Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Schwartz & Wade Books: Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! by Tad Hills

From My Shelf

St. Martin's Press: Tell Tale: Stories by Jeffrey Archer

Verso: Alt America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump by David Neiwert

Karen Hall: Unfinished Business

Today, Simon & Schuster is publishing the 20th-anniversary edition of Dark Debts, a genre-bending thriller by TV writer Karen Hall (M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues). When first published, it became a cult favorite, and was translated into French, German and Japanese. For this new edition, Hall has revised the story and the ending. I missed the book when it was published in 1996, but read it a few weeks ago--in one long, rapt sitting.

I asked Hall about the rewrite. She said that the story had never left her, nor did one of the protagonists, so picking it up again was not a problem. But the female protagonist, "who was pretty much me at the time, was the most difficult to write again. I purposefully did not change her because I knew that her feelings were honest for a 35-year-old." So how did the story change? "I'd never been happy with how the first version ended, and as I grew older and wiser, I became unhappy with a lot of the rest of it. (That's the danger of writing about theological matters at an early age.) I made cuts, added a new character and changed the ending." Hall couldn't get the first novel out of her head until she was happy with it, and "I feel confident that I can write the rest of my novels now."

Hall and her husband own Black Bear Books in Boone, N.C. She loves everything about it, except taxes and bookkeeping. "I have been obsessed with books all my life. When my husband and I decided to move to our North Carolina mountain cabin so that our youngest son could grow up with rivers and streams and multiple pets, I knew that my TV life would slow down and I had to find something to do with myself. A friend told us that the local independent bookstore was for sale, and I thought, 'That would be heaven.' I get to talk to people about books all day and call it a job." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Portable Press: Uncle John's Old Faithful 30th Anniversary by Bathroom Readers' Institute


Book Candy

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, Quirk Books found "3 magical Irish creatures cooler than leprechauns."

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Get winter cozy: Bustle recommended "8 books to read with your favorite warm drinks."

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Buzzfeed revealed "27 book confessions that prove you are not alone."

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"Happing" is just one of "40 highfalutin H-words to heighten your vocabulary," presented by Mental Floss.

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Rock on, read on. The Los Angeles Times recommended "33 1/3 essential books that rock."

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The Berry displayed "13 bedrooms literature lovers would want to sleep in."


Johns Hopkins University Press: Playboys and Mayfair Men: Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London by Angus McLaren


The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Tony Tulathimutte

photo: Lydia White

Tony Tulathimutte is the author of the novel Private Citizens (Morrow). He has contributed to N+1, AGNI, Threepenny Review, VICE, Salon, the New Yorker and elsewhere. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Stanford University, he has received an O. Henry Prize, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and the Michener­-Copernicus Society of America Award. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

On your nightstand now:

Harry Mathews's Cigarettes, a journal with its latest entry terminated midsentence, a lamp, a dust rag and a hot pink Benedryl that I dropped on the floor and am too cheap/lazy to throw out.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, the greatest children's book based on corny wordplay (yes, better than Alice in Wonderland). I compulsively re-read the passages where characters eat numbers, words and letters. An "A" is "quite sweet and delicious--just the way you'd expect an A to taste," whereas an "X" is "like a trunkful of stale air. That's why people hardly ever use them." Subtraction Soup makes you hungrier, presumably to make more room for words. I would sit around thinking up words and their inherent flavors and textures, then I'd imagine crushing into them with huge wolflike teeth. I don't think this foreshadowed my becoming a writer later on, but as with my other favorite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it was probably one among many reasons why I was so awesomely fat.

Your top five authors:

Jeeps, this is torture. Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, David Foster Wallace and (curveball: here it comes) Rumiko Takahashi.

Book you've faked reading:

I would never admit to doing this. But since you asked, I went ahead and faked reading one of the books in this q&a, guess which.

Book you're an evangelist for:

1982, Janine by the Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, a self-described "fat, spectacled, balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian." It takes place in a motel room where a divorced conservative alcoholic attempts to dream up the ultimate sexual fantasy before committing suicide, and instead finds himself reliving his entire life. The latter part of the book contains a hellride that I would not spoil. I'd put it in the water supply if I could.

