Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 9, 2018

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Words & Music

"Words and music." That familiar phrase has meant more than just lyrics to me recently. Several new books I've loved are by, or about, musicians who can also make words dance on a page.

"With help from my collaborators, I designed a scientific protocol to fall out of love. It was part science project, part art project, and part earnest attempt to solve a real-world problem," writes rapper/singer/songwriter Dessa in her fine new essay collection, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love (Dutton).

Whether on the page or in her songs, Dessa's words and music seem to have attached themselves to my brain. This may be an appropriate response, however, given that neuroscience plays a not insignificant role in her book.

And then there's Leonard Cohen. I've been listening to and reading him for most of my life, but The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings (FSG) took our relationship to another level. As did, in a very different way, Eric Lerner's Matters of Vital Interest: A Forty-Year Friendship with Leonard Cohen (Da Capo Press).

"Leonard Cohen does not use language to pose, startle or to reinvent," the Guardian wrote of The Flame. "Words are his old comrades, and see him through to the end."

Joni Mitchell is another singer/songwriter whose words and music have been haunting me forever, or at least as long as Cohen's (almost a half-century, but don't tell anyone). The reader's journey I took with her in Joni on Joni: Interviews and Encounters with Joni Mitchell, edited by Susan Whitall (Chicago Review Press) was another step along the path.

And I can't forget the inimitable Questlove's enlightening book, Creative Quest (Ecco). Writing about his father's record collection, he observes: "The thing about records was that they didn't feel like closed ideas. They were ideas you could open and ideas you could use." Same with books. Words and music, man. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Laini Taylor: Muse of Nightmares

photo: Ali Smith

Laini Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of the Printz Honor Book Strange the Dreamer and its sequel, Muse of Nightmares (reviewed below). Taylor is also the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy and the companion novella, Night of Cake & Puppets. Taylor's other works include the Dreamdark books: Blackbringer and Silksinger, and the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times. She lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter, Clementine.

Tell our readers about Muse of Nightmares.

Muse of Nightmares is about a lot of things. It's about this character who has had no agency in her life, who has been a prisoner, who is hopeless. It's about seeing the possibility of change. [It's about] beginning to see the humanity of your "enemy," even if you don't want to see it.

There were a couple of things that I knew that I didn't want to do (or do again) when writing this story: I didn't want to have characters that were bad ass, I didn't want to have big action climaxes that involve fighting and I didn't want to have a bad guy. I had written a couple of books in a row where the villains were disgusting, despicable. And I didn't want to go there. I wanted to write a story that was about the aftermath of war and occupation--I wanted to talk about the end of the story.

I think this is my book about forgiveness: whether it's possible to be forgiven and redeemed, to come out of the dark places that happen after war and occupation, to create a new way without becoming a killer yourself and adding to all of the trauma you've already endured.

But it's also a fun story! It's sexy and romantic, and I hope you like it.

You say you didn't really want to include standard bad guys, but the things the dead gods have done are truly horrible. How did you make bad guys without actually making bad guys?

To be clear, really bad guys existed and shaped this world. I didn't want that to be the plot, though. It's about surviving; about trauma survivors and how complicated that is. Like Minya, who endured terrible things as a child... is it possible to break the cycle of vengeance and violence? Or is it just going to go on forever? With Minya, she's a metaphorical embodiment of a trauma survivor. She's even physically frozen in time at the moment that these things happened to her--she doesn't age, she's trapped. And I want to set her free. She's terrible but I think we can all see why she's terrible. There's so little hope in our world of real conflict resolution because we just keep on creating enemies.

You have said you had the Muse of Nightmares in your head for about 20 years. How did all of the other characters develop?

