Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Academic Satire

Academic satires are a favorite subgenre of mine, and I just read a hilarious one that immediately went on my buy-for-friends list: Dear Committee Members (reviewed below) by Julie Schumacher, faculty member at the University of Minnesota. We recently asked her about her favorite satires:

"Campus novels invite the reader into a weird and rarefied world--a world that, more consistently than any other, inspires satire. We admire and even look forward to eccentricity in our professors. One of my favorite teachers in college burst into tears in the wake of a student's idiotic remark and staggered out of the room.

"As a university professor myself, I have to confess that I haven't read some of the campus classics: Mary McCarthy's The Groves of Academe, Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution, Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, Jane Smiley's Moo. Too much of a busman's holiday, I suppose. But I do love Richard Russo's Straight Man and David Lodge's Changing Places--as well as several, less-often cited satire/comedies: Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs, Percival Everett's Erasure and Robertson Davies's The Rebel Angels. And because I'm drawn to melancholy books, I adore Willa Cather's The Professor's House, for its long slide into disillusionment, the professor continuing to work in the dusty attic of his rented house, though he recently bought for his family a modern new home.

"In part because it's specific to creative writing, I love Lan Samantha Chang's All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. Chang's Miranda Sturgis is a powerful, complicated character--one of the few female professor protagonists among the collection above--and her novel asks questions about literary reputation and passion in literature that other works overlook. Though it's book-ish rather than academic, I want to list Helene Hanff's beautiful epistolary novel, 84, Charing Cross Road, for the tender irascibility of Hanff's correspondence. And, finally, though it's a short story rather than a novel, there is no better satiric portrait of university culture than Tobias Wolff's 'In the Garden of the North American Martyrs'--a bitter, hilarious portrait of academic revenge."
--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Nha Ca, with Olga Dror: Revisiting the Tet Offensive

Nha Ca--which means "gentle, elegant song" or "canticle" in Vietnamese--is the pen name of Tran Thi Thu Van, one of South Vietnam's most prominent authors. Born in Hue in 1939, she left her native city to marry a poet, Trần Dạ Từ, and establish her literary career in Saigon. Mourning Headband for Hue: An Account of the Battle for Hue, Vietnam 1968 (originally published in 1969 and just released in a new edition from Indiana University Press) recounts the horrific sufferings of Hue civilians during the 1968 Tet Offensive, when the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong attacked and held much of the city. At the time Nha Ca was in Hue to attend father's funeral; she was stranded there. To this day, her harrowing account--of war casualties, searches and arrests, ideological purges--generates intense debates about accountability during war time. In 1970, Nha Ca donated the book's proceeds to the city of Hue for its reconstruction.

After the fall of Saigon, Nha Ca and her husband were incarcerated by the Communist government for being "cultural saboteurs" and Mourning Headband for Hue was prominently displayed in the Museum of American War Crimes as evidence of her misconduct. In 1989, the couple and their children were granted political asylum by the Swedish government and later immigrated to the U.S.; they now live in Southern California, where they founded the daily newspaper Việt Báo.

Translator Olga Dror studied Vietnamese language and culture at Leningrad State University. She received a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian History from Cornell University in 2003 and is now an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University.

Did you two ever discuss the impact of Mourning Headband or why it should be translated into English?

Nha Ca at the annual Viet Bao Writing Competition. photo: Viet Bao

Nha Ca: I have never felt the need to ask Olga why she wanted to translate my book. Her experience and credentials speak for themselves. Olga understands Vietnam, as metaphor and reality, from many different angles.

Olga Dror: Mourning Headband was written in 1969, with the author still in shock from events in Hue during the early months of 1968. The mourning headband is a piece of white cloth tied around a person's head to observe the death of a family member. Nha Ca's account captured the plight of Hue residents as they were caught in the crossfire between the attacking Communist forces and the South Vietnamese and American forces on the other side.

