, all the while attentively conjuring the interior lives of these real-life characters. --Harvey Freedenberg

Discover: An accomplished historical novelist offers a retelling of the scandal that broke Nixon's presidency.

Pantheon, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307378729

Reverend America

by Kris Saknussemm

When science fiction novelist Kris Saknussemm (Zanesville) brings his cockeyed humor to the center of the Bible Belt, the result, Reverend America, is a picaresque tale of a prodigy albino orphan criss-crossing the country to heal a big tent of weird but heart-warming losers. Mix the best of Tim Dorsey and Hunter Thompson with Flannery O'Connor, and you'll get the picture.

Mathias "Casper" True is raised in Joplin by a two-bit con-artist couple, Poppy and Rose, who turn his gifted voice into an evangelical gold mine. "They knew a good thing when they heard it," Saknussemm writes. "He was rechristened Reverend America, a child-preaching sensation of the White Angel Fire & Faith Revival mission... an albino child in a coat of many colors [who] yells and sings like a mutant angel... so the club footed jig, the stooped straighten... and the white fire sweeps through the room setting every soul alight." In time, the greedy Poppy and Rose get out-conned by an even bolder swindler promising a lifetime stream of profits from a squirrel burger fast-food franchise.

Casper, orphaned and destitute again, bums back through the same godforsaken towns of his Reverend America heyday, picking up strangers in need: a pregnant prostitute here, an abandoned octogenarian folksinger there. Along the way he finds that, even though he could still "beat the Hell and Heavenly light out of Revelation," his compassion for the downtrodden is his ultimate gift. He's a Rinder, as Saknussemm puts it, "a piece of pork rind to repair an axle bearing or ruptured radiator. [It] wouldn't solve all your troubles, but it would get you to the next town." The best road trip is an enlightening, redemptive one--and Reverend America gives us a damn good one. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A wild tale cutting a broad swath through America's weird eccentricity--and its genuine compassion.

Dark Coast, $16.95, paperback, 9780984428854


by David Foenkinos

Natalie's perfect life is shattered by the unexpected death of her beloved husband. The still young, beautiful widow seems to take the advice of Sting and builds a fortress around her heart. She dives into work, creating a sterile existence where she numbly goes through the motions of living life. At first, it's uttery wrenching to witness, but French novelist David Foenkinos isn't one to hang crepe, and in Delicacy he has created a novel that's a cheery, addictive confection of zany footnotes and asides.

Foenkinos takes the tale on an upswing by introducing Natalie's coworker, Marcus, a seemingly unsuitable suitor who nearly by accident attempts to melt her frozen heart. Many laugh-out-loud moments ensue when the rest of the office doesn't believe that Natalie would ever be interested in such a plain specimen of a man. In addition to the will-she-or-won't-she plot, Foenkinos includes several half-page chapters that provide commentary on action that just took place, from a Wikipedia definition of Pez candy or the football scores of the matches playing the night Natalie rejects a potential lover to a menu of what Natalie and Marcus ate during their first dinner out. These supplements are a stroke of brilliance, providing a fly-on-the wall perspective on this offbeat story of loss, love and unexpected twists of fate. --Natalie Papailiou, blogger at MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: An offbeat tale of loss, love and unexpected twists of fate.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, paperback, 9780062004369

Mystery & Thriller

Available Dark

by Elizabeth Hand

Cassandra Neary lives hard. Between the drugs, the booze and her trauma-ridden past, she just barely stays afloat; a recent foray (in 2007's Generation Loss) back into her former field of photography didn't earn her much, other than a suspicion of murder that she's eager to outrun. So when a mystery man contacts her from overseas, offering a chance to put her 30-year-dead photography skills back into action for a tidy sum, she leaves her New York City slum life without too much consideration. Correspondence from her high school boyfriend Quinn--long thought dead--pushes her along, too.

But Cass is greeted in Helsinki not only by gruesome photographs--more or less her specialty--but by gruesome murders as well, and she has to keep moving. So it's on to Reykjavik in the heart of winter, where Cass makes her way through a world of icy cold, hard drugs, black metal, mental illness and multiple murders. A reunion with Quinn lends adrenaline and excitement, but no greater light.

