Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 12, 2016


ReedPop: BookCon Tickets & Information

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Yen Press: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Remember to Hang by Your Thumbs

We've lost a legendary humorist: Bob Elliott has died at the age of 92. He and Ray Goulding worked in radio, on television and on Broadway. The New York Times noted that their deadpan, sometimes surreal, humor made them "godfathers of a wide swath of alternative comedy," from Second City Television and Saturday Night Live to the Daily Show. They were also authors, and Putnam editor-in-chief Neil Nyren wrote a remembrance of his time working with Bob and Ray:

Ray Goulding (l.) and Bob Elliott

"I was lucky enough to have done three books with them. In fact, they were my lucky charm. In my first editorial job, at Random House in 1976, it was Write if You Get Work: The Best of Bob & Ray. When I moved to Atheneum, they came, too, for From Approximately Coast to Coast... It's the Bob and Ray Show. And when I came to Putnam in 1984, I made two deals my first week, the first with Charles Kuralt, the second on The New! Improved! Bob & Ray Book. To judge who their fans were, here's who wrote the forewords: Kurt Vonnegut, Andy Rooney, Garrison Keillor.

"Each book was in the form of a radio show--a hello from the two of them; a series of their best sketches, interrupted by commercials both real and fake; and ending with their signoff: 'This is Ray Goulding saying... Write if you get work. And Bob Elliott reminding you to hang by your thumbs.'

Neil Nyren

"We put these books together in their little office in the Graybar Building in New York City. No jokes--comedy was serious business, though sometimes they couldn't help it: a routine broke out spontaneously. Remarkably, everything they'd performed on the air, all those flights of fancy, worked just as beautifully on paper. I'm thumbing through their books now, laughing myself silly. But there's more to it than just laughter.

"Vonnegut said it best in the first book's foreword: 'There is a refreshing and beautiful innocence in Bob and Ray's humor. Man is not evil, they seem to say. He is simply too hilariously stupid to survive.' And this I believe. Cheers.' "

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Weinstein Books: A Speck in the Sea: A Story of Survival and Rescue by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski


Book Candy

Valentine's Day and Books!

Bustle recommended "9 date ideas for book-lover couples this Valentine's Day" and the "10 best first dates in literature." If things go really well this weekend, you might even want to check out Loverly's "15 book wedding ideas for literary lovers."

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On the other hand, "the 5 stages of realizing your lover is not a book lover" were chronicled by Lit Reactor. And Quirk Books warned of "literary lovers to avoid this Valentine's Day." Author Susie Steiner recommended the "top 10 books for the broken-hearted" in the Guardian.

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Offering "a literary twist to your Valentine's consumerism," the Guardian featured "the best romantic bookish gifts--in pictures."

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Holiday infographic: Unplag charted "famous love stories endings: the great spoiler for Valentine's Day"

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For kids: "Spread the love: Valentine's Day printables and activities" were shared by Brightly.


Thomas Nelson: A Stranger at Fellsworth (Treasures of Surrey) by Sarah E. Ladd


Great Reads

Rediscover: Abraham Lincoln

Carl Sandburg's monumental biography of Abraham Lincoln was originally published in six volumes. The first book, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926) was two volumes; the second, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (Harcourt, Brace, 1939) was four volumes, and won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History. (Sandburg also won two Pulitzers for his poetry.) An abridged single volume, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years, came out in 1954 and was last reprinted by Mariner in 2002 ($26, 9780156027526). Sandburg's book also inspired a Pulitzer-winning play, Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938), which was adapted into a film in 1940, and a six-part miniseries starring Hal Holbrook called Lincoln (1974-1976).

