Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 27, 2013

Inkyard Press: A Show for Two by Tashie Bhuiyan

From My Shelf

Blogs into Books

In 2002, in the early days of blogging, Julie Powell started a blog called the Julie/Julia Project in which she catalogued her attempts to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's wildly popular cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The blog became a book in 2005 (Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, Little, Brown, $7.99) and was adapted for the big screen by Nora Ephron in 2009. What had started as little more than a small corner of the Internet soon became a sensation, though Powell is by no means the only blogger to find her name gracing the cover of a gorgeous hardcover.

More recently, Jenny Lawson, known on the Internet as The Bloggess, draws on the same humor and sarcasm that has made her a hit online in her book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) (Berkley, $16). She covers everything from her childhood in Texas (sparking her lasting interest in taxidermied animals) to her battle with depression and anxiety. As on her blog, Lawson holds nothing back, offering and honest, laugh-out-loud, absurd view of the ups and downs of life.

Also known for her wit and humor, blogger Alida Nugent compiled her reflections on life as a young woman into her first book, Don't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood (Plume, $14). Nugent explores the awkward transition from college kid looking for a party to responsible adult in search of employment. Don't Worry, It Gets Worse is honest, real and hilarious--just like Nugent's blog, The Frenemy. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Bethany House Publishers: When the Day Comes (Timeless) by Gabrielle Meyer

The Writer's Life

Adam Langer: The Unreliable Narrator

Photo: Anthony Collins

Adam Langer was born and raised in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood. He left Chicago in 1984 to attend Vassar College, and returned in 1988 and worked for over a decade as an editor, nonfiction author, playwright, theater director and very occasional film producer. He served as senior editor of Book Magazine until that publication folded in 2003. He is the author of five novels and one memoir and is now arts & culture editor of the Jewish Daily Forward. His new novel, The Salinger Contract (reviewed below), is about books, publishing, money and nefarious goings-on concerning authorship and crime.

Where did the idea for The Salinger Contract come from? Were you once approached by another author (Conner Joyce in your book) to write a novel?

In a way, I was, although I honestly can't talk about it. At the same time, I understand that, since the narrator of my novel is rather unreliable, I can't really be trusted to give an honest answer on this, and when I say that I can't talk about it, it may sound like I'm making it up. Then again, I'm not sure if I would trust any author to give an honest answer on this topic, or any topic, even when we're trying to be honest. The same thing's true when it comes to answering the question of what inspired the novel.

When I think back to when I started writing it, I think I wanted to satirize the concept of how a book could be used to save someone's life. That's what makes sense to me now and what sounds right. But the person who wrote this novel and the person who's responding to this question are, in a sense, two different people. Basically, I like to start with reality and then take a vicious left turn from it and see where I wind up. The process of writing is always a process of discovery, and I suppose that figuring out what inspired the novel is part of that discovery process.

Where did your main character, Adam Langer, come from? Might he be a bit autobiographical?

You'd think so, wouldn't you? But in a sense he's no more or less autobiographical than the rest of the characters. I share a name with him. And I share a profession with him and certain biographical elements. But he's sort of like me reflected in a funhouse mirror--some characteristics exaggerated, some reduced, and also some invented entirely. There are certain reasons why I chose to give him my name, but that's more to undercut readers' and even my own expectations than to conform to them. To tell you the truth, when I was a kid, I never really liked my name and to tell you the further truth, I'm not all that sure I like the character who I gave that name. He's okay, but I wouldn't trust him.

Are you an author who enjoys fooling around with the possibilities inherent in metafiction?

Yes, if it's possible to like metafiction without liking the word "metafiction." I like puzzles and games and stories within stories and frames within frames and what the French call "mise en abyme." Some of my favorite authors are the ones who experiment with the form and comment on the form. But I'm not married to experimentation, and some of my work is more metafictional than others. And some of my least favorite authors also happen to be ones who experiment with metafiction. Sometimes I'm perfectly satisfied with straight, traditional, narrative realism. And sometimes experimentation for its own sake can give me as much of a pain in the ass as anything else. I like to mix it up, both in what I read and what I write.

Who's the model for your other key character, Conner Joyce? Might it be Adam Langer?

