Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 4, 2014

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

From My Shelf

Catnip for Booksellers

Books about bookstores are catnip for booklovers, and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is high-grade indeed. Algonquin Books published the novel on April 1, to much acclaim from a passel of booksellers (and others). It could be said booksellers are an easy bunch when it comes to stories about their livelihood; in this case, the unbridled passion is justified, for Zevin's novel is an absolute delight. A.J. Fikry is a curmudgeon: his beloved wife has died, his store is not doing well, his rare edition of Poe has been stolen. Will his life change? Will a zealous sales rep make a difference? Will the store turn around? What do you think? But there are surprises and epiphanies along the way.

Senior editor Kathy Pories told me that the book has led a charmed life at Algonquin. The agent who sent her the manuscript called it a gift; she trusts his taste, so she read it immediately. A few hours later, she told the editorial board to buy it. But Algonquin was the underbidder and hearts were broken. Then Pories got a second chance when the acquiring editor left her job. "It was one of those rare serendipitous moments where the thing you love actually does make its way back to you."

A.J. Fikry's story, his bookstore, Algonquin Books, Gabrielle Zevin and the people who have read and will read this marvelous book encapsulate what we love about the book business. It can be a struggle for bookstores and publishers--the sheer number of books is daunting, the work is often overwhelming, but in the end, Zevin's novel reminds us of why, as A.J. Fikry says, "Every book is a world." And it's a world we love. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

Douglas Coupland: The King of Dark Comedy

photo: Thomas Dozol

Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland is known for his blisteringly funny critiques of mass culture, bringing such terms as Generation X and McJob into the mainstream. He's written 13 novels, two short story collections, seven nonfiction titles and a myriad of dramatic works and visual art pieces. In addition, Coupland was longlisted twice for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2006 and 2010), nominated for the Hubert Evans Nonfiction Prize in 2011 and was a finalist for the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2005. Worst. Person. Ever marks his first full-length novel in four years. Our review is below.

You're overseeing the "Golden Tree" sculpture--a mirror-image representation of the famous Hollow Tree in Vancouver's Stanley Park. How is that going?

That's the least of things, art-wise. I have a 10,000-sq.-ft. museum retrospective that opens May 31 in Vancouver and then travels around the world. Many people don't know that I've had a parallel art existence starting about 2000.

How has this parallel career helped in your writing? Worst. Person. Ever. is your 14th novel, plus all the short stories and the nonfiction pieces you've written. That's quite an accomplishment. How do you balance it all out?

There are two ways of looking at it. One, books take place in time, while art takes place in space, and the space part of my brain was saying, "Stop ignoring me!" Two, people in the book world are largely not visual thinkers, and they know it. I used to get interviewers saying, "Gee, Doug--your books are really... [freighted pause] visual, aren't they?" I was never sure if it was a putdown or a put up, but now I realize what they were saying is, "Doug, I'm not a visual thinker, so your writing doesn't make sense to me." I realized I had to start hanging out a lot more with visual thinkers. As an addendum, in my two novels set in tech culture, I did things like put in 17 pages of pi, or 10,000 random numbers. Most of the guys (not women) who interviewed me for those books said they went into writing because they never wanted to see a number ever again.

What other artistic endeavors are you undertaking at this time?

The show is good enough for now. 

How were you inspired to write Worst. Person. Ever.? Your main character and the gist of the story, though hip and utterly funny as a critique of North American mass culture, come across as misogynistic.

As well as everything else. But I'm glad you found it funny. People get into priggish moods and condemn it, when all the book aims to do is make you look at the dark side of life and make your stomach sore from laughing about it. I mean, you don't go into a cocktail lounge and order apple juice. You'll just look stupid.

This brings us to Raymond Gunt himself. You have become a master at creating offbeat and sometimes reprehensible characters like Gloria and Steve in The Gum Thief and the wildly dysfunctional videogame family of JPod. But Raymond is something else; he's despicable yet readers are drawn to him and his lascivious exploits.

Raymond inhabits a nook in my brain along with all my other characters. He can come out when I summon him, but, like most characters, once they've had their say, they go into Salingerian-like retreat. Everyone keeps staring at me now, waiting for me to channel Raymond in real life, but it doesn't work that way. It'd be like staring at Agatha Christie waiting for her to murder the vicar. Where do characters come from--is there a science to this? I have no idea, but I'm glad the brain can do it.