Sandburg (1878-1967) brought his poetic eye to Lincoln's life both in his quality of prose and emotional embellishment. Modern Lincoln scholars have criticized Sandburg's dubious use of source material and lack of original research. However, Penelope Niven, Sandburg's biographer, called Abraham Lincoln "a vast, epic prose poem, with Lincoln the central figure in the volatile pageant of nineteenth-century American life." It is also the forefather of the many Lincoln books still published every year. Lincoln's birthday today, February 12, and Presidents Day, on Monday, February 15, are excellent occasions to revisit Sandburg's groundbreaking epic. --Tobias Mutter


New Press: Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn


The Writer's Life

Gene Luen Yang: Taking Comics on the Road

Artist and author Gene Luen Yang has a habit of breaking new ground. His debut graphic novel, American Born Chinese (First Second), was a National Book Award finalist in 2006 and the first graphic novel to win the Michael L. Printz Award. In 2013, Boxers and Saints (First Second), a "graphic diptych" about China's Boxer Rebellion, was an NBA finalist, too. Now, as of January 7, 2016, Yang is the first graphic novelist to represent the entire children's and young adult industry as the National Ambassador for Young People's LiteratureKate DiCamillo passed the torch to him with these words: "Gene Yang is a talented writer. He is a brilliant artist. His stories are thought-provoking, genre-bending, utterly original examinations of the human heart. In short, Gene Yang is a Renaissance man.... No one is better suited for bringing us all together." Here, for Shelf Awareness, Yang answers a few questions about the mighty rise of graphic novels and his exciting new role.

You've really made a difference in how the world sees graphic novels. What is your perspective on the remarkable evolution of this format?

It's astounding, really. I started in comics in the mid-'90s, and if you'd told me then that we'd be here today, I wouldn't have believed you. Graphic novels have earned Newbery Honors two years in a row! Cece Bell's El Deafo (Abrams) broke new ground last year, and this year Victoria Jamieson's Roller Girl (Dial) proved that we're here to stay. Multiple graphic novels have been nominated for the National Book Awards now, and not just in the Young People's Literature category.

Even more importantly, librarians, teachers and parents are recognizing the value of graphic novels. They're being used in classrooms, and not just with reluctant readers. At every level, graphic novels are being accepted as a part of the literary landscape. Absolutely astounding.

Do you think the upcoming generations, awash in screen time, are more visual in general?

I'm not sure, to be honest. I haven't seen the data. But there's no denying that we are multimedia now. We're used to seeing documents that use multiple types of media, all sitting side by side, to convey information. The lines between the various forms of media are blurring.

If someone told you he or she had never read a graphic novel, which titles would you recommend to the neophyte?

For our youngest readers, I'd recommend Long Tail Kitty (Blue Apple) by Lark Pien. It's a beautiful collection of short stories about friends hanging out. Also, anything put out by Toon Books.

For middle grade, I'd recommend anything by Raina Telgemeier. Just pick one. Zita the Spacegirl (First Second) by Ben Hatke is another wonderful choice.

For high school kids, Blankets (IDW) by Craig Thompson. This One Summer (First Second) by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.

And for adults, Maus by Art Spiegelman. Maus converted my wife into a graphic novel reader.

For the next two years, you'll be traveling the country talking to readers of all ages about your platform, "Reading Without Walls." How would you explain your mission?

Reading Without Walls encourages kids to explore the world through books. We want to challenge kids to read outside their comfort zones in three very specific ways. First, read a book about someone who doesn't look like you or live like you. Second, read a book about a topic that you find intimidating. Third, read a book in a format you've never tried before: a graphic novel, a prose novel, a novel in verse or a hybrid novel.

You taught high school for 17 years--do you feel that this new appointment puts you back in the classroom in a sense?

Absolutely. I'm really excited about this. I left my teaching gig last June, and it was rough. It felt like I was breaking up with someone. I lost sleep. I couldn't eat. I missed my classroom. In a way, this appointment fills that empty space. It gives me a classroom of sorts.

Do you think you'll have time to create more new books while you're out on the road? What are you working on now?

Well, I travel a decent amount already. I don't anticipate traveling more. My events will just be different. Instead of talking exclusively about my books, I'll get to talk about BOOKS. I've already learned to write on the plane and in hotel rooms.

Right now, I'm writing more Superman and more Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'm working on the next volumes of Secret Coders (First Second). I'm also working on my next big book, which I'll be both writing and drawing. It will be about basketball.

What do your kids think about all this?

They think it's nice. I have to tell you, it's very hard to impress kids that you see on a daily basis. It's easier for me to impress my kids' friends. They all think the ambassadorship is awesome. My own kids just think it's nice.

