Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 6, 2015


Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

From My Shelf

William Morrow & Company: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams / The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Mira Books: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

Stuart Scott, 1965-2015

When sports broadcaster Stuart Scott died in January, tributes were legion, with people choking up on camera ("he made us better people"), grieving, bewildered that such a vital man who had battled--attacked--cancer for five years had lost. Yet, as Scott explained in his memoir, Every Day I Fight (Blue Rider Press), he didn't lose--he beat cancer by how and why he lived. His story is so good, it will "make you want to sop it up with a biscuit" (a famous Scott phrase).

In her foreword, Robin Roberts writes that when Scott joined ESPN in 1993, "Our cool factor went off the charts with Stu roaming the halls." Indeed, Scott was, in another phrase he coined, "cool as the other side of the pillow," but his coolness came not so much from his hip-hop persona as from his life as a father and friend. He grew up in a strong, loving family, and fatherhood with two daughters was his passion. His friendships were deep and lasting. He was a mentor, and a role model for being true to oneself; as Dan Patrick said, "He took a lot of chances but he never wavered."

On July 16, 2014, Scott received the ESPY Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, and his moving speech went viral. Two months later, he spent 75 days in New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He wrote, "It's hard to pinpoint the moment you hate cancer the most. There are so many finalists in the game." But when it came, "I started the day hating cancer with a passion, and I ended it with love bursting outta me. That's what cancer does: It messes with you, but it also makes your love so much bigger." He goes on: "Speaking of big love: That hospital time gave me time with the girls, and it gave me time with God.... To paraphrase a suave-looking dude you all saw at the ESPYs, you don't beat cancer just by living--you beat it by how you live."

Every Day I Fight is a memorable, joyful ode to a life well-lived and well-loved. As Scott would say: "Booyah." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Akashic Books: Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino


Book Candy

National Grammar Day Haikus

To celebrate National Grammar Day Wednesday, the American Society of Copy Editors hosted a haiku-writing contest on Twitter, Buzzfeed reported.

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"Where do these literary titles come from?" In its latest quiz, the Guardian posed "fiendish questions about the books behind the books."

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The "greatly exaggerated news" of Mark Twain's death was one of "history's wildest literary rumors" recalled by Flavorwire.

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Mental Floss shared "10 things you might not know about Maurice Sendak."

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The Huffington Post explored "why we love built-in bookshelves."


Fabled Films: The Nocturnals by Tracey Hecht - 11 Fun summer boredom buster activities!


The Writer's Life

Cynthia Swanson: Appreciating What's She's Got

photo: Glenda Cebrian Photography

Cynthia Swanson is a writer and mid-century modern designer. She has published short fiction in 13th Moon, Kalliope, Sojourner and other periodicals; her story in 13th Moon was a Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband and three children. The Bookseller is her first novel (our review is below).

When Cynthia Swanson headed off to college, her intention was to become an architect. Like many writers, she believed she needed a "practical" career, and since she'd always loved design, architecture seemed like the perfect fit. But writing wouldn't leave her alone. As she explained, "Writing always came first. The design came later, but it pulled everything together. It's not an accident that Lars [the ideal husband of Katharyn Andersson, one of Swanson's protagonists in The Bookseller] is an architect. I live vicariously through my characters."

The house that Katharyn and Lars live in has similarities to the Denver home Swanson and her husband remodeled in what she terms "respectful mid-century design" style. This approach influenced the vivid imagery in The Bookseller. "My design philosophy is simple: respect the integrity of the original home." By learning and intimately understanding the integrity of her 1958 tri-level, she could authentically re-create the era's architecture in her novel.

But early 1960s wasn't the original setting for The Bookseller. For her debut novel involving a woman who learns--years later--why she was stood up for a date that would have altered her life, Swanson started by setting it in contemporary Denver. "About 30% into the first draft, I realized a present-day Kitty would have approached her situation much differently," Swanson said. "For one thing, she would have had a lot more resources: searching online, looking at Google Earth. Communication would have been a lot more instant. If he didn't show up, she would have texted him. She never would have gone eight years without knowing."

That left Swanson backing up to a time when information wasn't so readily available. But that could have been any number of eras, so why the 1960s? "I love this time period. I've started a second novel, and it's set in the same era," Swanson said. It also turned out to be a great decade in terms of Kitty's occupation.

