Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 20, 2014

Zonderkidz: The Smallest Spot of a Dot: The Little Ways We're Different, the Big Ways We're the Same by Linsey Davis, illustrated by Lucy Fleming

From My Shelf

Keeping a Record of Yourself

Author Tom Rachman, recently interviewed on NPR, believes that books are not something to consume and dump. "They're the first thing I think about moving whenever I change city, and the first thing I want to set up when I arrive.... when you look back at your old books, it's sort of like finding a little record of yourself."

Books have been my life since pre-kindergarten. Books have been my means of employment since college. (A favorite epigram is the title of the 10th novel in Anthony Powell's 12-volume epic A Dance to the Music of Time: Books Do Furnish a Room.) My husband and I just sold our house and are moving into an apartment with half the square footage. In the house, we have (had!) 283 linear feet of bookshelves. You see the problem. I can't even compute what we'll have in the apartment without feeling faint. So I've necessarily come up with some rules for eliminating books:

Keep touchstones: a first edition of Dune, a galley of A Time to Kill, my first Josephine Tey.

Keep books that have blessed and moved me: Matterhorn, Peace Like a River, anything by Frederick Buechner or Mary Oliver.

Keep books that I have re-read and will do so again: female British mystery authors are my go-to comforts and stress-reducers. I'm working my way through Patricia Wentworth's oeuvre right now--fewer calories than bread.

Don't keep a book because it looks impressive on the shelf. Or because I should read it.

If it hasn't been read in six months, it probably won't ever be. But I'll make a list of the titles, give away the books and use the library. Or lose the list.

Generate a feeling of progress with obvious purges, like Let's Go Portugal 1998.

What doesn't help: two cats assisting. What does help: staying hydrated--the wine makes the winnowing move right along. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Arcade Publishing: On Wine-Dark Seas: A Novel of Odysseus and His Fatherless Son Telemachus by Tad Crawford

The Writer's Life

Jeffery Renard Allen: Learning to Be Open to the World

photo: Mark Hillringhouse

Jeffery Renard Allen is the author of two collections of poetry, Stellar Places (Moyer Bell, 2007) and Harbors and Spirits (Moyer Bell, 1999), and of the novel Rails Under My Back (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), which won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize for Fiction, and the story collection Holding Pattern (Graywolf Press, 2008), which won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. His work has also appeared in several anthologies, including 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11, Rainbow Darkness: An Anthology of African American Poetry and Chicago Noir. Born in Chicago, Allen holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently an associate professor of English at Queens College of the City University of New York. His newest book, Song of the Shank (Graywolf Press), is a novel about Thomas Greene Wiggins, a 19th-century slave and improbable musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom.

What led you to the story of Blind Tom and captured you enough to want to tell his story?

I learned of Blind Tom by accident. Back in 1998, I was reading Oliver Sacks's wonderful book An Anthropologist on Mars, where he writes a brief summary of Blind Tom's life. It struck me that this musician who had once been the most famous pianist in the world was now largely forgotten. I was also drawn to Sacks's compelling description of Tom's stage performances, the mind-blowing things he could do before an audience. How had I never heard of him? The more I started to research Wiggins, the more I came to see that his life seemed to be rich with the possibility for story, with issues such as slavery, blindness and historical erasure. There have only been a handful of good novels about the Atlantic slave trade. We think we know everything there is to know about this period of our history. And we often make the mistake of thinking it has nothing to do with today. But as Faulkner said, "the past is not past."

What did you learn that surprised you the most in your research?

I was truly surprised to see the amount of pen and press Tom received from the 1850s through the 1880s. That fact brings to mind how even today musicians are here today and gone tomorrow. How easily any of us can be forgotten. Interesting, too, that African American scholars, by and large, have shown little interest in Tom. Is this because Tom gave concerts that benefited the Confederate cause? Is he a historical embarrassment for some communities? Who is pulling the strings? Who determines what musician gets an opportunity to go on stage? Who determines what is art?

One fictional element in your novel is an island you call Edgemere. Tell us about its role in the book.