In a Shelf Awareness Book Brahmin in 2014, when asked to list your top five authors, you replied, "Is it okay that they're mostly cartoonists? Osamu Tezuka, Art Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, Lloyd Alexander, Shusaku Endo." Anyone you've added to your top author list since then?

Oh, for sure. I have a deep admiration for Gary Schmidt, both as a person and as an author. I just finished Laura Ruby's Printz-winning Bone Gap (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins) and it was astounding. G. Willow Wilson is schooling the world on how to write YA superheroes right now.

I also finished Plutoby Naoki Urasawa. He will. Blow. Your. Mind.

Anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?

Books are awesome and so are you.

--Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

HarperCollins: Celebrating 200 Years of Great Books


Book Review

Fiction

The Vegetarian

by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith


Yeong-hye was an ordinary woman--a trait her husband appreciated--until she made the shocking decision to become a vegetarian. In South Korea, this is unusual and socially scandalous; her family reacts by railing and trying to force her to eat meat. "I had a dream," is all she says in explanation. Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian recounts Yeong-hye's choice and its consequences.

Three sections tell the story from different perspectives: Yeong-hye's disgusted and frustrated husband; her brother-in-law, a video artist whose work and every thought become fixated on Yeong-hye and her "vegetal" nature; and finally, her older sister, in the late stages of the extreme situation brought about by a seemingly simple decision. Their different relationships to the protagonist reveal more of her personality, but they cannot understand her. Vegetarianism is only one stage in Yeong-hye's extreme plan for metamorphosis, as it turns out. As her story unfolds, this single decision brings increasing disgrace, violence and subversion, and her limited control over her own life diminishes.

This is a dreamy story with depth and mystery, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith with nuance and a tone of growing wonderment. Yeong-hye is a confounding and almost mystical character, never seen through her own point of view. In the end, The Vegetarian asks questions about mental illness and the significance of personal choice. Yeong-hye's story is disquieting, thought-provoking and precisely formed. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A South Korean woman's decision to become a vegetarian has surprising and memorable consequences.

Hogarth, $21, hardcover, 9780553448184

Harper: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton


Lost Words

by Nicola Gardini, trans. by Michael F. Moore


Told from the perspective of 13-year-old Chino, Lost Words is a tribute to language and its ability to transcend the differences that sometimes cut people off from one another. At the same time, it's tragic and hopeful, inspiring and heartbreaking.

Chino is the son of Elvira, doorwoman at the working-class apartment complex Via Icaro 15 in Milan, Italy. Elvira has been saving up to purchase a one-bedroom unit in her building. She views this as her opportunity to rise in status, to be an equal with the people she serves and not-so-silently despises. The building's tenants bicker, gossip and behave in petty ways toward one another, behavior that their children are imitating. Chino quietly observes this hostile environment, until Amelia Lynd takes up residence on the fifth floor.

While the rest of the building views Amelia as an oddball because she politely refuses their offers of hospitality, Chino discovers an amazing new world through this eccentric, elderly British woman who daily invites him to tea and introduces him to language and literature. The cramped little corner Chino has lived in all his life expands exponentially through his interactions with Amelia, until she abruptly cuts off their regular lessons, leaving Chino feeling abandoned and confused.

Nicola Gardini's first work translated into English delves into the culture of 1970s Italy, but his themes are timeless and will resonate with readers around the globe. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: With literature and language, a new resident opens up the world to a boy in a dreary, constrained Italian apartment complex.

New Directions, $14.95, paperback, 9780811224765

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Deadly Game  (Robert Finlay #2) by Matt Johnson


The Loss of All Lost Things

by Amina Gautier


Amina Gautier (At-Risk) is the consummate short story writer. While not expressly a collection of "linked" stories, The Loss of All Lost Things collects pieces that focus on characters whose lives have been upended in some way by loss. They lose their spouses and children, their confidence, their dreams, their careers. In the title story, a couple's oldest son has been abducted and his mother sits alone in his bedroom where "she is free to count her [life's] losses.... Each loss is a reprimand, a reminder of her helplessness; each loss is a disorienting thing... its own little death."