You feel Nha Ca's anguish for her native city and people. Her occasional unpolished prose, which I try to preserve in translation, reflects the raw presence of the moment. As such, Nha Ca's work is different from memoirs penned by other South Vietnamese writers that have appeared in the United States in the aftermath of the war. While extremely important in remedying our perception of the war strictly as a U.S.-Vietnamese Communist conflict, these memoirs are inevitably colored by events, experience and knowledge formed after the war. The immediacy of Nha Ca's work makes it unique for American readers.

Translator Olga Dror

Nha Ca: In America, the Vietnam War is still taught in high schools and universities from a predominantly leftist liberal viewpoint. Over the years, literature sympathetic to the North Vietnamese perspective continues to be translated and published. Meanwhile, Southern Vietnamese views about the war are paid scant attention. It has taken less effort for Jane Fonda to apologize for her photograph on the North Vietnamese army's anti-aircraft gun than for intellectuals to redefine how the Vietnam War should be taught in American schools. Although I have seen a shift in perception, changing this biased approach takes time.

My faith in Olga's work is based on her role as an objective scholar of Vietnamese history and culture. I'm truly impressed by the thorough and comprehensive translator's introduction that she includes in the book, which analyzes a wide range of perspectives on the war, not only those held by Northern and Southern Vietnamese, but also by liberal and conservative Americans, the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Union historians.

How did you collaborate on the translation? How long did it take?

Nha Ca: I officially signed our translation agreement in September 2012. From that time until this August is about two years. All of our communication has been via e-mail, almost exclusively in Vietnamese. We have not met or spoken on the phone but have become good friends. I can't recall any significant issues in translation. Aside from supplying context to things I personally experienced, I respected Olga's process and did not interfere.

Olga Dror: I have not met Nha Ca in person. I knew about her work and wrote to her to ask whether I could translate Mourning Headband. I started, I think, in late 2011 or early 2012. Since I am not a full-time translator and also have a full-time job teaching at Texas A&M University, I just worked on it as much as I could. Nha Ca did not intervene in the process at all. Whenever I had questions about the text, chronological sequence, names, etc., we would discuss them by e-mail. She was very gracious in explaining local expressions and idioms. Except for minor adjustments made with her permission, I envisioned myself merely as a conduit for the author's voice and, through her, the voices of the people of Hue at the time of the Tet Offensive.

In the "Small Preface: Writing to Take Responsibility," Nha Ca wrote, "Our generation, the generation that likes to use the most beautiful and showy words: not only must we tie a mourning headband for Hue and for our homeland, which are being destroyed, but we must also take responsibility for Hue and for our homeland." Did you ever discuss this passage with each other, how "we" and "our generation" were or are defined? Why must "we" or "our generation"--and not only the Communists--take responsibility for what happened in Hue?

Nha Ca: I have talked about Hue and the Vietnam War, the differences between the Free South and the Communist North, in many books that bear my name. But in Mourning Headband for Hue, my "Small Preface" is simply an invitation to "light candles [and] burn incense" at the symbolic ancestors' altar. In Vietnamese culture, each child from a family must gather in front of the ancestors' altar at the death anniversary of a family member. Similarly, the idea of an ancestors' altar for all Vietnamese at each anniversary of the Hue Massacre provides an opportunity for remembrance, prayer, and forgiveness. Such an altar would not be a proper place for denunciation or retribution.

The idea of a spiritual space, where all enmity ceases, is not unique to Vietnamese culture. Two years before the end of the U.S. Civil War, on March 30, 1863, President Lincoln issued Proclamation 97 to set aside a "Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer," stating, "It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness." When the war ended in April 1865, there was no victory parade. The nation healed slowly. It became stronger for acknowledging this collective guilt.

