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Tommy Nelson: Buster Gets Back on Track (Buster the Race Car) by Dale Earnhardt Jr., illustrated by Ela Smietanka

Week of Tuesday, June 9, 2015

With Father's Day coming up, we'd like to suggest a few books for young people that celebrate dads (and granddads).

Pete's a Pizza by William Steig gives readers all the ingredients they need to make a pizza--with the child as the dough--based on a game Steig played with his daughter. In Mitchell's License by Hallie Durand, illustrated by Tony Fucile, a boy gets to drive his dad; Mitchell checks the tires (his father's feet) and engine (stomach) before taking the driver's seat. And just before 8 a.m., Every Friday (by Dan Yaccarino) Dad and the boy narrator head to the diner, "even if it is cold, sunny, snowing, or raining."
Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein zeroes in on a tadpole who refuses to leave Dad's side--even at bedtime--which gets more complicated as Tad gets bigger.

Two warmhearted picture books celebrate grandfathers: Abuelo by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Raúl Colón, and Noodle Magic by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So. In the first, Abuelo and the child narrator share a close relationship, riding the plains together on horseback. When the boy moves to the city, his grandfather's teachings sustain him. In Noodle Magic, young Mei learns from her grandfather how to make his famous noodles, and to find the magic within herself.

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan, takes middle-grade readers to the Sunderbans of West Bengal, where Neel's chance to win a scholarship forces him to make hard choices--especially when he must stand up to his beloved father. And don't forget Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, whose dog hero helps 10-year-old Opal open up her single father, or the incomparable dad in Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, whose tough-guy exterior is cracked by his loving narrator son. And for a madcap adventure, there's Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk, with its time-travel conundrum, aliens and pirate ships. Happy Father's Day to all! --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Parallax Press: Unshakeable: Trauma-Informed Mindfulness and Collective Awakening by Jo-ann Rosen

The Best Books This Week


War of the Encyclopaedists

by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite

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Gavin Kovite, who led an infantry platoon in Baghdad during the Iraq War, and Christopher Robinson, a Yale Younger Poets prize finalist, send their two young protagonists on a turbulent existential journey through a year and a half of the early 2000s in their first novel, War of the Encyclopaedists.

Mickey Montauk and his best friend, Halifax Corderoy, imbibe together at an Encyclopaedists' party--one in a series of ironic faux art shows combined with booze-ups at Montauk's house--in Seattle the summer of 2004, assuming that they both will soon move to Boston for grad school. Montauk, however, learns that his National Guard unit is mobilizing and shipping out to Iraq. Meanwhile, Corderoy rudely breaks up with his artistic, recently evicted girlfriend, Mani.

Corderoy goes to Harvard alone, quickly finding his cynical hipster act scores no points with classmates or professors. His roommate, Tricia, obsesses over the possibility of going to Baghdad as an intern for an unembedded journalist. Montauk goes overseas to experience both the horror and the camaraderie of modern warfare, and the two best friends soon grow apart, staying loosely in touch by editing a Wikipedia article about their erstwhile personas, the Encyclopaedists.

The 20somethings' search for meaning in a time of turmoil can resonate with readers of any generation but especially with those who came of age during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Bittersweet but ultimately redemptive, the Encyclopaedists' adventures in growing up, romantic failures and gaining perspective may remind readers of the pains and possibilities that are encountered when one makes a way in the world. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781476775425

The Mountain Can Wait

by Sarah Leipciger

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Sarah Leipciger's debut novel, The Mountain Can Wait, centers on a family's shared and separate struggles in the wilds of British Columbia. Tom's wife left him when the kids were small. He hopes he can put in one last good year at work, sell his forest restoration company and provide for his children in his retirement. His son, Curtis, lives a few towns over, a young man on his own. Daughter Erin has begun to pull into herself, in typical teenage fashion. Around this nucleus are colorful characters like Tom's mother-in-law, angry and estranged, living off the land in a tiny island village; Tom's new girlfriend, a poet with an independent streak; and the tree planters and other employees of his company. This motley crew sharply evokes their environment in Leipciger's spare but feeling prose.

