Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 2, 2013

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Fall Books: Amazing Valleys and Botanists

The final (maybe) installment (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) listing books we're looking forward to this fall... and we've barely scratched the surface of the fabulous titles on the way!

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking, October 1). Gilbert returns to fiction with a hefty novel about a woman born in 1800 who becomes a botanist and lives in a time of new ideas and exploding assumptions.

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Books, Sept 10). Depression-era Seattle, an orphaned Chinese-American boy, and an actress named Willow Frost, whom the boy believes to be his mother--surefire wonderfulness from Jamie Ford.

Someone by Alice McDermott (FSG, September 10). An ordinary life lived by an ordinary woman. In McDermott's hands, it becomes extraordinary in its detail and universality.

Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker (Blue Rider Press, September 17). Baker reintroduces sometime poet Paul Chowder from The Anthologist. Now he's turning 55 ("Unless you're Yeats or Merwin you are done as a poet at fifty-five."); he decides to learn songwriting and win back his ex-girlfriend Roz.

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Ecco, November 5). Centered on the dazzling world of courtesans in early Shanghai, moving to a remote Chinese mountain village and the streets of San Francisco, and spanning 50 years, Tan maps the lives of three generations of women: Lucia, the mother; Violet the reluctant "Virgin Courtesan"; and Flora, the American granddaughter.

W Is for Wasted by Sue Grafton (Marian Wood/Putnam, September 10). Two seemingly unrelated deaths, one a murder, the other apparently of natural causes. A pleasure for Grafton fans, even as we think, with trepidation, "Only three more letters."

The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge, September 10). The second in the suspenseful series. One of our reviewers had this to say: "Yay, the new Hank Phillipi Ryan!! [reporter] Jane and [detective] Jake had better f***ging make out in this one, because they did not in the last one and I was very, very angry about it. VERY. ANGRY." --Marilyn Dahl

The Writer's Life

Jason M. Hough: A First Contact Mystery

Jason M. Hough's debut novel, The Darwin Elevator (just published by Del Rey), is a science fiction action adventure with a touch of mystery and compelling characters, all set in a post-apocalyptic world.

He's already written the next two novels in the trilogy, The Exodus Towers and The Plague Forge; they're set to be published in August and September of this year. He lives in San Diego, Calif., with his wife and two young sons.

Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what did you do before you started writing?

I grew up in San Diego, although I was born in Chicago. Before taking up writing, I worked as a video game designer for quite a while and I was an artist in the game business as well, doing 3D and graphics animation work.

When I left the game business, I was just really looking for a new creative outlet and decided to give writing a try, mostly because it seemed like something I could do pretty much entirely on my own in terms of my pace and my success and failure and that kind of thing. I fiddled with it for a number of years, and then I wasn't really getting anywhere. When I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I decided to give that a shot, just as a kick in the pants more than anything. I ended up really liking it.

I did it in 2007 the first time and, if anything, it taught me the value of writing every day without worrying about editing or revising anything I had done before. I just made a little bit of progress every day, but I didn't really have a plan that year. I went into it with the first idea I had and evolved it as I went along, and the whole thing kind of fell apart [laughs].

So the year after that, I went in with an outline and a plan, and that was actually The Darwin Elevator. I was happy with where I was going and I just kept working on it after that. And kept working on it and working on it. A couple years later I found myself an agent, and the rest is history. 

So you sold the first book, The Darwin Elevator, to Del Rey, and now you have three books coming out. How did that work?

I had the first book written and that's what my agent went and shopped around. We got offers from a few different publishers, and we decided Del Rey's was the strongest. Their offer was actually for three books, which is one of the things that surprised me about the whole process coming into it as a new author. I had no idea how that was gonna work when the book ends, as you know, on a little bit of a cliffhanger.

But I had nothing written beyond that and other than a couple of ideas, I didn't have anything even outlined for the subsequent books. I was actually kind of shocked that, before offering on it, they didn't come and say hey, what's the plan and how many books are you seeing or whatever, they just said "Hey, this is great! We want three."