Olga Dror: I did not talk to Nha Ca about her "Small Preface." This was her position, at least back in 1968. And I respect it. In her works, we see a huge leap from an apolitical person before 1968 to a person whose political position was shaped by the realities of war. My goal was to retrieve her voice, a South Vietnamese civilian's, from oblivion, and to show another view of events in Hue during the Tet Offensive. In American discourse we primarily talk about the war from two dominant views: American and Vietnamese Communist. We tend to forget that in South Vietnam, many people were neither Communist sympathizers nor American puppets. Nha Ca's work makes us see how each person's perception, while unique, contributes to a larger, more complicated context about the war, a little like Akira Kurosawa's approach in Rashomon.

Nha Ca: The Vietnam War narrative, with brothers in the same family killing each other and destroying their homeland, began over 60 years ago and ended in 1975. But even today, in Hue, in all of Vietnam, elsewhere in the world, inside many people's minds, there is no joint remembrance, no communal ancestors' altar, no resolution.

Nearly half a century ago, when I wrote my preface for the first edition of Mourning Headband for Hue, I believed in a renewed future for Hue, for Vietnam. Today, with the same faith, I find myself still waiting for a day of reckoning in my homeland, where once, we used to know the meaning of love and human decency, just as we used to know the meaning of culture and history. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Book Candy

Reasons to Read the Classics; Library Cake Art

In Open Culture, Italo Calvino "offers 14 reasons we should read the classics."


Guff found "10 awesome things inspired by Harry Potter."


Noting that Smithsonian Libraries have created "cheeky GIFs from pages of the books they store," the Huffington Post showcased "14 stunning book illustrations brought to life."


Three sweet words: Library Cake Art.


"Which of Ernest Hemingway's four wives was married to him for the longest time?" If you know that one, you may be ready for the Guardian's wives of authors quiz.


Buzzfeed found "18 things only people who read to escape will understand."

Book Review


Dear Committee Members

by Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher (novelist and University of Minnesota English department faculty member) has crafted Dear Committee Members as a series of letters of recommendation from curmudgeonly Jason Fitger, tenured professor of Creative Writing and English at the fictional Payne University. Amid the defunding of his English department and shrinking remodel of its offices, Fitger's modest academic life is one of divorce, disappointment and disgruntlement. But he takes seriously his responsibility to support his students and agrees to all requests to send letters of recommendation, no matter how far-fetched the employment opportunity. His often rambling letters not only display his caustic distaste for university administrative bureaucracy, with its "endless requests for redundant documentation," but also cumulatively paint a picture of a once-optimistic graduate student who has lost his wife, his literary agent and his self-respect.

Fitger saves his most sincere recommendation letters for Darren Browles, a talented student trying to finish his "powerhouse" novel reinterpreting Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener." As Darren is rejected for job after job, Fitger steadfastly sends out more and more letters on the young man's behalf. Gradually, Schumacher peels aside Fitger's tough façade to show a man who still believes in the power of literature and the role of teaching. He is perhaps most genuine in one letter where he describes his student as "not yet a candle ready to illuminate anyone else's darkness, but he understands that darkness exists, and he does not turn away." Can we ask anything more than this from a college education that still holds on to the study of literature and hasn't slipped finally and irrevocably into vocational practicality? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In this clever epistolary send-up of academic logrolling, a disgruntled English professor still clings to hope for his writing students.

Doubleday, $22.95, hardcover, 9780385538138

Sweetness #9

by Stephan Eirik Clark

In 1973, David Leveraux begins his career as a flavorist, one of a growing number of chemists who re-create taste through science. Life couldn't be better. He recently married his college sweetheart, Betty; his job offers the promise of financial security; and he's just embarked on an exciting round of animal testing for a new calorie-free sweetener called Sweetness #9. When testing doesn't go as well as expected, David suspects the company of trying to cover up negative side effects of Sweetness #9. Voicing his suspicions leads to termination, marital strife and time in a mental hospital.

Ernst Eberhardt visits David in the hospital to offer him a job at FlavAmerica, which gives him the chance to leave Sweetness #9 in the past (though Betty has become a devotee of the product). By the late '90s, David is back on top, but then his daughter decides to write about the alleged dangers of artificial sweeteners for her school paper and David is unwillingly forced to face his past. In the meantime, an anonymous stranger begins sending him packets of Sweetness #9, an action he reads only as menacing. David must ask himself what his silence has cost his family, his conscience and his country.