I would say that [the Muse of Nightmares, Sarai's,] family came relatively easily. I knew I wanted this group of young people who are the children of gods living in hiding. And it was fun [to create them], like coming up with X-Men. What are their abilities? All of the other characters were more difficult, especially Lazlo. One thing I knew relatively early on was I wanted to enter the world of Weep and the world of Sarai through the eyes of an outsider and that outsider would be my love interest. That was Lazlo's genesis. I kept backing up and backing up to get to what I thought was the beginning of the story. I was getting to know Lazlo and, in the process, he took over. I wrote something like 11 different beginnings involving Lazlo in which he was distinctly different. A lot of details came to me through that process--I would get a piece of him or a piece of the world and then leave all the rest. Then, one day, I wrote the line that his nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales and just like that, I knew him. He had literally been transformed by stories. And I loved him so much. The chapter was called "Strange the Dreamer" and that was when he came alive and took the book in a completely different direction. Also, even though I knew who Sarai was, she wasn't fleshed out. For me, main characters are always harder [to discover] because they have to be more nuanced. Secondary characters can be for color and they can be more fun or less complicated.

What do you do to build your magic world?

I've actually been coming up with my magic system for my next world and it's really fun. I can't believe I get to do this for a job! I can't remember how it evolved that this mineral, this metal from probably another world... that there is something in the blood or body of people from that world that interacts with this metal to create magic. I like the idea of each person manifesting a different gift.

Do your works up to this point overlap or intersect?

By the time [readers] get to Muse of Nightmares, [they'll] see the connections clearly, I think. I'm excited for readers of Smoke and Bone. I wanted to do something that could totally stand apart but in which readers could find connections; that could lay the groundwork for potential furthering of joint stories. I think you can gather in Strange, if you're looking, that there are some common elements. You can maybe form a hypothesis for why that is. But in Muse it becomes much clearer. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Overcoming 'Reader's Block'

Mental Floss offered "8 tips for overcoming 'reader's block.' "


"Which club would you belong to if you lived in an '80s paperback?" Quirk Books wondered.


"Here be dragons: a creature identification quiz" via Merriam-Webster.


Paraic O'Donnell picked his "top 10 modern Victorian novels" for the Guardian.


"It's simple--select five books and we'll give you some inspirational advice," Buzzfeed promised.

Great Reads

Rediscover: A Summons to Memphis

Peter Taylor (1917-1994) was an American author and playwright whose stories set in the urban South reflected his own experiences and overall social changes remaking the region. Taylor's grandfather was a Confederate private under Nathan Bedford Forrest. His father, who eventually became a Tennessee politician, practiced law for many years. One memorable assignment found him kidnapped by the Night Riders, a militant band of tobacco farmers fighting the American Tobacco Company. Peter Taylor's father escaped while his partner was lynched. Taylor spent his formative years in St. Louis and Memphis before attending Kenyon College, where he later taught. He was married more than 50 years to the poet Eleanor Ross Taylor.

Taylor wrote three novels: A Woman of Means (1950), A Summons to Memphis (1986) and In the Tennessee Country (1994). A Summons to Memphis, perhaps Taylor's best-known work, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It follows a middle-aged New York City editor called back to Memphis, Tenn., by his two deceitful sisters, who want to stop their elderly father from remarrying. Taylor also published eight short story collections, one of which, The Old Forest and Other Stories (1985), won the PEN/Faulkner Award. A Summons to Memphis was last published in 1999 by Vintage ($16, 9780375701177). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Those Who Knew

by Idra Novey

Shortly after Maria P., a student activist, is killed by an oncoming bus, Lena, a college instructor, discovers the woman's black sweater in her tote. She hands it off, but minutes later "it was back, bunched up again inside her bag."

This obstinate garment isn't the only thing Lena has in common with Maria P.; both held the affections of Victor, a force of the unnamed nation's progressive politics. He is also a man whose ambitions have repeatedly and substantially taxed the women around him. With the sweater as her mantle, Lena sets herself on a collision course with a history she might have preferred to remain buried.