Kitty Miller and her best friend Frieda own a small bookstore that has been relatively successful until recently. The loss of a city streetcar route near the shop has hurt business, and the co-owners are discussing the possibility of taking their enterprise to a suburban mall. Swanson points out, "It's like a metaphor for today. In the 1960s, they were fighting against flight out to the burbs, now the bookstore flight is to the big-box stores and online."

Books published in the early 1960s also worked well for Swanson's story. There are references to Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, among other well-known titles. "I did a lot of research to see what was on the bestseller lists and things like that," Swanson said. "It was fun to do the research and then develop the character through the use of books. In every draft I added more books--my editor said readers love to read books about books--but I would be lying if I said I read every one of them."

As a single career woman, Kitty had time to read all those books. The flip side of Kitty is Katharyn, a married mother of three who leaves her career to stay home with her children. Have the struggles of women--choosing between families and careers--changed all that much from the 1960s? Swanson said, "Women still struggle with that choice, but I believe there are a lot more expectations of women today. Before it was cut and dried; you picked one or the other. These days you'd better be able to do both. However, now women can be more creative with options that weren't there before, like flex schedules or working from home. And in either era, it's very different for women than men."

Swanson knows a bit about juggling those responsibilities. She, like Katharyn, is the mother of three young children. Swanson explains that while The Bookseller is her first published novel, she's always been working on something of a longer nature. "I never considered The Bookseller for a short story, there was always too much to it. I started it after a long hiatus where I thought my creativity was gone; I was so excited to have a viable idea."

But her writing career began when Swanson was a single woman, more like Kitty Miller. Her role as a wife and mother completely altered her writing approach. "Before children, if I thought of a short story idea, I'd take a break [from the longer work] and write the story. After marriage, if I thought of a short story idea, I'd take notes and come back to it. I was finding time to write every single day, and I was afraid if I took a break from the novel I would lose the momentum."

One way Swanson kept that momentum going was with the promise of research. While she said, "I love research, it's so fun," she also knows it can be a trap. One can easily fall into the black hole of continuing to learn more and more without writing anything. So for Swanson, "It's the carrot I dangle out there for myself. When I'm writing a first draft, I do very little research. I get my story idea down and then go back and do the research." Approaching research in this manner helped The Bookseller in a number of ways. When Swanson met with the Women's Book Club at her church, the older members informed her that Kitty would not be wearing pantyhose as Swanson had first described her--they hadn't been invented yet. So Kitty ended up wearing stockings instead.

Additionally, Swanson was looking for a good reason why Kitty and Frieda's long-successful bookstore would have struggled in this period. Through her research she learned of the streetcar changes in the neighborhood where Swanson had established the shop.

Autism plays a role in The Bookseller, and Swanson wrote the first draft knowing a family dealing with this issue. Her research verified what she already knew about mothers feeling guilty, and she discovered the fortunately short-lived "refrigerator mother" theory on autism.

The research-after-the-fact approach seems to have worked exceptionally well for Swanson. She could face the sort of "what if" question her protagonist confronts: What if she'd approached her writing with a different style? But Swanson said her outlook on it is firm: "Appreciate what you've got. It's not going to be perfect, but there are benefits either way." So she's moving on to a new novel and maybe more short fiction; a true freelance writer, she said, "I never turn anything down." First, though, she'll take a few minutes to enjoy the excitement of her debut novel. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts


Akashic Books: Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes


Book Review

Fiction

Act of God

by Jill Ciment


Small moments in ordinary life often escalate into something much larger and unexpected in novels by Jill Ciment (Heroic Measures). In Act of God, the story grows from the discovery of a tiny mushroom that identical twin sisters--64 years old, neither married nor with children--find sprouting in the closet of their deceased mother's rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y. The fungus is of grave concern, but so, too, is the closet, as it houses a precious archive of letters their mother wrote for a once-popular syndicated advice column, "Consultations with Dr. Mimi," now being compiled to submit for exhibition at the Smithsonian.

Rich, quirky characterizations, witty insights into human nature and cruel twists of fate turn the initial absurdity of the narrative into a profound, suspenseful story. The virulent fungus gains strength as calamity spreads beyond the apartment. Ill-equipped hazmat teams try to quell citywide pandemonium while the growing plague wreaks havoc and claims lives.

The story examines how larger-than-life events can strip human beings--especially those steeped in the trappings of the modern world--of everything in order to fill their souls with empathy, compassion and the healing powers of love and forgiveness. Insurance companies ultimately declare the devastating toll of the fungus as an "act of God," and perhaps a higher power had a hand, too, in the unexpected personal transformations of those inhabiting this thoroughly entertaining and unforgettable microcosm that reflects the realities of life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A mysterious, virulent fungus originating from the closet of a Brooklyn apartment building becomes a calamitous, life-changing force.

