Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 28, 2014

Grove Press: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

From My Shelf

Henry Holt & Company: Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay, illustrated by Junyi Wu

Feiwel & Friends: A Delayed Life: The True Story of the Librarian of Auschwitz by Dita Kraus

Feiwel & Friends: A Delayed Life: The True Story of the Librarian of Auschwitz by Dita Kraus

Writing and Rent

n+1, a magazine of literature, politics and culture, has teamed with publisher Faber & Faber to release two to three books of nonfiction a year. The first is MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction (paperback, $16), edited by Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding), which explores the ways in which writers from writing programs succeed or fail in New York publishing. The idea arose from an essay Harbach wrote in 2010 about the two-headed system that has grown from nationally dispersed writing programs and a concentrated Manhattan publishing industry ("albeit one in which the two heads are always chatting and bickering and buying each other drinks"). Lest that sound a bit high-toned and insular, much is self-deprecating, like Eli Evans when he realized that his $10K fellowship really didn't call for a money manager. Maria Adelmann's two post-college years in New York are remembered as "one long day in a windowless room," her space decorated with reminders of the life she wasn't living.

But the writers are serious about their subject: a writer working and working, "trying both to pay her rent and to put the way she feels into words." There are many pitfalls in both endeavors, which are often wildly incompatible, along with a "literary" bias against MFA graduates--uninspired, derivative, no brilliance. Harbach says, "A writer can be ruined by school--by a too-great desire to emulate her peers or please her teachers. She can be ruined by the publishing industry--by trying to anticipate what the masses, or Manhattan editors, want to buy. She can be ruined by her poverty, or her parents. Or she can find her way." The contributors to MFA vs. NYC are here to help her find her way. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Flatiron Books: The Night Country: A Hazel Wood Novel by Melissa Albert

Book Candy

Winter Is Coming; Divergent Makeup Collection

Entertainment Weekly featured a paragraph preview from George R.R. Martin's The Winds of Winter, which Game of Thrones fans have been waiting for "not very patiently" since 2011. As to a release date for the sixth installment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series: "Unfortunately, we can't bring you an update on that news quite yet."


A selection of "12 beautiful redesigned covers of literary classics" from Levente Szabó's "Great Books Project" were featured on Buzzfeed.


Sephora is launching a Divergent makeup collection next month, with sets that derive shades and blends from the different factions that exist in the Divergent world, the Huffington Post noted.


"Listen to 15 literary icons reading their own work" at Flavorwire.


Adrian McKinty, author of In the Morning I'll Be Gone, picked his "top 10 locked-room mysteries" for the Guardian.


Retreat by Random House suggested "20 ways to make your home more bookish."

Dial Books: Women Artists A to Z by Melanie Labarge, illustrated by Caroline Corrigan

The Writer's Life

Justin Hocking: A Longing for the Sea

photo: Anna Caitlin Harris

Justin Hocking is executive director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, Ore., and co-founder of the IPRC's Certificate Program in Creative Writing and Independent Publishing. He has an MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University, where he also taught writing and literature. Before joining the IPRC staff, he worked in publishing in New York City. Hocking is the author of many zines and 13 books, including Life and Limb and Beach 90th. His writing has appeared in the Rumpus, Thrasher, Open City, the Portland Noiranthology, Concrete Wave, Travel Oregon and others. His memoir, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld, from Graywolf Press, is reviewed below.

Shelf Awareness runs a regular column called Book Brahmin, where we ask authors about their reading, and one question is: "Book you've faked reading." Moby-Dick is at the top of the list. Why did you want to write your book under such a huge white shadow?

Let me say first that I truly do not begrudge anyone who avoids reading Moby-Dick. It's a formidable book that carries some heavy cultural baggage. One of my goals with The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld, though, was to illustrate how deeply relevant Moby-Dick is to our personal lives and to the current state of the world. At its heart, Moby-Dick is about surviving the dark ordeals we all encounter. It's about transformation. For these reasons I find it endlessly readable and meaningful. What I think trips most people up are Melville's digressions, his detailed taxonomy of whales and other weirdness that you won't find in a more conventional novel. I sometimes tell people to just skip those parts if they really need to. But mostly I encourage them to appreciate Moby-Dick's radical, polyphonic structure as an early form of improvisation and one of the most stunning, uninhibited outpourings of creativity in the history of literature.

As you make a "wonder-world" journey in your memoir, do you see yourself as a modern-day Ishmael?