Stephan Eirik Clark's first novel riffs neatly on a national paranoia but, as in any successful satire, grains of truth ground his elements of the ridiculous. Against the dark humor of the flavor industry, David's inability to connect with his family or find meaning in his suburban paradise is a particularly frank critique of American life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A satirical, darkly comic look at the artificial-flavoring industry and the ludicrous trials of an American family man at the center of it all.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316278751

A Pinch of Ooh La La

by Renee Swindle

As usual, Renee Swindle (Shake Down the Stars) is the master of setting the scene. Here, in her enticing third novel, she's cooked up a bakery called Scratch that specializes in wedding cakes, owned by protagonist Abbey Ross, the only non-musical child of a famous jazz musician. Abbey's loving-but-scattered dad has fathered 13 children with six women, but their large family (in which all the ex-wives are uncharacteristically good friends) remains refreshingly close and supportive amidst jam sessions and well-meaning gossip.

Despite all of her romantic cake creations, Abbey herself is nursing a broken heart from a breakup of the most humiliating kind. Her best friend Bendrix encourages Abbey to get back in the game, and her ticking biological clock causes her to take a chance on straight-laced hunk Samuel who's wary of her super-blended family. Meanwhile, Abbey is thrown for a loop by two major family issues, all while she finds herself connecting a little too deeply with a soon-to-be-married male client. It'll take more than an extra cup of sugar to sweeten up the flopped soufflé of Abbey's personal life, and a major boost from an unlikely source may be just what the baker ordered.

Swindle has once again set her captivating story in Oakland, Calif., so in addition to the well-developed characters, artful descriptions of baked goods and jazz and the shocking plot twists, the notable nuggets of information about Oakland add an interesting touch. This novel is as delectable as one of Scratch's cakes and just as satisfying. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A mouthwatering confection of love and family set in a backdrop of cupcakes and jazz.

New American Library, $15, paperback, 9780451416650

No-No Boy

by John Okada

At the time it was published, John Okada's 1957 novel about the postwar experiences of Seattle's Japanese-American internees who refused to swear loyalty to the U.S. and serve in the American military (thus, responding "no-no" on a government questionnaire) was met with resistance from a public eager to forget. This new reprint, with a new foreword by Ruth Ozeki, brings Okada's groundbreaking work to a new generation.

In No-No Boy, Ichiro Yamada returns home after serving two years in prison for being a no-no boy. Full of loathing and shame, he resents his ethnicity and his parents--a prideful mother who believes Japan won the war and an alcoholic father--while envying the internees who served and now enjoy the American lifestyle of which he feels denied. His brother hates him, and his former friends mock, abuse and spit upon him for his actions. Kenji, a fellow university student before the war, befriends the reluctant antihero; Ichiro yearns to feel the pain of the maimed and dying veteran who "can put [his] one good foot in the dirt of America and know that the wet coolness of it is [his] beyond a single doubt." They talk on a drive out to the country and spend the night with Kenji's empathetic friend Emi, an internee abandoned by her enlisted husband. Together the three forge a friendship that promises the beginnings of hope and self-forgiveness.

Okada, an internee and enlisted man himself, wrote in a raw, brutal stream of consciousness that echoes the pain and intergenerational conflict faced by those struggling to reconcile their heritage to the concept of an American dream. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: First published in 1957, this novel addresses the plight of post-World War II Japanese internees struggling to reconcile their Japanese American identity and find forgiveness for their roles as "no-no" boys.

University of Washington Press, $19.95, paperback, 9780295994048

Beneath the Darkening Sky

by Majok Tulba

When Majok Tulba was a young boy in South Sudan, a group of rebel soldiers attacked his village and took as recruits all of the young boys who stood taller than an AK-47. Though Tulba himself was too short to be taken, he has imagined what his experience might have been in Beneath the Darkening Sky, a novel that centers on Obinna, a young boy who measured taller than the rebels' guns.