No. Or yes. Or maybe. When I invent a character, I only find out later where I got him. When I wrote Conner, I wanted him to be someone I truly sympathized with. Not one of those experimental metafictional writer types--someone who believed in stories for their own sake, who believed that telling a good story truly could save someone's life. I've encountered folks along the way who remind me a little of Conner--decent, honest, hardworking artists who approach writing as a craft. Names like Will Vlautin, Andre Dubus III, Bill Lychack, Miles Harvey, Jad Davenport and others come to mind. But I didn't base Conner on any of them. Nor did I base Conner Joyce on my journalist friends Thomas Conner and Cynthia Joyce, though they do have good names.

How much fun was it to poke fun at the book publishing world?

For me, writing a book has to be fun no matter what the topic. Whether I'm writing about growing up in Chicago or about New York real estate or about publishing or academia, I find that I have to enjoy doing it. Once it starts feeling laborious, then I know that the reading of it will be laborious. I wasn't really interested in satirizing books and book publishing, per se. I wanted to tell an entertaining story. If some humor comes at the expense of the book world, so be it, but it wasn't my primary intention.

There's no sleight of hand in the novel dealing with e-books. Did you avoid that on purpose?

I'll have to save that for the movie version, I guess. Or the enhanced, expanded e-edition. But the main characters in my novel are sort of old-school--the sort of people who remember when books were physical books; they're people who love the feel and smell of books. Having them wandering out with their Kindles and their Nooks doesn't really have the same image and impact that I was going for. And to tell you the truth, I don't use my Kindle as much as I used to about a year ago. I wonder if that's true for other readers, too.

The novel has a nice noirish atmosphere. Is there some "pulpishness" at work here?

Sure. I like that genre a lot. Or at least I do in theory. There are a lot of elements of noir that I'm not so crazy about--the formulaic nature, the misogyny, and so forth. Probably I'm more influenced by noir film than noir lit--and, if you look closely at the novel, you'll probably find some quotes that Humphrey Bogart said in a movie or two.

Were there any books that influenced you as you put together this literary mystery-puzzle?

Well, John le Carré's The Russia House is an influence on Conner, so that's one. Plus, Alain Robbe-Grillet's script to Last Year at Marienbad is important to the characters, too. But I'm not sure how those books did or didn't influence me. There are books and authors I love--Virginia Woolf and G.K. Chesterton and Joseph Conrad and Edna O'Brien and Tom Stoppard and N.F. Simpson and Billy Wilder and a ton of others. But I have no idea if any of their influence seeped into this book at all. I hope so, but I really don't have a clue. I try to be as unself-conscious in the process as possible, even when I'm writing a character who bears a passing resemblance to me.

Who plays Adam Langer in the movie version of the book? Who would be good for some of the other characters?

A screenplay version actually exists, and the funny part is I'm not a character in it. I changed it a lot. But the answer is I don't know, really. I like to stay out of those discussions as much as possible. I tend to like movies where I'm not familiar with the actors in it anyway, movies directed by Leos Carax or Olivier Assayas or Cedric Klapisch or Joachim Trier. I liked the movie Margin Call a lot and maybe the lead in that would be good, but I don't remember his name. But when I say things like that, my agents usually look at me and tell me I should shut up. Maybe Cate Blanchett?

In the novel you have this line: "It was as if they were being paid to dream." Do you write this way?

In a way. It's an organic process. Which sounds pretentious and I apologize for that. But I like to be surprised. I don't like to know what happens next. I like writing to be a process analogous to reading where I really do turn the page and feel that whatever is on it is something I didn't expect. That's sort of like dreaming, although often my dreams tend to be formulaic; I hope my fiction is less predictable than my dreams.

What's next for Adam Langer? Either one!

Well, for the Adam responding to this question, I have three books in various stages of completion that I'd like to finish as soon as I can, and I'm working on completing a draft of the screenplay of my novel The Thieves of Manhattan. Also, I need to pick up a bread from the bakery and finish making dinner. As for the Adam in my novel, well, he's got more than enough to worry about now, and I imagine he has to finish writing his next book. He promised he would, after all. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

University of South Carolina Press: Only Wanna Be with You: The Inside Story of Hootie & the Blowfish by Tim Sommer

Book Candy

Banned Books Week Quiz; Game of Thrones on Facebook

"Why was Dorothy unsuitable for children?" asked the Guardian to introduce its Banned Books Week quiz.


