Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 25, 2015


St. Martin's Press: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Arthur A. Levine Books: Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

'Look at This, It's Wonderful'

I'm not big on guilt reads ("You mean you've never read...?!"), but I do love being surprised by the occasional revelation that an extraordinary writer has been there all along and just escaped my attention. This happened recently as I was being captivated by an advance copy of the just published Latest Readings (Yale University Press) by Clive James, who is still writing brilliantly in the midst of his battle with terminal leukemia. "If you don't know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do," he observes.

In a chapter titled "Novels in Sequence," James touches upon Edward St. Aubyns, Anthony Powell, Marcel Proust, Evelyn Waugh, Paul Scott and Lawrence Durrell. But he saves his highest superlatives for Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant trilogies: "Beyond the scope of any camera, the writing gives us the rich depth of the exotic settings.... Manning is still not getting the attention she deserves. She deserves something better than mere fame. She needs her reputation raised to the level of unarguable fact."

Here's a confession: I'd never heard of Manning before James enlightened me, but since then I've already devoured The Great Fortune, Spoilt City and half of Friends and Heroes. The Levant Trilogy awaits.

James notes that "the two sequences, taken together, outstrip anything else on our list for the sense they convey that the author sees the world as it is, and as it is bound to become, tragic experience having planted itself so deeply in the texture of time. Her great creation leads from then to now, and makes now bearable."

In a "Coda," he suggests that a critic "should write to say, not 'look how much I've read,' but 'look at this, it's wonderful.' " I can think of no better advice to give for James's new book, as well as Manning's Balkan Trilogy. Look at these, they're wonderful. --Robert Gray, contributing editor


HarperOne: Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle


Book Candy

School Daze

That time of year: Bustle shared "11 back-to-school resolutions for readers to make, because you know practically all of your goals have to do with books."

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Flavorwire collected "the best books we were assigned in high school."

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Time machine: Quirk Books remembered "5 books on everyone's summer reading list in the '90s."

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"Dear mom, dad and teacher: This is why I read." Brightly noted that the Bookopolis Book Club's goal is "to read more--not because it's a chore or something to mark off on your reading log for the night--but because it's a fun thing to do."

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Buzzfeed noted "20 struggles of being friends with people who don't read."


Second Story Press: The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie


Great Reads

Now in Paper: August

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark (Back Bay, $15)
Stephan Eirik Clark's first novel is a satirical, darkly comic look at the artificial-flavoring industry and the ludicrous trials of an American family man at the center of it all. It riffs neatly on a national paranoia, but grains of truth act to ground Clark's elements of the ridiculous.

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (Penguin, $16)
When Dear Daughter begins, Janie is fresh out of prison after serving 10 years for the murder of her wealthy socialite mother, released on a tampered-DNA-evidence appeal. Although fuzzy about what happened the night of the crime, Janie is convinced of her innocence and determined to prove it.

Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb (Del Rey, $8.99)
Fans of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy can rejoice over this related series centered on FitzChivalry Farseer and his elusive mentor, the Fool. Filled with rich details of manor life and herbal lore, coupled with powerful magic, new characters and old friends, Fitz's escapades will resonate deeply with readers already acquainted with the assassin.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (Minotaur, $15.99)
Armand Gamache, former chief inspector of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, has retired. Scarred (both emotionally and physically) by the past, Gamache is hoping for peaceful days with his wife, Reine-Marie, in the tiny village of Three Pines. But Clara Morrow, close friend of the Gamaches, is agonizing over her missing husband, Peter. 

Lock In by John Scalzi (Tor, $8.99)
Haden's syndrome results from a common virus that can, in 1% of the cases, "lock in" its victims, leaving them conscious and aware in a body that can no longer move or respond at all. John Scalzi again proves his facility with both world building and character, this time in a near-future tale heavily influenced by police-procedural fiction and speculation into human-computer interface technology.

