Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 4, 2017


Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

From My Shelf

Liveright Publishing Corporation: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

Thunder Bay Press: The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in Lego by Nathan Sawaya

Armchair Science Exploration

Science has never been my strong suit; while I appreciate the role it plays in our world, I never did well on science tests. But these explorations of scientific professions make me wish I'd paid just a little more attention in biology class way back when--perhaps then I could have had a career in the sciences as well. As it is, reading about scientific professions will have to suffice.

In Black Man in a White Coat, social justice meets memoir meets medicine, as Dr. Damon Tweedy recalls his experience facing racism and bias in the American medical system--as a professional, in his interactions with patients and as a patient himself following a diagnosis of a chronic disease.

Judy Melinek set out to be a surgeon, going so far as to complete medical school and start a residency program before realizing the job was not for her. She puts her scientific knowledge to work as a forensic pathologist now, and details her experiences working as a medical examiner in Working Stiff. (For a different take on what happens to our bodies post-death, Tom Jokinen's Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training details the specifics of embalming and decomposition, while Caitlin Doughty uses her experience working in a mortuary as a lens through which to explore various bits of research around death rituals throughout history in her memoir, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.)

Lab Girl moves away from human life (and death) to look at plant life. Hope Jahre is a geobiologist who has dedicated her life to the study of plants, trees and soil (and has received three Fulbright Awards). In Lab Girl, she writes with heart about her research, her relationship with her lab partner and her love of nature--and includes plenty of scientific detail about plants and dirt along the way. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm


Indiana University Press: UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan


Book Candy

The Advantages of Slow Reading

Bustle suggested "7 reasons slow reading is actually a good thing, because being a speed reader is overrated."

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Invariably, for example. Mental Floss highlighted "38 word usage mistakes even smart people make."

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"People drank beer all day long, and makeup could kill you." Buzzfeed shared "19 facts about Shakespearean England that will blow your damn mind."

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"Would you rather identify with Holden Caulfield or marry someone who still identifies with Holden Caulfield?" McSweeney's posed "20 literary would-you-rathers."

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Pop quiz: My Poetic Side offered "10 questions to test your poetry knowledge."

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Headline of the Day (via Northwestern University): "Fused imaging reveals Sixth-Century writing hidden inside bookbinding."


Johns Hopkins University Press: Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum by Kathryn Hughes


Great Reads

Rediscover: A Rumor of War

Lieutenant Philip Caputo arrived in Danang on March 8, 1965 as a member of the Marine Corps' 9th Expeditionary Brigade, the first regular troops sent to fight in Vietnam. His experiences during the war, both commanding on the front lines and among out-of-touch officers in the rear, are the basis of his classic 1977 memoir, A Rumor of War.

Caputo divides the book into three parts. In "The Splendid Little War," he explains why he joined the Marines and how his initial deployment in Danang, in a defensive position around an airstrip, developed into skirmishes that portended a longer, much more difficult conflict than had been promised. In "The Officer in Charge of the Dead," his reassignment to a desk job devoted to documenting casualties proves unsatisfying but eye-opening, as Caputo interacts with senior officers more concerned with trivial matters than war-winning strategy. Part three, "In Death's Grey Land," finds Caputo back in command of a rifle company, in a war now expanded into its full bloody scope. His career is derailed by a court martial after Caputo's soldiers deliberately shoot two prisoners. He returns to Vietnam in 1975 as a war correspondent, just in time to witness the fall of Saigon.

Philip Caputo will be featured in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's upcoming PBS film, The Vietnam War, which premieres September 17 at 8 p.m. On August 1, Picador released a 40th anniversary edition of A Rumor of War ($20, 9781250117120) with a new foreword by Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds. --Tobias Mutter


Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright


The Writer's Life

Augustus Rose: On Art and Alchemy in Fiction

photo: Nathanael Filbert

Augustus Rose is a novelist and screenwriter. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, he now lives in Chicago with his wife and son, and teaches fiction writing at the University of Chicago. The Readymade Thief (reviewed below) is his debut novel.

