Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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

From My Shelf

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at 50

Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has become a staple of childhood, whether a child's first encounter is through the book or the two film incarnations. British journalist Lucy Mangan, with her new book, Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory: The Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl's Most Famous Creation (Penguin, $19.99, paperback), takes readers inside the creation of the novel, the author's personal triumphs and tragedies along the way, its adaptation into film and the reactions of the public.

The book begins with a touching foreword by Roald Dahl's granddaughter Sophie Dahl (daughter of his daughter Tessa) and her recollections of dining at his table. "There was nothing more magical... than the Red Tupperware Box that appeared at the end of a meal, heralding the most important and longed-for bit," writes Sophie Dahl, "chocolate." A love that Sophie and her grandfather shared, and surely the genesis for an entire novel devoted to chocolate. Mangan writes that while Dahl's first book for children, James and the Giant Peach (1961), took two years to write, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) took much longer. Soon after turning in a first draft of Charlie in December 1960, Dahl's son, Theo, had an accident and developed hydrocephalus (when spinal fluid accrues around the brain). Dahl, together with Theo's neurosurgeon and an engineer friend, invented a new and better shunt with which to drain the fluid. By the time they perfected it, Theo was out of danger, but it helped thousands of children, according to Mangan. In the autumn of 1962, Dahl's daughter Olivia died from an outbreak of the measles.

Yet so much humor comes from a man so blighted by sorrow. Mangan reproduces manuscript drafts, includes family photos, film stills, the many iterations of Charlie's covers and more. Like chocolate lovers, fans of the book and film(s) will find much to savor. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

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

The Writer's Life

Lan Cao: A Delicate Balance

photo: Le Phuong Mai

During the 17-year gap between her novels Monkey Bridge (Viking, 1997) and The Lotus and the Storm (see our review below) Lan Cao gave birth to a daughter and established herself as a well-respected legal scholar in international development, all the while haunted by memories of the Vietnam War.

Cao's father was the late General Cao Van Vien, whose great hope for Vietnam was a professional military that would remain insulated from politics. But like Minh, the father in The Lotus and the Storm, his refusal to participate in the 1963 U.S.-backed plot to overthrow President Ngo Dinh Diem nearly cost him his life.

Lan Cao, like her protagonist Mai, had a wondrous childhood in Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon. She left Vietnam in early spring of 1975, entrusted by her parents to the care of a close family friend. Thinking the trip would be temporary, Cao, who was 13 at the time, packed one suitcase, a few photographs and her favorite stamp album. Arriving in Avon, Conn., Cao watched the last days of Saigon on television and realized she would never go home again. Cao's parents were able to leave Vietnam hours before the collapse of Saigon, and the family was subsequently reunited in Northern Virginia. Cao graduated from Mount Holyoke College and Yale Law School and is now a professor at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

Tell us about the events that triggered The Lotus and the Storm.

I started the book in 2005. It might have been because what was happening in Iraq at the time started to echo, to me, what had happened in Vietnam. I finished the first draft in 2009 when I was in Vietnam with my daughter, primarily to enroll her in a Vietnamese school to jumpstart her Vietnamese. I revised the novel from 2009 until last year. When I started the book, my daughter was only 3. Now she's 12.

I wanted to write a novel that is both sweeping in scope and minuscule in detail. I wrote the novel late at night, usually after my daughter fell asleep. My fiction writing began around 9:30 or 10 p.m. and continued usually until 1 or 2 a.m., if I had momentum and felt like the writing was going well. I kept telling myself if I wrote one page a day, I would have a decent draft in a year. But it took much longer.

What is the meaning behind the novel's title?

It's about tension, the balance of opposites. Serenity and tempest. Peace and war. The religious significance is Buddhist--that is, the state of being open and receptive and spiritually calm despite murky or chaotic surroundings.

In the novel, Mai explains that six distinct tones in Vietnamese can produce six different meanings for certain words. If Bảo (treasure or keepsake--a concept presumably related to lotus) differs from Bão (storm) only by one tone, does it suggest that the lotus is another manifestation of the storm, and vice versa?

Yes, precisely so. One tonal change and the world shifts. For most of us, the balance is but a fine and delicate balance, to borrow from Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (which explored different layers of loss and opened with Agnes's musings about the fragility of sanity) and Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance (in which the characters frequently spoke about the need to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair).

Do you ever feel pulled between law and fiction?

I do not feel pulled between law and fiction. I need stability and law offers stability for me. The routine of teaching and legal writing does not upset the (delicate and fine) balance I have strived for. I can see the result of each class and can tell if it went well. In legal writing, I have a body of research to turn to and the contours and structure of a law review article are more accessible. Fiction is messy, mysterious, unknowable, for the most part frustrating. Most of the time while writing I feel that I have failed at what I planned to do. Only later am I able to live with what has been written because I can let go of the original plan and appreciate what occurred instead. Nonetheless, the entire process is fraught.