Nonfiction

Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician by Sandeep Jauhar (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15)
Doctored is Sandeep Jauhar's story of his first five years of practice as a cardiologist at a large teaching hospital. In precise, observant writing, Jauhar offers an unsettling portrait of the state of American medicine today, with many vivid accounts of encounters with patients and colleagues, illustrating the high-stakes ethical and professional decisions physicians face daily.

Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country Vet by Jan Pol and David Fisher (Gotham, $17)
Fans of Nat Geo Wild's reality show The Incredible Dr. Pol will immediately recognize the septuagenarian vet's droll wit and matter-of-fact approach in Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow. Grittier than James Herriot, this no-nonsense doctor fills his memoir with his distinct, offbeat perspective on life.

Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad by Brian A. Catlos (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16)
Religious historian Brian A. Catlos addresses the shifting political, economic and religious alliances of the Mediterranean world from 1050 to 1200. Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors is a fascinating and complex account of diversity, collaboration and conflict in the period when medieval Christianity met the Islamic golden age.

Let the Tornado Come by Rita Zoey Chin (Simon & Schuster, $15.99)
Rita Zoey Chin's beautifully written memoir recounts her childhood as an abused runaway and her troubled adult life on the streets. Still, she managed to overcome her past, earn a degree, and become a wife and successful poet. But debilitating panic attacks threatened to upset all she'd achieved, until she met a horse named Claret who helped her to heal.

Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond (Melville House, $15.95)
Those who don't care for the U.S.'s favorite fall sport might be inclined to pick up Steve Almond's Against Football, looking for validation of their position. Those who love the sport may be drawn in by its subtitle, One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto, for similar reasons. Almond's power lies in his ability to speak to both readers.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn (Penguin, $16)
The youngest of five children, Kathleen Flinn grew up in a world of weekend hunting trips, summer fishing vacations and cinnamon rolls for birthday breakfasts. In her third memoir, she tells her family's story through food, from her great-grandmother Anna's hearty Swedish recipes to her uncle Clarence's cornflake-crusted fried chicken.


Titan Books: The Killing Bay (Faroes #2) by Chris Ould


Book Review

Fiction

The Investigation

by J.M. Lee, trans. by Chi-Young Kim


Korean author J.M. Lee's first U.S. publication is a deeply touching tribute to the power of art. The Investigation, inspired by a true story, centers on the narrator's probe into the murder of a fellow guard at Japan's Fukuoka Prison during World War II.

Sugiyama Dozan, a veteran of the Kwantung Army, patrols Ward Three with an iron fist--and a wooden club--instilling fear in the Korean prisoners housed there. He also serves as the censor. "Sugiyama considered this silent war in his quiet office the most valuable of them all. Books and records marched forward like enemy soldiers, and within them he found the enemy that gnawed through our healthy empire like a swarm of moths."

When Sugiyama is found hanging naked with a steel stake through his heart, young guard Watanabe Yuichi is assigned the investigation as well as Sugiyama's censoring duties. Through a combination of these tasks, Watanabe uncovers a poet, a pianist, a young kite-flyer and a silent hero, each creating hope and beauty in a devastating war.

With stunning language--enhanced by an insightful translation, painfully resonant characters and heart-pounding suspense--Lee crafts a gripping, complex account of literature's ability to transform and unite those it touches, even in the darkest of times. His story pays homage to Korean history, but his characters, their experiences and emotions are universal.

Sculpted from grotesque circumstances, The Investigation is a marvelous work of art. This is a book to savor from beginning to end. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: In a story set in a World War II Japanese prison, the author crafts a gripping, complex account of literature's ability to transform and unite those it touches.

Pegasus Books, $24.95, hardcover, 9781605988467

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Burning World by Isaac Marion


The State We're In: Maine Stories

by Ann Beattie


Ann Beattie's sparkling collection The State We're In: Maine Stories contains a story entitled "Yancey," after the narrator's dog. An IRS man visits, inquiring about the narrator's writing room--is it a valid tax deduction? In their exchange, he asks the woman for a poetry recommendation, and she responds by reciting her favorite James Wright poem, "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota." In it, Wright reflects upon what's around him: a butterfly, the sound of cowbells, the droppings of last year's horses. As the evening comes a chicken hawk floats over, looking for a home. His last line is, "I have wasted my life."