The word "readymade" was made famous by artist Marcel Duchamp, who presented found objects as "readymade" art. In The Readymade Thief, a secretive group called the Societé Anonyme reveres Duchamp and his creations. What made you choose Duchamp and his art as a primary focus for the novel?

I've been fixated on Duchamp since high school. So much of contemporary art traces a direct line to his work, yet he seemed to have very little ego invested in this fact. He had an effortless grace and elegance about him and just seemed vaguely amused by it all. Plus, I've always been drawn to the period he produced his greatest works, the 1910s--its aesthetics, its spirit, its sense of possibility and invention, the fact that provocation and scandal had real cultural relevance then--and Duchamp was right at the center of it. I have a tendency to write my obsessions into my fiction, one way or another, so it was only a matter of time before he became a subject. That said, I spent several years working around various misguided attempts to write a version of Duchamp as a character. But he was elusive and waggish as a person, and I found him just as hard to pin down as a subject. Nothing I wrote felt right. Finally I dropped the idea of writing about him specifically and decided to focus more on his legacy as an artist. After that decision the whole backdrop of the novel opened up exponentially and the novel began to take shape.

Without spoiling anything for readers, can you explain why you focused in on The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even--a large artwork Duchamp worked on from 1915 to 1923. Did it capture your imagination in real life, or just suit your fictional purposes?

I've found that most people who've heard of Duchamp associate him mainly with his readymades, usually with Fountain, the urinal he signed and submitted to an art exhibition in 1917. And fair enough, that simple act changed the way we think about art. But it's The Bride Stripped Bare that captivated me from the first time I saw it. It's a towering work (both physically and historically), and possesses between the two panes of shattered glass that contain it a kind of encoded narrative reflecting the sexual dynamics between men and women. The work seems cold and mechanical on its surface but there's an erotic (and humorous) undercurrent beneath it--it's a Rube Goldberg contraption of unrequited desire. It's also the kind of work that opens itself up even further the more closely you examine it: revealing humor, psychology, narrative, allusions to scientific theory, and even, as some critics have noted, mysticism and alchemy. It's densely layered, inviting yet elusive, and impossible to pin down. So to answer your question: first it captured my imagination, but the more I looked into it, the more its layered meanings began to open up. For a novel focused on conspiracies, puzzles, and encoded meanings, it made the perfect centerpiece, and the more I examined it the more it started to help shape the book, in ways I never expected it to.

In the prologue, Lee, the main character, is at an abandoned aquarium in Philadelphia when she discovers she's pregnant. What made you decide to give an already vulnerable character this further struggle to contend with?

The novel emerged with the image that's now that prologue--a young woman alone in an abandoned aquarium, staring into a Cambrian-age diorama at a note that's been inexplicably left for her to find. Lee wasn't pregnant when I first wrote that scene. In fact, I didn't realize she was pregnant until I was halfway through the first draft, after which I had to go back and rewrite a lot of it. I think the reason I did that is twofold. First, my wife became pregnant with our son around this time, and so pregnancy was suddenly very much a part of my life, and so that's probably how the idea first got planted. But more than that (and this is something I only realized later) narratively and thematically it became necessary. Lee's main internal struggle is that she feels alone in her life, that there's no one she trusts enough to connect to. But being alone is also her safe space, and this unwanted passenger growing inside of her threatens that. It forces her to contemplate a life outside of herself, where trust is suddenly directed the other way. These kinds of inner character struggles are the heart of any story, and Lee's pregnancy provided something physical and immediate to embody that.

And speaking of Lee, we see the world of The Readymade Thief through her young, disillusioned, and yet surprisingly hopeful eyes. Is it difficult to write through the lens of an adolescent female?

I actually found it surprisingly easy. For better or worse, I have a fairly direct line to my adolescent self--the confusion, the self-doubt, the roiling, un-articulable needs--it all still seems very graspable to me. There's so much of my own adolescent self in Lee--the feeling of being invisible, of finding solace in it but yearning at the same time to be seen, the insularity, the disconnection--I just had to find it again and use it. (Though Lee is much more courageous, determined and resourceful than I ever was.) I honestly never thought too much about gender, and how to represent a female consciousness as opposed to a male. If I was at all successful with this, then I owe it to Lee herself, because for the most part I was simply following her lead.