I find it ironic that you write so convincingly about anti-heroes, especially slackers, when you yourself are their antithesis. How much of this is observation and how much of it real-life experience?

My life is fantastically low energy. The one thing I do that most people don't is I refuse to wake up to an alarm clock. I allow nothing to force me to wake up to anyone else's schedule. It's not easy to do, but it works.

How much of an influence did Ricky Gervais's David Brent have on Raymond Gunt?

Raymond could so easily be Ricky Gervais! But also maybe more like Richard E. Grant (Withnail). I love Ricky Gervais's smarminess. He's a comic genius. I don't know if Americans quite get him.

You've done a marvelous job in bringing the trials and tribulations of Generation X to the world.

Good Lord, that was 22 years ago!

With this novel you're attempting to reinvigorate biji, a genre in classical Chinese literature that equates to "notebook," or random musings of an author. Was it difficult to fit Raymond Gunt's misdeeds within this genre?

McSweeney's e-mailed and asked me to do a modern-day biji, and a 5,000-word piece blurted out from my subconscious. This became the seed of the novel. I was very lucky they called. I joke that I felt like Cher getting an Oscar when they called.

Of the styles you've employed in your previous work, from visual narrative and epistolary to biji, which have you found most enjoyable? Which has been the most difficult?

The Gum Thief was epistolary. I loved writing it. Life After God was the hardest because everything was tiny and crystalline and I was going through so much pain that year.

I can see Raymond becoming a TV staple like Hank Moody in Californication. Do you have any plans to bring Ray to the small screen?

I've never seen Californication but have always heard good things about it. Is he a swearer? I don't like it when TV characters swear with an excuse like Tourette's, like Deb in Dexter. It makes them cute and cuddly and that's the opposite of the effect swearing really needs to have. Swearing is meant to offend, and in analyzing why it offends you, you learn more about yourself than you might like to know. We dislike in others those traits in them that remind us of ourselves.

Your ear for dialogue is so good. What you have on your reading shelf? Which authors do you enjoy the most and why?

An author I love is John O'Hara... U.S., died in 1970. Sixty-two books, all dialogue. I think he's been forgotten by time, but for dialogue lovers, he's a goldmine of inspiration. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Book Candy

Video Games Based on Classics; Books on Memory

"Masterpieces, pixelated." Buzzfeed found "9 video games based on classic literature."


Parade shared "10 profound children's book quotes that probably changed your life."


From Proust to the latest neuroscience, Charles Fernyhough, author of Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory, recommended his "top 10 books on memory" for the Guardian.


If you forgot the birthday on Tuesday of the great Danish author, you'll have to take this Hans Christian Andersen birthday pop quiz.


Flavorwire highlighted the "50 best Southern novels ever written."


"As fervent booklovers, we're also fervent lovers of literary paraphernalia," the Huffington Post noted in showcasing "23 gorgeous bookplates that will give your books serious style."

Book Review


All I Have in This World

by Michael Parker

In the classic American road novel, the objective is to leave trouble behind and find the freedom to make your own new troubles. In Michael Parker's All I Have in This World, Marcus Banks abandons his foreclosed farm in North Carolina and packs his truck to head for Mexico. No wide-eyed kid, Marcus is in his 40s, single and estranged from his only sister.

After his truck is stolen in Pinto Canyon, Tex., he finds the perfect replacement: a sky-blue 1984 Buick Electra, "a hulk of steel and chrome and vinyl devoid of the messiness of unhinged humans." Eyeing the same car is Maria, who grew up in Pinto Canyon, got pregnant, aborted the baby and dropped the man, then ran off to be a chef in Oregon. She's back in town to help her mother run her motel. Impulsive but wary, she agrees to buy the car 50-50 with Marcus.

Parker (The Watery Way of the World) knows how to set a stage--a disconnected young woman and a disappointed older man, a classic American car, plenty of open highway--but the wonderful twist in Parker's road novel is that Marcus and Maria don't go anywhere. The shared Electra and the charts of who drives which days, Maria's attempts to make amends with her taciturn mother and estranged brother, Marcus's efforts to repay his sister for the lost family land, the rough beauty of West Texas and its small towns--all this Parker rolls together to build a generous story of human redemption. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In this road novel about learning to stay put, two mismatched loners share a 1984 Buick Electra in West Texas.