Not for the weak-stomached or the easily frightened, Available Dark is a masterpiece of lovely writing and ghastly details. Elizabeth Hand, who has a personal background in the early New York punk scene, treats the finer points of Scandinavian black metal with respect. Her writing is sharp-edged and gritty, and fully realized, filled with frightening, contradictory characters and shocking edge-of-the-seat twists. Cass's artistic perspective, as she photographs ritual killings and crime scenes, adds another layer to what might have been a straightforward thriller. Great fun, if you can hang on for the ride! --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: A dark, cold, bloody thriller set in Iceland’s winter, seen through a photographer’s lens.

Minotaur, $23.99, hardcover, 9780312585945


City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas

by Roger Crowley

Roger Crowley (Empires of the Sea) returns to the medieval and early modern Mediterranean in City of Fortune, using three defining moments to tell the story of Venice's development from a "smattering of low-lying muddy islets set in a malarial lagoon" to the greatest power in the region: the city-state's pivotal role in the Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204; the city's bloody rivalry with Genoa for control of the East-West trade; and its desperate defense against the Ottoman Empire's expansion into the Mediterranean in the 15th century.

As in his earlier books, Crowley's fast-paced narrative style and vivid character sketches strike a nice balance between the big picture and the important detail. He tells the story using a variety of voices. In addition to accounts by Venetian doges, merchants and city officials, he uses those written by--often hostile--outsiders, including the poet Petrarch, Pope Innocent III, Norman crusaders and Cretan rebels. Trade is the theme that ties all these stories together. With no natural resources, no agriculture and a small population, Venice depended entirely on trade for its survival. Its relationships first with Byzantium and later with the Islamic world were both the foundation of its prosperity and a source of contention with the rest of Christendom. Control of the western end of the overland trade caravans was the key to Venice's success as "Europe's first full-blown colonial adventure." Crowley ends with the event that would bring Venetian maritime dominance to a close: the news that Portugal had found a sea route to India, rendering the Venetian empire suddenly obsolete. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A gripping account of how Venice built a maritime empire on navigation skills (and not much else).

Random House, $32, hardcover, 9781400068203

The Lost History of 1914

by Jack Beatty

 In The Lost History of 1914, NPR's Jack Beatty takes on what he describes as the "cult of inevitability" that surrounds historical accounts of the First World War. Most books about the war's origins focus on the events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in June, 1914, and the subsequent domino effect of alliances that pulled Europe into war.

Beatty, by contrast, considers a handful of events that dominated international headlines in the months before the war: a threatened coup in the German Reichstag over military actions in Alsace; a change in Russian foreign policy based on Tsar Nicholas's fears of seeming weak; a potential civil war in Ireland over Home Rule; Woodrow Wilson's support of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution; and the defeat of a leftist minister in France because his wife murdered a right-wing newspaper editor. At the end of each chapter, Beatty offers a counterfactual account of events that would have changed Europe's response to the events at Sarajevo.

None of these events is unknown to historians, though they may be less familiar to the nonspecialist reader. The originality of Beatty's work lies in bringing them together as threads in a single narrative. Looked at individually, each story is a compelling slice of history, told in a conversational style. Taken as a whole, The Lost History of 1914 makes a powerful argument that the chain of events leading to the First World War was not just complicated, but fragile--so fragile, perhaps, that the inevitable war might better be described as the unlikely war. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A maverick account of the months before the First World War.

Walker & Co., $30, hardcover, 9780802778116

Essays & Criticism

Zona: A Book About a Film to a Journey to a Room

by Geoff Dyer

Does Geoff Dyer really know everything? In addition to his exceptional novels, his nonfiction subjects include John Berger, D.H. Lawrence, yoga, jazz and photography, and now Zona sets him off on another diverting journey--to describe, explain and appreciate Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker. It really doesn't matter if you have never seen this much-studied masterpiece, because Dyer walks us frame by frame through the film's opening black-and-white metaphorical journey until it transitions into color as the Stalker guides us into the magical "zone." (Sound familiar? In a footnote, Dyer observes that "similarities between Stalker and The Wizard of Oz have been widely remarked on... or so I'm told. I've never seen [it]... and obviously have no intention of making good that lack now.")

The pleasures of reading Dyer are found in personal asides that connect his ostensible subject to a myriad of tangential subjects. In one five-page span, he mentions Burning Man, T.S. Eliot, Walker Evans, Heidegger, Richard Widmark and Lars von Trier. (Discussing the latter's film Antichrist, Dyer is ruthless: "[It] is daft in the way all horror films are daft... it's nonsense, a highly crafted diminution of the possibilities of cinema.") When he notes that Stalker's last scene "redeems, makes up for, every bit of gore, every wasted special effect, all the stupidity in every film made before or since," we can't help but search out the desolate Russian film to see it for ourselves... Dyer is that good. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Geoff Dyer's lightly carried erudition leads to an entertaining rumination on a cinematic masterpiece.