Runner up is Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back, a book about a young mother working at an upscale Texas steakhouse, finding relief in ecstatic self-destruction. Apply sunscreen before reading.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Most recently Peter Mendelsund's all-white paperback reissue of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, which is finely textured and nubbled, a bit like quilted toilet paper. Of course right after buying it, I took it with me camping, where it got squished in backpacks and bloated with rain, wrecked to the point where I weighed the aesthetic against the practical consequences of using it as actual toilet paper, since I'd forgotten to bring any.

Book you hid from your parents:

Smut printed out from a Usenet newsgroup. Next question.
 
Book that changed your life:

Mainly to keep from repeating the word Nabokov, I'll just say Georges Bataille's L'Histoire de l'oeil. My older sister and I had both studied French, and when she got to college, she tried to gross me out with this discovery of hers, only to end up feeding me some choice vocab. It was a vista of filth I just didn't know was possible and have been striving to achieve in all departments of my life ever since.

Favorite line from a book:

"Copyright © 2016 by Tony Tulathimutte."

Five books you'll never part with:

Melville's Moby-Dick, Nabokov's Lolita, Borges's Ficciones, Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which I read once a year as a booster shot against bourgeois complacency.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine. I remember feeling blindsided when I realized that the entire book was going to consist of aperçus about ice cube trays, shoelaces, escalators, the way a paper bag feels after you've rolled up the top and carried it for a while, etc., and blindsided again when I realized I was enjoying it. I first read it on my commute and work breaks, ideal conditions really.

Three upcoming books that if you don't read, I will personally fight you:

Karan Mahajan's The Association of Small Bombs, a novel set in Delhi about the aftereffects of terrorism, both social and psychological. It's told from the perspective of an exploding bomb, okay? This book will be neither small nor a bomb.

Mauro Javier Cardenas's The Revolutionaries Try Again, an unhinged novel about three childhood friends contemplating a presidential run against the crooked Ecuadorian president Abdalá "El Loco" Bucaram. This is double-black-diamond high modernism, so do some warm-up stretches before you crack this baby.

Jenny Zhang's We Love You Crispina, a collection of linked stories about young Chinese-American girls in New York. It's a paean to the agonizing sacrifices and struggles of immigrant parents fleeing the Cultural Revolution, and I know that that makes it sound like a drag, so let me be clear: this book is like an inhalant drug. Giddy, manic and unspeakably (but not unprintably) dirty.


Workman Publishing: The Spectrum of Hope: An Optimistic and New Approach to Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias by Gayatri Devi


Book Review

Fiction

The Moon in the Palace

by Weina Dai Randel


Debut novelist Weina Dai Randel gives voice to the clever young girl who would become the powerful Empress Wu, China's only female emperor, in The Moon in the Palace, first in a duology about the rise of the legendary monarch.

Educated by her father in poetry, history, mathematics and the philosophies of Sun Tzu, prophesied by an astrologer as the mother of emperors and an emperor in her own right, Wu Mei prepares from childhood to bring greatness to her family. Though her father dies and her family loses its stature, Mei becomes a Select--a new concubine to the Emperor Taizong--as a young teenager, and enters court a virtual slave among hundreds of other women competing for the Emperor's attention, including a disgraced former favorite and the mothers of the Emperor's sons. With wit and pluck, Mei finds ways to place herself in the Emperor's path and captivate him, but his eighth son, Pheasant, steals her heart. Hoping to bolster her family's fortunes, Mei maneuvers herself closer to the coveted position of Most Adored, but her love for the prince may cost her everything.