For Those Who Knew, poet, translator and novelist Idra Novey (Ways to Disappear) exercises her considerable talents in crafting lush, riveting threads, which she braids into a spectacular crime novel. As Lena grapples with her past and attempts to uncover what really happened to Maria P., competing narratives crowd together over the ensuing years, each offering a fresh take on the events in question. Victor's brother, Freddy, a playwright, mines his family life for material and brings these veiled truths to life on the stage. And as the knots in these threads tighten, it becomes apparent that what seems like an isolated incident is usually anything but.

There may be an impulse to pin this story to a modern moment, a prominent movement of reckoning for men of intimidating and violent machinations. Those Who Knew, however, serves to remind readers that those who have known know now, as they did then and before then. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Idra Novey's compelling second novel, a woman scrutinizes the death of a student activist and their similar experiences with a prominent senator.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9780525560432

The Valley at the Centre of the World

by Malachy Tallack

To many people, Shetland is the end of the world: a cold, isolated archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland. But to its residents, many of them tied to the land by generations of family history, it's the center: not of urban activity or modern development, certainly, but of their own particular, quiet lives. In his debut novel, The Valley at the Centre of the World, Scottish writer Malachy Tallack brings Shetland and a handful of its residents to life, tracing their movements on, through and around the titular valley.

Tallack (Sixty Degrees North) begins his narrative with Sandy, a young man who settled in the valley with his girlfriend, Emma, but lingers there even after their relationship ends and she moves south. His nearest neighbor and friend is David, Emma's father, a quiet man who carries the history of the valley in his bones. David and his wife, Mary, form the backbone of the tiny community of the valley. Sandy helps David with sheep-shearing and other tasks, learning the ways of crofting and eventually moving into a house of his own.

Like many rural communities, the valley is home to a disappearing way of life: small farmers and crofters find it increasingly hard to make a living, and young people are drawn south to the mainland and its opportunities. Tallack chooses not to pontificate or proselytize about the dangers of industry or the threats to small villages, and the plot tends to meander. Some points eventually move toward resolution; others simply are. Perhaps that's the most compelling argument for both Shetland and Tallack's rendering of it: they simply are, and in their rich, layered existence lies great beauty. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Scottish writer Malachy Tallack paints a quiet, lyrical portrait of the Shetland Islands in his first novel.

Canongate, $24, hardcover, 352p., 9781786892300

Everything Under

by Daisy Johnson

Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Everything Under, Daisy Johnson's first novel (following the story collection Fen), is a dreamy, twisty-turning tale set in modern Oxford but calling on mythology and upturning societal norms.

"The places we are born come back." At the novel's opening, Gretel is a lexicographer who mostly keeps to herself, caught up in her mysterious past. "I'd always understood that the past did not die just because we wanted it to." She lives in a remote cottage with her mother, Sarah, whom she has recently found and brought home. Then time shifts, and for much of the book the reader sees Gretel's unusual childhood, and the long stretch of adulthood during which she searched for her missing mother.

Gretel grows up living with Sarah on a river, in a houseboat that never moves. They forage for food and remain apart from organized society. They make up their own language, words that make sense only to them. It is a watery world of shifting gender identities and slippery, changing rules.

In the flashback chapters, an enigmatic third character appears. "What happened to Marcus?" Gretel asks her mother, in the later timeline when they live together again, the older woman having lost her memory and the words that mattered so much. But it takes many more pages to reveal who Marcus is.

This is a complex plot with profound themes. Johnson's singular, hallucinatory storytelling is well up to her book's ambitious form. The result is spellbinding. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This surreal, riverine, gender-bending novel will fascinate and fire the imagination.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 272p., 9781555978266

Mystery & Thriller

The Vanishing Box

by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths (The Dark Angel, Smoke and Mirrors) has written a clever fourth entry in her Magic Men series with The Vanishing Box. Famous magician Max Mephisto is working on his new dual act with his daughter Ruby, who came into his life only three years earlier. It's late 1953, and they are performing at the Brighton Hippodrome, which is perfect since Ruby's fiancé, DI Edgar Stephens, works in town.