Edgemere is the name of a public housing project in Far Rockaway, Queens, a section of New York where I lived for about 14 years. In the novel, it in part becomes a vehicle for addressing the idea of black nationalism, which was at the center of political discourse in the mid-19th century in America. Many people, both black and white (including Abraham Lincoln for much of his life), were convinced that black people could never be fully at home in America. One might see the climax of this line of thinking happening in the 1920s with Marcus Garvey. By the time we get to the 1960s, with people like Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, the notion is well into decline. Today it's largely an anachronism.... Edgemere also becomes a vehicle for exploring a certain type of life, small island life with small island beliefs, a sameness. That sense of life started to make sense to me when I spent time in Lamu and Zanzibar, small islands on the East African coast. The careful reader will see how Edgemere engages with some ideas that have become part of the American reality since September 2001. Is the "edge" a better alternative when you are constantly under attack? That is the question.

What role does music play in your life? In your writing?

I am a passionate listener. That's the most important thing. I also believe that music carries a kind of otherworldly feeling--think John Coltrane--that is not possible in any other form. I remember going to see Richard Bona at a jazz club in New York about two weeks after 9/11. Because flying was still a challenge, he had to take a taxi from Detroit to make the gig. And the way he played and sang took everybody in the audience to another place. It was just what we all needed. I've had similar experiences with music hundreds of times in my life.

There is a strong passion in Song of the Shank--did writing such a story change you as a writer in some way?

The book changed me first because it made me give everything I could, then kept asking me to give more. I cannot write a better book. And because I wrote the book over such a long period of time (altogether, from 1998 until 2013, although I didn't begin start to hone into the narrative until 2003, then didn't see the light at the tunnel until 2004), I myself went through life changes--marriage, divorce, my first children, my first trips to the African continent, a near-death experience from malaria that kept me in the hospital for six weeks, etc.--changes that shaped the book. I can say without exaggeration that this novel made me into both a better writer and a better person.

Of late, I have emphasized the importance of patience. A writer has to have the discipline to put in work every day, but a writer also needs to know that many of your best ideas come unexpectedly and can't be forced. In fact, serendipity is as important to the writing process as planning. You never know from where a seed of inspiration may come from.

Ten years ago, I spent a few weeks teaching in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Summer Literary Seminars program. For the long flight, I brought along a recently published book about the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky match for the world chess championship, a match I remembered from my childhood. In the pages of the book I discovered the chess genius Paul Morphy, who was one of Tom's contemporaries and whose life had many interesting parallels to Tom's. (Both prodigies were Southerners, and Morphy often gave blindfold exhibitions where he would play as many as 30 opponents, an incredible feat of memory.) Morphy became an important figure in my novel.

The funny thing is that I was a chess fiend from age seven through my high school years and at one time I was quite familiar with Morphy's story. I also first heard of Tom back in my graduate years in college but had forgotten him. I discovered both Tom and Morphy at the opportune moment when my imagination could make use of them.

So a seed gets planted. You can't force the process--the planting, the growth, the harvest. All you can do is be open to the world, which is a way of opening yourself up to possibility.

Where is your writing taking you next?

I'm in the early stages of a book called Radar Country, which will be a collection of stories and novellas where I try to expand my take on place and time. The book will have stories from the historical past, some set in the present day, others in the near future, and still others in an undetermined time. And the stories will be set in both America and an unnamed (invented) country on the African continent. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

RP Mystic: Magic, Diversified

Book Candy

Map of Fictional Places; Time Travel Books

Fast Company showcased Wondernode's "map of your favorite fictional places, from Oz to Loompaland."


Summer reads update: "Step up your vacation book list with these powerful wordsmiths from across the Diaspora," Ebony magazine noted in recommending "6 Caribbean writers to discover this summer." And author Jennifer Weiner shared her "10 best beach reads" with USA Today.


Damian Dibben, author most recently of The History Keepers: Nightship to China, picked his "top 10 time travel books" for the Guardian, noting that "in all these books, the devices that enable the characters to move in time are crucial to the story."