Beattie hasn't wasted her life writing stories. This elegiac story gives us a hint about what's important to her in narratives. The 15 entries in this collection primarily feature women and are set in Maine. From story to story, characters are introduced, disappear and then pop up again. Readers start to become familiar with them, comfortable. "The Fledging" is a short, delicate piece about a woman trying to help a baby bird. In "The Little Hutchinsons" a wedding is ruined by the groom falling off a cliff and injuring himself. "The Stroke" is about an elderly couple "who love to bitch at each other" complaining about their kids.

In the end, these carefully drawn, minutely illustrated portraits of women--and men--depict slices of life in all its complexity. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: One of the country's finest short story writers offers up a group of linked tales all set in Maine and focusing on women.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781501107818

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

by Helen Phillips


It's every Millennial's nightmare: newly married, no employment available at home, you move to the city and live in meagerly furnished sublets, repeatedly applying for entry-level admin jobs. Such is the fate of Josephine and Joseph in Helen Phillips's first novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat. Sitting across the desk from a "faceless" interviewer whose "skin bore the same grayish tint as the wall behind... [and] the genderless gray suit," Josephine begins a vaguely defined data-entry job at a massive building labeled with an A superimposed over a Z. When Joseph also finds a low-level clerical job, they convince themselves that they can get by with candle-lit take-out dinners and young lovers' optimism. They toast their good fortune with chipped coffee mugs: "To bureaucrats with boring office jobs." Then matters devolve.

Precisely and concisely, Phillips (And Yet They Were Happy) chronicles the mind-numbing drudgery of Josephine's daily processing of files: "Her forearms ached, her jaw was permanently clenched, her eyes felt dusty. Yet she did what she had to do." She interacts only with a nameless superior she calls "The Person with Bad Breath" and ditsy employee Trishiffany (parents couldn't decide between Trisha or Tiffany) from the Department of Processing Errors who, ominously, knows everything about Josephine's personal life. An urban thriller mash-up of Kafka and the SyFy channel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a frightening look at paranoia and dehumanizing work. Thankfully, Phillips tempers this bleakness with the youthful confidence of Joseph and Josephine, who still find an occasional "pocket of cheerfulness... [and] newfound gratitude." All is not yet lost. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A frightening but hopeful novel of a young couple living lean in the city and working mindless bureaucratic jobs.

Holt, $25, hardcover, 9781627793766

A Window Opens

by Elisabeth Egan


Glamour magazine books editor Elisabeth Egan has recommended great reads for years. With A Window Opens, Egan is now sure to become a highly recommended author in her own right.

Alice Pearse has three beautiful children, a sexy husband, a sweet but neurotic family dog and a fulfilling part-time job as an editor at You, a women's magazine. Life is comfortable, sweet and safe. Then her husband, Nicholas, learns his law firm has no intention of offering him a partnership and decides to hang his own shingle. Panicked at the loss of Nick's income and the cost of starting an independent practice, Alice realizes she must quit You and find a full-time job.

After a few dead-end leads, Alice lands a position as a content manager at a hot new startup called Scroll. A subsidiary of giant retail corporation MainStreet, Scroll plans to "reinvent the bookstore experience" by offering physical stores where customers will browse e-books instead of hardbacks, lured in by the promise of cushy reading lounges complete with leather armchairs and foot massages.