During the raid on their village, Obinna and his brother watch as their father is murdered before they are carried away to join the rebel army. As new recruits, they are sent ahead to scout for land mines on long marches; they are ordered to run and hike to keep fit; they are fed measly meals of gruel and scraps; they stand on the lookout for government forces coming to attack them, day in and day out. Obinna's frequent mistakes earn him extra beatings, the nickname Baboon's Ass, even-more-limited rations and constant torment. Slowly, his captain strips him of his sense of identity, his sense of self, to turn him into a soldier--a raping, pillaging, murdering rebel who storms unsuspecting towns in the dead of night, just as soldiers stormed his so many years ago.

Beneath the Darkening Sky is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, giving us the story of a young boy who must fight to defend himself against conditions worse than any human--let alone a child--should ever be forced to endure. As a novel of resilience and identity, and of what lengths we are willing to go to survive, it is at once harrowing and haunting, shedding light on the continuing horrors of child soldiers. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The heartbreaking story of a child soldier in Africa who fights to maintain his sense of self in the worst conditions.

OneWorld, $15.99, paperback, 9781780742410

Mystery & Thriller

Gun Metal Heart

by Dana Haynes

At the beginning of Dana Haynes's Gun Metal Heart, Daria Gibron--former agent for Israel's Shin Bet (secret service) and now freelance operative--is recovering from injuries incurred during her previous escapade, Ice Cold Kill. She's in rural Italy when her old colleague Diego tracks her down. Diego and his friend Vince were hired as bodyguards for a female engineer and her mysterious invention, but Vince has disappeared and Diego fears the worst. When he's in trouble, he seeks out Daria.

After warning Diego that she's not yet operating at 100%, Daria dives into an international situation that even someone in top shape might not survive. Among its other uses, the engineer's invention is turned into a deadly weapon against Daria. To add to her troubles, several former CIA agents she disgraced in the last book are out to murder her. What's a girl to do?

If she's Daria, she kicks butt. Daria is an arresting character, like a female, petite Jack Reacher; at one point, a villain advises that five men must be sent to take down Daria if they're to have any chance of success. She's not only good in a fight but finds extremely clever ways to outwit her pursuers. Here, she finds a worthy adversary in a woman whose reputation is about as lethal as her own.

Haynes has the odd habit of repeating information that has just been established, but the cinematic action is fun, and a crash course in the history of the former Yugoslavia helps make this a smart summer thriller. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: An action-packed thriller featuring the return of Daria Gibron, the female Israeli operative who's as tough as Jack Reacher.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250009647

Never Mind Miss Fox

by Olivia Glazebrook

Olivia Glazebrook (The Trouble with Alice) opens her second novel, Never Mind Miss Fox, by introducing her readers to Clive and Martha in their university days, at Oxford. Clive has fallen for Martha, and "realizing her worth--afraid to leave her unattended," he's brought her along on a family holiday to France. The new couple is joined by Clive's younger brother, Tom, and his guest, a girl named Eliot Fox. Tom and Eliot are "just friends," although everyone acknowledges that Tom worships her.

Many years later, Clive and Martha are happily (or at least stably) married, and they adore their lonesome daughter, Eliza, who has found a new piano teacher--someone from her parents' past. Eliza is happy to have found a friend in Miss Fox; but to Clive she represents something entirely different. Eliot brings with her a dark secret unknown to Martha or Eliza or Tom, one that has the potential to tear apart Clive's carefully constructed life. "Are you going to tell?" he asks her; Eliot replies, "I won't have to."