Cameron McAllister, author of The Tin Snail, shared his "top 10 amazing machines in children's books."


Bookshelf featured Momu Design's 28books, where "books hang by a piece of ribbon which also acts as a bookmark. Supports up to 60 volumes."

Book Review


The Last Magazine

by Michael Hastings

In this posthumous debut novel, journalist Michael Hastings (The Operators) uses his own life, even his own name, as the foundation of a terrifyingly funny look at the weekly print-magazine world.

The fictional Michael M. Hastings, our narrator, is a "part-time" research assistant interning at the Magazine for 80 hours a week. His recounting of his days takes the form of a book in progress. "Maybe I can write novels, and if that's not... a jump from one sinking ship to another, I don't know what is." Given his close contact with top editors, Michael provides an inside look at the dysfunction and backstabbing during events in the early 21st century.

Meanwhile, Magazine journalist A.E. Peoria is out in the field experiencing said events. Alternating with Michael's first-person account, an omniscient narrator details the trials of Peoria, who survives a bombing while embedded in Iraq, only to bring home wounds no amount of medication can heal. Bouncing from addiction to addiction, Peoria watches his life disintegrate around him. He's the perfect fall guy when the Magazine finds itself embroiled in controversy over a cover story.

Both Michael and Peoria question their futures in the print world, and readers will wonder how the industry lasted this long. Though the characters are unsympathetic and the near-history is painfully familiar, Hastings manages to create enough intrigue to make an entrancing, compelling narrative. Hastings errs on the graphic side, so readers sensitive to detailed fetish sex acts may want to steer clear. But for a society obsessed with its "right to know," The Last Magazine offers the news deliciously unfiltered. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: An intern airs the dirty laundry of the corrupt news-magazine industry.

Blue Rider Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399169946


by Hester Kaplan

This story collection by National Endowment for the Arts Award recipient Hester Kaplan is filled with wonderful gems that are small marvels of pacing realized through plot-intensive narratives and memorable characters. Like every great short-story writer, Kaplan has mastered the art of making every word or gesture count. Her stories illuminate the fickle human heart and its often-meandering loyalties. Her characters lead messy, contradictory lives, moving from hatred to love and from indifference to need in the space of a few pages.

In "The Aerialist" a man who has lost his way in life and love returns to his former dentist for care and advice, affecting both the dentist and her acrobatic daughter far beyond the chance encounter. In "This Is Your Last Swim," Kaplan imagines the end of the world through the eyes of two private-school employees. As they walk the deserted, memory-haunted school grounds, their raw and searing dialogue provides the perfect counterpoint to the world ending in a whimper.

Kaplan doesn't need such an extreme setting to achieve emotional truth and honesty. Her endings feel real, appropriate and surprising, but leave the reader feeling that no alternative was ever possible. Each story in Unravished offers minute lessons in the hard-won, subtle wisdom found in domestic squabbles and work-day monotony. Thoughtful and creatively fertile, the collection is filled with the minor, barely discernible epiphanies that make life bearable or clarify its trajectory at last. Kaplan deserves the widest audience for this enjoyable and near flawless collection. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A first-rate story collection that lays bare the human heart in conflict and the travails of relationships in the modern world.

Ig Publishing, $16.95, paperback, 9781935439905

Mystery & Thriller

The Good Suicides

by Antonio Hill

In The Good Suicides, Antonio Hill (The Summer of Dead Toys) returns to Barcelona and the introspective, aggressive, chain-smoking Inspector Hector Salgado. Salgado is trying to cope with being a single father and the lack of progress in the investigation for his missing ex-wife, Ruth. He's unaware that his former partner, Leire Castro, currently out on maternity leave, has started sleuthing into Ruth's disappearance.

Salgado is looking into an apparent suicide: a young woman named Sara has jumped in front of a subway train. He soon learns that Sara is the second employee from a small cosmetics company to kill herself in less than six months. And when another member of Alemany Cosmetics overdoses mere weeks later, Salgado is sure that the "suicides" all tie back to a recent company retreat. At that corporate event, the employees witnessed a gruesome spectacle: three dead dogs hanging from the branches of a tree. Salgado is convinced that the disturbing photo of the dead dogs, e-mailed to Sara just before her death, is the key to unlocking the mystery.

