Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 24, 2011


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

On Browsing

I hope no one will mind if I give a shout out to my very local indie bookstore, One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. I say "very local" because Eileen McGervey's new (launched in 2011) shop is less than a mile from my front door--I can even walk there via the W&OD Trail bike path.

But I'm not talking up One More Page to get you to shop there (although you would be very happy if you did). I want to talk about a quote I read recently in the delightful Pushcart Press compendium of quotations Book Love: A Celebration of Writers, Readers, and The Printed Bound Book, edited by James Charlton and Bill Henderson (who also wrote the introduction). Helene Hanff's quote is "I don't browse in bookshops. I browse in libraries, where you can take a book home and read it, and if you like it you go to a bookstore and buy it." It stopped me right in my tracks with its elegant logic.

I find Hanff's reasoning sound, but for me, browsing in a library is wholly different than browsing in a bookstore. In the library, things are catalogued and cross-referenced. Anyone who has ever worked on a research paper will know the feeling of sliding down an archival rabbit hole while digging out library material that leads you in all different directions, but are, happily, somehow connected.

In a bookstore, you may wind up running in different directions, but it won't always be because things are connected. Perhaps you spend an hour looking at the latest mysteries--then remember that you need to find a great book on wine for a Father's Day gift. Oh, and your book club chose that bestselling novel... hmmm, what's this? A new literary magazine?

Libraries and bookstores are both wonderful places to browse, and I prefer not to go without either one.--Bethanne Patrick


Akashic Books: Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino


Overheard

The Girl with the Manuscript in Her Laptop

"How long are we going to kid ourselves? Stieg is dead. Maybe we just have to accept that--all the readers and me, too."

--Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson's longtime companion and author of "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me (Seven Stories Press), in the New York Times on whether or not to have someone complete the unfinished manuscript of a fourth novel by the Millennium series author.


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


Bookselling News

All "Hallows" Eve

On the off chance that you haven't set your Outlook alarm for advance ticket purchase already, here's an entertaining reminder about a much-anticipated film. On July 15, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 will be released, and AMC Theatres has "scheduled a special four-day experience to commemorate the occasion nationwide," the Hollywood Reporter wrote. 

AMC will run Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 & Part 2 back-to-back on July 14, with the first chapter showing at 9 p.m. and the second, in 3D, at 12:01 a.m. In addition, 35 AMC locations "have slated a marathon leading up to the closing film. Beginning Monday, July 11, select theaters across the country will have chronological showings of each of the iconic films." A complete list of participating theaters is available here.


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


Sunny Skies Mean Better Eyes

It's summer. Go outside and read! Noting that two neuroscientists recently advised books should be read outdoors in order to protect against nearsightedness, the New Yorker's Book Bench blog reported that the "need for tablets that can be read in direct sunlight becomes more pressing.

"If you are an iPad devotee, a solution might be near: last month, Apple applied for a patent on a 'Display that Emits Circularly-Polarized Light,' which would make the iPad more viewable in direct sunlight to viewers wearing polarized sunglasses."

Of course, another solution would be to simply pick up one of those quaint, old-fashioned "paper books." Added bonus: no need to move the hammock closer to an electrical outlet for recharging. 


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


Book Candy

Bookcase of the day. Boing Boing featured this ingenious bookcase tucked into a stairwell--accessible only by bosun's chair.

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Check out this collection of Awesome People Reading.

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Via Unbridled Books: Positing that the place where people read the most is the bathroom, the bookstore chain 100,000 Books, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, "came up" with this very clever product: Book Fresheners. The launch was part of an ad campaign.


Crown Publishing Group: The Little French Bistro by Nina George


Great Reads

Further Reading

The Quest for Anna Klein by Thomas H. Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27) is a new novel of suspense that critics have called "a sure bestseller." It's a twisting, turning tale of double- and triple-agents in World War II-era Europe, grounded by a post-9/11 think-tank researcher's interviews with one of the operatives. From the Spanish Civil War to Nazi Berlin to the Soviet gulags, the book takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through a harsh era.

If you're interested in The Quest for Anna Klein and would like to learn more about:

The Spanish Civil War: You can never go wrong with Ernest Hemingway's The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War, but if you're fortunate enough to snag Esmond Romilly's memoir Boadilla, try a read--he was Jessica Mitford's young sweetheart and first husband; he fought in that war, and died too early in World War II.