Pantheon, $24, hardcover, 9780307911704

Silver Dolphin Books: Kisses for Kindergarten by Livingstone Crouse, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan


The Bookseller

by Cynthia Swanson


In her debut novel, The Bookseller, Cynthia Swanson answers the age-old query "what if" with a dream. In 1962, Kitty Miller is a 30-something, single woman who co-owns a small Denver bookstore. Many women Kitty's age are married and raising families, but Kitty believes she is content and doesn't need anything more.

Then one night she dreams of an alternate version of her life, the life she would have had if one phone call had lasted just a few minutes longer. Here Kitty, known as Katharyn, is married with children and no longer works in the bookstore. The lives of Kitty and Katharyn alternate as she continues to dream of this parallel universe, and a once-content woman explores what could have been.

Many strong themes wind through Swanson's mid-century story. The role of women in society and their struggles to find a fulfilling equilibrium are superbly developed and reflected in everything from fashion to child rearing. The timeless topic of change, indicated by suburban sprawl and its effects, influences the plot, and Swanson's overarching message--to appreciate what one has, foibles and all--is enduring as well.

A mid-century modern designer, Swanson infuses the setting with strikingly authentic backdrops built from her knowledge of the period's architecture, while her meticulous research subtly illuminates language, behavior, Denver neighborhoods, even books. The Bookseller will delight bibliophiles with regular literary references.  

The astute reader will likely anticipate various plot twists, but The Bookseller isn't meant to be a surprising thriller. This is the story of a woman coming to terms with who she is; both woman and novel are beautiful. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The butterfly effect on one woman's life through a series of dreams depicting her as a completely different person.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062333001

Crown Publishing Group: The Little French Bistro by Nina George


She Will Build Him a City

by Raj Kamal Jha


In vast Delhi, India, the intertwining lives of millions shine through the intrepid lens of She Will Build Him a City, a curious novel by Raj Kamal Jha (The Blue Bedspread). As though indicating a relationship between anonymity and unanimity, Jha names his three main characters Woman, Man and Orphan, effectively broadening their experiences into a universal sense of humanity. He braids together these three and unveils their secret connections in a story full of love and violence, lies and the powerful buoyancy of hope.

Woman tells her daughter a bedtime fable of a 12-foot-tall woman who comes to care for them, and she eventually rhapsodizes about how she both loved and betrayed the girl's father. Meanwhile, in the city lurks a troubled Man, surrounded by darkness as he runs to and from the violence clouding his heart. In the teeming streets, he discovers a little girl with a red balloon, with whom he falls maniacally in love. All the while, Orphan, with a talking dog as his only guardian, is perplexingly abandoned at an orphanage whose director "has never seen a 'normal male infant' being left on his doorstep." Who, after all, lets go of a boy in India?

This novel thrills and mystifies as the characters fumble about Delhi toward an elusive sense of belonging. Jha's prose is wondrous: regarding her daughter's birth, Woman observes, "Along with you, I have also been born, as a mother, and, very much like you, I am clueless in the dark." She Will Build Him a City exhibits myth-making of an impeccable order. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Startling wonders and skulking dangers dart through the streets of Delhi.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 9781620409046

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Lake House by Kate Morton


Know Your Beholder

by Adam Rapp


Nothing much seems to be going on with Francis Falbo, the narrator of Adam Rapp's Know Your Beholder, set in downstate Pollard, Ill. Former rhythm guitar player and songwriter for Third Policeman, his defunct "well-aged, anti-industry psychedelic semi-jam band," Francis lives alone. After only three years of marriage, Francis's wife left him for a square-jawed New York pharma salesman. Francis, withdrawn and agoraphobic, sees himself as "the human equivalent of a cold rainy day... a brown puddle in the middle of a dead-end street, with maybe a Popsicle stick or two floating in my dank, dog-slobbered water."

Francis intermittently writes and sketches a journal tentatively called "Know Your Beholder," after track two of his band's only album, searching for a reason not to sit around and "drink consecutive bourbons and play Minnesota-based, mid-nineties slowcore music." He finds that reason in the oddball collection of tenants in his building: his ex-wife's reclusive, weird brother; a former circus trapeze artist couple; an artist who paints well-endowed nude black men; an overweight, retired schoolteacher widower; and a former first alternate on the U.S. Olympic luge team.