An Afro-Puerto Rican and native New Yorker with degrees from Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, Gautier fills her stories with multi-racial academics, parents, single moms, grad students, administrators and small children. Whether navigating life in big cities or small towns (including a prep school in Massachusetts "where the towns were named for fields: Northfield, Greenfield, Springfield, Deerfield"), they must struggle to overcome their losses. Silence and brevity is often the language of couples who can't speak of their rift, like the academic husband in "Resident Lover" who reacts to a written goodbye from his wife: "She was declaring her separation from him.... She wanted nothing from him. She did not love him anymore. He didn't write back."

Quiet, subtle, observant--the stories of The Loss of All Lost Things are pictures of sadness that enrich an understanding of separation and despair. One after another they do what short fiction does so well: capture a character, scene or place that together are much bigger than they seem. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Amina Gautier's third collection of stories focuses on the debilitating effects of separation and loss.

Elixir Press, $19, paperback, 9781932418569

Forsaken

by Ross Howell Jr.


In 1912, a young black housemaid named Virginia Christian was arrested, accused of the brutal murder of her white employer. Ida Belote's body was found in the back corner of her home, beaten and in a pool of blood, a rag forced down her throat, presumably to muffle screams. Narrator Charlie Mears, a young reporter for the Hampton Times-Herald, is the only one who seems interested in the girl's side of the story. He visits her in jail, examines the crime scene and speaks with eyewitnesses as they wait for the trial to begin.

The miscarriage of justice is rushed by local authorities, who want to avoid a race riot and possible lynching. In this short time, tensions run high as Charlie does his best to document Virgie's story before the verdict is handed down. What follows is a tragic episode nearly forgotten to history. Then Virgie is convicted in just 30 minutes by an all-white, all-male jury and sentenced to die in the electric chair. To date, she is the only adolescent female ever executed by the state of Virginia.

Ross Howell Jr. skillfully weaves a tapestry of real news articles, court records, letters and other historical documents throughout his fictionalized account of Virgie's trial. He draws from the scarce historical record--composed of only a few newspaper pieces, eyewitness testimony, police reports and transcripts--to bring to vibrant life Virgie, Charlie Mears and the cruelty of Jim Crow in Virginia. --Jarret Middleton

Discover: This powerful work of historical fiction follows the trial of an adolescent black housemaid for the murder of her white employer in the Jim Crow South.

NewSouth, $27.95, hardcover, 9781588383174

The Big Rewind

by Libby Cudmore


The hub of Libby Cudmore's debut hipster crime novel, The Big Rewind (wink to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep), is a mixtape misdelivered to her protagonist, Jett Bennett. Jett is a temp proofreader for a private investigator and a freelance music reviewer living in a rent-stabilized Brooklyn apartment "just east of Williamsburg and, judging by how people dressed, slightly beyond Thunderdome." When she attempts to give the tape to its rightful recipient, she finds her neighbor KitKat bludgeoned to death by a rolling pin in her kitchen (another wink, this time to Clue). In her "decent brunch outfit--a black pleated cheerleader skirt, vintage plaid double-breasted jacket, fourteen-eyelet Doc Martens with rose-print knee socks poking out like I was an extra from Clueless," Jett sets out to knock on doors and buttonhole KitKat's friends on a music-laden journey to find the killer.

Working through the mixtape's "soundtrack for mutually broken hearts," Jett narrows her search to KitKat's secret married lover and former professor, whom Jett meets in a bar like "a Tom Waits song come to life; cramped and dimly lit with rickety tables, dirty mirrors, a pull-knob cigarette machine, and a jukebox with Elvis Costello and the Smiths." Jett doesn't put the clues together until the end, but along the way, The Big Rewind is an entertaining puzzler played to the beat of musical youth. As one character reflects, "I'm so old I remember when Green Day was a punk band and not a Broadway show." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: As if Raymond Chandler wandered into Empire Records, Libby Cudmore's first novel is a hipster mashup of detective noir and rock history.