Stephens, determined to modernize crime scenes by taking photos of them, has his chance when a young girl is found murdered and strangely positioned in her boarding house. Her landlady swears that Lily was a quiet girl with no enemies, so Stephens and his team begin looking into some of the other boarders, including a few girls involved in a scandalous act at the Hippodrome. These girls pose nearly naked as living statues, reenacting various historical and literary events.

Meanwhile, Max has become romantically involved with one of the tableau posers. Thus, he is intrigued by Stephens's case, especially when two more deaths with ties to the theater occur.

The Vanishing Box captures the world of midcentury Britain in delightful detail. Stephens and his team are using "new" psychological and scientific techniques as they race to catch a killer in a world where the shadow of World War II still looms large. Moreover, Max and Ruby's act at the Hippodrome offers a fascinating peek into the vaudeville life. A detective and magician may make an unlikely crime-solving pair, but Griffiths makes it work supremely well. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In a fascinating historical mystery, a detective and a stage magician team up to catch a killer.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 368p., 9780544750296

Biography & Memoir

Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly

by Joshua Rivkin

Lest you get the wrong idea: "This, dear reader, is not a biography," writes Joshua Rivkin, the author of Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly. "This is something, I hope, stranger and more personal." While Chalk suffers somewhat from the "personal"--Rivkin's self-references can feel intrusive--the book's "stranger" aspect (sentence fragments, patchy chronology, poetry excerpts) creates a singular reading experience.

Chalk is primarily a work of artistic assessment, courtesy of both the author ("The beautiful phrase is smudged or erased," he says of one of Twombly's pieces incorporating textual elements. "Paint is the eraser.") and the critics he quotes, one of whom dubbed the elusive Twombly "the king of painters and the Garbo of the art world." Inevitably, Chalk covers some biographical ground, including Twombly's middle-class Virginia childhood; his first exhibitions, in the late 1950s; his affair with fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg; his romance with Italy and marriage to the well-born Tatiana Franchetti; and the infighting among members of the Cy Twombly Foundation after the artist's death in 2011.

The foundation's litigiousness didn't end there: Rivkin chronicles the efforts of Nicola Del Roscio, Twombly's romantic companion throughout his long marriage to Franchetti, to thwart Chalk's publication. Before he threatened to sue, the guarded Del Roscio consented to an interview and at one point said to Rivkin, "I'm sure you're going to want pictures for your book. I'm not making a threat." Turns out he was: there's not a single painting by Twombly reproduced among Chalk's 20 or so photographs. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This compendious critical assessment of artist Cy Twombly's work doesn't skimp on intrigue.

Melville House, $32, hardcover, 496p., 9781612197180

Psychology & Self-Help

Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves

by Jesse Bering

Suicide is one of the toughest subjects to write about, and psychologist Jesse Bering (The Belief Instinct) does it with candor, scientific integrity and genuine empathy in Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves.

Bering writes about his own demons and suicidal tendencies, exacerbated by a depressive disorder and problems in his professional life. For a gay man, these feelings are nothing new; he experienced them in his youth when he was closeted. In this way, Bering frames his book in starkly personal terms--as someone deeply invested in understanding suicide and preventing tragedy. Researching and writing the book, he says, was a way to combat suicidal ideation and give his own life a renewed sense of purpose.

Along the way, he traces the history of suicide research, delving into the unsettled science. From an evolutionary standpoint, he finds that while other species are known to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, humans stand out as the only species who use suicide to escape emotional agony. He connects this to humans' social nature and ability to project negatively into the future. Besides scientific research, the book draws on existentialist thinkers and writers and includes substantial anecdotes from kin of suicide victims. The latter stories are treated carefully as Bering homes in on the ultimate question of why. Why do people kill themselves knowing it will cause pain to others? The discussion is nothing less than compelling, and to his credit, Bering, an atheist, resists moralizing while considering the moral complexities of the act.