But in addition to this, in terms of Point of View, the narrative distance of the novel accordions in and out as needed, so sometimes we are right inside of Lee, while other times we are further away, more observers than passengers. This allowed me to occupy her head when the story called for more intimacy or immediacy, but also to allow for a more distant (and experienced) perspective than Lee herself would be capable of. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm


Da Capo Lifelong Books: Veganomicon, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero


Book Review

Fiction

The Readymade Thief

by Augustus Rose


Seventeen-year-old Lee Cuddy is on the run. After getting framed for a crime she didn't commit (and committing several for which she didn't get caught), she spent months in juvenile detention before making her escape.

Unwilling to contact her parents, who basically abandoned her to juvy, Lee tries to survive on the streets of Philadelphia. She seeks shelter at a warehouse full of squatting teenagers, but there Lee becomes entangled with the Societé Anonyme, a mysterious group that throws exclusive raves around the city, and seems to be somehow connected to the artist Marcel Duchamp.

Nervous about the shelter she has chosen and the role that some members of the Societé Anonyme want her to play, Lee decides to run again. With the help of a young hacker named Tomi, Lee must avoid both the Societé Anonyme and the authorities as she deciphers codes Duchamp left in his artwork to solve a mystery that has gotten under her skin.

Mixing secret societies, art history, puzzles to be solved and urban exploration, The Readymade Thief is hard to categorize. A fast-paced, plot-driven novel with a resolute heroine and a lot of history, it is a bit unsettling, and definitely unusual--especially since it is author Augustus Rose's first novel. Readers who enjoy literary puzzles, or who are looking for something a little different, should look no farther than The Readymade Thief. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

Discover: Secret societies and art history play vital roles in this debut thriller.

Viking, $26, hardcover, 384p., 9780735221833

The Graybar Hotel

by Curtis Dawkins


Michigan felon Curtis Dawkins's debut story collection, The Graybar Hotel, sweats the small stuff of prison life. A Western Michigan University MFA graduate serving life for a drug-fueled 2005 Kalamazoo murder, Dawkins chronicles the occasionally colorful, often despondent and mostly tedious lives of contemporary inmates. There is little whining here or fruitless claims of innocence. Dawkins's narrators and their cellmates are focused on getting through the day--the TV shows, books, surreptitious smokes, walks around the yard, collect phone calls to strangers and crude jailhouse tattoos ("like trying to sew fine stitches with a knitting needle").

Behind the bars of the Ionia County Correctional Facility, the prisoners carry nicknames like Pepper Pie and Crash. They dream of mowing their yards with the family dog at their heels. They feign suicide or do a few months in the Hole for "malingering with intent." Jailhouse lawyers, they file dead-end appeals and lament their inadequate public defenders. The Graybar Hotel doesn't linger over the usual political hot buttons of mass incarceration, violence, corrupt guards and drug abuse. Instead, Dawkins writes empathetic, thoughtful pieces about those who long for the outside. As the narrator of "In the Day Room with Stinky" concludes: "I'm going to take a shower then wait. I'm going to drink strong coffee and wait for good things to happen." There's no "dancin' to the jailhouse rock" going on in these stories--just a lot of waiting and hoping. --Bruce Jacobs founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: From inside his prison cell, MFA graduate and convicted murderer Curtis Dawkins writes dead-on stories of prisoners just doing their time.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 224p., 9781501162299

Mystery & Thriller

Local Girl Missing

by Claire Douglas


Strap in. Claire Douglas's Local Girl Missing is a swift and twisted ride through crazy town. Winner of the Marie Claire debut novel award for Sisters, Douglas has written another "who's putting one over on whom?" barn-burner that is utterly absorbing despite some over-the-top drama.

Posh Frankie Howe and shy, plain Sophie Collier were best mates from the age of seven, growing up in Oldcliffe-on-Sea. In 1997, Sophie disappeared after a night on the town, a lone shoe found by the decrepit old pier on Bristol Channel. Eighteen years later, Sophie's brother Daniel calls Frankie, now managing her father's hotels in London, and asks her to come back home. A foot wearing Sophie's matching trainer has washed ashore and Daniel wants Frankie to help him determine his sister's fate once and for all.