Egan offers a gentle but telling look at a time when having it all often means doing too much, and crossing the line between working mother and overworking mother is all too easy. She has given readers a heroine who could be anyone's best friend as well as written a first-rate satire of big retail's attempt to roll books into the pervasive one-stop shopping, one-size-fits-all mentality. Alice's open window will give readers a breath of fresh air. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A deliciously smart and open-hearted first novel about staying true to yourself.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781501105432

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The End of All Things

by John Scalzi


The End of All Things is the sixth entry in John Scalzi's acclaimed Old Man's War series. Originally published as four novellas in e-book form, The End of All Things expands Scalzi's science fiction universe in a way that will satisfy fans while remaining approachable for new readers. The new print installment centers chiefly on its protagonists' struggle to protect the fragile peace established in the previous books between the human-run Colonial Union and the Conclave--best thought of as a more effective but divisive United Nations, with alien species substituting for nation-states. A group known as Equilibrium has set out to disrupt both the Colonial Union and the Conclave by pitting them against each other.

The End of All Things breaks no new ground for the series, nor does it do much to push past traditional science fiction tropes. However, the novel stands out thanks to Scalzi's likable characters and hilarious, whip-smart dialogue. A little like a space-bound Aaron Sorkin, Scalzi gets tremendous mileage out of having humans and aliens cleverly jaw at each other about complex, but accessible, political dilemmas. The Old Man's War series has been presented as military science fiction in the tradition of Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman, but Scalzi prefers a middle ground between the bone-weary pacifism of the latter and the militant philosophizing of the former. More importantly, Scalzi emphasizes fun over lectures, and consequently The End of All Things is best enjoyed as another breezy read in a much-loved series. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: A fun and funny approach to traditional intergalactic intrigue.

Tor, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765376077

Biography & Memoir

Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act

by Barry Yourgrau


"My rubble and junk filled me with corrosive dismay; but I couldn't bring myself, couldn't bear, to make changes to them. I had boundary issues--with everything, material and emotional." Writer and performer Barry Yourgrau (Haunted Traveller) is the titular mess; his living space is only his worst symptom. Motivated by his girlfriend's ultimatum, he begins what would become a two-year project to clean out his apartment and write about the experience.

In his transient childhood, dominated by his anxious, narcissistic father, Yourgrau became possessive and private about his inner life and his material belongings. Later, he infused memorabilia with intense emotions. And like so many people, he kept junk because it "might still be useful someday... you never knew" or "it might be fixable--you never knew."

Mess is not a self-help book, but those who struggle with extreme clutter or know someone who does are likely to find fresh insights here. Yourgrau tries on most of the theories and treatments available. He interviews experts, researches hoarders, clutterers and collectors, and makes lively characters out of everyone in his life, approaching them and himself with fondness and keen perception. His prose can be awkward at times ("I chew on my porky baguette and his words."), but his blustering charm, self-awareness, anxieties and dramatizing, his many colorful stories and his gradual, jittering progress, make for a funny, affecting and mildly suspenseful read. In the end there is no miraculous transformation--Yourgrau cleans up his life while remaining very much himself. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A writer's amusing and perceptive memoir about his two-year project to understand and get control of his clutter.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393241778

The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream

by Katharine Norbury


In The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream, a memoir of two concurrent paths, Katharine Norbury aims to find a river's source and to discover her own. She is mourning a recent miscarriage and the loss of her father, taking solace with her mother and her daughter, Evie. Norbury was adopted, and all she knows of the woman who abandoned her at a convent is a name. Neil M. Gunn's novel The Well at the World's End inspires her to walk a waterway from the sea to the source, as does Gunn's protagonist. But Norbury's journey is clearly also metaphorical, a search for herself and her roots.

The route she chooses is not specific: with Evie, she walks parts of several waterways, eventually setting more precise goals along the way, and reaching for Gunn's work when her plans falter. Her expedition to find her biological family proves to be more challenging, intersecting her pathway upriver, from the location she has discovered is her birthplace.