The gulags: Another can't-go-wrong pick would be the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, but if you prefer fiction, Tom Robb Smith's Child 44 and The Secret Speech provide well-researched and chilling perspectives on the Stalinist camps.

The aftermath of intrigue: The finest literary novel about what happens to old spies is A Geography of Secrets by Frederick Reuss. The Washington Post called it "a modern-day Graham Greene." High praise that we can echo.


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


The Writer's Life

Author Interview: J. Courtney Sullivan

Sullivan and I are on the telephone to discuss her new novel, Maine (Knopf), but we're talking about her first book because I've  wondered how the two narratives, both based around a group of four women, are connected. (Full disclosure: Sullivan and I are both alumna of Smith College, the school from which the main characters in Commencement graduate, and our conversation is peppered with shorthand references to our alma mater and its overtly feminist perspective.)

"Ours is the first generation to have all the opportunity in the world, but not know quite what to do with it," Sullivan said. "After I finished my first book, I heard Gloria Phelps speak on a panel and say that she was tired of hearing young women complain about choices. 'We never said choice would be the panacea!' she told us. That was a major sort of lightbulb moment for me."

In Commencement, all four characters were the same age, and Sullivan's challenge was "to make them all different enough without making them into caricatures." With Maine, she faced a new challenge: four female characters who were all very different-- but all related. "I wanted to get their voices right and make each of them authentic for her moment," Sullivan said.

However, there's a much bigger difference between Commencement and Maine than the identity of the characters, and it involves "the F-word"--"feminism." Sullivan explained, "The idea of feminism in Commencement is overt. The word appears a lot, and the women discuss how to take their ideals into the real world. In this book, the word 'feminism' never appears, but it's so much about the idea that the moment a woman comes into the world determines so much of her fate--and so much of what she will consider 'feminist.' "

Maine centers on the women of the Kelleher family, including 83-year-old matriarch Alice; her middle-aged divorced recovering alcoholic daughter, Kathleen; Kathleen's thirtysomething unmarried and pregnant daughter, Maggie; and Alice's perfectionist daughter-in-law, Ann Marie. Sullivan noted that feminism couldn't be more different for each of these characters. "When Alice was in her 20s, the only way she could really achieve independence was to move into a husband's home, while Maggie has been encouraged from the cradle to be independent and unfettered."

The biggest difference between the two books may be the result of an overheard discussion. As a teenager, Sullivan listened to her mother and several other women from her largely Irish-Catholic Boston suburb talking about their own mothers. "These women had all had 10 kids, even 15 kids in a couple of cases, and at some point, nearly every single one of them had gone to her priest to ask about family planning. You can guess the kinds of things they were told."

"When you're a writer, you collect conversations, and they stay with you. I remember thinking how strange it was that these celibate men had ever had the opportunity to tell women how and when they get to be mothers." Sullivan paused for breath. "The big-picture ideas are investigated in a much more personal way in Maine than they are in Commencement. Much of this book is about perception. It's about how the women view themselves, and each other. How do you respect and appreciate someone else's choices?"

Sullivan agrees that "someone else" is often male. "Men get forced into preconceived notions of masculinity just as we're forced into those of femininity. Breaking down these barriers is good for everyone." She pointed to the example of Ann Marie's inability to face her son's teenage predilection for porn. "When Ann Marie decides 'this is just how boys are,' it has consequences. Her son is later disgraced at work for looking at porn on his computer. The fact is, there's no one way that anyone is. The most important thing is to know someone's motivation and to talk honestly about what concerns us."

So are any of the characters in Maine getting it right? "Oh, I think Kathleen and her worm-farmer boyfriend are closer than anyone else. They're really getting to the truth of what life is, meaning what is my personal truth: they're not responding to someone else's choices, but finding their own passions and wishes and concerns."

It seems that, in her sophomore effort as a novelist, J. Courtney Sullivan is well on the road to accomplishing exactly that. 

-- Bethanne Patrick


Literary Lists

College Prep, Island Life and Lit Divas

Even while engulfed in recommendations for summer beach reading, apparently it's not too soon for incoming college students to begin preparations. Flavorwire compiled a "checklist of books every college-bound student should read before leaving home for the first time." 

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Icelandic novelist Sjón, author most recently of From the Mouth of the Whale, chose his top 10 island stories for the Guardian, noting: "Since humanity started enjoying its stories, the remote island has been a staple in every storyteller's bag of narrative tricks.... Being born and bred on a small island is being born and bred within most other people's literary metaphor." 