Despite her misgivings, Frankie relents and, wearing her stiletto ankle boots (perfect for amateur sleuthing), moves into the temporary apartment Daniel arranges for her. Circumstances turn eerie almost immediately: Frankie hears a baby crying all night in the supposedly empty complex, her car is vandalized, threatening notes are left on her doorstep and she swears she sees Sophie's ghost around town.

Alternating perspectives between Frankie's present and Sophie's past, Douglas knits a compelling narrative that will suck readers in and keep them guessing with tidbits of past and present promises, secrets and betrayals. A marvelous mash-up of Peyton Place and Gaslight, Local Girl Missing is fun and satisfying summer escapism at its finest. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A woman investigating the long-ago disappearance of her childhood best friend discovers that her past and present hold secrets that threaten her future.

Harper Paperbacks, $15.99, paperback, 352p., 9780062661159

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Hell Divers II: Ghosts

by Nicholas Sansbury Smith


Ten years after the events of Hell Divers, the little boy with a foil hat called Tin has grown up to be Commander Michael Everheart, one of the Hive's most promising Hell Divers--those who brave the wasteland below for supplies that will keep their airship home afloat. He and the other few hundred souls on that ship--possibly the last remaining humans--have given up Xavier "X" Rodriguez for dead. No one, they believe, can survive on the irradiated, storm-wracked, monster-infested surface of the war-torn Earth for a decade.

The new leader of the Hive knows better. Captain Leon Jordan, promoted after Maria Ash succumbed to cancer, has kept X's years of desperate radio calls secret. He refuses to risk humanity in the search for one lost diver, and this is just the beginning of Captain Jordan's increasingly ruthless reign. When a different call comes from the surface, this time from a supposed enclave of people seeking aid, Jordan can't keep it hidden. Commander Everheart and a team of new and old faces take on a mission that may decide the fate of the Hive and humankind alike.

Nicholas Sansbury Smith's second entry in the Hell Divers trilogy delivers the same heart-pounding, post-apocalyptic action as the first. Horrific mutants and ceaseless lightning storms make Smith's surface world a vision to remember. Like its predecessor, Ghosts blasts along at a thriller's pace. Readers left hanging by Hell Divers's ending will find much to love in its sequel, and its conclusion promises an intriguing final entry. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A message from Earth's ruined surface prompts a desperate mission in this sequel to a post-apocalyptic thriller.

Blackstone Publishing, $24.99, hardcover, 9781504726016

Food & Wine

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

by Laura Shapiro


James Beard Journalism Award winner Laura Shapiro (Julia Child: A Life) invokes the adage "You are what you eat" to explore the lives of six famous women in What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories.

Shapiro's subjects span the 18th century to the 21st, offering a fascinating range of personalities, tastes and circumstances. Shapiro first profiles writer Dorothy Wordsworth, who maintained a fervent devotion to her poet brother William, and who often recorded meals in her diary. Rosa Lewis was a salty British caterer whose kitchen prowess elevated her from scullery maid to a cook favored by royalty. Eleanor Roosevelt presided over a White House infamous for its inedible fare. The First Lady was known for her disinterest in food, but Shapiro sketches an image of a woman more interested in public welfare and economy than gourmet meals.

Eva Braun had an affinity for champagne and fantasy, though she disliked her lover Hitler's preference for rich dishes more than his politics. Shapiro also considers Barbara Pym, a novelist whose characters' attitudes about food belie stereotypes about British cuisine following World War II. Finally, Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan, rounds out the sextet. Despite her feminist leanings, Brown's ideas of modern womanhood included self-deprivation and nightly servings of diet Jell-O.