The Moon in the Palace depicts Empress Wu's sharp, persistent spirit but does not neglect to make her believably naive and vulnerable, an untried girl among ruthless women. The intrigue and machinations of the imperial court come to life under her hand, a vast and dangerous engine with each piece moving for its own reasons. As Mei learns her way, she will capture readers' imaginations with the iron will that made a woman an emperor. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Weina Dai Randel imagines the early years of Empress Wu, the first and only woman to rule China.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781492613565

PuddleDancer Press: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg


A Well-Made Bed

by Laurie Alberts, Abby Frucht


On paper, Jaycee Emory and Noor Khan embody the provincial charm of small-town Vermont: the former manages "Hillwinds Living History Books," her parents' educational park, while the latter runs a therapeutic riding stable. Though both are strapped for cash, neither would ever consider turning to, say, dealing cocaine to remedy the problem. But when it falls into their laps--in a wheel of Peruvian cheese, no less--suddenly the ethics seem less defined. Centered on the conspiratorial relationship between two women, A Well-Made Bed is fittingly a collaboration by two women, Laurie Alberts (Lost Daughters, The Price of Land in Shelby) and Abby Frucht (Licorice, Life Before Death). Framed like a classic hypothetical question, it explores how seemingly simple people can be swept up in dangerous schemes.

With its pastoral backdrop and allusions to history, the novel can also be read as a sort of tribute to Vermont, where Alberts lives and where Frucht worked at Vermont College of Fine Arts. But rather than romanticize the region, A Well-Made Bed depicts an eclectic, morally dubious collection of characters, linked only by their dissatisfaction and instinct for survival. Unlike the early settlers, who forged lives through honest hard work, the survival tactics of these modern Vermonters manifest in long-kept secrets, emotional compromises and the occasional illegal deal. Still, they exhibit a wily, formidable strength as they scrape their way out of bad situations, making the best of the cards they've been dealt. --Annie Atherton

Discover: When two financially struggling Vermont women stumble on an unexpected windfall of illegal drugs, their morals clash with their ambitions.

Red Hen Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781597093057

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: In This Moment by Karen Kingsbury


Mystery & Thriller

Time of Fog and Fire

by Rhys Bowen


Private investigator Molly Murphy Sullivan has come a long way--from Ireland to New York to Paris--since she was introduced in Rhys Bowen's 2001 Murphy's Law. In Time of Fog and Fire, the 16th title in the series, Molly, her husband and their toddler, Liam, travel to San Francisco--just in time for the 1906 earthquake.

Readers meeting Molly will quickly catch up with her past, as Bowen weaves in details from earlier exploits. By 1905, she's officially a former PI, married to NYPD Captain Daniel Sullivan, and a full-time mother. Her instinct for investigation is aroused, however, when John Wilkie of the Secret Service visits their New York home and Molly is excluded from the conversation with Daniel.

Daniel has been asked to accept a special assignment, and although he respects Molly and her skills, he's sworn to secrecy. When Molly receives a cryptic letter revealing Daniel is in San Francisco and suggesting he needs her help, she packs, finagles tickets west, and sets off for the City by the Bay. But when she arrives, she discovers that there is far more trouble afoot than she could have imagined. And where is Daniel? Naturally, Molly goes into sleuth mode, but her quest is complicated by evasive police, corrupt city officials, a mysterious hostess--and the city's preoccupation with Enrico Caruso's visit.

Then the earthquake and fire hit. Bowen's historic details of the tragedy ring true, and Molly perseveres as the survivor her fans expect. Plot twists and surprise developments lead to unmistakable foreshadowing of more to come from the irrepressible Molly Murphy Sullivan. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Molly Murphy's 16th mystery takes the sleuth and her family to San Francisco, where danger lurks in many forms--and the 1906 earthquake hits.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250052049

The Singing Bone

by Beth Hahn


Beth Hahn's debut thriller, The Singing Bone, successfully fictionalizes and uses the Manson murders to tell the story of Alice Pearson, survivor of an infamous cult that committed unspecified atrocities in the late '70s. Hahn skillfully switches back and forth between 1979--when a 17-year-Alice fell under the sway of the very Manson-like Jack Wyck--and the present day, showing us two very different sides of Alice. Present-day Alice has changed her name and started a new, somewhat lonely life as a professor of folklore. An obsessive filmmaker, however, interrupts her refuge in academia when he tracks her down and forces her to reckon with Wyck and the demons of her past. 