"If Game of Thrones characters were on Facebook." Buzzfeed showcased a new ad campaign by the series' Portuguese publishing house.


Fifty Shades of Grey has inspired California vintners "to create two blended wines meant to evoke the bedroom-y nature of [E.L. James's] books: Red Satin and White Silk," Jacket Copy reported.  


Cumberbatch Alert: "As the day presses on and your mind becomes hazy with the chaos of the week, it's imperative that you take a moment to breathe," BlackBook advised in featuring a selection of "famous men reading famous poetry."


On the road: Flavorwire discovered "20 great American cities for writers--that aren't New York."


Should you be using a Percontation Mark in that paragraph? The Huffington post noted "8 punctuation marks that are no longer used."

Inkyard Press: A Show for Two by Tashie Bhuiyan

Book Review


The Salinger Contract

by Adam Langer

Imagine you're an accomplished writer with a few somewhat successful novels to your credit. You're approached by a mysterious fan with a proposal to write a thriller for a large sum of money. The catch? The book will be read only by this person (and maybe his bodyguard) and never published; its existence will forever be a secret. You will never talk about it; you will not keep a copy. Do you agree?

That's the scenario novelist Conner Joyce lays out for Adam Langer early in The Salinger Contract. And, he adds, some pretty good authors had accepted the offer, including Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and (hence the title) J.D. Salinger.

The Adam Langer who stars in The Salinger Contract is not the Adam Langer who wrote The Salinger Contract, though. While the real-life Langer has written several twisty, offbeat books (such as The Thieves of Manhattan), the novel's protagonist has just a single title to his credit. One of the fun things about The Salinger Contract is the way Langer mixes the real together with the not so real, the truth with lies. And it's hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny; like the Rolling Stones song, it's a gas gas gas. Langer captures the book publishing scene perfectly, from the big box stores to the avaricious editors. So how much of the story is real? This is all I'm allowed to say. Enjoy. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: This literary book about books and publishing is a sly, Faustian house of cards--Nabokov's Pale Fire meets The Usual Suspects by way of SNL.

Open Road, $16.99, paperback, 9781453297940

Plough Publishing House: Brisbane by Eugene Vodolazkin

Who Asked You?

by Terry McMillan

The idea of home and the stress and strain of family underlies Who Asked You?, the eighth novel by author Terry McMillan (Waiting to Exhale). 

Set in an oppressed, largely African-American community in Los Angeles, the story revolves around Betty Jean, aka B.J., a hardworking, 60-year-old hotel maid, wife, mother and grandmother whose life is pulled in so many directions it's a wonder she isn't falling apart. B.J. serves as the primary caregiver for her retired husband who is struggling with Alzheimer's. Her three adult children have their own lives and problems: one son is a haughty, successful chiropractor who moved far away from the family and racks up marriages, while her other son is serving time in prison, vowing his innocence. And when her daughter, a supposedly recovered drug addict, shows up on B.J.'s doorstep one day and drops off her two young sons so she can take off with a new lover, B.J. is suddenly burdened with even more responsibility. B.J.'s vocal, strong-willed sisters, with their own family woes, add to the complications. Unlikely support arrives in the form of B.J.'s friend and neighbor and a young nurse taking care of B.J.'s husband.

As in McMillan's other novels, serious issues are rendered with wry humor. Quirky, original characters and unexpected jolts and surprises infuse the lively, engaging plot. The story is told via a multigenerational ensemble cast, which lends depth and authenticity to a mostly dialogue/monologue-driven narrative dealing with the intricacies of family life in the era of "hope and change." --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A large, African-American family is plagued by a slew of modern crises in McMillan's eighth novel.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670785698

Kensington Publishing Corporation: In the Face of the Sun: A Captivating Novel of Historical Fiction Perfect for Book Clubs by Denny S. Bryce

In Calamity's Wake

by Natalee Caple

Natalee Caple imaginatively reinvents the life of the notorious frontierswoman Calamity Jane with In Calamity's Wake. The novel, set in the late 1800s, opens with a deathbed scene between Miette and her adopted, gravely ill father, a clergyman, who makes his daughter promise that, upon his passing, she will go in search of her birth mother, Martha Jane Canary, aka Calamity Jane, who abandoned Miette when she was just a baby.