Glazebrook draws strong characters: Martha, ambitious and a reluctant mother; Clive, insecure and barely competent; Eliza, an affectingly awkward, intelligent child; and of course Miss Fox, mysterious and damaged, whose motives remain obscure. As the entangled players rush toward a conclusion that will change each of their lives in profound ways, the distressed marriage and mood of sinister suspense are apt to delight fans of Patricia Highsmith and all that is darkly engrossing. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An ominous tale of betrayal and past mistakes.

Little, Brown, $25, hardcover, 9780316242899

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Fool's Assassin

by Robin Hobb

Fans of Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy can rejoice over this related series centered on FitzChivalry Farseer and his elusive mentor, the Fool. The world thinks him dead, but after years of intrigue, acting as the king's assassin, Fitz is pretending be a simple country squire known as Tom Badgerlock and is safely ensconced in Withywoods, the estate he shares with his beloved wife, Molly. But Fitz's previous life as a bastard and slayer continues to invade his domestic peace as he receives messages via his Skill magic from many at Buckkeep Castle, including Chade, who persists in sending Tom old scrolls about the Skills to transcribe.

As the seasons pass, Tom can no longer ignore the series of mysterious visitors and warnings he receives. They serve to rekindle his memories of the years he left behind: his own imprisonment, the time with Molly he lost while incarcerated, and the odd disappearance of the Fool, a man who was like a father to Fitz but abandoned him in an effort to preserve all the magic they'd created together.

Filled with rich details of manor life and herbal lore, coupled with powerful magic, new characters and old friends, Fitz's escapades will resonate deeply with readers already acquainted with the assassin. Those who've just discovered the fascinating world that Hobbs has created are in for a delightful treat that's part love story, part suspenseful murder mystery; it will leave readers questioning to what extent a man's past can and should rule his present and his future. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A new set of escapades for the king's assassin by the acclaimed author of the Farseer Trilogy.

Del Rey, $28, hardcover, 9780553392425

Graphic Books

Displaced Persons

by Derek McCulloch, illus. by Anthony Peruzzo

Displaced Persons, a stunning graphic novel by Eisner-nominated writer Derek McCulloch (Stagger Lee; Gone to Amerikay), follows three stories that overlap at various points spanning 120 years. Though the characters first meet in 1879, through the means of time travel, they cross paths again in unexpected ways in 1909, 1939, 1969 and 1999. Illustrating with a predominantly monochromatic palette, artist Anthony Peruzzo uses slightly different era-specific highlight colors for each timeline. When characters from one era are temporally displaced, they bring with them the colors of their age, creating a striking visual cue that identifies them as time-travelers.

These displaced characters wander without the benefit of their own memories, relying on the people they meet to help them piece together a past they can no longer access. Their one anchor point is a house in which they have all lived. It's the only feature of any new world that the time-travelers recognize upon arriving in their new era, though they can't recall why it's familiar. They do not fit, but they have no way to return home (wherever or whenever that may be). Without this sense of their own origin, they take on new names, create new identities, live and die without knowing it's not amnesia they have--they just don't belong. The few people who could identify them often find them too late in life, or not at all.

The brilliance of McCulloch's story is that readers are kept wondering exactly when these displaced people originated, and the story does not reveal the fullness of itself until the very last page. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: A story of interconnected timelines where people are as out of step with each other as they are with time itself.

Image Comics, $17.99, paperback, 9781632151216

Food & Wine

International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World

by Mark Kurlansky, Talia Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky and his 13-year-old daughter, Talia, have a creative tradition: once a week, they spin the globe and cook a meal from wherever Talia's finger lands. After collecting a year's worth of International Night menus--52 of them--Mark and Talia collaborated on a cookbook, sharing their recipes, cooking experiences and a brief introduction to each country.

Mark (Salt; Cod; The Food of a Younger Land) shares anecdotes from his wide-ranging travels (sometimes with Talia), commenting on history, politics, culture and, of course, cuisine. Each meal comprises a full dinner menu: appetizer, soup and/or salad, bread, main course, dessert and drinks, including nonalcoholic options.