Actually, there was a big benefit to that, which was that my editor at Del Rey [Mike Braff] and I really had a great collaborative relationship on the second and third books. I came up with an outline and reviewed it extensively with him, and by the time it was refined and he was happy with it, I was able to start writing with sort of the confidence that he already knew where things were going and was happy with the direction. It worked out well for me. 

Tell us about The Darwin Elevator.

Essentially, it's a first-contact mystery that's disguised as an action thriller. The backstory of the plot is an alien race has built this space elevator on Earth, above Darwin, Australia. Without explanation. An automated ship shows up one day and constructs the thing and leaves us to figure out how to use it and what it's for.

Why did you want to write this story? What is this story about for you?

I think what really appealed to me about it when I first had the concrete idea for the book was getting to write a book that had a post-apocalyptic aspect as well as sort of a utopian space society that were both literally tied together. It wasn't just they were two different facets of the story, they were connected by this cord, and both completely reliant on each other for their survival.

The space elevator itself is a fascinating technology, but beyond that, from a story standpoint, I love how it essentially creates these natural choke points at both ends, becoming kind of a trade route between the two sides. So that's really the thing that everyone latched onto when I told them about it. That kept me going, I suppose, through the writing process. 

You've written on the topic of space elevators in science fiction. Did you do some research about how realistic the technology is?

I did a fair amount of research while I was writing. I also recently did a post on SF Signal about space elevators in science fiction, which was just kind of talking a little bit about how space elevators have been a set piece in science fiction models and other movies and TV here and there. It is a very well researched, still theoretical technology--a lot of scientists have looked into it. Other than a handful of materials science or engineering problems, the general physics of it is pretty sound.

At some point, after I'd set the book in Darwin, Australia, I was reading an article about space elevators and the author kept mentioning that they had to be literally ON the equator, and Darwin is a good distance off. I freaked out a little bit and even e-mailed my editor and thought that I might have completely blown this part.

I'm sure it was too late to change anyway, but he said don't even worry about it, no one is gonna notice. But I still wouldn't let it go. I had seen a paper that was written about 10 years ago for NASA, and it was talking about space elevators in general, and particularly about putting one on Mars. The author's e-mail address was on the cover, so I just e-mailed him and said here's my question. He replied and said it would work, don't worry. And he gave me a handful of little details to include to help with the science of a space elevator. Overall, it assuaged my fears and I was able to keep going. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Books to Read Before Their Film Adaptations Appear

"Because 99% of the time, the books are better than the movies," Buzzfeed suggested 14 books to read before they hit the big screen.


For your YA late summer reading pleasure, the Huffington Post recommended "17 amazing books to get you through September."


A Fox News host's highly publicized recent interview of Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth inspired Buzzfeed to share "7 books about religion that were written by a scholar who's a different religion."

The Retreat by Random House blog recommended "10 books for the geek in all of us."


Callie Wright, author of Love All, shared her "favorite messed-up literary families."


A "sofa nook in a built-in bookcase" was one of several book nooks featured by the blog A Perfect Gray.

Book Review


The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy

by James Purdy

James Purdy (1914-2009) is considered by some to be an authentic American genius, yet most "well-read" Americans haven't heard of him. Liveright is trying to change that by reissuing his works, starting with a massive compendium of his short stories.

In his idiosyncratic introduction, filmmaker John Waters calls these pieces "gracefully disquieting stories for the wicked." The New York Times's 2009 obituary described Purdy's writings as "savagely comic," a "psychic landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation." While such descriptions would be catnip for readers today, for a writer in the 1940s and '50s, publishing grotesque surreal gothic often resulted in obscurity.

His language and style are a bit old fashioned, his sentences sparse, condensed. His subject matter is a cross between Nathanael West (sans Hollywood) and Flannery O'Connor (sans religion): a diva's career is managed by a talking cat; a lonely man talks to himself every night in a bar's phone booth; an elderly eighth-grade teacher walks naked from her school to the house of a student from 20 years ago. In one of Purdy's most famous pieces, the 1956 novella "63: Dream Palace," which he originally self-published in an edition he designed, two teenage brothers move from the South to an abandoned building in Chicago. It touches on familiar Purdy themes--homosexuality and alienation--but closes with a shocking incident of fratricide.