With great reluctance, Miette sets off to fulfill her father's wish. Miette's adventures during her long, arduous journey through the badlands of the American West test her in mind, body and soul. She encounters real and imagined dangers and a cast of historical characters who claim to know her mother and shed light, sometimes falsely, into the reputation of the woman known as Calamity Jane. Will Miette be able to track her mother down? If she does, can the breach of mother-daughter estrangement be reconciled?

This slender, inventive book is structured in compact chapters with alternating points of view that are ultimately braided together. Caple's approach enhances the overall suspense and appeal of the narrative whose unifying theme is loneliness. Miette's story is about a young woman's emotional coming-of-age and self-discovery, while the chapters on Calamity Jane's life, rendered via facts and shrouded mystery, flesh out a vivid portrait of the often misunderstood woman behind an American icon. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Caple (The Plight of Happy People in an Ordinary World) blends fact and fiction to imagine the life of Calamity Jane.

Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover, 9781620401859

Books Fluent: A Disturbing Nature by Brian Lebeau

Bleeding Edge

by Thomas Pynchon

Spring, 2001: It's like post-Silicon Alley and the dot-com boom, it's computers, files, the endemic "bleeding-edge technology." Websites are popping up everywhere. It's robots.txt, rogue bots, transition matrix and hacker stuff. And there's the New York landscape, the "lawless soundscape of the midnight street, breakage, screaming, vehicle exhaust"--always too close, "part of the deal."

As Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge begins, we meet Maxine Tarnow, a fraud investigator who has recently lost her license, but still is doing her own thing at her business, Tail'Em and Nail'Em, on New York City's Upper West Side.

Maxine becomes involved in a fraud case dealing with start-ups like and ("it's not code for a cheap diner"). But then the Benford curve anomalies, the ghost vendors and the Gulf-ward flow of capital rear their ugly heads. You dig? She's soon plunged deep into a cast of crummy characters a mile wide--and a screaming is about to come across the sky.

Amid all this computer chit chat, Pynchon tells Maxine's story in his very own natural, slangy vernacular, oozing with pop-culture references--Tetris, Friends, Picnic, Johnny Mnemonic and "Borderline"--one after the other. All the computer stuff might not work for some readers, but for those brought up in Pynchon's world, it will be literary manna. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Pynchon's all-encompassing foray into the dark world of computers, websites and bad karma stars a mom who wants to protect her children from all of it.

Penguin Press, $28.95, hardcover, 9781594204234

Mystery & Thriller

The Shogun's Daughter: A Novel of Feudal Japan

by Laura Joh Rowland

The Shogun's Daughter, Laura Joh Rowland's 17th installment in the Sano Ichiro mystery series, opens in a city darkened by the grim, residual air of recent death. It is 1704, and Edo (modern-day Tokyo) has been devastated by an earthquake, with thousands dead. Amid the ruins, the shogun's only daughter falls victim to smallpox. As she takes her last, rattling breaths, her family braces themselves for a struggle between the shogun's two remaining heirs. Only the shogun can choose his successor, but those who qualify will conspire ruthlessly to win his favor and be named the next ruler of Japan.

At the heart of Rowland's series is the samurai Sano, a classic hero who embodies the ideals of his rank and tradition. Sano's sworn enemy, the chamberlain Yanagisawa, is the shogun's favorite adviser. After visiting an astrologer, Yanagisawa makes the convenient discovery that his illegitimate son is the son of the shogun. (Rowland has researched Japanese history deeply and prefaces the novel with a historical note explaining the possibility of Yanagisawa's scheme.)