I really wanted to avoid self-aggrandizement or self-mythologizing when writing this book, but I think it's safe to say that I strongly identified with Ishmael during my years on the East Coast. He begins his journey as a disgruntled urbanite with a deep longing for the sea. As an office worker in midtown Manhattan, I shared that particular longing, although mine manifested in a love for surfing at places like Rockaway Beach and Montauk.

How did you arrive at the book's structure? Were Moby-Dick's short chapters an inspiration?

Moby-Dick's multivalent, collage-like structure was definitely a major influence. It inspired me to expand well beyond my own personal narrative and include sections about my seafaring uncle, the history of surfing, and riffs on other artists and writers who were themselves influenced by Melville. I was also inspired by formal aspects of poetry and lyric essays, which often rely on a steady accrual of resonant images and themes, rather than a simple linear plot.

You write quite a bit about relationships with friends and girlfriends. Your books seems to derive some structural pattern and narrative flow from these. Do you agree?

Absolutely. One of my favorite aspects of Moby-Dick is the affectionate relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. Something I always hope to impress on my writing students is that beneath the conventional, surface-level conflicts and rising tension, there is a deeper undercurrent of human connection that moves all narrative.

You write about surfing the "stirred up maw," the waves created by New York's Ophelia storm. What was that like? Were you crazy or just stoked?

The waves created in the wake of Hurricane Ophelia in 2005 were honestly some of the best I've ever surfed. I wasn't a very experienced surfer at that point, so my feelings alternated between fear and exhilaration. Depending on the conditions, I experience that same cocktail of emotions just about every time I set foot in the ocean--especially in Oregon, where surfing is a humbling experience.

What do you hope readers will take away from your memoir?

Several friends who read early drafts of the memoir were inspired to go back and read or re-read Moby-Dick. I have my fingers crossed that this will continue to happen. And I sincerely hope that readers will connect with Wonderworld on an emotional level. If my book can provide a little light for anyone on their own "night sea journey," that's all I can ask.

How happening is Portland as a reader/writer city--what with current resident authors like Ursula Le Guin, Cheryl Strayed, the new National Book Award poetry winner Mary Szybist, Chuck Palahniuk, Willy Vlautin, Chelsea Cain, Charles D'Ambrosio, etc., etc.?

It's true that Portland is brimming with great writers and dedicated readers. The best thing about the city's literary scene, in my opinion, is how welcoming and accessible it feels. I owe a big debt of gratitude to Portland, and especially to writers like Cheryl Strayed, who provided some necessary emotional encouragement while I finished this project.

Tell us about IPRC, where you currently work.

The Independent Publishing Resource Center is an amazing organization that combines elements of a DIY publishing company, a Book Arts center, a school, and an artists' collective. We have a huge new physical location in Portland, Ore., with nearly 4,000 square feet of public workspace, including a traditional letterpress studio, a screenprinting studio, a computer lab, photocopiers, two classrooms and one of the nation's largest zine and small press libraries. We also offer a yearlong Certificate Program that combines graduate-level creative writing workshops with hands-on publishing and printing intensives, with optional college credit available via the University of Oregon. To serve people outside of Portland, we're launching a low-residency version of the Certificate Program in late summer 2014; more information is available at

What's next? A novel, stories? A new study of Moby-Dick?

I'm working on a second memoir project. I'm also in the process of outlining a novel in which, similar to Wonderworld, the ocean plays a prominent role. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Grove Press, Black Cat: The Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela

Book Review


The Museum of Extraordinary Things

by Alice Hoffman

"Though these exhibits made my skin prickle with fear, I felt at home among such things," says Coralie Sardie of the human anomalies and sideshow items of her father's Museum of Extraordinary Things in Alice Hoffman's magical novel. In fact, at the age of 10, Coralie became an exhibit herself: the Human Mermaid. Her hands are webbed and she can swim with speed and ease; her father, "the Professor," trained her to use a special breathing device so she could spend an hour or more underwater.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, primarily set over a few months in 1911, weaves real-life moments together with fiction in a fantastical story. One night, as Coralie rests along the northern shore of the Hudson during her evening swim, she spies a young man taking photographs in the dark: "Coralie felt something pierce through her, as if she were a fish on a hook, unable to break free."

The man is Eddie Cohen, an ambitious young immigrant Jew who escaped Ukrainian pogroms with his father. While taking pictures of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist fire, he becomes involved in a woman's disappearance. Meanwhile, Maureen, the Professor's Irish housekeeper--loyal to her employer and totally dedicated to Coralie--will come to play a key role.