The biggest crisis of all is out of sight for much of the story: a hit-and-run that kills a teenage girl and haunts the driver, who is slow to seek redemption. "She was an instant, the sulfuric flare of a match.... And there was a dull slap." It shadows the rest of the action, as characters go on making their plans, unaware of how the accident will affect their lives.

The Mountain Can Wait concentrates on the difficulties of properly caring for loved ones and the meaning of community. Set within British Columbia's stunning and intimidating backcountry, a mountain goat killed in one shot and a bear only wounded come to the forefront, too. As the title reflects, even the calamities Tom and his clan experience fade against such a backdrop. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316380676


by Nell Zink

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At the start of Nell Zink's delightfully odd first novel, Mislaid, Peggy is a white, lesbian teenager in 1960s Virginia heading off to Stillwater College, a remote women's school, where she begins a strangely lusty affair with one of the few male faculty members, a famous gay poet. Their misguided, mismatched affair quickly results in a pregnancy and marriage, but after 10 years, Peggy is miserable and runs away, taking their three-year-old daughter and leaving their nine-year-old son, Byrdie.

Because her husband has threatened to have her committed, Peggy goes into hiding. She conveniently acquires a birth certificate from a recently deceased African-American girl child and rechristens her white-blonde daughter as Karen Brown, herself as Meg. "Maybe you have to be from the South to get your head around blond black people," writes Zink, but Meg and Karen, white as they are, do pass. A decade later, when Karen enters the University of Virginia on a minority scholarship as a freshman, Byrdie is a senior there and the two meet again. The ensuing drama of confused identities propels a broad cast of quirky, complex, lovable characters into odd scenarios.

Mislaid's pathos is charmingly funny, and a sentimental streak softens the sarcasm. Zink pulls no punches in portraying Virginia's mores and peculiarities. With its distinctively Southern setting and bizarre range of sincere men and women making their way in a weird world, Zink's novel captivates from the very first page. Readers may be tempted to blaze through this slim book in a single sitting. Comic, sympathetic, heartbreaking and outrageous, Mislaid is a wonderful, raucous book. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062364777

The Gracekeepers

by Kirsty Logan

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In Kirsty Logan's The Gracekeepers, water covers most of the planet's surface and land is a precious and limited resource. In this world, the Circus Excalibur is a flotilla of ships, home to a ragged group of performers. As the vessels approach a small island, Logan builds the mythology of this watery world, where there are two kinds of people: damplings, who live in boats on the water, and landlockers, who live on solid ground.

In order to make a living, the circus travels from one island to another in hopes of performing for the landlockers. Among these performers is a young woman named North, who has lived aboard the Circus Excalibur all her life, and earns her keep by performing with her bear. North harbors a secret that would threaten her livelihood if anyone in the circus finds out, but she can't envision an alternative to the circus life until she meets Callanish--a gracekeeper, or undertaker.

Callanish lives alone in a tiny, isolated house. She, too, harbors a secret, and would be in great danger if other landlockers knew of her webbed feet and hands. Here she is safe, but her desire to see her mother draws her from her self-imposed exile, a risk she is willing to take to make peace with the life she left behind.

Although the two main protagonists are North and Callanish, Logan writes her first novel in many alternating points of view, providing depth and complexity. The Gracekeepers feels like a fairy tale, with a mythos that, with our planet's water levels rising, readers may find particularly poignant. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780553446616

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

by Anna North

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, Anna North's (America Pacifica) second novel, has the feel of a documentary transcript. The title character comes across as subject more than protagonist, rendered through the perspectives of others and the work she did with them.

Sophie Stark spent her life struggling for words until the day she picked up a video camera and discovered she expressed herself more easily through images. Her first film, a quirky documentary about a player on her college's basketball team, opens the door to a filmmaking fellowship in New York City. She finds new stories there--revealed from the stage at a storytelling showcase in Brooklyn and shared privately by a musician while they made a music video together--and the movies that are built on these stories begin to attract a following. Collaborative and romantic partnerships blur behind the scenes, giving Stark's work a particular sense of intimacy and a rough-edged beauty that proves difficult to re-create on a larger, less personal scale.