That the shogun notoriously prefers men is one of many reasons Sano doubts the claim. As his investigations progress, Sano begins to question the true cause of the Shogun's daughter's death. While political enemies are obvious suspects, even supernatural forces are rumored to be at play in the struggle for power. Unraveling an intricate plot against the backdrop of a lost and richly beautiful Japan, The Shogun's Daughter injects the murder mystery with glamour. --Annie Atherton

Discover: Rowland blends mystery and political drama in the 17th novel of her popular series set in feudal, 18th-century Japan.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250028617

Black Skies

by Arnaldur Indridason, trans. by Victoria Cribb

Arnaldur Indridason's Black Skies starts with a small favor: Icelandic police inspector Sigurdur Óli's friend asks him to dissuade a blackmailing husband-and-wife team from releasing explicit sexual photos of his sister-in-law. When Óli arrives at the blackmailers' house, he finds the woman beaten unconscious and chases her attacker before losing the man.

Meanwhile, a vagrant named Andrés, whom Óli met on an earlier case, sends him a disturbing, mysterious package, and follows up with incoherent phone calls, as if wanting to confess something. Can Óli find Andrés and stop him from doing something horrific, catch the blackmailer's assailant and repair his shaky relationship with the woman he loves?

Sigurdur Óli has been a secondary character in Indridason's Inspector Erlendur series (starting with Jar City), but Black Skies puts him in the lead position. Óli is a dogged investigator, blunt and unyielding when it comes to despicable people, but not without compassion toward those who warrant sympathy.

Readers can jump into Black Skies without having read any books by Indridason, however; the fine writing here will probably motivate them to circle back to the Erlendur stories. Indridason's lean prose keeps the action moving forward, but manages to include social commentary on greed and reflections on how we're often betrayed by those closest to us--and how some forms of justice may not be just at all. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja

Discover: Indridason's popular Icelandic crime series continues, but this time Inspector Erlendur's colleague Sigurdur Óli takes the lead role.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250000392

Biography & Memoir

Men We Reaped: A Memoir

by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward's novel about a pregnant 15-year-old girl in an impoverished Mississippi bayou town in the days before Hurricane Katrina, won the 2011 National Book Award. In Men We Reaped, Ward turns to memoir to understand the seemingly unrelated recent deaths of her brother and four other young men from her close-knit community. The result is a vivid and searing look at the legacy of racism in the U.S. by a writer with exceptional narrative gifts.

Ward tells each man's story in chapters woven into her larger narrative. She cuts back and forth in time as she traces her parents' lives growing up in DeLisle, Miss., trying for a better life in California, then returning to dwindling choices and a fracturing family. We share her grief at the loss of these young men, and understand why she loved each of them: Rog, Demond, CJ, Ronald and, finally, her brother, Joshua, killed by a drunk driver.

Ward ultimately sees these deaths not as random, but as the consequence of racism so ingrained it is almost unremarkable, though its expression is not. When options become nonexistent, depression, recklessness and the abuse of drugs and alcohol can seem reasonable responses; when there is no margin for error, any risk is magnified.

Men We Reaped is a stunning look at racism, the people it marginalizes and how we are all implicated. It is loving and raw, full of grief and anger, personal and objective, shocking and inevitable. Ward stands alongside writers like Edwige Danticat, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou as a gifted chronicler of the crucible of an inequitable culture. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward's memoir is a searing look at racism in the U.S. today--and a loving tribute to a lost brother and four friends.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781608195213

Current Events & Issues

Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist

by Bill McKibben

Oil and Honey centers partly on climate change, a subject on which Bill McKibben (The End of Nature) is expert, but it is also a deeply personal book. Having entered into a land-share agreement with his friend Kirk Webster, a beekeeper, McKibben finds his home and Webster's apiaries exerting a gravitational pull just as his political activism takes him far and wide. These two sides of his life--personal and political, local and global, analog and digital--are the focus of this combination memoir and call to action.

The subtitle refers to McKibben's journey from writer to activist, by way of and the Keystone Pipeline--a trip he did not intend but found obligatory. Activist though he may be, McKibben remains a fine writer, evocative, articulate, clever and humble in examining his mistakes. In piercing prose, he unites his longstanding status as an authority on climate change with his novicehood in the world of beekeeping. He muses on the small-scale and private implications of our changing world, which lead him to work with his family and Kirk's bees in his beloved local community in Vermont, and on the necessity for global action to combat the continuing quest for fossil fuels.