As a fearless iconoclast, Purdy deserves our rediscovery. The seemingly simple yet compelling prose of The Complete Short Stories belies the haunting, slightly creepy stories that live within. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Liveright is also bringing back Cabot Wright Begins, Purdy's novel about a car salesman who decides to write a novel about a recently paroled serial rapist.

Liveright, $35, hardcover, 9780871406699

Sea Creatures

by Susanna Daniel

Susanna Daniel (Stiltsville) explores marriage and motherhood in all their complications in her second novel, Sea Creatures. Georgia and her husband, Graham, leave the Midwest for her hometown of Miami when his sleep disorder costs him his job at Northwestern and her own college counseling business tanks. Her father and stepmother welcome the couple and their three-year-old son, Frankie, letting them use a slip on the canal to moor their houseboat.

Graham finds a research job and Georgia goes about being the quintessential helicopter mother, devoted to Frankie--who hasn't spoken a word in 18 months. It was Georgia's idea to have a child, and Graham has not adjusted well--furthermore, he doesn't like Miami. Georgia takes a job as an errand girl for Charlie, a reclusive artist. Frankie goes with her, which opens new avenues of communication for all three of them.

Daniel has orchestrated everything to work against the success of this move: Graham's sleep issues, Frankie's mutism, Georgia's terror that she isn't a good mother. (The origins of Frankie's silence are murky, but Daniel hints that Graham's disorder is somehow involved.) When Hurricane Andrew blows through southern Florida, Daniel has the necessary deus ex machina to rearrange everything--in startling ways. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Physical and psychological afflictions take their toll on a marriage and a child.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062219602

The Skull and the Nightingale

by Michael Irwin

In his debut novel, The Skull and the Nightingale, Michael Irwin tells the story of Richard Fenwick, a young man just returned to 18th-century London after a European tour. Or rather, he lets Richard tell his story, cobbling together a first-person narration and a collection of letters written to his godfather, a wealthy gentleman living in the English countryside.

Orphaned at a young age, Richard has long been under the care and protection of his godfather, and so thinks it perfectly reasonable to be offered employment by the gentleman following his education. When he learns his godfather means to put him up in London with a generous allowance and let him live out his days as he chooses, required only to write of his adventures, the employment seems to good to be true. Of course, the arrangement is too good to be true, and Richard finds himself caught in a trap of lies and manipulation, fighting to maintain his independence while still keeping his patron satisfied with his tales of danger and adventure--and lust.

Though slow to start, The Skull and the Nightingale hits its stride once Richard begins his records for his godfather. Richard's exploits turn rapidly to sex and manipulation, and so his story will not be for everyone, but for readers who wish to explore the sordid underbelly of 18th-century London, The Skull and the Nightingale will not disappoint. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: An epistolary tale of manipulation, sex and adventure set in 18th-century London.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062202352

The Panopticon

by Jenni Fagan

After a life of countless foster homes and juvenile offenses, 15-year-old Anais Hendricks now faces jail time after allegedly putting an abusive police officer in a coma. Anais doesn't remember assaulting the officer but, due to drugs and alcohol, she also doesn't remember anything else. While awaiting her fate, Anais is hauled to the Panopticon, a high-security foster-care facility. Like Anais, the other "clients" here have faced abuse and neglect, often by the adults who were responsible for protecting them.

Set in Scotland and thus evoking inevitable comparisons to Trainspotting, Jenni Fagan's debut novel, The Panopticon, depicts the devastating realities of lifelong foster care. Sensitive and precocious beyond her years, Anais reads avidly (from classics to vampire novels) and dreams of a future beyond the surveillance of what she calls "the experiment."

Fagan excels at portraying the desolation of a child unmoored who, in her short life, has experienced and witnessed abuse--and even dealt with the grisly murder of a loved foster mother. By the time Anais reaches the Panopticon, she views every adult as a potential--and likely--enemy.

A reader of The Panopticon becomes entrenched in Anais's mind, absorbing her acid observations and theories, as well as the flashbacks that gradually shed light on her past. Enjoyment of the novel very much hinges on whether the reader enjoys Anais's voice. While Fagan introduces various elements of plot--a mysterious coma, the question of whether Anais's fear of "the experiment" is sane--what the novel does best is to illuminate harshly, like the light from the security tower at the center of the Panopticon, a life most readers are unlikely to observe firsthand. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post

Discover: A devastating depiction of the foster care system in Scotland from the point of view of a strong-willed, independent 15-year-old heroine.