The Singing Bone is adept at explaining how cruel, charismatic individuals can bend men and women to their will by exploiting youthful insecurities as well as the universal desire to belong. Hahn takes a slow-burn approach to the events of 1979, letting circumstances turn sour and then dangerous so gradually that Alice and her drugged-out friends hardly notice until it's too late. Parallels with Charles Manson and the Family abound, to the point where it's not entirely clear why Hahn didn't choose simply to offer a fictional retelling of the events depicted so memorably in Helter Skelter. However, while the flashbacks reveal a familiar, if still gripping, narrative, present-day events are more unpredictable, offering a nightmarish glimpse into a world where Wyck's teachings have found a lasting, devoted audience. The Singing Bone is a convincing, skin-crawling descent into madness. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Decades after turning on the Manson-like cult leader she fell for in 1979, Alice Pearson still finds herself unable to escape his eerie influence.

Regan Arts, $26.95, hardcover, 9781942872566

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Arkwright

by Allen Steele


It's a magnificent piece of science fiction that can remain focused on scientific reality while still bringing tears to the eyes of readers. Allen Steele's Arkwright is such a novel.

Divided into four sections, Arkwright details the journey--from inspiration to final result--of one fictional science fiction author's idea to send humanity far beyond our solar system to an uninhabited planet light-years away from Earth. Nathan Arkwright is lauded as one of the big names in science fiction, with a successful series of books and movies, who plows his considerable fortune into a generation-spanning plan to send a starship into deep space.

The first section tells of Arkwright and three co-conspirators who call themselves The Legion of Tomorrow. This small group recruits Nathan's estranged granddaughter, Kate, whose mother has kept their relationship a secret. After being shown Nathan's unfinished biography and hearing stories of his younger days, she agrees to the plan for extra-solar colonization with a newfound sense of family duty. Section two recounts the next generation's struggles to build and launch a ship into near-Earth orbit: Matt Skinner, Kate's ne'er-do-well grandson, learns the family trade and suffers a personal tragedy. The final two parts reach farther into space: the earthbound crew endures a long, frustrating wait for updates from the starship before unveiling a fascinating tale of life on the distant planet Eos.

Steele (V-S Day) never once forgets that human stories make for the most interesting science fiction novels, and his characters love, fight and fail often, their stories laid against an extrapolative plot of interstellar travel and astronomical realities. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Arkwright remains faithful to scientific truths while telling a compelling story about one way humanity might expand to the stars.

Tor, $26.99, hardcover, 9780765382153

Biography & Memoir

Running with Rhinos: Stories from a Radical Conservationist

by Ed Warner


For more than 10 years, philanthropist and self-proclaimed radical conservationist Ed Warner has been working with game wardens and scientists in sub-Saharan Africa to track and record the whereabouts of black rhinos. Full of humor, mostly pointed at himself, Warner's stories of his time in the bush are fast-paced, like his actual encounters with the rhinos. After making a fortune as a geologist in the oil industry, he had the time and money to follow his passions, and so he jumped at the chance to help the International Rhino Foundation's Rhino Conservancy Project. The work is dangerous and unpredictable, as a black rhino will charge when it feels threatened. Warner quickly found this out in his first encounter with a large male; the only way to escape is to climb the nearest tree. Warner writes, "I started to consider that tree. The rhino had heard us and appeared to be upset.... All of a sudden he charged! The bull was there one second and gone the next in a cloud of dust, charging at a right angle to our position."

Warner includes wonderful descriptions of the rhinos, a range of flora and other fauna and the rock formations that are an integral part of the landscape--"the schist is shiny grey, but, due to the micas being altered to chlorite, glows golden in the light of the rising and setting sun." Warner's portrayal of his companions rounds out this lively memoir of the adventures he's had in Africa. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A volunteer working with black rhinos shares tales of life in the African bush.

Greenleaf Book Group, $20.95, hardcover, 9781626342279

The Face: A Time Code

by Ruth Ozeki


In The Face: A Time Code, one of the first installments of a series of personal nonfiction, novelist Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being) chronicles a three-hour examination of her own face. The three inaugural pocket-sized paperbacks from Restless Books, all titled The Face, with different subtitles, also include titles by Chris Abani and Tash Aw.

As her fans would expect, Ozeki frolics with language and perspective, but respects the authors' challenge of exploring "the world and their place within it from the starting point of their own face." Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, notes a Zen koan that teaches "your face before your parents were born" is your true face. She chose staring in the mirror as an exercise in "immersive attention" to her meditation.