The Tale of Kieu, Vietnam's epic national poem, is invoked in the novel, with similarities shown between Kieu and the mother, Quý, who uses her beauty to save the men in her life. Quý is a savvy businesswoman with financial resources and an extensive social network. She seems more liberated than most women in 1960s Saigon. Why does she have to resort to sex as a bargaining weapon?

It's true that Quý has financial resources and is savvy in the world of business. But that's only one market and it's a market many women--even if they have access to it--do not control or dominate. There are other markets, like sex and beauty, that historically and across cultures, women have been relegated to. It's interesting that sometimes, sex is the primary, if not the only, option for women.

You said in another interview that the Vietnam War still needs to be translated for Americans since Vietnamese refugees remember or experience it quite differently from the way it is perceived or experienced by Americans. Does the need to translate or explain a perspective not generally known impose an aesthetic burden on your fictional framework?

I have thought a lot about translations. In Brian Friel's play Translations, there is a memorable scene in which names of places known to the 19th century locals in Gaelic had to be altered and rendered into English to be recorded on a map for the English rulers. The act of mapping, which might at first seem like an innocuous, technocratic exercise in translation, became something much more intrusive and violent, reflecting the balance of power between the Irish and the English at the time. The powerful have the power to name cities or map countries. The victors, too, can rename. Saigon swiftly became Ho Chi Minh City in April 1975.

On one level, translating an experience to the wider American public poses no additional burden beyond that which most of us are already doing and/or already accustomed to. As refugees and immigrants, we're all translators navigating between the world of the native tongue (which ironically some of us don't even speak well) and the world of the adopted homeland.  

Mai remarks that "[t]he molecular makeup of the melting pot is three parts mundane and only one part visionary." Would you elaborate?

Sometimes the American dream is portrayed as something that is a dazzling, slightly Pygmalion-like process that involves taking the raw material of the refugee or the immigrant and molding her into this new being called an American. Sometimes, it's a very violent process. I remember Bharati Mukherjee saying somewhere that it's akin to murdering a part of your old innate self and creating this new entity--but the new entity is a cobbled, brittle self prone to dissolution.

Other times, the route towards Americanization is quite uninspired and workmanlike--one new word, one new sentence, one new perspective at a time. I felt that way a little bit when I was in high school. I had just arrived and within three months had to be enrolled in the ninth grade, where apparently grades start to count. And I remember studying very hard and trying to fit in to the culture of school itself, navigating through PE class, the cafeteria line, the lunch table. And then there was the citizenship test to study for and to pass. But it felt like a technocratic endeavor--one math problem here, another bad experience there, being the last to be chosen in softball, a game I found mystifying. Nothing felt inspired and all of it felt like an exercise in slogging through the necessary steps to arrive at the destination. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Book Candy

Symptoms of a Good Read; Films of Classic Novels

"You lose track of time. Day turns to night; you don't budge." Buzzfeed noted "10 things that happen when you can't put down a good book."


Lights, camera, classics! ShortList Magazine anticipated "8 forthcoming films adapted from classic novels."    


Bethan Roberts, author of Mother Island, chose her "top 10 novels about childbirth" for the Guardian, noting that childbirth and early parenthood "are rich in narrative opportunities, offering a journey full of conflict, joy, struggle and pain, both physical and emotional. Yet they are rarely the subject of fiction."


Slaughterhouse worker in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, for one. Flavorwire found "10 of the worst jobs in literature."


"These tiny scorpions would like to perform an important inspection of your old book collection, please," Bec Crew wrote on Scientific American's blog, adding: "Book scorpions are the best/worst thing to happen to books, because book scorpions!"


"Fans of massive postmodernist novels and/or Lego building blocks rejoice! A father and son duo has been translating Infinite Jest into Legos," Electric Lit reported.

Book Review


Black Dance

by Nancy Huston

Milo Noirlac is a screenwriter dying of HIV/AIDS, and his partner (both professional and personal), film director Paul Schwartz, is at his side attempting to pull Milo's life story into one last screenplay. Black Dance. Paul's truncated version of Milo's family tree--only 14 names, though it covers four generations of Irish Catholic immigrants--adheres to "film's guiding principle--always follow one of the three main protagonists."

Milo's memory is dominated by his literary grandfather, who fled Ireland for Canada after the rebellion of 1916, leaving his colleagues "Jimmy" Joyce and "Willie" Yeats to become the pillars of Irish literature while he had to accept working on his wife's family's farm in Quebec and collecting books. Milo's father was a drunken petty thief, his mother a Waswanipi Cree prostitute. Shuttled among abusive foster parents, Milo finally broke free into the world of the arts. Careering from Montreal, Toronto and New York City to the wild bisexual hedonism of Brazil, he becomes obsessed with Rio's fight-dance capoeira scene.