Norbury's seeking is set in Britain, and The Fish Ladder doubles as an amateur naturalist study of the country's flora and fauna. She shares her insecurities and questions alongside Celtic folk tales about salmon traveling upriver to the places of their birth. Her story wanders, but in the end makes emotional and profound ventures into landscape, the importance of place and the very real connections between physical and interior voyages. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A pensive, meandering memoir of searching--for the source of both a river and the author's life.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620409954

History

Katrina: After the Flood

by Gary Rivlin


On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore through the South, breaking the levees built to protect New Orleans, and leaving 80% of the city underwater. In Katrina: After the Flood, Gary Rivlin (Broke, USA) writes a riveting account of the disastrous results of the storm, starting from the preliminary evacuations to the present day. He investigates the key players in city government who were involved in the clean-up process, and interviews ordinary people whose homes and businesses were destroyed by the flooding, requiring them to relocate to other cities and find new jobs.

Rivlin describes in great detail the destruction Katrina left behind: experts figured that 250 billion gallons of water covered the city and "created an estimated 50 million cubic yards of storm-related debris"; one-quarter of New Orleans's police cars, 200 city transit buses, more than half its fire engines and a significant number of ambulances were destroyed, all of which thwarted rescue efforts. Rivlin shows that efforts to aid those desperate for help were hindered by racial prejudices in the region, with white politicians giving little thought to the black communities destroyed by Katrina. He skillfully blends personal comments with investigative journalism, presenting readers with a well-rounded view of the social, economic and emotional impact the storm had on hundreds of thousands, in the first days after the hurricane and over the ensuing decade. In the end, Rivlin advocates for radically different practices to be instituted long before a new storm arrives. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The multi-faceted story of one of the most devastating storms to hit the United States.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 9781451692228

Social Science

Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal

by Wendy S. Walters


"The border between nonfiction and fiction," writes poet Wendy S. Walters in her introduction, "is often porous enough to render the distinction irrelevant." The short pieces collected in Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal reflect this belief, moving fluidly between nonfiction (personal essays and reporting pieces) and fiction (short stories and fables), with a few lyrical essays that blend the two.

This combination of the real and imagined forces readers to consider carefully each and every new idea that Walters presents. In "Manhattanville," some of Walters's recollections of her life in the Bronx will leave readers longing to believe the story is fiction. In "Norway," Walters imagines a futuristic takeover of Norway by exiled black Americans, and aspects of the make-believe story serve as a cautionary tale for the status of race relations in the United States. The full scope of Walters's creativity is on display in "Post-Logical Notes on Self Reflection," which takes a series of facts and figures from across the states, and combines them with personal thoughts and reflections, to ask questions about where the U.S. is as a country today, and where it is going in the future.

Piece by piece, Walters (Troy, Michigan and Longer I Wait, More You Love Me) explores the psyche of place and culture in the U.S., including insightful and powerful reflections on how race plays into both. As the subtitle suggests, the works in Multiply/Divide span the real and the surreal, with prose that is sometimes strange and convoluted, and sometimes straightforward and concise--and always powerful and thought provoking. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A collection of short fiction and nonfiction that explores the psyche of place and culture in the United States.

Sarabande Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781941411049

Nature & Environment

The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future

by David R. Boyd


Environmental attorney David Boyd doesn't believe the enduring myth that environmental protection and economic well-being are mutually exclusive, and provides a bounty of evidence from around the world to support his perspective. Boyd begins and ends with what interests even the most calloused: whales, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other species once thought nearly extinct that have rebounded as a result of changes in environmental policy, as well as species that have survived terrible damage to their ecosystem, like sea otters and sockeye salmon.

While the thought of animals thriving is heartwarming, Boyd reassures even hardened pessimists that the environmental impact of renewable energy, electric transportation, cradle-to-cradle products, organic agriculture and circular economies is also profitable. Throughout the world, even less-developed countries are finding ways to shrink their global footprint, while Scandinavian countries are continually searching for ways to improve their already impressive efforts toward minimizing their impact on the earth.