Though The Good Suicides is not a fast-paced thriller, Hill ratchets up the psychological tension in this otherwise quiet novel. Leire's investigation into the days leading up to Ruth's disappearance creates an uneasy mood that underscores the disturbing nature of Salgado's case. A dark look at the nature of greed and the pressure of deception, The Good Suicides is worth your time. Fans of Nordic noir will welcome a trip to a sunnier, and yet still engrossing, climate. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A disturbing Spanish mystery in which several suicides may not be what they seem.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780770435905

Biography & Memoir

Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild

by Novella Carpenter

When Novella Carpenter (Farm City) was 36, her father went missing. It turned out to be a false alarm, but the threat of losing him helped Novella realize that, if she were ever to get to know him, she might be running out of time, since their relationship had been stuck somewhere between uneasy and estranged for years. Gone Feral charts her journey home.

Her parents' marriage ended when Novella and her sister were five and seven, and their mother moved them from a farm in Idaho to Washington State; Novella didn't see much of her father after that. Now, three decades later, she has a small urban farm in Oakland, Calif., and wants to have a child. In working to become a parent herself, she goes in search of her father, hoping to build the relationship they never had.

He's a regular backwoods curmudgeon, making a meager living by logging and cutting firewood. She hopes they'll go fly-fishing or forage for wild foods. Instead, he rants about the devils that possess the old family farm and exhibits previously unnoticed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (the legacy of service in the Korean War). Novella is disturbed, angered all over again at what she sees as his abandonment, and concerned about the genes she'll pass on to a child, if she ever succeeds in getting pregnant.

Traveling through the country and her own past and pondering the paradoxes of her upbringing teaches Novella about herself, her origins and how to build a future that includes father as well as child. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A contemplative memoir about family from a back-to-basics urban farmer.

Penguin Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9781594204432

Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter

by Maria Venegas

Jose Manuel Venegas is a gun-toting, horse-breaking man raised on a hardscrabble ranch in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. He's also the father and unshakeable nemesis of Maria Venegas, whose memoir not only follows the many paths of her father's serendipitous life but also traces her own bootstrap upbringing, from her arrival in Chicago as a four-year-old Mexican immigrant to her professional  career in theater and literature in New York City.

Bulletproof Vest is a story of contrasts. Rural Mexico is held up beside suburban Chicago, where Venegas grows up as the only Mexican in her grade at school--criticized for her accent and stereotyped. Her father, quick to anger, drunkenly kills a man in Chicago and jumps bail to hide at his family's mountain ranchero, La Peña, while she studies her way into college and a graduate program.

Venegas can't escape the ghosts of a father she hardly knew, a father who abandoned her twice. She comes to realize that she also ostracized him from her life, "assembling a shield, something that would protect me from ever being hurt again--my own bulletproof vest."

With the pace, character and plot of good fiction, her memoir is the pulsing saga of how she returns to Mexico to try to connect with him. Bulletproof Vest is Venegas's meandering ballad to her father as she comes to appreciate the struggles he faced amid the violence, superstition and poverty of his own upbringing. In sharing his life, Venegas discovers her family roots and reconciles the contrasts in her own life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A successful academic Mexican immigrant tries to understand her colorful but violent father and her family roots.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374117313

Political Science

Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality

by Theodore B. Olson, David Boies

On December 11, 2000, attorneys Theodore B. Olson and David Boies gave oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on opposing sides in Bush v. Gore, the case that ended the Florida recount in favor of presidential candidate George W. Bush. More than 12 years later, the Supreme Court issued another landmark decision, striking down California's Proposition 8, a voter initiative that denied same-sex couples the right to marry in the state. Again, Boies and Olson were in the courtroom--but this time, they fought on the same side.

Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality details Boies and Olson's five-year project to bring the Proposition 8 case through the courts. The two attorneys detail their argument's basis in the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, making the legal foundations for their case clear to non-lawyer readers through careful and compelling descriptions of the planning and preparation that preceded each courtroom hearing. They also convey the drama and adventure of their courtroom battles while preserving the sense of frustration--and the requisite perseverance and tenacity--that is endemic to any long legal battle.

Throughout the book, Boies and Olson maintain the fundamental rightness of their view of the case, but they continue to couch their position in legal and social perspective, never devolving into partisan bickering or self-aggrandizement. Redeeming the Dream offers an inspiring and intimate account of a case that is likely to become a landmark in American civil rights. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: An account of the "long haul" to bring Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that struck down California's Proposition 8, to the Supreme Court.

Viking, $28.95, hardcover, 9780670015962

Essays & Criticism

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book

by Petra Couvee, Peter Finn

Thanks to the superb David Lean film, Doctor Zhivago is known to millions. However, few know the full story of the publication (or non-publication) of the novel. For this revelatory and fascinating tale, Peter Finn and Petra Couvée obtained previously classified CIA documents that shed light on an unknown aspect of one of the 20th-century's greatest books.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was a highly successful poet and translator in Russia before he penned his first novel. In 1956, while he was living in Peredelkino, a writer's colony created by Stalin, he sent the novel to one of Russia's most esteemed journals, Novy Mir, but it was rejected because it was deemed anti-Soviet.

Pasternak felt Doctor Zhivago was his greatest work and wanted it widely read; however, since 1929, no Russian author had broken the rule against foreign publication without approval from the authorities. When the opportunity to publish the book in Italy came along, the manuscript was smuggled into Milan and published in 1957. In 1958, the CIA's books program printed a special Russian-language edition and secretly distributed it in the Vatican's pavilion at the World's Fair in Brussels. Copies began turning up in Russia, and additional copies were given to students, tourists, diplomats, even Russian truck drivers and sailors, to smuggle into the Soviet Union. This represented one of the first efforts by the CIA to leverage books as instruments of political warfare. The book's growing popularity infuriated the Soviet government, and when Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in 1958, he had to decline it--had he accepted it, he could never return home. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: The fascinating story behind the publication of Doctor Zhivago and how the U.S. government was involved.

Pantheon, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307908001

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses

by Kevin Birmingham

The Most Dangerous Book is striking not only for its intricate recounting of the arduous path Joyce's groundbreaking book followed to legal publication, but also for its history of the founding of Modernism and its literary biography of a giant in 20th-century literature. Kevin Birmingham, a Harvard lecturer in history and literature, has written a history that reads like a Dickens novel, telling a story of individual courage amid social disruption, a world where one dedicated writer takes on the machinery of centuries of rigid convention and censorship... and wins.

James Joyce's earthy, unconventional first fictional works found no conventional publishers until Ezra Pound championed them to a London magazine. With well-researched detail, Birmingham describes the destitute, alcoholic and sickly Joyce who filled scraps of paper with snippets of the words, phrases and structural outlines that gradually built his groundbreaking masterpiece. Like his other works, Ulysses ran first in magazines, so its notoriety spread well before it became a full book that could alarm censors. Birmingham carefully chronicles Joyce's 20 years of censorship before Random House founder Bennett Cerf and New York lawyer Morris Ernst finally took on the U.S. government in a 1933 precedent-setting case: The United States of America v. One Book Called Ulysses.

Cerf's and Ernst's success was built on the backs of many others, all honored here as Birmingham carefully details a hard-fought but conclusive victory against oppression that proclaimed "there was no absolute authority, no singular vision for our culture... towering over us." Given the current political milieu, it is a victory of which we should be strongly reminded. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: This biography of a book covers the history of Modernism, James Joyce and his 20th-century masterpiece Ulysses.