Populated with historical figures like Clement Moore and Alfred Stieglitz, The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a carefully rendered portrait of a city and people living in extraordinary times, with a strange and moving love story at its heart. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A period-rich historical novel steeped in magical realism, set in turn-of-the century New York City.

Scribner, $27.99, hardcover, 9781451693560

The Spinning Heart

by Donal Ryan

Some of the best contemporary Irish writing is about trying to come to terms with the financial boom and bust of the last decade. In his debut novel, The Spinning Heart, Donal Ryan writes about the construction frenzy of this period and what it cost so many people. Using varied voices, each chapter is told from a different perspective.

In one huge unfinished housing development, only two houses are occupied. Bobby, a builder, visits Réaltín there and starts doing odd jobs for her at no charge--at least, no money changes hands. It's that kind of a world now; everyone lives by his or her wits, no questions asked. The original moneymakers have all decamped, leaving behind broken lives, insurmountable debt and bleak futures.

"There's a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge," Bobby says, describing his father's house. "It's flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, creak as I walk away. A flaking, creaking, spinning heart."

The Spinning Heart is filled with hope, despair, poignancy and, sometimes, brutal disregard for fellow man--but it is all so beautifully rendered that the reader keeps hoping that, against all odds, someday all will be well. Ryan has painted a perfect portrait of these hardscrabble lives. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A debut novel about economic hardship in modern-day Ireland narrated by several people, all of them with a story to tell.

Steerforth Press, $15, paperback, 9781586422240

Mystery & Thriller

The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel

by Benjamin Black

Under his crime-writing alter ego Benjamin Black, John Banville has written a new Philip Marlowe novel with the blessings of Raymond Chandler's estate. The title is taken from Chandler's notebooks and also echoes that of Erle Stanley Gardner's 1944 Perry Mason mystery The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde.

Is it a pastiche or a parody? Black has said he hoped "to write in the spirit of Chandler, rather than to try to ape his style"--in other words, it's a really good forgery. It takes place on a familiar stage: Bay City, Calif., in the early 1950s. Marlowe is in his office on "one of those Tuesday afternoons when you wonder if the Earth has stopped revolving." In walks a new case: a blonde with black eyes "deep as a mountain lake." The wealthy Mrs. Clare Cavendish wants Marlowe to find Nico Peterson, her former lover, missing for two months. It isn't long before he realizes it's a setup: a police friend tells him Peterson was killed months ago. Marlowe informs his client; she says, "I know." Still, she saw Peterson a couple days ago and wants Marlowe to find him again.

This sort of ever-complicating web of lies and deceptions was the hallmark of a convoluted Chandler mystery. Black lays it out perfectly with rich, sharp prose to match. It's a good approximation of the "real" Marlowe; Black even brings back Bernie Ohls, Marlowe's detective friend, and Terry Lennox from The Long Goodbye, which this novel eerily echoes. Chandler's fans will absolutely love it. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: An admirable stab at Philip Marlowe and Chandler's amazing, vernacular prose style in this novel blessed by the noir mystery master's estate.

Holt, $27, hardcover, 9780805098143

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Daniel Suarez

Daniel Suarez's SF thriller Influx offers an unsettling reason for the apparently stagnant state of technological progress since the 1960s: over the last half-century, an increasingly tyrannical top-secret government bureau has abducted the greatest scientific minds and seized their fledgling breakthroughs. The Bureau of Technology Control sequesters humanity's most promising innovations, like unlimited energy, quantum computers and nano-machines to prevent the destructive chaos they believe such paradigm-shattering advances would cause. These hidden technologies have propelled the BTC many decades ahead of the rest of humanity, giving a handful of men god-like powers with zero accountability, even to their own government.

Eccentric physicist Jon Grady learns about the BTC's existence when he's abducted from his lab after inventing a type of anti-gravity machine. The singular triumphant moment in Grady's troubled life becomes a nightmare as he's forced to choose between continuing his research under an organization he considers morally repugnant or spending the rest of his life in "humane exile." His continual resistance lands him in Hibernity, a gruesome prison/laboratory where dissenting abducted scientists become test subjects. Even if he escapes, Grady must somehow contend with a nearly omnipotent organization led by an increasingly unstable megalomaniac.