Kids are a major focus in this cookbook, as Mark does his best to find recipes that can be made for and sometimes by older children and teenagers. Talia shares her perspective on various cuisines and techniques, such as her thoughts on skinning black-eyed peas and improving her knife skills in Morocco. Some of the recipes are time-consuming, but most are fairly simple and straightforward. The Kurlanskys live in New York City, where many exotic ingredients are readily available, but Mark often suggests substitutions for the sake of ease or simplicity. He urges families to adapt the menus and the ritual to their own tastes, noting, "Food is the best way to teach history and geography and most everything else."

Packed with fascinating tidbits and mouthwatering recipes, International Night is a hands-on culinary treat for the whole family. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A mouthwatering compendium of international menus, geared toward cooking with and for the whole family.

Bloomsbury, $29, hardcover, 9781620400272

Children's & Young Adult

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods

by Rick Riordan, illus. by John Rocco

With an irreverent tone and the ability to tackle head-on the questions inherent in Greek mythology, Percy Jackson explains the Olympians who have held such sway in his life.

"I'm biased. But if you're going to have a Greek god for a parent, you couldn't do better than Poseidon," says the star of Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. Narrator Percy Jackson's conversational tone sets this mythology apart from others, along with John Rocco's (Blackout) sensational illustrations. Rocco shows immense range, from the image of Gaea, gazing up from her earthly terrain at Ouranos, who's looking down at her from the stars, pulsing with the chemistry between them, to the five rivers that flow into the Underworld, painted as a quintet of horizontal panel illustrations that deliver one wallop of an impact. Percy gives voice to the obvious issues for young people, such as the intermarriage of the Titans ("I know," he says, "You're screaming, GROSS! The brothers wanted to marry their own sisters?!") and pens clever chapter headings, such as "Persephone Marries Her Stalker (Or, Demeter, the Sequel)." Percy pulls no punches. Zeus philanders, and Hera gets her revenge ("I can't blame her, really. Zeus could be a total diaper wipe," Percy explains).

Enlarged, pithy pull quotes ("Think Aphrodite swore off mortal men after that? If you guessed no, you're learning," reads one example), plus Rocco's chapter openers and full-page illustrations break up the text. Kids will start out thinking they'll dip in and out of this meaty, elegantly compiled volume and wind up reading it cover to cover. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Greek mythology as only the star of The Lightning Thief can explain it, with a conversational tone and first-hand knowledge.

Disney, $24.99, hardcover, 340p., ages 8-12, 9781423183648


by Christopher Franceschelli, illus. by Peskimo

This exuberant, chunky board book follow-up to Alphablock plays with cause and effect as it moves from one to 10, then counts by 10s up to 100.

With the turn of a sturdy die-cut page, "One acorn becomes... an oak tree" and "Two snowmen become... two puddles!" Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo build into the text and images the passage of time, a change of seasons or a leisurely afternoon ("Three boxes become... three forts!"). Many of the numbers lead to activities that involve creativity, such as seven pots of paint that become "seven colors of the rainbow" and 10 pails of sand transformed into 10 sand castles. In between 10 and 20 (and the succeeding numbers that increase by 10), text and artwork count out the connecting numerals, one by one. So the page after the 10 sand castles reads, "What comes after 10?" and labels some wave-washed sand castles 11, 12, 13 and so on, up to 19. Husband-and-wife team Peskimo stick to bright, mostly primary and secondary colors. A standout series of images begins with 20 caterpillars that transform into 20 butterflies, filling the sky and alighting on tall grasses. Author and artists turn up the comedy with 40 eggs--39 are the usual white or beige variety, but a larger green egg beginning to crack open stands out in the crowd. A turn of the page reveals "thirty-nine chicks and one dinosaur!"

The 100 puzzle-piece finale brings together the characters and counted objects from the previous pages. More, please! --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A terrific companion to Alphablock that counts from one to 10, and up by 10s to 100, using cause and effect.

Abrams Appleseed, $16.95, board books, 94p., ages 3-5, 9781419713743


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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