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Camille Paglia, Jamaica Kincaid and Salman Rushdie were among Flavorwire's "literary divas we can't help but love."


Book Review

Fiction

Among the Missing

by Morag Joss


"Of course I have wondered if you are dead, but you aren't. It isn't possible. I need you too much for you to be gone forever."

This all-too-human sentiment weaves together the lives of three otherwise unrelated characters in Morag Joss's (Half-Broken Things) most recent novel, Among the Missing. Joss explores the aftermath of a bridge collapse in a small tourist town in Scotland; with several people dead and still more unaccounted for, those left behind have to deal with a story that has pieces missing.

Each of Joss's three main characters brings a different perspective to the events surrounding the collapse. Silva, the one left behind, clings to the hope that her family is still alive; Annabel is one of the missing, a confused, lonely woman who has used the tragedy to start anew; and Ron, struggling to find direction for his life, who suddenly finds himself with a sense of purpose derived from the tragedy of the bridge victims.

The novel is slow but steady, a mystery that strolls through events rather than rushing them. It is this subtlety that makes the novel successful; though the collapse of the bridge is dramatic in its own right, it is what follows that allows Joss to delve into the very human side of grief and loss. Among the Missing achieves the remarkable feat of allowing us to know both what it is to be left behind and what it is to be the one leaving. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A steady, thoughtful novel exploring the suspense of missing persons and the consequences of tragedy.

Delacorte Press, $25, hardcover, 9780385342742

The Art of Forgetting

by Camille Noe Pagan


Camille Noe Pagán's engaging debut novel offers a vision of "what might have been" for timid Marissa Rogers. Marissa is an editor for Svelte, a women's health magazine, whose readers are, not surprisingly, more interested in celebrity diets than they are in health issues. At the beginning of the novel, Marissa's longtime friend Julia Ferrar--whose assertive nature has always complemented Marissa's diffidence--is hit by a car and suffers a traumatic brain injury that drastically modifies her personality. While some of the side effects Julia experiences--minor memory loss, a higher-pitched voice and a fixation on all things purple--are relatively innocuous, others churn up memories from Marissa's past that she would rather forget, including the ex-boyfriend she gave up at Julia's request.

Pagán's dialogue is punctuated with piquant wit and snappy pop culture references, resulting in an upbeat, inspirational novel that tackles the serious topic of traumatic brain injury with warmth and sincerity while avoiding preachiness. At the heart of Marissa's transformation is her evolution from reluctant volunteer for Take the Lead--an organization inspired by the real Girls on the Run--into a confident woman, grateful for the lessons she learns from the girls she is meant to be teaching. Marissa discovers she has the power to be the self-confident woman she once saw in her best friend. Fans of Elizabeth Berg are sure to enjoy this exciting new voice. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: A cathartic, thought-provoking story of unconditional friendship and the choices we make on the road to becoming who we're meant to be.

Dutton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780525952190

The Girl in the Garden

by Kamala Nair


While her lover sleeps, a young woman named Rakhee Singh slips off her engagement ring, leaves it on the nightstand and sets off from metro New York to India on a journey to reclaim her past and, she hopes, to rediscover herself.

The powerful first chapter that opens Kamala Nair's debut novel, The Girl in the Garden, encourages the reader to take up the narrator's cause as she travels eastward in the present and inward back through time. In this quietly told, incredibly gripping novel--narrated in one long flashback--we meet a series of fully drawn characters embroiled in domestic complications. Rahkee recalls the summer of her 10th year, when her emotionally troubled mother mysteriously whisks her daughter away from home and father in Plainfield, Minn., back to her ancestral village in India. Once there, Rakhee becomes acquainted with an unfamiliar culture and relatives she had never known, and discovers a walled garden hidden behind the family home. She and her young cousins are told the garden is off-limits--a rakshasi, or witch, is said to inhabit it.

This restriction piques Rakhee's interest; she decides to see for herself who or what resides in the thicket. It's not what she expected, of course. At the heart of the garden and the novel are family secrets. The hidden garden becomes a metaphor for what happens when we compartmentalize the sorrows and challenges of our lives and the consequences of hiding from the truth rather than facing it. These central issues ultimately force Rakhee to circle back to the present and reconcile her own life's contradictions. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A compelling saga of what happens when we try to hide the sorrows and challenges of our lives.