Rapp has a theatrical flair for dialogue, a talent for defining characters by their clothes and music, and a relentless sense of humor. It's no surprise that a man who sketches his ex-wife's body and is obsessed with sex finds redemption in a woman. The daughter of the retired schoolteacher comes to visit, recognizes Francis as "an averagely handsome guy who looks slightly better while playing electric guitar," and accepts him for that. God bless understanding women and rock 'n' roll. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A funny, poignant story of a down-on-his-luck, agoraphobic former rock band guitarist in search of a new gig.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316368919

Mystery & Thriller

Suitcase City

by Sterling Watson


Suitcase City by Sterling Watson (Weep No More My Brother) opens with an extended flashback to protagonist Jimmy Teach's time in small-town Florida. Back then, Teach had just finished a brief career in professional football and was back in the game of smuggling drugs, or in his words, operating as a "maritime consultant." When a business deal with Guatemalans went sour, Teach competently cleaned up the mess, and moved on.

The bulk of Teach's story then takes place nearly 20 years later, in late 1990s Tampa, Fla., where a rundown neighborhood called Suitcase City gives the novel its name. Teach is reformed, more or less: he's vice-president of sales at a pharmaceutical company and has rebuilt a relationship with his teenaged daughter after his wife's (her mother's) death. But a little incident inside a bar one Friday afternoon--a tiny mistake, a single piece of rotten luck--and suddenly Teach finds himself worried about losing his house, his job, the relationship he's built with his daughter and maybe his own life. 

Watson's magic is in pacing and taut prose, in the details that make his Florida setting so compelling--boats and bilge, lobsters and golf--and in a father's love for his daughter. Diverse characters enliven Teach's world, including his charming daughter, a pushy reporter and a colorful pair of police detectives who represent a range of competence and demeanor. In the end, Teach is flawed but likable, and Suitcase City is an absorbing thriller, a vivid adventure in a bright, humid, perilous underworld. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A reformed drug dealer is pulled back into the game in this tense, bloody thriller set in Florida.

Akashic Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781617753190

Leaving Berlin

by Joseph Kanon


Political subterfuge and the nascent Cold War in 1949 is at the center of Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (Istanbul Passage). Alex Meier escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to the U.S. and now writes novels in Hollywood. When the McCarthy witch hunts target him, he strikes a bargain with the CIA, agreeing to return to his native Berlin as a spy to prove his loyalty to the United States. But what awaits him in Berlin defies even his imagination as a writer: a botched kidnapping, the murder of an East German agent and encounters with friends from his past thrust him into danger and intrigue.

Blockaded West Berlin survives on daily airlifted supplies, while espionage and the black market rule the East. The German Kulturbund welcomes Meier, on resident visa, as a returning artist to East Germany, which allows him to make connections without arousing suspicion.

A likable hero, Meier despairs at the rubble of his home and city and faces reminders of his family's annihilation. His assignment is poignant and painful: to spy on his first love, Irene, whose survival depends on liaisons and whose current "friend" is a Soviet State Security officer. When Irene's POW brother escapes from laboring in Soviet uranium mines and arrives in Berlin, Meier ponders moral ambiguities as he determines whom to trust and how far he will go to help old friends while assuring his own survival.

A historically detailed, fast-paced thriller and a passionate love story, Leaving Berlin is also a grim reminder of how the Cold War tore at a Germany still reeling from years of Nazi power and war. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A Cold War thriller set in 1949 Berlin, where an American writer--a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany--quickly learns his role as a CIA spy.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 9781476704647

Gun Street Girl

by Adrian McKinty


Adrian McKinty's (In the Morning I'll Be Gone) remarkably clever new police procedural, Gun Street Girl, takes place in Belfast during the "Troubles." It's 1985, and Unionists and Nationalists are constantly fighting, making it a dangerous time to be a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Force (RUC), especially for Detective Sean Duffy, the only Catholic on the mostly Unionist force. Duffy is a contradictory man: a savvy detective, a nice neighbor and a good cop, who occasionally can't resist nailing a line of coke "so pure it was like being yelled at by God."

The RUC is investigating the murders of a rich couple, apparently shot by their son before he jumped off a cliff. Duffy isn't convinced that Michael Kelly's death was a suicide, but his work on the case is repeatedly interrupted by bomb threats and attacks from both Catholic and Protestant sides, forcing the "peelers" to stop investigating in order to work the riot lines. Being an officer in a war zone is always a tricky business, but it gets even stranger for Duffy when MI5 and a mysterious American agent with a fake identity get involved in the RUC's inquiry.