Morrow, $14.99, paperback, 9780062403537

Be Frank with Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson


It can be difficult enough to raise a "regular" kid, but how does one deal with an eccentric genius child? In her first novel, Julia Claiborne Johnson tackles that question with lighthearted humor and a taste for old movies. The Frank of Be Frank with Me is the nine-year-old son of recluse novelist M.M. "Mimi" Banning, who hit National Book Award and Pulitzer home runs with her first and only book. When her fortune disappears in a crooked investment scheme, she is forced to churn out a new book for a hefty advance. Like Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, Mimi's second novel will be a sure-thing bestseller and a lifeline for her editor, whose fate is uncertain after his publisher's latest merger. But Mimi needs someone to take care of Frank while she bangs her typewriter, and the publisher wants eyes-on-site to keep the manuscript moving.

Enter young editorial assistant Alice Whitley, a New York City transplant from Nebraska, who relishes the trip to Los Angeles to meet Mimi and has no fears about childcare for a nine-year-old. Until she meets Frank, who first appears "dressed in a tattered tailcoat and morning pants accessorized with bare feet and a grubby face... like some fictional refugee from the pages of Oliver Twist." Frank quotes lines from classic movies and peppers his conversation with 50-cent vocabulary words (as he tells Alice, "I read the dictionary for pleasure as it's always easy to find a stopping place"). Narrator Alice, with her farm-girl commonsense, holds this bizarre, oh-so-L.A. household together, but it is Frank who steals Johnson's show. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Filled with old movie lore and a cast of eccentrics, Johnson's first novel is a funny, sensitive story of the vicissitudes of raising a quirky genius son.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062413710

Mystery & Thriller

Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery

by Anthony Wynne


Murder of a Lady, a Dr. Eustace Hailey mystery from Anthony Wynne, has been out of print since 1931. Poisoned Pen's reprint now makes this archetypal locked-room mystery from an excellent era of British crime fiction available to a new generation of readers.

Mary Gregor, elderly sister of the Laird of Duchlan, is found dead in her room. Her bedroom door was locked, and her windows were latched shut. There is no sign of a weapon, although Mary was clearly stabbed with something sharp. The only clue is a tiny herring scale next to her body.

The confident Inspector Dundas is called in, but becomes quickly stymied. Several more murders take place--and each time the scale of a herring is found. Superstitious locals begin to whisper of murderous fish people slithering up from the water during the night.

As hysteria mounts on the Duchlan estate, Dr. Eustace Hailey, a local amateur sleuth, steps in to try his hand at solving the crime. Instead of focusing on the impossibility of the locked windows and door (as Inspector Dundas has), he turns his attention to the psychological makeup of the residents of Duchlan, and discovers that Mary Gregor was hiding a dark secret.

The novel has several rather obvious mystery tropes (the locked room, people confessing for other people, blundering policemen). But when one remembers that Murder of a Lady is an early crime novel that laid the groundwork for many more mysteries over the years, it seems much more fresh. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Murder of a Lady is an entertaining locked-room Scottish mystery that has been out of print for 85 years.

Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, paperback, 9781464205712

Food & Wine

One Dough, Ten Breads: Making Great Bread by Hand

by Sarah Black


Sarah Black named her first business Companio (which means "with whom one eats bread"), and she understands that many novice bakers find the alchemy of water, flour, yeast and salt intimidating. Black believes the hardest part is just getting started, because once "the hands are in the dough... intuition kicks in and new insights are gained." Her philosophy: "Use your hands, and your knowledge, to start with something simple and build it into something more complex as you develop confidence and skill."

One Dough begins with a simple recipe for white flour bread and then guides the reader with sensory suggestions for what to look for along the way. Then she recommends specific tools (for example, a baking sheet is better for beginners than a baking stone), ingredients (how warm the water should be, how types of flour and salt affect the process and product), and processes (the purpose of kneading, resting and fermenting). Throughout, she shares tips for shaping breads and measuring ingredients by volume.