Oil and Honey travels the world but always cycles back, like the seasons, to McKibben's Vermont home, likening global systems to beehives in a manner both profound and lyrical--and important. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia 

Discover: Highly literate and expert musings on climate change, from the home to the global level.

Times Books, $26, hardcover, 9780805092844

Travel Literature

On The Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads

by Tim Cope

Australian adventurer Tim Cope's On The Trail of Genghis Khan tells the story of a 6,000-mile trek on horseback across the Eurasian steppes, from Mongolia to Hungary. His plan was to retrace the westward expansion of the early 13th-century Mongols as they created the largest land empire in history under the leadership of Genghis Khan. Cope hoped not only to understand the lives of the Mongols and the nomadic peoples who preceded them, but to look for traces of nomadic heritage. He expected the trip to take 18 months--instead, it took more than three years.

The narrative alternates between epic scope and day-to-day bumbling. With limited facility with the Mongolian language and even less ability as a horseman, Cope seems to be ironically named in the beginning chapters. His horses were stolen six days into his trek. He struggled with his gear, ran low on food, made dangerous choices and was regularly saved by the kindness of strangers.

Cope's experiences would be interesting enough in themselves, but he interweaves it with both the history of Genghis Khan's armed horsemen and accounts of their modern descendants, including modern Mongolian nomads who live in traditional felt tents with televisions powered by car batteries, cattle herders struggling to survive in post-soviet Kazakhstan and Hungarian horsemen who have romanticized their nomadic past.

On The Trail of Genghis Khan will appeal to anyone interested in adventure or nomads--past or present. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A modern adventurer traveling in the shadow of a larger-than-life past.

Bloomsbury , $30, hardcover, 9781608190720


Nothing by Design

by Mary Jo Salter

Mary Jo Salter can move easily within the formal confines of meter and rhyme without losing her taste for the colloquial--or even a contemporary near rhyme of Gogol and Google. She can also break structure with equal aplomb, as in "Unbroken Music," a moving tribute to poet Amy Clampitt that mixes snippets from Clampitt's poems and journals into a reflective meditation on a visit to Italy. But Salter's uncanny sense of the sounds of poetry is always present--just listen to this description of bas-relief Egyptian tomb servants:

"A woman of stone grinding grain,
as she would have, on a quern of stone.
A woman winnowing grain in a pan.
Another on her knees, kneading.
A brewer mashing a vat of beer,
a butcher slitting the throat
of a heifer for the hereafter."

Salter's career of distinguished teaching and writing doesn't detract from her playful whimsy. Among its more serious poems, Nothing by Design scatters several light verses, like the "meditation upon 'The Waste Land' " called "T.S. Lightweight and Ezra Profound":

"Give Ezra his due credit
for that amazing edit.
Still, T.S. is the one who said it."

...or "Edna St. Vincent, M.F.A.," which describes Millay as "the worst/ sometimes-excellent poet in history."

This is the rare poetry collection that might be described as a "page turner." Nothing by Design strings together seemingly disparate poems with more design than the title implies. As Salter says in "Crusoe's Footprint": "No man is an island; we're more like the Florida Keys." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A new Mary Jo Salter poetry collection, rich in tradition, whimsy and reflection.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385349796

Children's & Young Adult

Fortunately, the Milk

by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Skottie Young

When a father goes out to buy milk, he takes an inordinately long time. He returns with an explanation for his absence involving green globby aliens, pirates and dinosaurs. Is he telling the truth? Or is it a made-up adventure?

Young readers will savor the hunt for evidence to support their views in Neil Gaiman's latest middle-grade novel, which taps into themes of his previous works (Coraline; The Graveyard Book)--traveling to worlds with other beings and the threat of being held captive there. When the father returns with the milk, he has a story by way of explanation for the long delay. He heard a noise ("thummthumm") coming from a silver disc hovering above, and was sucked up into it. "Fortunately," said the father, "I had put the milk into my coat pocket." On board, green "globby" beings demand that the father hand over "ownership of the whole planet" so they can "remodel it." Instead, the father leaps out a door marked "emergency exit," despite a warning from his captors that he would let in "the space-time continuum." Throughout, Skottie Young's pen-and-ink drawings emphasize events and supplement the narrative.