Algonquin, $24.95, hardcover, 9781616201623

Worst. Person. Ever.

by Douglas Coupland

Worst. Person. Ever., Coupland's first full-length novel in a few years, is nothing short of twisted genius, a seething chorus of expletive-laden musings about modern culture. Raymond Gunt, Coupland's rueful narrator, is a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed misogynist and unemployed cameraman with few redeeming qualities. He has scored a job to shoot a Survivor-type reality show from his ex-wife, Fiona, whom he describes as an "atomic bomb of pain." Soon, he befriends a homeless, Duran Duran-loving personal assistant named Neal, whom he intends to enslave while on the job.

Along the way, the tables are turned against Raymond: Neal's sweet temper and tenderheartedness curry favor with the very ladies Raymond tries to woo; Raymond's penchant for cruel wisecracking earns him repeat trips to the slammer; and when he does finally reach his remote island destination, he stumbles upon an endless sea of chaos and comic misfortunes, all while attempting to make lemonade out of lemons. "When things turn to sh*t--as they invariably do--I never think it's me who's done something wrong. It's the f***ing universe having a bad day, and I just happened to be there."

Coupland is a master at creating reprehensible slackers who just happen to be disarmingly likeable and lovable, with a barbarous wit that stings in its assessment of mass culture. The result is a sort of strange poetry, a love song of humanity's hopeful nihilism and thirst for self-destruction delivered with Coupland's characteristic sarcasm and deadpan humor. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The escapades of a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed misogynist pitted against the rest of the world in Survivor-esque conditions.

Blue Rider Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399168437

Mystery & Thriller

Hunting Season

by Andrea Camilleri, trans. by Stephen Sartarelli

On New Year's Day in 1880, a steam-driven packet boat from Palermo delivers a mysterious stranger to the little village of Vigata, where everyone knows each other's secrets. His presence greatly upsets 90-year-old Don Filippo, whose body is soon found in the surf, an apparent suicide. Then Don Filippo's mentally challenged son is found poisoned by mushrooms--even though he was a mushroom expert. Is it just a coincidence that, long ago, the new arrival's father had his throat cut in Vigata--a crime that was never solved?

Vigata, the imaginary Sicilian setting for Hunting Season--a lean, addictive mystery from Italian noir superstar Andrea Camilleri--is the setting, too, of Camilleri's contemporary Inspector Montalbano series. At the center here is the young stranger, always at the right place at the right time, resisting the overtures of the lusty Signora Clelia while befriending everyone with his skills and advice. Secret love and filial vengeance keep the town simmering as the members of the Peluso family begin dying mysteriously, one by one.

Figuring out who the central characters are in this dark Sicilian comedy is half the fun, and Camilleri leads you down several false trails before the real plot begins to emerge. Teeming with dozens of earthy rural types, crackling with hotheaded Italian insults, each combustible scene bubbles with emotions of every variety. Camilleri's work feels effortless as he toys with alternate choices like a playful driver twisting the wheel, swerving across the line, fooling his passengers into screams, repeatedly inspiring that delicious, familiar chill of doubt. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A darkly comic revenge noir set in the same town as Andrea Camilleri's popular Inspector Montalban series--but more than a century in the past.

Penguin, $15, paperback, 9780143126539

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Midnight Witch

by Paula Brackston

Lady Lilith Randor's recently deceased father was the head of the Lazarus Coven, a group of witches skilled in necromancy and bound to protect the Great Secret and the Elixir of Life, tools that can raise the dead. Young and untried, Lilith must succeed her father as Head Witch as the world tenses in anticipation of the first World War and the coven falls under attack by the Sentinels, an organization of fell sorcerers who will stop at nothing to obtain the means to raise an army of dead men.

Even as she takes on the mantle of leadership, Lilith finds the Sentinels have infiltrated her coven. Her personal life is no safe haven, either, as she finds herself collecting her brother, Freddie, from an opium den and seeking excuses to delay her wedding to the handsome fiancé who shares her magic and secrets, but whom she does not love.

Artist Bram Cardale is pulled into Lilith's orbit by chance when she accompanies a friend to a portrait sitting. Bram isn't a witch and is far below her social station, but Lilith can't seem to stay away.

In Brackston's romantic, deadly world, duty must outweigh personal desires. She does a fine job of evoking the Edwardian period, from glamorous gowns to the clash between old values and the increasingly modern morals of the young aristocracy. A story of sacrifice, loss and power, this dark tapestry is sure to delight fans of both paranormal and historical fiction. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An aristocratic witch in Edwardian England must choose between her family, her coven and her heart.

Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250006080

The Burning Dark

by Adam Christopher

In Adam Christopher's (Empire State) new novel, the space station Coast City is being disassembled in the far reaches of space, right next to Shadow, a bizarre star that gives off creepy, communications-disturbing radiation, along with purple light. Military hero Captain Abraham "Ida" Cleveland has been sent to the decommissioned station, ostensibly to lend his expertise to the efforts, though it feels more like being mothballed himself.

Yet something is terribly wrong. Any mention of Ida's heroic battle with powerful alien entities is missing from the fleet archives. There's no record that entire space ships ever existed. Hardened soldiers are disappearing aboard the station, and the Commandant has departed unusually early. Even Ida's status on Coast City is questioned by the forces onboard. To kill time and avoid suspicious marines, he builds a radio that accesses subspace--forbidden frequencies of strange audio--which carries the voice of a Russian cosmonaut across space and perhaps time to haunt Ida's dreams. All the while, personnel continue to vanish into very thin air.

What Ida and his grudging allies find at the end of the known universe will test their resolve and abilities more than anything they've ever encountered before. This hard science-fiction horror story latches onto the imagination and never once lets up, with intense thrills set in the unforgiving reaches of space, exploring the depths of space, time and the human condition. Christopher weaves solid characterizations with spooky visual atmospherics, leaving readers with an engaging sense of dread. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A scary mix of hard science fiction and ghost story set in the outer reaches of space.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765335081

Food & Wine

Teeny's Tour of Pie: A Cookbook

by Teeny Lamothe

Teeny Lamothe has been baking her entire life, making pies from recipes handed down over generations. But when she wanted pie-baking to become a career rather than a hobby, she opted to skip pastry school and instead go for a degree in "lady bakership," complete with her own lesson plan and a one-year tour of the best woman-run pie baker shops in the country. Teeny's Tour of Pie is the result of that tour: 67 recipes plus tips on everything from mastering new skills to identifying the perfect baking shoes.

Lamothe starts with an overview of the necessary pie-baking tools and equipment before moving on to instructions--and recipes--for the perfect crusts. From there, her recipes are organized by season, drawing upon local, seasonal produce in a variety of sweet and savory pie options. Lamothe's original recipes are interspersed with some from the pie shops she visited, as well as shop profiles, tips on storing ingredients and anecdotes about the histories of various pies. From rosemary caramel apple pie to Sweet Sensations' browned butter pear pie to apple and pork potpies, each recipe is accompanied by full-color, Instagram-style photography that celebrates the beautiful imperfections of each pie. Teeny's Tour of Pie is the kind of cookbook that will be well loved and well used; Teeny herself encourages readers to "smear it with butter, dust it with flour, stain it with berry juice, and most of all, make a lot of pie." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A collection of 67 pie recipes from a professional baker, inspired by a year spent touring the pie shops of the United States.

Workman, $15.95, paperback, 9780761173366

Biography & Memoir

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line

by Michael Gibney

For anyone who has ever wanted to know what happens behind the swinging doors of a restaurant's kitchen, Michael Gibney's Sous Chef is a must read. The crisp, mouthwatering details in Gibney's second-person narration place the reader smack dab in the heart of the culinary experience, from the semi-leisurely hours of prep to the frenetic moments of a busy Friday night when more than 300 orders are cooked and served.

Gibney's prose is a feast of culinary terms and food descriptions, leavened with people he's had the pleasure to work with as he checks the kitchen's inventories, sets up his mise en place and plates the day's specials. He reveals the delicate balance and camaraderie found in any restaurant kitchen between the chef and the line cooks, prep cooks, servers and dishwashers as he chops, purees and sautés his way toward that moment when the doors open for service. As Gibney writes, "Every day, when the clock strikes five, excitement takes you. It's a feeling in your belly that tickles you and jumps around; the awareness that something significant is about to happen, the upshot of which is only marginally predictable."

It's this excitement and anticipation, the fine edge between control and chaos, that Gibney portrays so well, providing readers with the emotional and physical rush of a typical upscale kitchen where each dish has to be the best dish, whether it's the first item plated or the last. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A veteran chef who's worked in some of New York's finest restaurants serves up an entertaining fusion of frenzied moments from a restaurant's typical day.