Hogarth, $22, hardcover, 9780385347860


Love and Other Scandals

by Caroline Linden

RITA Award winner Caroline Linden opens a new Regency series with the light and humorous Love and Other Scandals. Joan Bennett is a hair's breadth from spinsterhood, having gone through four seasons without a single suitor. Her sardonic wit and unusual height seem to put off the gentlemen. With a love affair of her own growing more improbably every day, Joan indulges her curiosity by surreptitiously reading a scandalous series of pamphlets called 50 Ways to Sin.

Although her indomitable mother isn't disinterested in Joan, her current priority is finding a suitable wife for Joan's brother, heir to the family title. When Joan accosts her brother at his townhouse to deliver their mother's summons to a ball, she runs into his lifelong friend and drinking mate, Viscount Burke. 

Even if Tristan were in market for a betrothed, Joan is the last woman he would ever choose. Not only is she his best friend's sister, making courtship awkward to the point of impossibility, she has the most impertinent tongue and wears the most unflattering clothes imaginable. If only her scathing wit didn't have him thinking about stopping her mouth with kisses, and if only her hideously frilly garments didn't have him thinking about how she would look without them!

While Linden's sweet love story doesn't cover new ground, it nonetheless hits all the traditional right notes of the reformed rake storyline, and readers will smile as prim, but perhaps not so proper, Joan wins the love of London's most notorious heartbreaker. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The romance between a handsome, rakish viscount and the smart, spirited miss who wins his heart.

Avon, $5.99, mass market paperbound, 9780062244871

Biography & Memoir

A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life

by James Bowen

James Bowen got back on his feet after an extended period of homelessness and drug abuse--yet his life still seemed to have little meaning or direction. Busking in London's Covent Garden kept him alive but provided little in the way of larger goals. All that changed when Bowen came home one day to find a beat-up orange street cat hunched on a neighbor's mat. The cat refused to leave, so after a few days Bowen let him in and named him Bob--a decision that would change both their lives.

Bob soon began coming along on Bowen's busking trips, where his calm demeanor and friendly face made him a celebrity among passersby. Bowen's earnings improved thanks to Bob's presence until the pair were driven away from their usual spot by unfriendly Tube ticket agents. Not to be deterred, Bowen sought work selling magazines with Bob in tow. After a harrowing incident with a dog and assorted other adventures, Bowen realized that his relationship with Bob wasn't merely one of survival or convenience--it was a true friendship. Taking care of his new friend restored a sense of purpose to Bowen's life, giving him the strength to kick his drug dependency for good and to make amends with his family.

A Street Cat Named Bob is charmingly told, with little sappiness; Bowen makes no bones about the difficulties of his life, but neither does he over-romanticize his friendship with Bob. Strong pacing and vivid detail make this memoir perfect for cat lovers. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: A heartwarming story about a street cat and his human.

Thomas Dunne, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250029461


The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

by Judith Flanders

Judith Flanders (A Circle of Sisters) tackles an unwieldy subject in The Invention of Murder, telling the tale admirably well, even entertainingly.

The Victorian British, Flanders tells us, were the first to identify murder as an object of fascination--inspiring in turn a passionate interest in trials, executions, motives and, eventually, the developing profession of solving crimes. The action opens in 1811 with the murdered Marr family, and quickly moves to 1820s Edinburgh, where Burke and Hare infamously killed so they could to sell the corpses to doctors as medical specimens. Flanders introduces a lengthy list of famous (and obscure) murderers and serial killers, culminating, of course, with Jack the Ripper. Alongside the killers and their victims, she presents Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and many contributions by Charles Dickens to illustrate her thesis that murder in life inspired murder in art. Fictional murderers and detectives play a role equal to their real-life counterparts, as Sweeney Todd and Sherlock Holmes take the stage.