Suarez (Daemon; Kill Decision) gives jargon-laden plausibility to the wondrous technology of Influx, and the rare muddling moments are quickly overrun by the pacing of a great thriller. Though Grady's transformation from helpless to heroic never quite completes, and other characters suffer from questionable shallowness, Influx as a whole is riveting. Fans of science fiction and thrillers will enjoy this engrossing combination of both genres. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A physicist is abducted by a government agency that suppresses breakthrough advances in technology.

Dutton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780525953180

Biography & Memoir

The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir

by Justin Hocking

Justin Hocking contracted a disease in college: "I became obsessed with a book about obsession." In The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld, he writes about poet Charles Olson talking to a colleague about Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "I see... THE WHTE DEATH... has descended... upon YOU... too." Like many others--including Laurie Anderson, Tony Kushner and David Foster Wallace--Hocking comes under its spell. (The title of this memoir comes from the masterpiece's pages.)

Hocking schleps Moby-Dick around with him, talking to anyone who will listen--a young mariner making his own journey. Passages from the novel serve as chapter epigraphs, leading to passages reminiscent of Melville's own digressions. These give Hocking's engaging story its structure, as his personal tale unfolds in short, episodic chapters that move back and forth in time.

But Moby-Dick is not Hocking's only obsession. He gets hooked on surfing while living in New York City, spending his free time in the waves off Rockaway Beach and Montauk. His lifelong passion is skateboarding; for him, it is freedom and excitement. He'd worked summers in Oregon as a skateboard coach and returned years later for an idyllic summer job. In a flashback of the return trip to Colorado with his girlfriend, Karissa, he read Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" aloud and experienced a religious epiphany: "I'd found a way," he writes, "out of the isolation chamber of my own ego."

Melville called Ishmael a "dreamy, meditative man." So is Justin Hocking. From his modern masthead, he sees a capacious and generous world, one he brings to life in this erudite and introspective memoir. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A young man's journey to understand his obsessions: Moby-Dick, skateboarding and surfing.

Graywolf Press, $15, paperback, 9781555976699

The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America

by Edward White

The Tastemaker is a vividly detailed biography of Carl Van Vechten, one of the most influential American cultural figures of the early 20th century. Born in 1880, Van Vechten grew up at the center of attention in a family that indulged his every whim--particularly those that tended toward the artistic. After four years at the University of Chicago, which immersed him further in the emerging modern art world, Van Vechten moved to New York City at the turn of the 20th century.

Working first as a reporter and later as a novelist, Van Vechten continued to promote his beloved modernist art, along with the causes of many musicians--including African-American jazz musicians he met during his forays into Harlem. After publishing a series of controversial novels (and entering into a series of even more controversial relationships), Van Vechten turned himself into a hub of 1920s cultural life; his support and connections helped promote the careers of writers like Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Gertrude Stein. Until his death in 1964, Van Vechten rode the forefront of cultural trends, interested primarily in the development of art for its own sake.

Edward White interweaves anecdotes from those who knew Van Vechten with quotes and episodes preserved in Van Vechten's own diaries and letters. The combination produces not only an engaging portrait of an individual, but a vivid recollection of early 20th century New York society "as it was." --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: A vivid biography of a Jazz Age pioneer in modernist art, literature and photography.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30, hardcover, 9780374201579

Dancing Through It: My Life in the Ballet

by Jenifer Ringer

As a child dancing to disco music in her room, Jenifer Ringer never dreamed of a career in ballet. But after visiting a friend's ballet class, Ringer began taking lessons and soon enrolled at the School of American Ballet. At 16, she joined the New York City Ballet, where she has worked ever since, eventually rising to her current rank of principal dancer.

In Dancing Through It, Ringer writes with warmth and engaging honesty about the dazzling but highly competitive world of ballet, including nerve-racking encounters with legendary choreographers such as Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins. She chronicles her struggles with body image and eating disorders, which led to her taking a year away from the ballet, and the Christian faith that gradually helped her regain her equilibrium and sense of self. She also shares her fairytale love story with fellow dancer James Fayette and discusses the scandal that erupted in 2010 when a ballet critic denounced her as "fat" in the New York Times. The article ignited a public debate about ballet, weight and body issues; Ringer calls for a continuing dialogue about healthy body image among dancers.