Grand Central, $24.99, hardcover, 9780446572682

The Little Women Letters

by Gabrielle Donnelly


Rummaging in her parents' London attic, Lulu Atwater stumbles onto an unexpected treasure: a stack of letters written by her great-great-grandmother, Josephine March--known more familiarly to readers as "Jo," the irrepressible heroine of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Lulu has always thought of Grandma Jo as dull and rigidly conservative, but the letters show her to be a different woman: a passionate writer, devoted to her family but also stubborn, outspoken and awkward, like Lulu herself. Struggling to find her place in the grown-up world, Lulu begins stealing up to the attic regularly, drawing comfort and inspiration from Grandma Jo's letters.

Author Gabrielle Donnelly (The Girl in the Photograph) captures Jo March's voice brilliantly, recounting scenes familiar to readers of Little Women (Beth's illness and death, Amy's European travels, Meg's domestic bliss) and adding a few new subplots. Her modern-day "little women"--Emma, calm and efficient; Sophie, blonde and dramatic; and Lulu, prickly but compassionate--reflect the March sisters' personalities and family dynamic while remaining distinct women.

As Lulu tries out various career paths, deals with difficult family secrets and even considers the possibility of love, she comes to appreciate the family that so often drives her crazy. The sisters' mixture of teasing banter, genuine affection and bursts of frustration will be familiar to any woman who has a sister. The Little Women Letters is a warm homage to Louisa May Alcott's famous family, but it's also a love letter to the ties that bind--and an encouragement to anyone who's ever wondered how to navigate adulthood without a road map. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A warmhearted tale of three English sisters descended from the March girls of Little Women, navigating their 20s with a little help from Grandma Jo.

Touchstone, $25, hardcover, 9781451617184

Mystery & Thriller

Fun & Games

by Duane Swierczynski


Duane Swierczynski's Fun & Games, the first in a trilogy, is aptly titled--like an amusement-park ride, it blows your hair back and leaves you gasping for more. What the title doesn't tell you is that the games being played are deadly, and the fun is had by stone-cold killers.

Protagonist Charlie Hardie is a professional house-sitter whose latest assignment is minding a film composer's lair in the Hollywood Hills. All he wants to do is spend the week on the couch drinking and watching DVDs. Instead, he finds drugged-up actress Lane Madden hiding in the house, yammering about how "they" are out to get her. Her claims are soon proven true, and Charlie gets caught up in her life-or-death struggle, trying to vanquish the ruthless people who are determined to trap and kill the two of them. Along the way, Charlie discovers why the killers are targeting Lane, a reason almost as terrible as his own secrets.

Charlie is the most entertaining protagonist I've met in a long time. He's a reluctant hero who fights back only when he's angered, like a sleeping bear who's been poked with a stick. Once on the warpath, though, there is no stopping him. Lane is a resilient yet vulnerable character whose life hasn't been made easier by her fame and beauty.

The pulp noir-ish story has more turns than the twisty L.A. canyon roads that provide its setting, and the pacing is as fast as a car careening down those same roads without brakes. Charlie Hardie is a winning protagonist I'll follow to Hell--Hell & Gone, that is, the next installment, coming this October. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, chief nerd and blogger at Pop Culture Nerd.

Discover: A twisty noir with a winning protagonist; explosively fun from beginning to end.

Mulholland Books, $14.99, trade paper, 9780316133289

Fallen

by Karin Slaughter


Karin Slaughter's latest work of suspense has all the elements her readers have come to expect: likable, well-developed characters; an array of strong women; fast-paced action; and surprising plot twists. This story of family relationships, with its underlying threads of romance, violence and taut suspense, will satisfy fans of Lisa Gardner or Lisa Scottoline as well as Slaughter's own.

When Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Faith Mitchell arrives at her mother's house to pick up her daughter, Emma, there's blood on the door, and the baby's been hidden in the shed. Retired Atlanta police captain Evelyn Mitchell is missing, but her house is not empty; Faith goes in with guns blazing, and the blood flows.

The clock ticks in the search for Evelyn as the case is further complicated by shifting suspicions and questioned loyalties. We share Faith's concern for her family and her need to be involved, despite a clear lack of professional detachment. Her partner, Will Trent, aches to help her, but his past investigation of her mother's unit compromises their relationship. Sara Linton, a local doctor with ties to law enforcement, struggles to balance her role in the case with a budding personal relationship with Will. Meanwhile, Amanda Wagner, Will's boss and Evelyn's best friend, might be playing both sides of the fence.