Chapters alternate among Buddhist teachings, reminiscences and a second-by-second account of the painfully long time she spent staring at herself. "This experiment is ridiculous. Narcissistic. Solipsistic. Banal. I don't want to do it anymore. Isn't it time for coffee?" She persists.

Ozeki recalls the confusion her Japanese-Caucasian features caused in the post-World War II United States. "What are you?" strangers would ask. At 59, she sees heartbreaking and corrosive ageism. "I want to look my age," adding a phrase central to Zen teachings: "Just this."

She compares the Japanese Noh theater ritual of actors donning masks in a "mirror room," during which they focus on the mask to become filled with the emotion of the role, and writing. A reader "enters the room" of a book and becomes the character, which is "why we read novels... to wear another's face, to live inside another's skin." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: This pocket-sized memoir from novelist Ruth Ozeki is one of the first of a series of personal nonfiction books, all titled The Face.

Restless Books, $9.99, paperback, 9781632060525

History

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

by Rebecca Traister


A decade and a half into the 21st century, there are more single women in the U.S. than ever before. When journalist Rebecca Traister (Big Girls Don't Cry) began researching her second book in 2010, she was one of them--and she thought the phenomenon was relatively new. But single women have long been a force for social change, and their growing numbers are altering the public perception of what it means to be single and female. In All the Single Ladies, Traister (now married) explores the history and variety of single womanhood, the ways single women have made their voices heard, and the challenges they still face.

Traister's provocatively titled chapters, such as "Watch Out for That Woman" and "Single Women Have Often Made History," signal a major theme: the deep fear of single women often held by those in power (particularly white men). Traister showcases single women who have boldly spoken up for their rights and blasts the social structures that favor men and married women over single women. Drawing on role models that include Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Bradshaw, Traister calls for "a complete rethinking of who women are and who men are."

Although "single women are taking up space in a world that was not built for them," Traister argues that the world must shift to "make room for free women," no matter their connubial status. All the Single Ladies is a clarion call for the treatment of women--all women--as fully human. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Journalist Rebecca Traister explores the challenges of single womanhood in the U.S. and calls for a fundamental change in how single women are treated and viewed.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 9781476716565

Social Science

Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City

by Matthew Desmond


Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, spent years embedded in a trailer park and then Milwaukee's North Side to research Evicted, where he came to know the eight families whose stories feature prominently in this study of American poverty.

Evicted is a thorough, and infuriating, picture of the role that housing plays in the cycle of poverty ("one of the least studied processes affecting the lives of poor families"): how much money low-income families spend on rent; the many ways that these families can come to be evicted; the ongoing impact of evictions in obtaining affordable housing in the future. Where appropriate, Desmond also explores how these issues interact: how race and gender, for example, impact the landlord-tenant relationship, and how parenthood increases one's likelihood of eviction.

Desmond maintains that "poverty [is] a relationship... involving poor and rich people alike." While it is tempting to look for places to assign blame in this relationship (evil, greedy landlords or careless, irresponsible tenants), Desmond instead focuses on the context in which they operate: a broken system that allows for--and in some ways encourages--an economy that squeezes money from those who have the least of it.

Evicted moves elegantly between the micro and the macro. The stories of the eight families in Milwaukee are engaging and heartbreaking, and provide human context for the study of larger economic forces at play in the United States. Desmond's writing is touching and heartfelt, and a call for readers to acknowledge the problem that exists and work to find a solution for it. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Evicted is a crucial, heartbreaking study of how housing affects those living in poverty in the U.S.

Crown, $28, hardcover, 9780553447439

Children's & Young Adult

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs

by Linda Sue Park, illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt


Yaks yak over tea, bats bat baseballs and steers steer bumper cars in the thoroughly delightful picture book Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard).