Penguin Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9781594203367

Body, Mind & Spirit

Soul Contracts: Find Harmony and Unlock Your Brilliance

by Danielle MacKinnon

In Soul Contracts, intuitive coach and animal psychic Danielle MacKinnon has generously distilled her life lessons into an easy-to-read, thought-provoking package. Her journey to Soul Contracts began while she was "on the typical path of an MBA"; her puppy Bella's mysterious ailment prompted a friend to suggest a pet psychic. This psychic quickly ascertained the cause of Bella's distress: her Soul Contract with MacKinnon. Soul Contracts are the "many unseen and unconscious energies" that influence our ways of behaving, thinking and believing. MacKinnon came to believe that pets are brought into our lives to help us evolve and learn Soul Lessons. MacKinnon discarded her stifling job to forge a new career as an "animal communicator," but soon realized her true calling was to help humans uncover and release Soul Contracts by identifying past experiences and beliefs that are blocking them from achieving their full potential.

Soul Contracts includes step-by-step exercises intended to interpret existing blocks and challenges, identify their origins, clear the "discordant energies" and alter "root belief systems" to forge healthier patterns of behavior. MacKinnon believes all aspects of our lives--energetic, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual (not just behavioral)--must be addressed "in order to experience the greatest release and forward momentum" and provides concrete suggestions for targeting these areas. Since MacKinnon's work is based on intention, Soul Contracts is designed to work within any belief system, and she provides alternate language for readers who may be uncomfortable with the concepts of reincarnation, past lives or spirit guides. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: An animal psychic and intuitive coach's step-by-step guide to overcoming challenges that prevent fulfillment.

Beyond Words, $15, paperback, 9781582704562


Guide to Troubled Birds

by the Mincing Mockingbird

At first glance, the Guide to Troubled Birds looks like any run-of-the-mill bestiary with acrylic paintings of nature's precious winged treasures. Soon, though, it's evident that beady-eyed devils--à la Alfred Hitchcock's avian nightmare The Birds--and snippets of deliciously cheeky prose have replaced nominally dry factoids. This is just the latest addition to the burgeoning collection of bird-related craziness from the Mincing Mockingbird (artist Matt Adrian), whose picture-perfect, museum-worthy paintings have graced the pages of Sunset magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle as well as films and television shows (Her, Modern Family). His paintbrush provides a forum for troubled, jealous, angry and even horny birds, and no subject is too taboo for the Mincing Mockingbird's judicious, discerning eye.

Ask the duck with the smoking gun what he thinks when it comes to foie gras ("Duck Would Like a Word") or the bird high on crystal meth ("Love in the Time of Crystal Meth"). Discover how hummingbirds in "Ounce Per Ounce, Tougher than a Wolverine" seek revenge for "every hummingbird brother or sister lost to" a cat's "feline featherlust." On the subject of blondes, even Hitchcock's classic gets due honor when the white-haired bluebird opines how much it loves Tippi Hedren as it stares the reader down with a wide-eyed, open-beaked expression of feigned innocence. That Adrian's quirky, sometimes potty-mouthed dark humor and mockumentaries manage to spark such curiosity and interest worldwide is a testament to his enduring artistry with brush and paint. Indeed, the bird is the word. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The king of avian tomfoolery returns with a third volume about avian murder, mayhem and mystery.

Blue Rider Press, $15.95, hardcover, 9780399170911

Children's & Young Adult


by Kelly Dipucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson

Kelly DiPucchio (Crafty Chloe; Zombie in Love) and Christian Robinson (Harlem's Little Blackbird) team up for a heartwarming story about how the true sense of belonging comes from the inside, not the outside.

On the title page, Robinson shows a beautifully groomed white pampered poodle, pushed in a peach-toned baby carriage with a matching peach bow on her head; the pooch passes by a wide-eyed French bulldog peeking over the edge of a corrugated box. DiPucchio then introduces Mrs. Poodle and her new puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston. As the puppies grow, "three were no bigger than teacups." But the fourth (guess which one) "continued to grow. And grow." Poor Gaston! As Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo and Ooh-La-La politely sip from their bowls, quietly "yip" and walk on their "Tip. Toe. Tippy-toe[s]," Gaston spills his water, barks loudly and races around the house. When Mrs. Poodle meets another canine family in the park, puppies Rocky, Ricky and Bruno resemble Gaston, while Antoinette looks more like Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo and Ooh-La-La. Might there have been "a terrible mistake?"