Gaiman plays with the time loop in ways that will delight both science fiction enthusiasts and those who enjoy farfetched humor (at one point, the father borrows the milk from himself). Ever protective of the milk, the father's one goal is to return to his children and give them a good breakfast. His heroic efforts to thwart his enemies are all in service of that mission. And at story's end, he has the milk to prove it. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Neil Gaiman's humorous tale stars a father who risks disruption of the space-time continuum to bring his children milk for breakfast.

HarperCollins, $14.99, hardcover, 128p., ages 8-12, 9780062224071

The Show Must Go On

by Kate Klise, illus. by M. Sarah Klise

In this fun + silly = filly (as world-wise mice Bert and Gert might put it) debut of the Three-Ring Rascals series, the Klise sisters introduce readers to Sir Sidney's Circus.

Kindly Sir Sidney and his friendly circus animals are like family: Leo the Lion and Elsa the Elephant are best friends, and the Famous Flying Banana Brothers, the circus acrobats, dazzle crowds all over America. But Sir Sidney needs a little break from running the show. Enter Barnabas Brambles, certified Lion Tamer from the University of Piccadilly Circus. Sir Sidney and Barnabas strike a deal: Barnabas can have all the profits from one week of running the circus, and Sir Sidney will get his much needed break. Little does the circusmaster know that Barnabas is a fraud who's only out to make money. He tries to add extra shows, sell Leo and Elsa to the zoo, and get rid of Bert and Gert!

Much silliness and humor meet each crazy plan, and in the end Barnabas realizes the mistakes he has made. The wonderful line drawings, cartoon illustrations, and diagrams that appear on every page skillfully tell much of this story. M. Sarah Klise incorporates site gags, rhymes, jokes, word plays and even math problems in her illustrations. This already popular author-illustrator team (the 43 Old Cemetery Road series) creates a whole new cast of interesting characters that we hope to see again and again. This fanciful and entertaining new series will certainly appeal to newly independent readers. --JoAnn Jonas, children's librarian, freelance reviewer

Discover: When Sir Sidney leaves his beloved circus menagerie for a week's vacation, much mayhem ensues, but the show goes on.

Algonquin Young Readers, $15.95, hardcover, 160p., ages 7-10, 9781616202446


by Holly Webb

In Rose, the start of a promising new series, English author Holly Webb spins together a shrewd and resourceful main character, a comfortingly familiar plot and writing that shines all the brighter for its simplicity. The results will delight fans of fantasy, historical fiction and girls with gumption. This would make a particularly enjoyable mother-daughter read-aloud.

Practical and hard-headed enough to loathe the signs that she has magical abilities (she can make pictures appear on smooth surfaces), Rose is thrilled when the opportunity arises for her to leave the only home she has ever known: St. Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls. Her new life as a maid in the house of "Mr. Aloysius Fountain, the famous alchemist" suits her beautifully--until an evil sorceress threatens to destroy the happy home.

Webb draws on the British tradition of rich language and understated emotions (think Kenneth Grahame, Frances Hodgson Burnett and C.S. Lewis) and treats magic with a refreshingly light touch. Readers will immediately recognize that the heroine is special, but the setting is so deceptively mundane that readers may not realize Rose lives in a magical world until 25 pages in, when Rose off-handedly refers to "well-to-do households [that] usually held only one or two spells, and perhaps an unbreakable dinner service."

Webb does not reinvent the wheel, but succeeds in creating a book as satisfying and familiar as a cup of hot cocoa. --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education

Discover: A shrewd and resourceful main character, a comfortingly familiar plot, and writing that shines all the brighter for its simplicity.

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $6.99, paperback, 234p., ages 8-12, 9781402285813


Author Buzz

The Mastermind (A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Rivers Wilde! The master-planned enclave's popularity has never been higher. The old guard still have the run of the place. But there are plenty of new arrivals--few as notorious as the Royales.

Our heroine, Jules, is a stranger to the family at the start of the story. But, by the end, she'll be at the center of the scandal that rips them apart.

She and Omar's unpredictable path toward happily-ever-after has moments of doubt and plenty of drama. But take heart, dear reader! Because this is Rivers Wilde. The drama may rule, but love always wins.

Dylan Allen

Available on Kobo

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
February 8, 2022


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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