Boyd is convinced that a shift from a consumer-based, stuff-obsessed society toward one that values experiences like spending time outside with friends and family is well underway. He includes many ways to promote environmentally responsible lifestyles: sharing goods and services, supporting institutions committed to green ideals, traveling emissions-free, building sustainable structures and eating less (or no) meat, to name a few. The more "ecologically literate" we become, and the more we understand our interdependence on natural systems for basic needs--air, water, food, medicine, shelter--the less we will underestimate our individual role and impact. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: How countries around the globe are embracing ecologically sustainable practices--and thriving economically.

ECW Press, $17.95, paperback, 9781770412385

Children's & Young Adult

Sunny Side Up

by Jennifer L. Holm, illus. by Matthew Holm


Brother-and-sister team Matthew and Jennifer L. Holm (Squish, Babymouse) reach an older audience with Sunny Side Up, an entertaining, bittersweet graphic novel in which 10-year-old Sunny Lewin is shipped off to her grandfather in Florida when her troubled teen brother, Dale, derails the family's planned beach vacation.

Inky lines awash in flamingo pinks and blues set the scene. It's August of 1976, and Sunny's looking for Gramps, due to pick her up at the West Palm Beach airport. As they drive into Pine Palms, a retirement community, Sunny wonders if there are any kids there. " 'Fraid not. No kids. Or pets," chuckles Gramps. Every day Gramps proclaims, "I have BIG PLANS for today!" and it isn't long before Sunny realizes that means not Disney World, but waiting in line at the post office. Enter the groundskeeper's son Buzz! Buzz introduces Sunny to the world of comic-book superheroes and, happily, is game for any adventure, be it rounding up lost cats or hunting for golf balls in alligator-infested waters. As Sunny's thoughts circle back to her brother (who she starts to imagine as the out-of-control Hulk), readers follow her back in time to Pennsylvania to replay scenes of Dale's drinking and drug use that add up to a sobering picture of his downward spiral.

The Holms tell this poignant, multi-threaded story with great warmth and humor, and exquisite comic timing. Of all the superheroes, Sunny ends up liking Swamp Thing the best, because of "no disguises or secrets." As Gramps bids his granddaughter goodbye, he tells her to keep her "sunny side up," and it seems that she just might manage it. --Karin Snelson, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A graphic novel set in 1970s Florida about adapting, addiction (and an alligator!), from the brother-and-sister team behind Babymouse and Squish.

Graphix, $23.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9780545741651; $12.99 paperback 9780545741668

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon: Tales from Deckawoo Drive

by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen


Francine Poulet is an endearing, just-tough-enough grown-up character who springs from the Mercy Watson chapter-book series by two-time Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux, Flora & Ulysses). In Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, the second early chapter book in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series, the renowned animal control officer confirms that her confidence can be shaken but not stirred.

Francine Poulet is "the Gizzford County record holder for most animals controlled," whether bear, snake, bat or fish. So when she gets a call from Mrs. Bissinger on Fleeker Street about a shimmery "ghost raccoon," Francine responds authoritatively: "There are no ghosts. And there are no ghosts of raccoons." Her dear, departed father, Clement Poulet, had always told her, "Franny, you are the genuine article. You are solid. You are certain. You are like a refrigerator. You hum." But when Officer Poulet is atop Mrs. Bissinger's steep roof, nose to nose with the ghost raccoon screeching, "Frannnnnnnnnyyyyyyyyyy!" she is neither solid nor certain. She is terrified for the first time in her life. Francine, ashamed, resigns from her position, and it's not until a boy named Frank (who appreciates the fine points of animal control) convinces her to believe in herself again that she does.

DiCamillo's quick, dryly hilarious dialogue makes this over-the-top story shine, as does the tender subplot about Francine's father, who still roots for her from the great beyond. Chris Van Dusen's comical caricatures of Officer Poulet, the ridiculously bejeweled Mrs. Bissinger and that crazy ghost raccoon make the whole book hum. --Karin Snelson, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo's charming early chapter book about an animal control officer who will not let that shimmery ghost raccoon get the better of her.

Candlewick, $12.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 6-9, 9780763668860

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