Suicidal is a vital book--informative, engaging and enlightening despite its dark subject matter. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: A psychologist mixes memoir and science in this in-depth, comprehensive and painfully personal study of suicide.

University of Chicago Press, $27.50, hardcover, 272p., 9780226463322

Nature & Environment

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live

by Rob Dunn

Rob Dunn is a backyard scientist--literally. With his eponymous applied ecology Rob Dunn Lab at North Carolina State University, he and his coterie of post-docs, grad students and occasional middle schoolers study the menagerie of critters that inhabit yards, homes and personal affects. Their work has spawned numerous academic papers and earned prestigious research grants. Like Dunn's previous books (including The Wild Life of Our Bodies and Every Living Thing), Never Home Alone is a lively compendium of hard science, anecdote, history and personal memoir. Methodically, it explores basements, showerheads, kitchen cabinets and even drywall construction, uncovering the hundreds of thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, arthropods and pets that share what people think of as their private space. Caution: graphic content for those who are not too fond of cockroaches, crickets, houseflies and wasps.

Something of a scientific raconteur, Dunn tells his story of the macro and micro biome of our homes in a colloquial, sometimes corny, style that makes the heavy science go down easy. The impetus of his research subject is this simple observation: "The average American child now spends 93% of his or her time in a building or a vehicle.... We have become, or are becoming, Homo indoorus, the indoor ape."

In his quest to understand the variety of creatures residing in our houses and their effect on health and well-being, Dunn learns that our obsession with creating a sterile and clean home environment often throws out the baby with the bathwater. We can't escape the myriad forms of life around us and, in fact, really need them. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Rob Dunn's informal take on ecological scientific research and history opens a window on the rich biome inside our houses.

Basic Books, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781541645769

The Nature Instinct: Relearning Our Sixth Sense for the Inner Workings of the Natural World

by Tristan Gooley

Recently, a number of books on the ways that humans have disrupted the Earth's natural systems have been published. With The Nature Instinct: Relearning Our Sixth Sense for the Inner Workings of the Natural World, Tristan Gooley shows how humans can reconnect with nature.

Gooley (The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs) is no novice at interpreting the natural world. He founded a natural navigation school in 2008 and has led expeditions on five continents by reading the signs and signals of nature. In The Nature Instinct, he lays out how he does it. With smooth prose and accessible examples taken from real life, Gooley explains how to use the sun and the star constellation Orion to tell direction. He describes how to interpret animals' behaviors to predict their next moves. Moreover, he explains how one's own behavior can influence that of animals--and how to avoid scaring them off.

When used together, the tools he provides can make it seem that the tracker possesses a "sixth sense," he explains. But none of this, he continues, is rooted in mysticism. On the contrary, it is science. Threaded throughout the book is an examination of how the human brain works--how the limbic system communicates with the neocortex--to help us form instantaneous assessments of the world around us. Our ancestors were experts at natural navigation, Gooley explains, and many Indigenous people still are. This captivating book will help nature enthusiasts to reclaim those skills. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This fascinating guide uses real-life examples to show city dwellers how to navigate the natural world using only the signals nature provides.

The Experiment, $24.95, hardcover, 400p., 9781615194797


Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It

by James Geary

In books about aphorisms (The World in a Phrase) and metaphor (I Is an Other), James Geary has demonstrated he's someone who admires an elegant turn of phrase. He mines a similar lode in Wit's End, an entertaining exploration of how intellectual dexterity manifests itself in both verbal and visual form.

From the beginning of this brief but wide-ranging survey, Geary explains that true wit is about much more than the ability to tell a good joke or a humorous story. His working definition of the term--"the faculty of mind that integrates knowledge and experience, fuses divided worlds, and links the unlike with the like"--sums up his belief that true wit is much more than merely being funny, something "richer, cannier, more riddling."