As the novel switches among several narrators, Stark emerges from the recollections of her collaborators: Allison, the Brooklyn storyteller who becomes her girlfriend; Jacob, the musician and her eventual husband; Daniel, the college basketball player from her documentary; and Robbie, her brother, whose video camera started everything. As they relate their experiences with her, each of these characters reveals parts of their own stories that Stark's films never told. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a fascinating and provocative portrait of a woman revealed through the stories of others, and who wanted it that way. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading. 'Riting, and Randomness

Blue Rider Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399173394


by Sarai Walker

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In a confident, daring first novel, Sarai Walker mixes satire and mystery as she holds a magnifying glass over Western culture's objectification of the female gender. The result is combustion of enormously entertaining and thought-provoking proportion.

Alicia "Plum" Kettle is 30-something and fat. She's always lived with the stares, jokes and vicious maltreatment from a society that values skinny. Plum tries diet after diet to no avail. She designs her life to be as inconspicuous as possible in order to avoid the negative attention her obesity draws, and now she's decided to have weight-loss surgery to release the true--and beautiful--Alicia inside her.

Before the scheduled date of her procedure, Plum is introduced to and befriends Verena and her cadre of feminists, who are working to defy destructive gender attitudes. Meanwhile, a terrorist group known only as Jennifer begins striking around the world, targeting institutions and individuals harming women.

Plum becomes unintentionally mixed up with the elusive Jennifer as well as closely examining her own perceptions, fears and attitudes. Her carefully constructed walls of safety crumble, and she is forced to decide if she has the courage to face exposure.

Walker's brazen approach to Dietland carries a strength that will ignite readers' passionate responses. The novel is unflinchingly blunt, depicting raw emotion and uncomfortable realities. Walker writes beautifully, with natural dialogue and powerful characters. Her first-rate entrance into fiction is sure to spark the conversation she--and Plum--feel their audience needs to have. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, hardcover, 9780544373433

Mystery & Thriller

The Guild of Saint Cooper

by Shya Scanlon

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The Guild of Saint Cooper is a wistful, elegiac and far-reaching cosmic dystopian novel set in Seattle and its suburbs. Blake, the narrator, is a struggling writer burdened by the collapse of the United States due to the drying up of its fossil fuels, the collapse of his ambitions and a mother with terminal cancer. A chance encounter with a mail carrier gets Blake invited to the Guild of Saint Cooper, a group attempting to prop up Seattle's fading sense of self and history by rewriting its past. The tenuousness of memory is an especially bittersweet thread in the book: "my memories seemed to have been swallowed up during the general implosion. Where do memories go to die? Was it trauma that locked them away, or had disinterest kept them from forming in the first place?"

The tales of the guild come surrealistically true; reality and Blake's narrative become joyously unhinged. The metropolis becomes suffused with rhododendrons, as if the city itself is striving toward fertile consciousness. "Perhaps in the vacuum caused by the sudden disappearance of dense civilian life, what remains shifts, reorganizes, compensates for the absence." There are aliens with questionable intent, narratives that switch from first person to third person, gender fluidity of main characters and even the appearance of Twin Peaks's legendary Agent Dale Cooper.

Shya Scanlon is a major talent, rightfully compared to other reality-bending masters like Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami. His narrative moves toward an ending that is either apocalyptic or some grand and alien resurrection, leading readers on a wild ride as gorgeous and layered as Russian nesting boxes, provoking as many questions as answers in the end. "A road like a Möbius strip that led to the underside of itself, until you traveled it again to arrive where you'd begun." --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Dzanc Books, $14.95, paperback, 9781936873616

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Naomi Novik

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Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire series, departs from alternate history to explore a fairy tale setting in Uprooted. The story begins with the familiar trappings of a folk story: a medieval village, a sorcerer, a dark forest and two girls, one seemingly perfect, the other nearly comically flawed.

Dangerous creatures and malevolent magic from The Woods threaten Agnieszka and Kasia's small village. Only the Dragon, a solitary sorcerer who lives in a distant tower, can keep the village safe. But the cost of his services is high: every decade, the dragon selects a girl from the village to serve him for the next 10 years, during which time she will not leave his tower.