Slaughter weaves intense and unrelenting suspense while compelling readers to care about the very real and human characters involved, whose backgrounds and conflicting loyalties we sympathize with even as we see their flaws. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: Police corruption, gang violence, family ties and a nascent romance entangled in this breathless, emotional ride through Atlanta's underbelly.

Delacorte Press, $26, hardcover, 9780345528209

Nonfiction

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

by Dorothy Wickenden


The first years of the 20th century saw a U.S. frontier "settling up" at astonishing speed, with dugout homes and canvas-roofed log cabins hanging on alongside new hotels and ever-increasing railroad lines. It also brought a number of changes for women, with the suffrage movement in full swing and young ladies of means being urged to work for the social good before (or in addition to) arranging a "good" marriage.

Into this world came best friends and fellow Smith graduates Rosamond Underwood and Dorothy Woodruff, later grandmother of author Dorothy Wickenden (executive editor, the New Yorker). Bored with the endless round of tea parties, picnics and dances in New York but not yet ready to marry, Ros and Dorothy set out in 1916 to teach school in Elkhead, Colo., miles from the nearest town.

Nothing Daunted, based on the women's letters home during those nine months, is more than mere history. It's also an enthusiastic and clear-sighted look into the lives of two women who started teaching as an adventure and finished better than they began. To Dorothy and Ros, everything in Colorado was exciting, from the beautiful mountain views to the neck-deep winter snows and the knee-deep spring mud.

Although their tale could easily have become a stereotypical "rich woman's burden" story, Wickenden skillfully avoids this trope by focusing on the humanity of the settlers, the schoolchildren and her main characters. The result is an intimate and joyful work that captures the best spirit of the 1910s--and today. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia

Discover: A fresh and spirited history of two real-life "society girls" who thrived as schoolteachers on the Colorado frontier.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781439176580

French Cinema

by Charles Drazin


If you get up for a refrigerator break when they hand out the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, this book is not for you. French Cinema by Charles Drazin (In Search of the Third Man), arguing that French films are usually better than American ones, is for the true believer, she or he who says "oeuvre" as easily as "Godard."

The book is not a general introduction to French cinema, but a carefully researched and detailed argument that, in essence, defends the "art" of French movies against the crass commercialism of Hollywood (read: American) films. Drazin begins with the birth of film in France, with Georges Méliès and the Lumière brothers, and argues that ever since, the history of French cinema has been a distinguished one, while the history of American film has been about the search for huge audiences and revenue. While the French film exudes a "timeless" quality, the Hollywood blockbuster reeks of the "ephemeral."

Along the way, Drazin provides exceptional insights and pithy summaries about successful French directors (Duvivier, Renoir) who went to America only to find their artistic voices stifled; a fascinating analysis of how the famous Cahiers du Cinéma crowd elevated French cinema as "art" as it denigrated American film as "popular"; and gives interesting social and political reasons why a few French films (Amélie, A Man and a Woman) found success in American markets.

Drazin gets a bit too snobby at times, but his critiques are perceptive. French Cinema will be enjoyed by informed cinéastes who love to debate the nuances between "good" and "bad" movies. --Tom Lavoie

Discover: Why French films are better than American films.

Faber & Faber, $22, trade paper, 9780571211739

What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years

by Ricky Riccardi


There are two kinds of mid-century jazz fans: my father, who's all Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong--you know, dance and swing; and me, who's all Miles, Trane, maybe Oscar Peterson and even Bad Plus--the introspective artists of improvisation. His old guys were just entertainers who played their fans' favorites; my guys played the music for the music's sake and themselves. Wrong!

Ricky Riccardi (jazz pianist, graduate of Rutgers' famous Institute of Jazz Studies and currently archivist for the Louis Armstrong House collection of Satchmo's audio tapes) tackles my common misperception in his first book, What a Wonderful World. Drawing on a wealth of original papers and personal tapes of the writing-averse Armstrong, Riccardi colors in the second half of Pops' remarkable career, the half critics wrote off as his "Uncle Tom," clown years. Riccardi shows that Armstrong was a consummate musician to the end, one whose goal was to give fans the best music he could while taking no guff from people who made his and his fellow black Americans' lives difficult, at best.