Flanders also tracks the evolution of the police force from a force of deterrence to an investigative organization, along with the parallel development of murder and detection in literature and on the stage. The penny-blood (or penny-dreadful), a cheap booklet telling a sordid and often illustrated tale of horror, morphs into the detective novel (and play), as the public shifts its interest from bloody murder to the newly invented and increasingly sympathetic crimesolvers we know and love today. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An exhaustive, engaging examination of how murder and the murder mystery novel infiltrated our modern world by way of 19th-century Britain.

Thomas Dunne, $26.99, hardcover, 9781250024879

Psychology & Self-Help

You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself

by David McRaney

David McRaney follows up 2011's You Are Not So Smart with another series of thought-provoking ideas, observations and analysis on why humans think and act the way we do. You Are Now Less Dumb digs deep into the annals of scientific investigations, debunking a variety of commonly accepted "misconceptions" on human behavior. The notion that "you objectively appraise the individual attributes of other people," for example, is corrected and recast as "you judge specific qualities of others based on your global evaluation of their character and appearance." As McRaney explains, this is due to a "halo effect" that "causes one trait about a person to color your attitude and perceptions of all their other traits." (This is why short actors stand on boxes to appear as tall or taller than their counterparts; tall people automatically garner more positive emotions.)

Want to know how much money it takes to be a happy American or how the environment can affect your degree of sexual arousal? McRaney supports his arguments on these and other subjects with many case studies conducted by scientists whose experiments isolated the one factor they were searching for in their test subjects. The prose is dense, at times mindboggling, but McRaney does provide readers with many new ideas. Like many concepts, though, there are exceptions to every rule--and not everyone may agree with his keen analysis. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Quirky new ideas on why humans act the way they do.

Gotham, $22.50, hardcover, 9781592408054


Thinking in Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math

by Daniel Tammet

An autistic savant who has set a European record for the most publicly recited digits of pi (22,514), Daniel Tammet sees numbers a bit differently than most people do. In the essays in Thinking in Numbers, he explores math as it relates to family relationships, snowflakes, chess and a host of other topics. From Shakespeare learning the concept of zero to the unknowable poetry of prime numbers, Tammet juxtaposes math and life in startling and often entertaining ways.

Tammet, the oldest of nine children, begins by musing on the many possible combinations (sets) of himself and his siblings. In "A Model Mother," he further relates math to family by drawing distinctions between our perceptions of other people and the reality of their true selves. Touching on subjects from history (Anne Boleyn's 11 fingers) to language ("Counting to Four in Icelandic"), literature ("A Novelist's Calculus") and Japanese proverbs, Tammet waxes philosophical as he considers the effects of numbers on our lives and how ultimately we fail to grasp their quantity, their beauty or all their other characteristics--much as we do with other people.

Since Tammet has a deep knowledge of mathematics, his writing occasionally grows too abstract for those who have not studied higher math. But most of these essays provide a smart, engaging, accessible guide to the intersection of mathematics, philosophy and the numerous (and numerical) worlds in which we live. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The author of Born on a Blue Day returns with a smart, engaging, accessible guide to the intersection of mathematics, philosophy and daily life.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316187374


Love Him or Leave Him but Don't Get Stuck with the Tab: Hilarious Advice for Real Women

by Loni Love

She's got sass, she's got class and she'll kick your... preconceived notions of dating and courtship to the curb. Loni Love, a comedienne who often pops up on the late-night talk show Chelsea Lately, uproariously tells women where it's at when it comes to the age-old manhunt in Love Him or Leave Him but Don't Get Stuck with the Tab, expertly laying out the issues with guys who won't commit and men whose moms are still taking care of them.

Any woman who has been treated like a carpet in past relationships should strap this guide to her torso. Love's not afraid to knock back Hennessy, put her career first and bravely share her own mortifying experiences. Using a question-and-answer format, the effervescent Love drops wisdom on everything from handling a man who wants you to lose some weight (a big no-no in Love's book) to whether you can date your mama's ex (HELL no!).

"I do not trust people who don't love themselves and yet tell me, 'I love you,' " Maya Angelou once said. "There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt." Through over-the-top humor and blunt truth, Loni Love's how-to book on romance seems to encourage women to love themselves first--and the men will follow. Or in her case, flock. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Loni Love's side-splitting advice guide on love and relationships is best enjoyed over a cocktail straight-up.