Although Ringer's writing sometimes lacks polish, her voice grows lyrical when she writes about dancing specific ballets, such as George Balanchine's Serenade and Jerome Robbins's Dances at a Gathering. Ringer's three decades as a dancer have been marked by the roles she has performed, their complexity and beauty providing an apt metaphor for her personal growth.  --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A warm, engaging memoir of dance and personal growth by a principal at the New York City Ballet.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670026494


The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War over Europe 1940-1945

by Richard Overy

Richard Overy's The Bombers and the Bombed recounts the Allied fight in the skies above Europe during World War II with an encyclopedic depth most appealing to readers who already have a strong interest in the war. Those willing to brave a barrage of statistical information, including everything from bomb tonnages and industrial output to civilian deaths and aircrew casualties, will be rewarded by a nuanced, truly objective understanding of European air operations and their consequences.

Most of The Bombers and the Bombed is devoted to the bombing campaign against Germany and its impact on the Nazi war effort and civilian life. Overy (Why the Allies Won; The Twilight Years) discredits deliberate falsehoods and popular misunderstandings that have propagated since the war, such as the ideas that firestorms in German cities like Hamburg and Dresden were unintentional products of environmental conditions or missed targets. In fact, the firebombing of civilian city centers was an explicit Royal Air Force Bomber Command strategy, with considerable effort spent studying how best to ignite German homes through various incendiary bombing patterns. Overy avoids moralizing these raids, focusing instead on their implementation and outcomes for both sides. He also applies this meticulous style to the much more constrained campaign in Italy and the politically tricky bombing of occupied populations.

The Bombers and the Bombed is not an ideal book for general readers. However, those with a strong interest in World War II will find this exhaustive exploration of the European air war thoroughly rewarding. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A British military historian's meticulous account of the Allied bombing campaign in Europe during World War II.

Viking, $36, hardcover, 9780670025152

Current Events & Issues

The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business

by Christopher Leonard

Investigative reporter Christopher Leonard lifts the veil covering the powerful practices of the United States' industrial meat suppliers. Focusing primarily on the formation and expansion of Tyson Foods, The Meat Racket uses extensive research and firsthand accounts by farmers to expose how one company took control of and set industry standards for chicken production across rural America.

John Tyson, founder of Tyson Foods, knew that in order to make money and continue to grow, his company needed to control the ebb and flow of chicken, from egg-laying hens to the chicken farms and slaughterhouses onward to fast food menus. So the company bought up feed mills, slaughterhouses and small chicken producers until Tyson (along with one other company) controlled more than half the national chicken market. Defenseless, bankrupt farmers call this state of affairs chickenization, "a miserable state of existence [that] describes a system where massive federal subsidies help keep a company like Tyson afloat at the expense of working families."

Not content to stick to poultry, Tyson edged into the pork and beef industries as well, forming an oligarchy with the biggest meat companies in the country. As Leonard adeptly explains, even the Departments of Agriculture and Justice have little sway over these companies--their lobbying power makes mincemeat of the federal justice system. This eye-opening investigation into the semi-shady practices governing one of the nation's fundamental industries will make readers question how these megacompanies were ever allowed to grow so large and powerful. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A compelling in-depth exposé of the concentration of wealth and power at the heart of the U.S. meat industry.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 9781451645811


Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball

by John Feinstein

When baseball's spring training begins, the dreams and hopes of players, managers, owners and even umpires once again start anew. Each major league team thinks it has a chance to win it all; every rookie phenom or aging veteran is playing for keeps. In Where Nobody Knows Your Name, journeyman sportswriter John Feinstein (A Good Walk Spoiled; A Season on the Brink) takes us through the 2012 Triple A season with eight men who "are extremely good at what they do--but not as good as they want to be."

If reading a season's worth of Triple A sports reporting sounds like following the tavern tour schedule of a Michigan cover band, Feinstein makes it more like being backstage with Dylan. Among his "eight men out" is 36-year-old Scott Posednik, who'd bounced among eight major league clubs before winding up in the minors, hoping for one more shot. He did get called up in 2012, playing out the year with the Boston Red Sox and batting a solid .302. But the Sox didn't take him back in 2013, when they won it all, since, as Feinstein notes, they wanted "to go young."

Feinstein's other heroes have similar stories. Even after 10 years as a minor league umpire, Mark Lollo got to work only eight games in the majors in 2011, then retired after missing a close call at the plate on the last play of the 2012 minor league season. Baseball's tough, and never tougher than at the Triple A level... the almost-good-enough league "where nobody knows your name." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A look at the hopefuls of baseball's minor leagues from veteran sportswriter John Feinstein.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385535939

Children's & Young Adult

Operation Bunny: The First Case

by Sally Gardner, illus. by David Roberts

This first book in the Wings & Co. series from Sally Gardner (I, Coriander) shares an irreverence with Roald Dahl's books and features a human hero's quest to free some down-to-earth fairies.