With exhaustive research and lively writing, Shapiro serves up engaging and respectful portraits, tastefully blending quotes, anecdotes and commentary to construct an unforgettable feast of tales. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Take a master class in the history of six women's lives by way of what they put, or avoided, on the plates in front of them.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780525427643

Biography & Memoir

Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck

by Johanna Luthman


In Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck, historian Johanna Luthman crafts a compelling biography of a noblewoman born to feuding parents, a woman whose disastrous marriage to John Villiers is the result of strategic politicking in the court of King James I. In a setting in which everyone is desperate for political advantage and a patrician image of propriety, Frances falls into the arms of another man and bears a child out of wedlock, a transgression that costs her dearly, engrosses the royal court in scandal and turns family members into foes.

Luthman (Love, Lust and License in Early Modern England) is a professor at the University of North Georgia who focuses on love, sex and marital issues in the Tudor and Stuart eras. In Love, Madness, and Scandal she writes with an air of canny bemusement, producing several cringe-worthy moments as she explores how family law operated in 17th-century England. Sex was of the utmost importance to the validity of a marriage and the legitimacy of children, and the act of consummating a marriage could be adjudicated in court. For example, male impotence often brought accusations of witchcraft. Luthman reveals a deeply patriarchal legal system in which women, even those of nobility, were treated abhorrently. When Frances is convicted of adultery and sentenced to public penance--that is, a public display of self-abasement and humiliation--she flees the country and later fights for the rights of her illegitimate child.

Love, Madness, and Scandal is full of drama and political intrigue, but more importantly, it paints a portrait of a smart, stubborn woman who fought for her dignity. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: This biography of a compromised English noblewoman reveals the treachery of 17th-century royal politics.

Oxford University Press, $27.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780198754657

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal

by Jen Waite


A Beautiful, Terrible Thing is an extraordinarily gutsy memoir. Jen Waite is a smart, beautiful aspiring actress when she meets handsome, charming Marco. Their first encounters are like a fairy tale; they both "just know" they have found "the one." Jen is not alone in her estimation of Marco, who wins over her family with his charisma and open devotion. Madly in love, within five years they marry and are expecting their first child.

Upon their daughter's birth, however, their perfect path takes an abrupt hairpin turn. Jen stumbles across an e-mail Marco has sent to a real estate agent referencing a girlfriend and an apartment. Marco vehemently denies an affair. He also claims he must be ill, because when he looks at the wife he adored only recently he "feel[s] nothing." Thus begins Jen Waite's journey through hell. One morning, deep into the morass of her troubled marriage, Jen turns to Google and is hit with the horrific realization that her husband is a textbook psychopath. With sudden clarity, Jen knows she needs to get her daughter away from the toxic relationship.

Written in "Before" and "After" timelines separated by the day Jen finds Marco's e-mail, the memoir is brutally painful from both ends. Waite's experience is haunting and fascinating. The writing is evocative, so detailed and forthright that the grief and confusion resonates from every page. Waite does a great service to those who have likewise suffered, particularly with undeserved feelings of shame. Anyone could end up in Waite's shoes, but the path she ultimately decides to walk in them is one of beauty and triumph. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: In pointedly honest narrative, Jen Waite extricates herself from her marriage to a psychopath.

Plume, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9780735216464

History

Through the Lion Gate: A History of the Berlin Zoo

by Gary Bruce


With Through the Lion Gate: A History of the Berlin Zoo, historian Gary Bruce (The Firm) delivers a fascinating historical account of Berliners through the lens of their beloved zoo. As a popular institution in Germany's capital, it became a place where animals as well as society was on display. Famous residents such as Bobby the gorilla and Knut the panda captured the hearts of city dwellers from a variety of backgrounds.

Germany's early interest in exotic animals helped shape the Berliner attitude toward the world. The zoo, founded in 1844, offered an escape from gritty city lives with a gathering place that proved more popular than the theater, museums and sporting events. So important was the zoo to city residents that they rescued it from closure several times. During World War II, they came to the zoo in droves, seeking refuge and distraction from the war's devastation, and to take comfort in the presence of the animals.

The Inuit display of 1878 began half a century of human exhibits, and one of the most popular featured Nubians from northeast Africa (Sudan) demonstrating their hunting skills. Bruce's superb storytelling is highlighted by an episode he recounts of young Nubian men working magic on the hearts of women who came to admire their strong physiques and handsome looks. The men were so content basking in female attention that they refused to leave the zoo when their exhibit ended and had to be forced to return home.