Pantheon, $24, hardcover, 9780307377388


Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

by D.A. Powell

D.A. Powell is in fine form in his fifth book of poems. After winning the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for 2009's Chronic, this collection spreads his talents so broadly that its poems are arranged in two parts: the somewhat grim melancholy of Useless Landscape and the more playful, edgy eroticism of A Guide for Boys. Combining his pleasure in puns and slang with more traditional language and structure (even sestinas and sonnets), Powell drifts over a landscape of central Californian flora, gay sex, 1970s funk, the physiology of aging, insect control and even high school marching bands.

Powell finds himself writing as an older man, "Winded, white-haired body. Splotchy skin./ A face uneven as a river jag/ and asperous as the mullein's flannel leaves." He reminisces about a promiscuous sexual encounter: "That's the way we talked./ We lived in an age of adolescence and irony./ Unless I'm thinking of another dude. That happens a lot." And the past sadly reminds him that "sorry is the heart/ that knows/ what's around the bend."

However, the poem "A Little Less Kettledrum, Please" perhaps best captures Powell's more prevalent tone of fun and optimism. Adrift in his school's clumsy marching band, he keeps a wary eye: "We do a scramble pattern then./ That's when I imagine I am to be struck/ by the first trombone." As they finally leave the field, Powell proudly notes that "I may be the least of the piccolos,/ But mine's the tune you'll whistle as you leave." This new collection may not leave you whistling, but it should leave you smiling. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A finely tuned collection from one of America's best contemporary poets.

Graywolf Press, $22, hardcover, 9781555976057

Children's & Young Adult


by R.J. Palacio

This extraordinary book will make you see the world differently.

R.J. Palacio's debut novel, told through six different first-person narratives, forms a composite of what life is like for and because of 10-year-old August Pullman. When he was a baby, the doctors didn't think August would live. A rare genetic perfect storm "made war on his face," as August's sister, Via, puts it. Via loves her brother, but she's also a realist. So is August, as he makes plain on the first page: "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." Their bond forms the foundation of this inspiring story.

The book follows the academic year: August begins school for the first time as a fifth grader at Beecher Prep, while Via starts at the prestigious Faulkner High School. In addition to August and Via, we hear from two peers of each of the siblings. We watch the changing dynamics as August leaves the protection of home, as Via sees an opportunity to shed her identity as August's sister, and as both of them experience friends who betray them, and win perceived enemies to their side.

Things are not always as they appear, as August will be the first to tell you. His presence in people's lives acts as a catalyst to bring them face to face with themselves. And if they look deep enough, they find humor, courage and friendship. May this be the first of many books to come from R.J. Palacio. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A courageous, intelligent and funny hero with a face that makes a lasting impact on everyone he meets.

Knopf, $15.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780375869020

Cold Cereal

by Adam Rex

In a marketplace of books overrun by escapees from paranormal lands, here's one featuring a leprechaun, a rabbit-man and Bigfoot that's a breath of fresh air. Cold Cereal, the first in a planned trilogy, is full of magic and just as smart and funny as we have come to expect from Adam Rex (The True Meaning of Smekday).

A rabbit-man meets up with sixth-grader Scott, just after Scott's mother has moved him and his younger sister, Polly, to Goodborough, N.J., to work for the Goodco Cereal Company. Scott has been seeing strange creatures his whole life, but this is the first time that one has asked Scott to hide him. In the meantime, at school, Scott makes friends with twins Erno and Emily, who are in their own way just as strange as his discovery of a leprechaun in his bed.

Much like its premise--a cereal company being run by evil villains--the story gets sillier and also more serious. Rex uses Mysterious Benedict Society–esque puzzles, and storyboards that poke fun at advertising to complement the fast-moving story. Kids will appreciate his dry sense of humor and the undercurrent of danger. Though the book's a bit on the long side, most readers will find themselves drawn in by at least one of the storylines, and Rex's stellar pacing takes over from there. Before you know it, readers might be asking for toast instead of Lucky Charms, just in case the tale has some basis in reality. --Stephanie Anderson (aka Bookavore), manager of WORD bookstore

Discover: A great new chapter book for middle-grade readers who like their books silly, magical, overfull and a little bit dark.

Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 8-12, 9780062060020

Powered by: Xtenit