Everyone in the village believes Kasia, a girl of exceptional skill and grace, will be selected. But when her closest friend, Agnieszka, is chosen instead, Uprooted takes its first step away from the well-worn path of fairy tales as Novik explores the consequences of Agnieszka's sudden captivity. Nothing about Agnieszka's new life is easy, and the decisions she makes while in the Dragon's tower further compound her suffering. For Kasia, who was raised to believe she would be the Dragon's tribute, trying to lead the life she wasn't prepared to have proves nearly fatal.

Novik features multifaceted characters who, even as they pursue a common goal of eradicating evil, seek to satisfy their own desires. Novik successfully creates an inspired world in which good and evil exist on a spectrum, and no one is safe from the corruption of The Woods. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Del Rey, $25, hardcover, 9780804179034

Graphic Books

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

by Sydney Padua

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Steampunk icons Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage were frustrated pioneers of 19th-century computer science. Babbage spent many years and government grants developing his Analytical Engine, a steam-powered calculating machine, and Lovelace wrote the first computer program. But Babbage never completed his machine, and Lovelace, like her father, Lord Byron, died at the age of 36.

In her first book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, London animator and cartoonist Sydney Padua creates an alternate history for them, or as she puts it, "a pocket universe" in which they enjoy a lifetime of happy collaboration and fantastical adventures. They amuse Queen Victoria, battle Luddite mathematicians and meet with great minds of the century. One chapter is a raging satire of economic theory; another dramatizes Lovelace as Alice in the Wonderland of her career and her detractors; another sends George Eliot into the cat-infested guts of the Difference Engine in desperate pursuit of the only copy of her first novel, wandering through a flowchart and some loops in the process.

Padua's writing overflows with wit and charm and enthusiastic geekery. Her cartooning is artistic and energetic. She is no computing expert, but her love of these characters inspired her to do extensive research, and she enriches her comic with substantial and entertaining footnotes, many of which lead to even more substantial endnotes and original sources in two appendices. Lovelace and Babbage is an exhilarating ride through a rich period of scientific history, both as it was and should have been. --Sara Catterall

Pantheon, $28.95, hardcover, 9780307908278

Biography & Memoir

The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir

by Vivian Gornick

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At times, The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick's collection of reflections on her decades of life as a New Yorker, feels impersonal for a book subtitled "A Memoir." However, memoir is not necessarily synonymous with autobiography, and instead, the essayist and former Village Voice reporter is more interested in impressions, opinions and vividly drawn vignettes of urban life than in assembling facts and dates in chronological order.

The Odd Woman and the City is strewn with scenes of everyday New York City--on the street, in the subway, in coffee shops and grocery stores--in which Gornick (Fierce Attachments) is both participant and observer. Many of her anecdotes have a particular feel: encounters with friends and contemporaries are shaded with an awareness that the city where they grew up and came of age is now the city where they are getting old. Bits of the ongoing, 20-year-long conversation she's had with her friend Leonard are woven through the book, frequently leading into or out of longer discourses on literature, history or city culture.

In one of those literary discussions, Gornick describes a novel as "all voice, and very little plot." It's not meant to be disparaging, and the same summation might be applied to The Odd Woman and the City. A compelling voice can keep a reader engaged even when the narrative wobbles; Gornick doesn't really attempt to build a narrative here, but she certainly has the voice. Moving easily between the intimate and the grand scale, this is memoir as conversation--an intelligent, rambling, provocative conversation accompanying a long walk across New York City. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23, hardcover, 9780374298609

Children's & Young Adult

More Happy Than Not

by Adam Silvera

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If you could forget the worst moments of your life, would you? That's the promise offered by the Leteo Institute in this provocative debut novel from Adam Silvera.

Aaron's family is shattered when his father commits suicide, and Aaron's downward spiral leads to his own suicide attempt. In his near-future Bronx neighborhood, everyone suffers, though no one discusses it. Aaron's older brother and mother are distant, lost in their own grief. His girlfriend, Genevieve, is supportive but heading to art camp, and he can't discuss things with his friends. Then Aaron meets Thomas, who's willing to show emotion, reluctant to fight and lets Aaron talk about his past. Aaron comes to realize his feelings for his new friend are more than platonic. But being gay in a tough neighborhood doesn't feel like an option to Aaron, and he begins to consider a controversial medical procedure that can alter and eliminate unwanted memories. Leteo Institute may be able to suppress his feelings for Thomas, but can they erase Aaron's sexuality?