Emily Vole, left as a baby in a hatbox in London Sansted Airport, is adopted by Daisy and Ronald Dashwood, a wealthy couple interested only in meeting their own needs. When they discover that they are able to have children (triplets, in fact), they make Emily their Cinderella. A kind neighbor, Miss String, and her oversize cat, Fidget, take Emily under their wing, secretly teaching her to read, write and speak fluent French, German and Old English. It turns out that Miss String is a fairy, and Fidget is a magician cursed by a witch named Harpella, once scorned by a fairy and making all fairies pay for her abandonment. Emily is chosen as Keeper of the Keys, instrumental to the fairy world's liberation--but that makes her Harpella's instant enemy.

Humor and adventure abound, as the blond, blue-eyed Dashwood triplets get their souls stripped and trapped in a lamp by Harpella, and Emily enlists her "ex-adoptive-mother-slash-employer" in her plan to defeat the witch (aka "Operation Bunny," to reverse the effects of Harpella turning Emily's fellow train passengers into bunnies). With its brief chapters and David Roberts's abundant drawings (not to be missed--his portraits of Harpella and Wings & Co., a detective shop on legs formerly run by fairy folk), Operation Bunny is just right for children newly graduated from transitional readers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A funny adventure tale tinged with magic and featuring a can-do heroine and an oversize, wise cat.

Holt, $12.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 7-10, 9780805098921

Half a Chance

by Cynthia Lord

Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord (Rules) tells of one life-changing summer for 12-year-old narrator Lucy Emery and her friendship with Nate Bailey, whose grandmother is succumbing to dementia.

Lucy and her father, a famous nature photographer, spend the first morning at their newest home in New Hampshire photographing the sunrise, each with camera in hand. When Lucy discovers that her father is judging a photography contest of kids' photos, she's hurt that her father had not shared the contest information with her. Nevertheless, she begins to shoot photos, each of which demonstrates a word on a list of 25 required for the competition. At the same time, Lucy makes friends with neighbor Nate and his Grandma Lilah, who is on the Loon Patrol, which tracks the threatened bird's population. As Lucy spends more time with Nate, she recognizes that Grandma Lilah is losing her memory. A dilemma arises for Lucy when she takes an extraordinary photograph of Grandma Lilah that reveals the woman's loosening grip on reality. As Lucy contemplates whether or not to submit the photo for the competition, she wonders, "Did it belong to Grandma Lilah because she was in it? Or did it belong to me because I had taken it?"

Lord brilliantly juxtaposes the idea of moments captured with permanence on film and Grandma Lilah's tenuous hold on memory. The characters' daily monitoring of the loon family's cycle of life also introduces conversation between the generations about beauty and ugliness, life and death. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A Newbery Honor author's story of one life-changing summer for 12-year-old Lucy and Nate, whose grandmother is succumbing to dementia.

Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9780545035330

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage

by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder, Steve Hockensmith, illus. by Scott Garrett

This companion to Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab opens with a bang--literally--as 11-year-old twins Nick and Tesla work alongside their Uncle Newt in his basement lab, and the experiment, involving a compost-fueled vacuum cleaner, explodes. (This mystery--with five experiments readers can do themselves using household items and things easily retrieved at a Radio Shack--stands alone.)

It's still summer, and the twins remain with their uncle while their parents are in Uzbekistan. When the vacuum cleaner explosion drives the trio out of Uncle Newt's home, at least until the smoke clears, they head to Ranalli's for pizza. But it's 10 a.m. on a Sunday and the place is empty--except for a pizza dough–twirling robot. That gives the twins an idea. They head to Wonder Hut for supplies, and although the store doesn't have what the twins need, Uncle Newt meets scientist-owner Hiroko Sakurai and is struck by "love at first sight." Back at home, Nick finds supplies for a "wander-bot" and Tesla constructs a "semi-invisible bottle bot," but Uncle Newt is still consumed with Dr. Sakurai. When the mint-condition comic Stupefying #6 goes missing from their friend Silas's father's shop, the twins are on the case.

Pflugfelder and Hockensmith cook up a string of thefts and some AWOL robots in a mystery with many twists and turns. Nick, Tesla and Newt gain depth in this installment, and a closing cryptic message from the twins' mother will draw readers back for the third adventure. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The next scientific mystery-adventure from the creators of Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab featuring a string of thefts and AWOL robots.

Quirk, $12.95, hardcover, 224p., ages 9-12, 9781594746499

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