That thesis is best illustrated in Geary's discussion of puns. Though most people have been taught to regard this form of wordplay as the lowest form of humor, Geary has a particular affinity for the talent it takes when one "folds a double knowledge into words."

He also shows off some of his own cleverness in style--or, more accurately, the multiplicity of styles he's chosen here. Between the opening chapter and the acknowledgements--both written in the manner of Alexander Pope's rhymed couplets--he plays with a variety of literary forms.

In Wit's End, James Geary is undaunted by the risk anyone writing about the subject of being funny takes: spoiling the joke by explaining it. Refreshingly, he shows here that he's fully equal to the task, enhancing our appreciation of how true wit can both amuse and enlighten. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: From varying perspectives and in an array of literary styles, word maven James Geary explores the gift of wit.

Norton, $23.95, hardcover, 128p., 9780393254945


Half-Hazard: Poems

by Kristen Tracy

Kristen Tracy (Project (Un)Popular: Totally Crushed) was raised Mormon in a small Idaho town, lost a brother and sister in their youth in separate car wrecks, worked her way up the academic graduate degree ladder and published a dozen young adult novels. Her remarkably accomplished first collection, Half-Hazard, is the winner of the Poetry Foundation's Emily Dickinson First Book Award for poets over 40. Tracy's personal pain and diligent ambition bring a good deal of ambivalence and perspective to poems that ring with the fresh sounds of a conversationalist and wordsmith. They are blunt, funny, tactile and alive with the wisdom of a woman old enough to know what she's doing--even when she doesn't. As she reflects in "Circus Youth," "My life was going by. Year. Cake. Year. Cake./ And no circus. No clowns.... Who handed me these knives/ to juggle? Who said everything was going to be fine?"

As her title suggests, these are poems about both life's hazards and its twists that turn out to be half this and half that. The poem from which the collection takes its title sings the refrain "Dangers here. Perils there," and concludes with the poet's role: "Endangered. Imperiled. And watch how it goes." Or this equivocation from "Field Lesson": "Lambs in the field. Chops on the plate.... The things/ we kiss good-bye make room for all we kiss hello."

The primarily formal poems of Half-Hazard not only inspire second thoughts, but also startle the ear and eye with fresh images and line breaks. Tracy doesn't miss a thing. Her poems capture the half-empty glass without flinching, but in the end, they come down on the side of half-full. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Half-Hazard is a stunning debut collection of poems both playful in language and thoughtful in observation.

Graywolf, $16, paperback, 72p., 9781555978228

Children's & Young Adult

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems

by David Bowles

Twelve-year-old Güero is a "border kid, a foot on either bank." With copper-colored hair, "pasty white" skin and a ton of freckles, Güero has the lightest skin in his extended family. (Hence the nickname, Güero, literally, a "person with pale skin.") Everyone in the family has a loving nickname for him "[b]ut at school, it's a different story." He tells his "deep brown like mesquite bark"-skinned father about his classmate's taunts. "M'ijo, pale folks catch all the breaks/ here and in Mexico, too," his dad responds. "Doors will open for you that won't for me." Güero cries, frustrated: he didn't ask for this. No, you didn't, Dad says, "but now/ you've got to hold them open for us all."

David Bowles's (The Smoking Mirror) novel in verse is told entirely from Güero's seventh-grade point of view. Using poetic forms from different cultures--the Japanese haiku and chōka, the Malay pantoum, Korean sijo, Italian sonnet, French ballad--Güero invites the reader to experience his everyday joys and sorrows. He writes about his diverse group of best friends all named Bobby, whom his sister calls "los Derds--Diverse/Nerds"; he rhapsodizes about learning how to write poetry, and how he puts "pen to paper, and [his] soul/ comes rushing out in line after line"; he composes a number of senryu under the heading "Remedios y Rarezas" about he and "los Bobbys" comparing "all the strange beliefs/ [their] families share." With a glossary of Spanish words and phrases in the back, They Call Me Güero makes itself accessible to all readers, without ever moving away from celebrating and directly addressing Spanish-speaking children. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: David Bowles's novel in verse introduces readers to Güero, a bilingual "border kid" with an active life and a love of poetry.