Bruce's engaging narrative is complemented with photos of Bobby, Knut and other beloved animals; the Inuit and Nubian tribes; and the beautiful pagoda-style zoo architecture. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Through the Lion Gate is an engaging historical account of the Berlin Zoo and the lives of Berliners for whom it became a social gathering place.

Oxford University Press, $34.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780190234980

Essays & Criticism

The Dog's Last Walk

by Howard Jacobson


Aside from being a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist, Howard Jacobson (Shylock Is My Name) was also a columnist for the Independent from 1998 until the end of its print run 18 years later. The Dog's Last Walk collects the best of Jacobson's weekly columns from the last years of his time there, finding the author old, cranky and more than happy to tell his readers all about it. Luckily for them, Jacobson remains hilarious and thought provoking throughout.

Each lasting only a few pages, Jacobson's columns range from the inane to the profound, discussing art, politics, death, aging and, perhaps a bit too much, cyclists. Taken as a whole, The Dog's Last Walk can feel repetitive at times, but it's hard to fault Jacobson for broaching similar topics in columns that were published years apart. If read over a long period of time, the chapters can feel more like a continuing conversation than repeated diatribes.

But readers will do well to remember Jacobson's reminder halfway through: "I am not the I of my novels. I am not even the I of these columns." He's more interested in poking and prodding than truly taking a stand for one thing or another. With all of Jacobson's work, irony is key, and the columns collected here are better understood as joyful exercises in sardonicism than anything else. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: This collection of newspaper columns by Man Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson is thoughtful, provocative and funny.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781408845288

Nature & Environment

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays

by Paul Kingsnorth


Paul Kingsnorth (The WakeBeast), co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project writers' network, has published impassioned essays, poetry and literature with an environmentalist perspective for decades. That perspective is changing, however, as environmental degradation continues and the green movement tends toward high-tech strategies and "sustainability" that Kingsnorth finds uninspired. Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays is his answer to a changing world. These collected works are nearly all previously published, but together they offer a new outlook. Kingsnorth is grieving, angry and disillusioned, and his essays are by turns reflective and resolute.

His writing can be fanciful and joyous as well as tormented. Kingsnorth writes with undeniable love: for the planet, for locations and histories, and for people. Confessions is centered in his native England but voices global concerns. While Kingsnorth writes with persuasive logic and authority on a variety of topics, he is perhaps most lyrically impressive when rooted in the local, physical world, for example when scything his hayfields in rural Ireland, or searching for carved green men in ancient Norman churches. Given his passion for place, this is unsurprising.

Neatly organized into three sections--Collapse, Withdrawal and Connection--and with an informing introduction and call-to-action epilogue, this collection serves well as an introduction to Kingsnorth's philosophy and writing style. It also allows his more seasoned readers to chart his changing views. The overall effect is necessarily grim, but often remarkably uplifting as well. In a world on the brink of collapse, Kingsnorth offers humor, compassion, humility and wisdom. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This disillusioned environmentalist's thoughtful, poetic call to a different approach to action and way of thinking is both sobering and refreshing.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 208p., 9781555977801

Children's & Young Adult

A Different Pond

by Bao Phi, illus. by Thi Bui


"Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping. It will be hours before the sun comes up." So begins a Vietnamese American boy's account of a pre-dawn fishing expedition with his father. They've made this trip before ("Sometimes a Hmong man is at the pond"). When the boy asks his father, who has recently taken a second job, "Why do we still have to fish for food?," Dad replies, "Everything in America costs a lot of money."

A Different Pond isn't a story in the traditional sense--there's no wedge-like event to disrupt the narrative's flow. But conflicts that happened offscreen shape the narrative into one family's story: the boy thinks about the kid at school who mocks his father's English; money woes led to Dad's second job; and the boy knows that Dad lost a brother--turns out they fished together as children--when they were fighting in the war in Vietnam.