Written in a darkly funny, laconic style, Gun Street Girl is riveting. The noir ambiance is irresistible, and the Belfast setting is disturbingly vivid, a reminder of how dangerous Northern Ireland was recently. Fourth in a series, Gun Street Girl is sure to inspire readers to go back and catch up on more of McKinty's superb writing. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: An excellent noir thriller set in 1985 Belfast, featuring the lone Catholic detective on the Royal Ulster Constabulary force.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781633880009

Food & Wine

Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness

by Sasha Martin


Flavors, fragrances and the experience of re-creating family traditions in the kitchen make food a gateway to memory, but when food writer Sasha Martin decided to "cook [her] way around the world," she was looking forward, not back. A well-traveled graduate of the Culinary Institute of America settling into life as a mother and wife in Tulsa, Okla., Martin challenged herself to broaden the tastes of her young daughter and picky-eater husband by preparing a meal from a different country every week, which she documented on her blog, Global Table Adventure. She didn't anticipate that this four-year project would bring her to reexamine her own past and reconcile what "family" truly meant to her, leading to Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Forgiveness.

Martin's Boston childhood was defined by the creative cooking of her mother, whose erratic behavior brought Sasha and her brother, Michael, to the attention of the foster care system. After several difficult years, her mother placed Sasha and Michael in the care of family friends, who moved the children across the country, soon relocated to Europe and kept Sasha out of their kitchen. Years later, returned from abroad, Sasha actively pursued food and cooking as a means to make peace with her life.

Life from Scratch features nearly 30 recipes--some from the Global Table Adventure blog and others for dishes that Martin grew up with. While there are no photos included, the recipes are written in clear and conversational detail; a "glug" of olive oil isn't a precise measurement, but most home cooks will understand exactly what Martin means. And even if they're not home cooks, many readers will relate to the ways that Life from Scratch connects food and family. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: This book focuses on foods from around the world that helped a woman make peace with her past and expand her family's future.

National Geographic Society, $25, hardcover, 9781426213748

Nature & Environment

H Is for Hawk

by Helen MacDonald


British poet and naturalist Helen Macdonald, inconsolable after her father's sudden death, had a recurring memory of a goshawk she'd seen while working at a bird-of-prey center. In H Is for Hawk, she shares her decision to adopt one, Mabel, and her months-long dedication to training this fiercest of creatures. "The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life."

Macdonald juxtaposes the tale of her healing and the grueling protocols of falconry with the parallels--and differences--between her relationship with Mabel and writer T.H. White's relationship with his hawk, Gos, as recorded in his 1951 book The Goshawk. Reading this work by the author of Once and Future King at eight fascinated and puzzled her: "Gos was comprehensible, even if the writer was utterly beyond understanding." Macdonald's sympathetic portrayal of White's brutal childhood and his lifelong self-doubt tempers her depiction of how ineptly he treated his goshawk. As a historian, her research of White is thorough and his personality fascinating, but it's a pleasure when she returns to her own story.

She learned to observe from her photojournalist father, and as a "watcher" all her life, Macdonald could imagine herself in the hawk's mind. She vividly portrays the English countryside and her dear Mabel: "Formidable talons, wicked, curved black beak, sleek, café-au-lait front streaked thickly with cocoa-colored teardrops, looking for all the world like some cappuccino samurai." A memoir of loss and healing, a biography and a goshawk primer, H Is for Hawk is heartfelt and poetic. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A lyrical memoir of a woman who coped with bereavement by immersing herself in training a fierce goshawk.

Grove Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802123411

Health & Medicine

Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care

by H. Gilbert Welch


Dr. H. Gilbert Welch (Overdiagnosed) is a professor at Dartmouth Medical School as well as a recognized expert on the effects of health screening. In Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care, he tempers his extensive experience and knowledge with a self-deprecating sense of humor and readily accessible writing style. Welch's premise is that "too much medical care has too little value" and causes people to worry about diseases they will most likely never experience--troublesome since "health" is as much a state of mind as a physical state. As a medical care epidemiologist, Welch studies the patterns, causes and effects of diseases and health concerns; as a teacher, he is able to present this information in an engaging and understandable manner.