Readers will likely predict what will happen--and be thrilled by the surprise twist. To Mrs. Poodle's and Mrs. Bulldog's credit, they let their pups decide how to handle the situation. Robinson plants subtle (visual) red herrings, such as a mother duck and her identical four ducklings enjoying the park. This is the story of choosing the home where you feel that you belong, not necessarily where you look like you belong. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A story about finding out where you belong and making your own home.

Atheneum/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781442451025

Books Always Everywhere

by Jane Blatt, illus. by Sarah Massini

Sarah Massini's (Trixie Ten) artwork starring adorable toddlers of all shapes, sizes and skin tones steals the show in Jane Blatt's ode to the necessity of books.

The toddlers' books, too, come in all sizes for all sorts of occasions. A mouse and a curly-topped toddler open a giant book featuring an elephant, which fills the first spread ("Book big"), and on the next page, the mouse itself stars with a crawling blond child ("Book small"). With books "wide" (with a crocodile character) and books "tall" (a giraffe stars), and taking refuge inside a book fort that substitutes for a house of cards, toddlers gather around books in all kinds of settings. One especially endearing spread pictures a king-size bed full of toddlers in various states of sleepiness (yawning, stretching, slumbering), surrounded by the sheep they're meant to count (one book's title is Counting Sheep).

All of the toddlers (and nearly all of the supporting cast) gather for the final two-page spread. Littlest ones will enjoy discovering all the ways that books may be incorporated into their daily routines, and also searching for the little mouse in every illustration. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An adorable group of toddlers discover all the ways to incorporate books into their daily routines.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9780385375061

The Great Greene Heist

by Varian Johnson

An innovative group of middle graders outsmart a privileged bully in Varian Johnson's (Saving Maddie) funny, intelligent caper involving a Student Council election.

Jackson Greene is still subject to weekly meetings with Principal Kelsey after getting caught breaking into the man's office for the last stunt he pulled. But when Keith Sinclair, a sore loser after the "Blitz at the Fitz"--in which Jackson and Gaby de la Cruz outscored Sinclair's team--slides into the election for president of the Student Council, Jackson cannot sit by and watch Keith fix the voting against Gaby. Keith would strip most of the clubs of their budgets just for spite. The trouble is, Gaby is still upset with Jackson after the "Mid-Day PDA" (a smooch with Keith's significant other--payback by both of them to unscrupulous Keith). So Jackson pulls together a team--including his best friend, Charlie de la Cruz, Gaby's twin--to beat Keith at his own game. And Keith has plenty of enemies that the Greene team can enlist for the cause. Jackson recruits just the right people for his mission, from Hashemi Lariyani, a tech whiz and Star Trek fan, to Victor Cho, who helps bankroll their efforts. Girls come through, too: The Tech Club's Megan Feldman (who's also a beautiful cheerleader) and Gaby prove indispensible at the 11th hour.

This likable group of characters not only delivers a comeuppance to the school bully but also to a principal on the take and his prejudiced senior administrative assistant. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A likable, intelligent group of middle-schoolers delivers a come-uppance to a privileged bully and a principal on the take.

Levine/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 10-14, 9780545525527


Author Buzz

The Marriage Auction
(Season One, Volume One)

by Audrey Carlan

Dear Reader,

What would you do for 3 Million Dollars? Would you auction yourself off for marriage to the highest bidder, sight unseen? Four women did… and this is their story.

Arranged marriages. A woman on the run. Family drama. Twins vying for the same bride. It's all part of the deal when you enter into The Marriage Auction.

Read the phenomenon that has been the #1 story across Amazon's new Kindle Vella serialized reading platform for over a year! With close to two million reads already, The Marriage Auction promises a spicy, romantic, thrilling adventure, with forced proximity, taboo undertones, found family, and four loves stories that will fill your heart to bursting.

These are the types of love stories that will stay with you for years to come. Happy reading, friends!


Available on Kobo

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
January 24, 2023


List Price: 
$5.99 e-book

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