Bao Phi, a poet, gives the narrator's words an occasional lyricism (minnows in the plastic bag from the bait shop "swim like silver arrows in my hands"); this is neither overbearing nor implausible in a child old enough to mind his baby brother to help out his parents. Playing off the writing's grace is Thi Bui's art, in which characters tend to be rendered more simply than their painterly backgrounds. In the final illustration, a mottled blue image of lily pads and swirling fish appears behind the boy, who's dreaming "of fish in faraway ponds." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In Bao Phi's affecting picture book, a Vietnamese American boy illuminates the immigrant experience with his description of a father-son fishing expedition.

Capstone Young Readers, $15.95, hardcover, ages 6-8, 9781623708030

Professional Crocodile

by Giovanna Zoboli, illus. by Mariachiara Di Giorgio


Every morning elegant Mr. Crocodile rises to the "DRIIIIIINN" of his alarm clock and readies himself for the day. Along with the other (mostly human) workaday citizens of his city, he brushes his teeth, gets dressed and drinks his coffee before taking the elevator down to the street to catch his subway. There's so much to see: the vibrant city offers up flowers, fragrant baked goods and roasted "polli," or chicken, as well as terrific people-watching. Although the commute is crowded and hectic at times--at one point Mr. Crocodile is wedged so tightly in the subway car, he must point his long snout straight up into the armpit of a fellow traveler--our hero is sanguine, clutching his briefcase in one hand and sneaking peeks at his newspaper in the other. Arriving at his workplace, Mr. Crocodile heads for the locker room to change into his work duds. Readers will laugh in delight when they finally discover what Mr. Crocodile's job is.

Italian writer and author team Giovanna Zoboli (The Big Book of Slumber; Animal Supermarket) and Mariachiara Di Giorgio take an unlikely subject--the urban commute of a professional crocodile--and magically turn it into an absolutely charming wordless picture book. Di Giorgio's sophisticated illustrations are designed to be pored over, packed with subtle details, such as the moment a passing car puddle-splashes a window-shopping Mr. Crocodile--look closer and see that the frazzled woman driving the car has a cranky kid distracting her. Young readers will giggle to see the (discreet) side view of Mr. Crocodile sitting on the toilet, blue-striped pajamas around his slipper-clad ankles. Professional Crocodile is certain to spark readers' imaginations while putting a smile on their faces. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this enchanting wordless picture book, a sophisticated European crocodile prepares for his day, commuting through a lively cityscape to his unexpected and wonderful job.

Chronicle, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781452165066

Of Jenny and the Aliens

by Ryan Gebhart


When Derek was in second grade, space programs around the world united to create a message directed at a nearby Earth-like planet dubbed Pud 5. Now just weeks before his 18th birthday, Earth has received a response: music. None of this matters much to Derek, who thinks that life on Earth isn't about to end "[j]ust because life exists on another planet." What matters to Derek is losing his virginity to "someone who actually likes" him, not someone who "thinks aliens are about to murder her." When super hot, super cool Jennifer approaches him (topless) at a party to see if he wants to play beer pong, Derek is sure it's the start of something amazing. He has zero experience with girls, but Jenny (who Derek has heard "has slept with four guys and fooled around with a couple of girls") seems like she might really like him. As Derek's crush spirals into daydreams of growing old with Jenny, he finds her affections torn. A late-night encounter with a pot-smoking alien musician named Karo gives Derek new perspective and he realizes what he must do: start an intergalactic war to win Jenny's heart.

Of Jenny and the Aliens by Ryan Gebhart (There Will Be Bears) is a hilarious and wildly imaginative romp through first love and first contact. Gebhart's characters are realistic and their actions and reactions believable; lovable, flawed Derek is a fantastic narrator whose missteps in love will have readers cringing alongside him. In a genre plagued with familiar tropes, Gebhart's aliens are a breath of fresh air, particularly Karo and his odd penchant for the Cleveland Browns and all things humanity-related. Gebhart's bold, slightly crude humor is a highlight in this wonderfully entertaining and memorable tale not to be missed. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer

Discover: A teenage boy struggling with his first love seeks advice from a pot-smoking alien.

Candlewick, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 16-up, 9780763688455

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