Silvera's powerful debut shows brutal honesty, painful truths and the power of memory. Those in Aaron's life show an array of responses to homosexuality--acceptance, anger, ignorance and indifference--but all resonate with remarkable realism. Silvera (who reviews for Shelf Awareness) explores the possibilities of a world where death, and life, can be forgotten, roles rewritten and broken hearts mended. This is a story not just of a young man coming out, but a dramatic and heart-wrenching exploration of first loves, first heartbreaks, grief and the quest for happiness. --Kyla Paterno, reviewer

Soho Teen, $18.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781616955601

Water Is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle

by Miranda Paul, illus. by Jason Chin

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This engaging picture begins with familiar childhood experiences of water--a pond, rain, a drink--then moves into its more wondrous properties.

In a series of wordless watercolor and gouache images, Jason Chin (Gravity) introduces a sister and brother catching a turtle in a nearby pond; their mother calls them home, and a sudden rainfall suggests the reason. Everywhere there's evidence of water at work: a garden blooms near a water hose, and a toy boat floats in a shallow inflatable pool. Inside the kitchen, the children head for the faucet: "Drip./ Sip./ Pour me a cup," Miranda Paul's (One Plastic Bag) lyrical text accompanies the boy filling a glass with water while his older sister gives some to their newly acquired turtle. "Water is water/ unless..." (a page turn reveals the answer), "it heats up." We see the siblings' father pouring cocoa. Rising steam tells readers the kettle is hot ("Whirl./ Swirl./ Watch it curl by"). Paul and Chin continue to show water's stages through cause and effect. As steam "cools high," it forms clouds ("A dragon/ in a wagon?"). If steam cools low, it's fog. Rain forms puddles; puddles freeze to make skating rinks. They also carry this logic (solid to fluid) to apples, which become cider.

Together author and artist convey the wonder of nature while explaining abstract scientific ideas through examples children come across every day. A diverse cast of characters, including the central multiracial family, plus detailed back matter, make this a rich resource for homes, classrooms and libraries. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-10, 9781596439849

Michael Eon's These Things Happen is "raw and compelling" (Readers' Favorite), "urgent [and] beautifully written" (BookLife) with "smooth, evocative prose, well-drawn characters, and the intriguing time and place of 1970s Brooklyn" (BlueInk Review).

Flashing through Daniel Zimmer's life, past and present, These Things Happen is an unflinchingly honest account of the inevitable ups and downs of coming-of-age and recovery. With the atmospheric backdrop of 1970s Brooklyn, These Things Happen fearlessly examines generational abuse, the transformative power of confronting addiction, and the profound life-changing potential of redemption. "With a vivid, engaging storyline," Eon's debut novel is "a thoughtful read" (BlueInk) that "imparts a compelling message" (BookLife). "The energy of being a child in a city that will eat you up, if you let it, seeps through the pages" (Readers' Favorite).

Daniel Zimmer will do almost anything to end his pain -- except for the one thing that might work.

Growing up in 1970s Brooklyn under the shadow of his tyrannical father, Daniel Zimmer struggles to find a sense of safety and belonging. Daniel and his brother Max find moments of solace in the rebellious rhythms of early punk and metal bands. But when faced with an unexpected family tragedy--for which Daniel feels responsible--Daniel finds escape in the numbing grip of alcohol, offering temporary relief from his pain and guilt. Carrying childhood trauma into adulthood, Daniel spirals deeper into the clutches of addiction. Just as he finds the strength to embrace sobriety, the ghosts of his past resurface, forcing him to confront his demons head-on.

What began as catharsis through writing about his own recovery journey inspired Michael Eon's powerful examination of a life-long relationship with addiction and recovery in his debut novel, These Things Happen.

Girl Friday Books: These Things Happen by Michael Eon

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