Then, the recipes! Foundation breads include baguettes, focaccia, ciabatta and sourdough, but Black then details how to infuse foundation breads with preferments, emphasize the flavors of different grains and much more. Recipes include Whole Wheat Sourdough with Figs, Apples and Raisins; Rich Pumpernickel with Toasted Grains; Cinnamon-Raisin Pan Loaf; Focaccia with Red Onion, Asiago and Thyme; and Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread with Lavender Honey. In One Dough, Ten Breads, Black's readers will find bread making to be accessible and fun, as well as delicious. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Baker Sarah Black shares how "intimate knowledge of just one foundation dough... [can] evolve into classic flavors, shapes, and recipes."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 9780470260951

Business & Economics

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

by Adam Grant


In her foreword, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg proclaims that Adam Grant's Originals will "not only change the way you see the world... [but also] change the way you live your life." Grant (Give and Take), an organizational psychologist and professor at Wharton, believes everyone can become more creative, learn when to trust instinct and when to turn to others, and present ideas more convincingly--as individuals, employees, entrepreneurs, managers and parents. Grant offers surprising findings--like why entrepreneurs are more risk-adverse than most, why Chrome and Firefox users are less likely to quit their jobs, why child prodigies and teacher's pets rarely change the world, why later-born children are much more likely to be innovative, why pioneers are often less successful than settlers, and how emphasizing nouns over verbs can help parents encourage originality in children.

Since Grant believes anyone can change the world, he provides practical strategies for questioning the status quo, sparking vuja de (seeing the familiar with fresh perspective), using procrastination as an invaluable entry into innovation, and generating ideas that are worth pursuing. He also suggests ways to mitigate the emotional and professional challenges new ideas may bring. To illustrate his assertions, Grant presents examples that include why Seinfeld was nearly passed over, how the space shuttle Columbia tragedy might have been avoided, and how a CIA analyst convinced her organization to share more information. Whether you're a budding entrepreneur, an employee who feels you're stagnating or a hopeful parent, Originals is an entertaining "how to" manual for the pursuit of originality. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Psychologist Adam Grant believes that everyone can be more creative--and offers practical strategies for "becoming original."

Viking, $27, hardcover, 9780525429562

Travel Literature

Walking the Nile

by Levison Wood


Trekking more than 4,000 miles entirely on foot through six African countries for a period of nine months might sound like some kind of personal hell for most people, but for Levison Wood, walking the length of the Nile was a lifelong dream and epic adventure. Spurred by tales of Victorian adventurers, Wood's Walking the Nile blends personal reflections of his day-to-day existence out on the trail with historical, political and cultural details of the regions he hiked.

Starting at a tiny spring in Rwanda, the source of the  Nile, he follows the trickle of water through thick jungle, across searing deserts, past relics of ancient civilizations, and through some recent military hotspots. Along the way, he meets natives living in squalor who offer him what little food they possess, suspicious policemen who watch him like a hawk, and guides who over time become long-term friends as they share the grind of walking such a distance. Narrow escapes from crocodile and hippo attacks, a terrible tragedy in South Sudan, and close encounters with gun-toting individuals keep readers on edge as they follow the banks of the Nile with Wood. Moments of sheer beauty and splendor are expertly juxtaposed with descriptions of the harshness of life for millions living in Africa, giving this account a depth and humbleness not often found in memoir/adventure writing. Wood has set a standard that will be hard to surpass. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: One man's determination to fulfill a dream despite the costs is beautifully relayed in this engaging and informative memoir set in Africa.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802124494

Children's & Young Adult

When Spring Comes

by Kevin Henkes, illus. by Laura Dronzek


Spring doesn't get any springier than three pink-eared kittens staring up at blossoming branches, a robin and bee--all artfully composed on the blue-sky cover of When Spring Comes, by Newbery Honor author Kevin Henkes (Olive's Ocean; The Year of Billy Miller) and illustrator Laura Dronzek (Birds; White Is for Blueberry; Moonlight).

Henkes, who won a 2016 Caldecott Honor for Waiting, has anticipation on his mind these days. Here, young readers are assured that, if they just wait, winter's bleakness will leap to life. Two leafless trees soldier on in the snow, kept company by two red cardinals: "Before Spring comes,/ the trees look like/ black sticks against the sky." "But if you wait,/ Spring will bring/ leaves and blossoms." Other wonders surface "if you wait." A snowman melts in a step-by-step progression of spot illustrations; grass turns from brown to green, as witnessed by a mouse; "an egg will become a bird." As is only natural, a tiny bit of rainy-season exasperation creeps into the soothing narrator's voice: "Spring comes with sun/ and it comes with rain./ And more rain/ and more rain." Fret not, summer's just around the corner.