Children will giggle over this entertaining parade of animal homographs (words with different meanings that are spelled and pronounced the same, such as the animal slug and the verb slug)--but illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt (The Inventor's Secret) takes the witty wordplay to another dimension with her elaborate watercolor-and-ink paintings of apes aping, ducks ducking and fish fishing. In "Bugs bug bugs," one beetle is bugging another beetle by tossing small objects at it, a bee is buzzing a praying mantis and a grasshopper is flinging a moth off a stem of grass. In "Flounders flounder," five flounders are mid-crisis underwater, with thought bubbles that say "I did not mean to do that" and "I don't know where I am." One badger badgers another in hopes of procuring his apple, and here, big speech bubbles are stuffed with funny handwritten entreaties ("I really, really, REALLY would like that apple," etc.) Each beautifully composed spread includes a definition of the noun that's used as a verb ("to bug=to annoy," "to flounder=to be helpless"), and a word-pair guide in the back explains word origins of both the animal's name (badger) and the action (to badger).

Young readers will no doubt start "parroting" all these splendid new words, from the hogs hogging apples (the sign says "These are NOT for you Keep AWAY" to the crows crowing "It's good to be me." --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Yaks yak and flounders flounder in Newbery Medal author Linda Sue Park's giddy and gloriously illustrated exploration of animal homographs.

Clarion, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780544391017

The Secret Subway

by Shana Corey, illus. by Red Nose Studio/Chris Sickels


New York City in the 1860s was crowded and dirty, with no subways--just cobblestone streets, wagons, stagecoaches and horses. People from "politicians to peddlers" wanted to improve the chaotic roads, but it was Alfred Ely Beach, a publisher and inventor, who had a bold vision of an underground train. The Secret Subway by Shana Corey (You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer) is the engagingly told story of Beach's ill-fated invention, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (Here Comes the Garbage Barge!) with astounding, atmospheric photographs of hand-built sets and clay-sculpted characters. The haunting faces and shadowy 3-D effects (all explained in a fascinating fold-out) will draw readers into--and under--the streets of 19th-century New York.

Beach knew that Boss Tweed, who ran the city at the time, might try to block his large-scale idea, so the plucky inventor sneakily pitched his subway idea as a pneumatic underground mail tube. Then, in the dead of night, he and his crew started digging a tunnel under Devlin's Clothing Store in Lower Manhattan that would eventually be 294 feet long. He invited New York's bigwigs to see his "railroad of the future," and, in time, Beach was charging 25 cents a ride. Beach's invention died on the vine, however, only to be unearthed again in 1912 when workers were drilling tunnels for another train. An author's note further rounds out the history.

The Secret Subway is not only a visual extravaganza, it's an inspiring story of can-do spirit, good old-fashioned gumption and a fun peek below the surface of New York City. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In 1860s New York City, Alfred Ely Beach had a vision of the city's first underground train, and this visually arresting picture book celebrates that little-known part of history.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780375870712

Art & Photography

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

by Sonny Liew


Charlie Chan Hock Chye has been called Singapore's greatest comic book artist, and now reflects upon on his largely unsuccessful and unlucky career. Eisner Award-nominated artist Sonny Liew (Malinky Robot, The Shadow Hero) sets his graphic novel about the cartoonist against the backdrop of Singapore's fight for independence and transformation from a British colony to a modern city state. And unless one Googles Chan, one wouldn't realize he is a brilliantly conceived fictional invention.

Chan's story unfolds like a documentary. At 16, he conceives Ah Huat, a Tezuka-influenced story that portrays the student-led anti-British protests through the eyes of a young boy controlling a giant robot and features his heroes Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong, fathers of modern Singapore. Ah Huat gains the attention of young storyteller Bertrand Wong, and together the two publish an independent monthly and Roachman, a precursor to Spiderman. When Wong leaves for a full-time job, Chan turns his energies to political commentary, using Disney-like anthropomorphic characters as his narrative muses. Despite his talents, Chan's work goes largely unpublished in a state-controlled press, and his own perfectionism and idealistic tendencies doom him to perpetual failure.

Liew uses a variety of mediums--pencils and ink, oil on canvas, photographic reproductions of actual historical events--to tie Chan's fate into the unrest throughout the country. The result is a surprising revelation of a master storyteller who manages to turn a controversial and largely buried story into a personal reflection on art and freedom of the press. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Artist Sonny Liew epitomizes the turbulent political history of Singapore through the rise and fall of its greatest unpublished comic book artist.

Pantheon, $30, hardcover, 9781101870693

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