Welch's primary goal is for his readers to think critically about medical care and then act accordingly. To that end, Welch presents seven commonly held assumptions that should be challenged, including "sooner is always better" and "action is always better than inaction." He believes the human body has the remarkable ability to heal itself and hospital visits can result in infections and consequent health complications. In addition, rather than believing "newer is always better," Welch recommends we wait until a new drug or procedure has been time-tested, not just FDA approved. Welch believes health screenings detect abnormalities that are harmless and strike unnecessary fear in healthy individuals. He believes medical care ultimately follows a U-shaped curve, similar to blood sugar or blood pressure, where too little or too much can be harmful. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: An examination of how more medicine often does not contribute to better health (and how entertaining reading about health care concerns can be!).

Beacon Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9780807071649

Children's & Young Adult

Mosquitoland

by David Arnold


David Arnold's accomplished debut novel is not your average road trip story. Readers will immediately take to 16-year-old narrator Mary Iris Malone and to the seamless mix of humor and pathos in this moving tale of her quest to save her mother.

In the first chapter, Mim overhears her father and his new wife telling her principal that Mim's mother will "beat this disease." "Disease?" Mim thinks, then flees the school for the Greyhound station in Jackson, Miss. (aka Mosquitoland), to board the next bus to her mother in Ohio. Between the letters Mim writes to her father's sister, Isabel, and the details she confides to her kindly elderly seatmate, readers learn that Mim's parents' divorce has been final for three months, and that her father married Kathy six weeks ago. Flashbacks provide key clues to Mim's motives and current circumstances. For one thing, she's been prescribed Abilitol, "this mutant word, this tragic portmanteau, the unnatural marriage of two roots as different as different could be," Mim thinks. "And do you, Ability, take Vitriol to be your lawfully wedded suffix?" Readers learn that Mim's family has a history of psychosis, and Abilitol is a common prescription to treat psychotic conditions. When Mim discovers letters from her mother hidden inside a coffee can, Mim wonders if Kathy is purposely keeping her from her mother.

Arnold skillfully sets up doubts in readers' minds about how reliable Mim's impressions are, even as her razor-sharp humor and intelligence make us want to believe her. David Arnold is a writer to watch. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A moving debut novel about a teen's quest to save her mother, written with a seamless blend of humor and pathos.

Viking, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780451470775

Finding Spring

by Carin Berger


Crafting spring flowers as unusual as snowflakes, Carin Berger (Stardines) introduces youngest readers to the harbingers of a long-awaited season.

It's Maurice the cub's first spring, and he can't wait to find out more about it. While his mother hunkers down to hibernate and falls asleep, her cub wanders out to satisfy his curiosity. Squirrel, Rabbit, Deer and Robin counsel patience, explaining that it's not quite time for spring yet. But is it any wonder that, in a forest of tall pines, Maurice mistakes a snowflake for spring? Berger crafts meticulous snowflakes in a three-dimensional blizzard that young readers will almost believe they could enter into along with Maurice. The innocent cub collects the flakes in a ball, thinking he's captured spring, then settles in beside his mother. When he wakes at last, his snowball memento is gone, but something of greater moment has arrived.

Young children will savor knowing more about spring than the hero does and will pour over Berger's compositions. She incorporates nature's glories as dioramas, with her cutout components casting shadows that emphasize elements of the big wondrous world little Maurice investigates. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A symphony of three-dimensional collages chart the changing seasons, as a young cub awaits spring.

Greenwillow/Harper, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780062250193

Fetch

by Jorey Hurley


Jorey Hurley follows up her astonishing picture book Nest, about a robin's life cycle, with a joyful investigation of a dog at play.

Once again, Hurley's use of a limited palette and just one word per scene keep the focus on the animal star, in this case, a Labrador retriever. The canine's sandy-colored coat contrasts perfectly with the ocean blue, into which the unseen owner throws the red ball. Readers will spy the floating red circle before the dog does ("search," reads the text). "Splash" indicates the dog has spotted the ball, ears on alert and tail up, braving the waves in pursuit of its trophy. An image that begs readers to turn the book vertically ("swim") shows the depth of the waters the dog braves in order to retrieve the ball; meanwhile, a school of clownfish match the ball and unite the composition. Other sea creatures (seals, dolphins, a shark in pursuit of prey) join the salty adventure. And at the end, dog and owner are reunited.

Although this picture book doesn't operate on quite as many levels as Nest did (the seasons, nature's life cycles, words with double meanings), children will appreciate experiencing the ocean from a dog's perspective, and the beauty the pooch takes for granted. Most of all, they will readily identify with the pet's sense of play. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A playful follow-up about a dog's day at the beach, from the creator of Nest.

Paula Wiseman/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781442489691

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