Cinco Puntos, $18.95, hardcover, 160p., ages 8-12, 9781947627062

Got to Get to Bear's

by Brian Lies

When Izzy, a chipmunk, gets a note from Bear asking her to "[p]lease come at once!" she doesn't consider refusing. Izzy knows the summons must be important, because "Bear never ask[s] for anything." Even though the sky looks ominous, Izzy puts on her scarf, grabs a lantern and hurries out, just as the "flakes [begin] to flutter down." The snow piles "deeper and deeper and deeper" until Izzy finds herself stalled, up to her chest in snow.

Scritch (a squirrel in a green hoodie) comes by and asks Izzy where she's headed. The helpful squirrel invites Izzy to hop on board, exclaiming "we'll be there in a jiff!" The duo make great progress until the branches become too slippery with snow. Bingle the duck (sporting a knitted winter cap with earflaps and a pom pom) appears just in time, and insists that Izzy and Scritch pile on. They fly through the darkening "skyway" until the three come to a "sudden stop" on a snow-covered roof, and then the group is back to walking. They toil along until Snaffie (a raccoon in a sweater) catches up with them. Izzy, Scritch and Bingle ride the rest of the way on Snaffie's back; by the time Bear opens her door, only Izzy is visible above the snow line. But their teamwork has paid off, because everyone is there to share in the great surprise that awaits in "the warmth of [Bear's] den."

Brian Lies (Bats at the Beach; The Rough Patch) illustrates his wintertime adventure in meticulous detail. The characters all have their own distinct personalities even as they share a common goal: getting Izzy to Bear's house. Friendship, teamwork and an overall commitment to helpfulness give this beautifully realized picture book its warmhearted appeal. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When Bear asks Izzy to come over "at once," Izzy and her friends Scritch, Bingle and Snaffie brave a dark and stormy night to get there.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780544948822

Muse of Nightmares

by Laini Taylor

In Strange the Dreamer, the first book in Laini Taylor's spellbinding duology, orphan Lazlo Strange joined a delegation tasked with saving the city of Weep from the shadow of a towering citadel, once home to tyrannical blue-skinned gods who raped, tortured and murdered Weep's citizens. Lazlo fell in love with Sarai, one of five surviving "godspawn" living secretly in the citadel since the day an enslaved human broke free and led a deadly revolt. As the citadel finally toppled, Lazlo discovered he has a powerful, magical gift and must be godspawn; in the same moment, Sarai, who spent her life entering dreams, plunged to her death.

Now, in Muse of Nightmares, Sarai is a ghost. She's been saved from "the tide of evanescence" by her sister Minya, who has the power to bind souls. Minya makes it clear that she will bind Sarai if Lazlo doesn't help her wreak revenge on the murderous humans. The godspawn subdue the girl and try to figure out how to "unwork Minya's hate" while also attempting to locate the thousands of other godspawn "who'd vanished before" and make peace with the humans below. Then, a new terror arrives. Nova is a wrathful blue "soldier-wizard" from the same world as the slain gods, who also has a powerful gift. She's spent hundreds of years searching for her sister, Kora--stolen away by the very gods who terrorized Weep--and won't be appeased until Kora is found.

Gods and humans collide as master fantasist Taylor employs multiple points of view to explore the wonder of magic and the madness of vengeance. She seems to conjure whole worlds for her readers' delight effortlessly. The elegant prose is at once lofty and lusty, tender and brutal, as Taylor weaves her deeply tangled tale of revenge and redemption. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Lovers Sarai and Lazlo are nearly swept away by the fallout from a war between gods and the humans they preyed upon.

Little, Brown, $19.99, hardcover, 528p., ages 13-up, 9780316341714

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