Dronzek's appealing paintings, in creamy, textured acrylics with saturated colors and thick dark lines, testify to the almost explosive nature of spring. But her visual stories are mostly quiet: a seed, complete with sprout and underground root, pushes up to bloom. A girl waters white-flowered plants in her garden; turn the page, and the same plants are loaded up with strawberries. When Spring Comes is a sweet, playful nod to new beginnings. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery Honor author Kevin Henkes and illustrator Laura Dronzek team up in this lush picture book that celebrates the vibrant glory of spring, "if you wait."

Greenwillow, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9780062331397

My Dog's a Chicken

by Susan McElroy Montanari, illus. by Anne Wilsdorf


Lula Mae wants a puppy, but Mama says, "Dog's just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You've got to make do." Baby Berry on Mama's hip echoes, unhelpfully, "Make do."

Lula Mae wants a dog so desperately, she starts eyeing the family chickens scrabbling about the house. One is pecking at dirt, some are preening, but the one she wants, white with black spots, is strutting around "like it owned the place": " 'Now, that's my kind of dog!' said Lulu Mae." She names it Pookie. The chicken isn't having any of it, not when the girl clips her red bow to its comb and not when she tries to hold it: "BAWK! BAWK! BAWK!" Papa's dismayed by his daughter's tomfoolery and Mama just keeps saying, "Call it anything you like, but it's not coming in my house." But when everyone's waiting for Baby Berry to echo "My house," there is only silence. Where is Baby Berry!? Fortunately Pookie saves the day and finds him in the chicken coop, which really is something a dog would do. And, lo and behold, guess who gets to come in the house after all.

Debut author Susan McElroy Montanari's vivacious story, with the funny, word-repeating baby, the family's folksy way of talking and plenty of annoyed "BAWK" sounds will make for an energetic story time, and illustrator Anne Wilsdorf's (Sophie's Squash) thoroughly delightful watercolor and China ink illustrations capture the scrappy nature of chickens--and Lula Mae's family, too--with humor and panache. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A lively tale about a girl who wants a puppy so badly that she pretends one of the family chickens is a dog.

Schwartz & Wade/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780385384902

Baker's Magic

by Diane Zahler


When 12-year-old Bee can't stand another minute of her unkind foster parents, she escapes. On the run in Aradyn, out of her mind with hunger, the "skinny, raggedy child" steals a sweet roll from a bakery in the town of Zeewal, and with that one desperate act, her life is forever changed. The baker, Master Bouts, is not happy with her theft, but he quickly sizes up Bee. She's charmingly nervy, and the softhearted baker is in dire need of an apprentice.

The two get along famously as they bake treats--but nothing with pecans or lemon from the ancient cookbooks, because the kingdom hasn't had any trees since they were removed to plant lucrative tulip fields. When Bee is asked to deliver pastries to the palace of the Mage, the greedy tulip tyrant himself, she discovers he has sinister plans for his lonely charge, Princess Anika. Bee decides to help her run away. Fortunately, Bee has a curious power: she can cook her own state of mind into her baked goods, and is thereby able to secure allies or foil foes, like the palace guards, in inventive, comical ways indeed. Betrayal by bun! A swashbuckling adventure ensues.

In the comfortingly upright world of Baker's Magic, there are villains, but mostly people act honorably, from Bee, who risks all for the princess, to the benevolent baker, Bee's loyal friend Wil, and the charismatic female pirate captain who's a softie (for a pirate). Diane Zahler (The Thirteenth Princess) cooks up a scrumptious, gracefully eco-minded middle-grade fantasy of found families and unusual heroes worth cheering. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: When a kindly baker takes in the orphaned Bee, he discovers she has a strange magic: her emotions are passed on to those who eat her delicious confections.

Capstone, $12.95, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9781623706425

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