Simon & Schuster, $24, hardcover, 9781451694765

Children's & Young Adult

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song

by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Brian Pinkney

The husband-and-wife team behind Sit-In and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America charts the convergent paths of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson in this triumphant tale of friendship and talent.

Andrea David Pinkney emphasizes that both Martin and Mahalia grew up in a gospel tradition: he as an orator, and she as a singer. The author urges young readers on in a cadence that evokes the gospel, spoken and sung ("You are here./ Let the map lead the way./ Let the dove fly ahead./ On the path./ To the dream./ To the words./ And the songs"). The dove--a symbol of peace, so crucial to Dr. King's non-violent protests--appears in every one of Brian Pinkney's illustrations. The text alternates between a young Martin and a young Mahalia; the artwork portrays Martin against a backdrop of blues and lime greens, while Mahalia comes to life in a sea of rose and tangerine hues. When the two meet up in a vertical spread, their palettes mix, creating a swirl of purple.

On each spread, commanding words stand out in colorful, all-capital letters, the artist often incorporates into the composition. The book builds to a climax at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, on August 28, 1963. Brian Pinkney's artwork, in a majestic vertical spread, shows the magnitude of the crowd gathered on the Washington Mall on that great day. Endnotes, a timeline and further reading wrap up this story of a friendship between two inspirational leaders. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A picture book from the award-winning team behind Sit-In tells the story of a friendship between two inspirational leaders.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-up, 9780316070133

The Hypnotists #1: Hypnotize Me

by Gordon Korman

What kid doesn't want to have special powers, especially the ability to hypnotize adults?

With a large helping of humor, Gordon Korman (Ungifted; Schooled) introduces 12-year-old Jackson Opus, who has eyes that change color. Lately people have been doing strange things just because Jax wants them to. At first, the boy shrugs it off. But when the Amazing Ramolo starts strutting across the stage and clucking in his own chicken act, Jax must admit that something very strange is going on. He's invited to join the Sentia Institute, where he learns that he has the power to bend people's minds. Its founder, Dr. Elias Mako, wants to teach him how to control it. "We'll nurture and develop your gift in every way," Dr. Mako says. "And together we'll change the world."

At first, all Jax has to do is make people jump up and down, and other harmless tasks. But when Dr. Mako asks Jax to hypnotize his subjects remotely, using a video camera, Jax begins to worry. Jax does a little investigating, and uncovers a plot shocking in its scope. Soon Jax and his best friend, Tommy, are racing to stop Dr. Mako's evil plan, in addition to saving themselves, Jax's parents and the entire country, before it's too late.

Gordon Korman delivers yet another gently suspenseful and funny romp that will satisfy his many fans. Readers will hope that subsequent books in the series are just as mesmerizing. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: How 12-year-old Jax learns the pros and cons of being a hypnotist.

Scholastic Press, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9780545503228

After Iris

by Natasha Farrant

Hilary McKay fans will glom onto this insightful, often funny novel about Blue (short for "Bluebell") who is trying to soldier on after the death of her twin. ("Since Iris died, at school I am the shadow," Blue thinks.) That was three years ago. Everyone else in the Gadsby family seems to have moved past the loss of Iris, but Blue still feels as though Iris is near.

The 13-year-old combines "conventional diary entries" with transcripts of short films, which read as screenplays. Blue enjoys filming people, especially her family, and her observations reveal an artist's eye at work. Farrant gets Blue's voice just right, which makes this tale of the Gadsbys ideal for reading aloud. Her parents often travel for business, so one of her father's students comes to look after them (this follows immediately after 16-year-old Flora's negligence leads to one of her youngest siblings landing in the hospital). Zoran is a fine cook and an even better friend to the Gadsby children, and their Grandma makes a wonderful confidante, too.

Blue ultimately discovers that she's not a shadow, nor does she have to pretend that everything will be fine. This poignant novel will be a salve to young people who've lost a loved one, and for everyone else, they'll discover a family they wished lived next door. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A chaotic family to rival any of Hilary McKay's cast of characters, with unforgettable Blue as the navigator-narrator.

Dial Books, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 10-14, 9780803739826

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