Through countless references, conversations, anecdotes and taped private moments of anger and frustration, Riccardi brings to life a complex man who was a genius in many ways. He shows us an Armstrong whose goodwill and big pop-eyed smile brought his native New Orleans music to millions of fans throughout the world, earning him a comfortable living and paving the way for the often brooding, and reclusive Miles and Parker and Trane who created their own modern jazz followings. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The story of Satchmo's later years, which were much richer in music and creativity than some critics acknowledge.

Pantheon, $28.95, hardcover, 9780307378446

Children's & Young Adult

Flood and Fire

by Emily Diamand


Lilly, Lexy and Zeph, the irrepressible crew of Raider's Ransom, continue their struggle in the broken 23rd-century world that's left after an environmental and technological collapse. The swift-paced action begins where their debut adventure left off. Thirteen-year-old Lilly, primary user of possibly the world's last computer (the charmingly irritable PSAI), sets out to bring Lexy back to her father, England's prime minister. Zeph, now Boss of his marshland raider Family, is having trouble establishing his leadership. When the Family is threatened, Zeph must make a choice: betray Lilly or see his Family taken into slavery.

The trio who once traveled by sea now heads to London by land (in wind cars), where they hope to find Lexy's father and repair PSAI. Along the way, Lilly realizes, "They changed the land to fit the road!" She wonders about "them olden-times folks, who fought against their world even just to get about." Scenes such as this throughout the novel seamlessly deliver Diamand's environmental concerns. Eventually, all factions converge in a London that is in "a State of Violent Barbarism," according to the now-activated super computer. The English military, the raider Families and gigantic robotic spiders come together in a climactic clash. Lilly learns through her many losses that there is also an equal measure of gains. --Bette Wendell-Branco

Discover: A turbulent tale of loyalty set in an environmentally crippled world with moments of triumph for Zeph and Lilly.

Chicken House/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, ages 8-12, 9780545242684

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

by Dave Roman


Goofy comics abound for young kids and, in the adult section, Scott Pilgrim has conquered many hearts and minds, but it's been hard to find a title in the YA section that strikes that pitch-perfect balance of silly and serious. Astronaut Academy is here to change that.

Hakata used to be the leader of a team of superheroes, but now he's being forced to go to school like every other kid. The Astronaut Academy floats out in space and offers classes in fire throwing, "wearing cute hats" and advanced heart studies, but it turns out to be just like any other high school when it comes to unrequited crushes, boring classes and cliques. The plot starts with Hakata and loosely revolves around him (and his would-be robot assassin), but the heart of the book is in Roman's unveiling of the hero's classmates through a progression of short vignettes from many perspectives. Their friendships, rivalries and backstories are so well-written that the book feels twice its length. This combination of average high school drama with outer space superhero hijinx is potent and addictive, especially against the backdrop of Roman's art, which is definitely manga-inspired but has a life all its own.

It's a book that's got all the fun stuff--watches that stop time, a panda who teaches Spanish and, "randomly," a full panel of Tori Amos references--and all the good stuff, like love and friendship and learning what makes you happy, as well. --Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Discover: A great new graphic novel that teens (and not a few adults) who love Scott Pilgrim will devour.

First Second, $9.99, trade paper, 185p., ages 10-14, 9781596436206

Missing on Superstition Mountain

by Elise Broach, illus. by Antonio Javier Caparo


At the start of summer, it seems as though anything is possible. Elise Broach (whose Masterpiece won the 2009 E.B. White Read Aloud Award) affirms this sentiment through the experiences of the Barker boys--Simon, Henry and Jack--who have just moved with their parents to Superstition, Ariz. The small desert town lies in the shadow of a reportedly haunted mountain that's absolutely off-limits, though no one will explain why. When the brothers, who range in age from six to 11, follow their beloved cat up the mountainside during the first week of summer and discover three human skulls on a rocky ledge, they know they've got a mystery to solve.

A spine-tingling adventure unfolds over the course of swift-moving short chapters, enhanced by Caparo's engaging black-and-white illustrations throughout. The Barker brothers' personalities vary widely, which makes for humorous dialogue, and the addition of their plucky friend Delilah ensures that this title will appeal to boys and girls alike. Broach fills her page-turner with legends based partly on facts, according to her fascinating author's note. (She writes, "To call Superstition Mountain a land equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle does not seem a stretch.") This first book in a planned mystery series is the perfect antidote to those summer doldrums. --Molly McLeod

Discover: A fast-paced adventure in which three brothers and their neighbor Delilah explore the forbidden mountain near their new home in Superstition, Ariz.

Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt, $15.99, hardcover, ages 8-12, 9780805090475

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