Ballantine, $25, hardcover, 9780804177870

The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race

by Sara Barron

Sara Barron (People Are Unappealing) comes off as one of those friends who is blunt, honest and refreshingly candid. She makes you laugh because she says the things you might have thought but never had the gumption to verbalize. The Harm in Asking, her second essay collection, brings together those verbalizations about the weird, hilarious, silly, odd little moments that make up her everyday life and, by extension, all of our lives.

Barron--a frequent host of the Moth's live storytelling event in New York City and a contributor to Showtime's This American Life and NPR's Weekend Edition--writes about all sorts of topics that might cross our brainpans: k.d. lang, mayonnaise, male catalogue models. In regard to smoking pot in college, she writes, "I would hallucinate any number of the following: 1) That my throw pillow had come to life. 2) That I was a duck. 3) That I was on a boat decorated in an 18th-century baroque style." When working at a fancy restaurant, "I was expected to serve these rolls with fork and spoon, and the challenge of this posed to my physical dexterity was on par with serving a tray of tennis balls with a pair of chopsticks."

Her takes on loves and loves lost, city living and the trials and tribulations of being a human being will invite comparisons to essayists like David Sedaris, Jonathan Ames and Sloane Crosley. Not bad company, and all safe bets if you want a good chuckle and some joy in knowing we're all a little nuts. --Jonathan Shipley, freelance writer

Discover: This diverse collection of stories from a This American Life alum is full of wisecracking and a little wisdom.

Three Rivers Press, $14.99, paperback, 9780307720702

Business & Economics

The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor

by William Easterly

William Easterly, an economist specializing in development and foreign aid, begins The Tyranny of Experts with a thought experiment based on the 2010 displacement of 20,000 poor farmers--at gunpoint--so that a British company financed by the World Bank could use the land for commercial forestry. Imagine that it had happened in Ohio rather than Uganda, he writes. Ignoring the rights of the farmers would have been unthinkable.

He uses this example to argue against conventional solutions to poverty, which rely on large-scale development to drive economic growth (in addition to technical approaches like better fertilizers or access to antibiotics and nutrition). Such efforts often require backing from global organizations like the World Bank and their public and private sector partners. However benevolent their aims, these programs fail when they ignore individual rights. Easterly traces the history of authoritarian development to the Treaty of Versailles and argues that it is still informed by a colonial sensibility. Only when individual rights are respected, including those of the poorest, can individual enterprise contribute to a more enduring solution.

Easterly makes essential points about human rights, the need to accommodate local factors in developing countries and the terrible mistakes that can result from deals with corrupt regimes or self-interested organizations. His argument is made with passion and ample illustration. It is also a polemical one, however, and, like all polemics, compromised by an unwillingness to acknowledge the limits of ideological approaches or the successes of others. Poverty is an enormous and complex problem. The solution requires a range of strategies and perspectives; Easterly's should be one of them. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A New York University economist argues that the solution to poverty requires respect for individual rights.

Basic Books, $29.99, hardcover, 9780465031252

Essays & Criticism

The Empathy Exams

by Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison follows her debut novel, The Gin Closet, with an essay collection that has earned her the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. The Empathy Exams opens with Jamison's experience as a medical actor. In this role, she is given a character complete with not only symptoms, but behaviors like failure to make eye contact and dishonesty. Through her portrayals, Jamison contemplates what it is to feel, how we communicate what we feel and what we do with these communications.

While all her essays are linked by the topic of empathy, the subjects range widely, though injury and chronic illness receive repeated treatment. The Barkley Marathon, a grueling, almost unfinishable race through Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, is presented both as a subcultural phenomenon and a subtext for pain. Jamison attends a conference for Morgellons patients--who believe they are infested with fibers and foreign matter crawling out of their skin--and the few doctors who will take them seriously; she finds herself responding with such empathy that she is in danger of catching the disease herself.

Throughout, Jamison makes references to many thinkers and influences, such as Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face), Susan Sontag and Frida Kahlo, as well as her own friends. Her essays often dwell in the theoretical and the academic. She is interested in philosophies, and admits to difficulty experiencing, recognizing and sharing her own emotions--a difficulty which occasionally manifests in pedagogy. However, readers will finish with no doubt that she is sincere in her quest to own, identify and comprehend empathy. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An essay collection concerned with earnest examination of feelings--the author's and the world's.

Graywolf Press, $15, paperback, 9781555976712

Children's & Young Adult

Tap Tap Boom Boom

by Elizabeth Bluemle, illus. by G. Brian Karas

Elizabeth Bluemle's (My Father the Dog) simple, musical rhymes and G. Brian Karas's (Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!) photo, gouache and pencil collages capture the way a thunderstorm in the city unites a community.

The first few raindrops appear in close-up, as if just outside the edge of a child's umbrella, as readers view a girl and boy from behind, looking through an iron gate. Nimbus clouds threaten to blot out a sunny sky: "Tap TAP,/ dark clouds./ Tap TAP,/ damp air./ Tap TAP,/ cold drops/ of rain/ dot hair," goes Bluemle's onomatopoeic text. On the next page, we're on the opposite side of the gate, seeing the faces of the boy and girl. The spines of street vendor's umbrella mimic the lines of the gate ("Street carts appear:/ 'Umbrellas here!'/ Tap TAP/ Tap TAP/ BOOM BOOM"). As the thunder gets louder and the storm draws closer, raindrops grow more plentiful, and paces quicken for dogs and people. "Now harder!/ Now faster!/ Big rain/ side blaster." Next, Karas shows the view from platform level, looking up the stairs at dogs and people descending the subway stairs ("Whose feet/ and knees/ are these?"). Children will embrace the anonymous cast of characters ("big, big fellow/ with tiny umbrella./ It's yellow" and "one girl/ all fancy./ She's late/ for dancing"). As they all take shelter, "The storm/ above/ makes friends/ of strangers."

The energy of people on the go stopped in their tracks by Mother Nature converts an urban landscape into a small town. A rainy day delight. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An onomatopoeic rhyming picture book about a thunderstorm in the city that unites a community.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9780763656966

The Last Wild

by Piers Torday

A group of interlocking mysteries forms the center of this middle-grade novel narrated by 12-year-old Kester Jaynes. Like the other wards of Spectrum Hall, Kester is told that "your parents want to, ahm, f-f-forget about you."

But a memory haunts Kester of someone slipping through the dark of night, into the home he shared with his newly widowed father, and a stranger saying, "Kester Jaynes?... You're coming with me." Other mysteries plague Kester: What was the cause of the "red-eye" disease that wiped out all livestock? How did Selwyn Stone and his Factorium get to be in charge of the food supply? Was Kester's father, a prominent vet and "honourable scientist," privy to information that resulted in Kester being taken away? What's the meaning of his mother's last words: "Tell Dad he has to tell you?" While alone in a corner of the penned-in yard, Kester discovers that he's a kind of Doctor Doolittle: he can hear and speak to animals. They tell Kester that they are helping him escape from Spectrum Hall. And they do.

A quest follows, in which the animals explain to Kester that he is the one sent to save them. A majestic stag, leader of "the last wild," the only survivors of the disease, carries Kester on his back. They meet up with armed men, a girl holding out to stay with her infected cat, and many others in their travels. This is a life-affirming story in which children redeem their corrupt elders by doing the right thing. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A 12-year-old can communicate with animals--and he may be the only one who can save them from a fatal disease.

Viking, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9780670015542

The Good-Pie Party

by Liz Garton Scanlon, illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton

A girl who resists the inevitable move her family plans to make also refuses to say good-bye, but she comes up with a palatable alternative.

"Posy Peyton doesn't want to move," Liz Garton Scanlon's (All the World) book begins. "She doesn't want to pack her books or take down her bird feeder or undecorated her secret clubhouse." But what she really does not want to do is say good-bye. Posy's friend Megan shares her mother's advice: "We should enjoy the time we have." Posy's other friend Mae delivers her mother's words of wisdom: "We should count our lucky stars we're such good friends." The girls make a pyramid and help Posy take down the pictures in the clubhouse, but the colors of Kady MacDonald Denton's palette stick to drab olive, mustard and burnt orange. When the industrious friends decide to make a pie--"hot, sweet, good pie," as Mae puts it--Posy gets an idea. Vibrant red, gold and deep blue enter the illustrations as the friends help Posy carry out her plan. They light up with smiles and get an infusion of energy: they make a list, a clever, rhyming invitation goes out, and the pages cascade with color as friends, lawn chairs and energy enter the scene.

The gathering does not change the outcome for Posy--she and her family must still move--but she and Mae and Megan find a way to make peace with the situation and to honor their friendship. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This picture book acknowledges the unpleasant prospect of moving away from friends while also honoring their friendship.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780545448703

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