With its cinematic structure--jump-cut scenes and earthy dialogue--the novel covers both 100 years of history and one family's personal legacy. But Paul's easygoing narration avoids the maudlin as he mines the memories of his dying lover and accepts that they are just "two old fogies whispering a screenplay at each other through an endless November night... if you take as your starting point that everything is unfathomable, and stick to it, you'll never be disappointed." Nancy Huston (Fault Lines) has a light but sure touch, and Black Dance rarely disappoints. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The 100-year cross-cultural family history of dying Canadian screenwriter Milo Noirlac.

Black Cat/Grove, $15, paperback, 9780802122711

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

by Elena Ferrante, trans. by Ann Goldstein

The third volume of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels series opens with the last time Elena, a celebrated novelist, will ever see her best friend. In My Brilliant Friend, they grew up from childhood; in the second volume, The Story of a New Name, they found husbands. Now they're in their 60s and Naples is changing. In fact, all of Italy is in political turmoil.

Lila was once an entrepreneur but now works a brutal job on a factory floor and lives in a rundown building with her son. She urges Elena to leave her out of her writing; Elena does just the opposite. And with that, the story plunges back 40 years, picking up at the conclusion of the previous novel. When her old flame Nino shows up at Elena's book party, she's prepared to risk everything for him, including her engagement to another man.

The plot turns as relationships deepen and change. Children begin to resemble their parents. Lila's son, assumed to be fathered by Nino, starts looking very much like someone else. Lila gets caught up in the struggle for workers' rights while her friend becomes a famous debut novelist. Elena's attempts to escape the small-minded old neighborhood fail as forces of the past drag her home to try to save her younger sister from a disastrous marriage.

As Ferrante's series--best taken as a whole--moves forward and reflects European history, she seasons the prose with provocative perceptions, but her neighborhood of squalid blue-collar lives and passionate secrets is pure Italian soap opera raised to a loftier level of literary art. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Two lifelong friends caught up in political upheaval, a novelist's notoriety and the complicated web of the past.

Europa Editions, $18, paperback, 9781609452339

The Emerald Light in the Air: Stories

by Donald Antrim

It's been 14 years since Donald Antrim published his last fiction work, The Verificationist. Unlike his novels, which tend toward the bizarre, weird and surrealistic, the short stories in his first collection, The Emerald Light in the Air, feel quiet and sedate, even hermetic.

All seven pieces deal with the domestic: couples, husbands and wives, fidelity (or not) and personal failings. Many of his characters use drugs (Ativan, Valium), drink a lot (one story is called "Another Manhattan"), have contemplated or attempted suicide or are self-conscious to a fault. The stories can feel a bit cramped and confined, but thanks to Antrim's prose, they sparkle and gleam with subtle insights and revelations.

In the title story, Billy French aimlessly drives his Mercedes in the Virginia mountains until a rainstorm washes him and his car down a hill. Billy's girlfriend, a painter, once told him she was "searching for something that isn't quite there." Suicidal Billy isn't quite there, either.

"Pond, with Mud" is the secret name for Patrick Rouse's "encrypted journal." A poet manqué, he's constantly scribbling down lines and thoughts in his journals. A man of ritual, he always carries his journal just so. Trying to impress his fiancée, he takes her son, Gregory, to the zoo, only they don't make it that far. Patrick ends up drinking in a bar, child in tow.

In polished prose that's analytical, sharp and concise, Antrim reveals the weaknesses in these fragile characters, unable to make simple decisions. Still, he manages to inspire sympathy for his misfits, who can undoubtedly use it. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Novelist Donald Antrim plumbs the emotional depths of his troubled characters in these seven domestic tales.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22, hardcover, 9780374280932

We Are Not Ourselves

by Matthew Thomas

In Act 2 of King Lear, the king describes how infirmity affects all of us, high and low: "We are not ourselves/ When nature, being oppress'd, commands the mind/ To suffer with the body." This is one of the epigraphs Matthew Thomas chooses to set the stage for his magnificent first novel, We Are Not Ourselves. What can mental illness do to a person? How do others deal with it? These important questions circle around this masterful portrait of a mother and wife, Eileen, in all her strengths and weaknesses.

Eileen Tumulty, an Irish-American New Yorker born in 1941, lives with her parents in a cramped Queens apartment. When she's old enough, Eileen goes to nursing school and begins to look forward "to the day when she would take another man's name." She aspires to a bigger world than she's in, and a husband could provide the means. By 1967, she marries Ed Leary, a brilliant neuroscience researcher, and they have a son. Instead of climbing the ladder, Ed repeatedly declines career-advancing opportunities to teach science in the college classroom. Eileen is infuriated--this wasn't part of her plan.

By the time Ed is 50, he starts to lose interest in teaching; he seems confused. Ed says he's just tired, but Eileen thinks Ed is depressed. Readers will see the telltale signs of Ed's descent into darkness, and its poignant effect on him and the family. Watching what they go through emotionally is almost too hard to bear, but Thomas presents it beautifully, filling tragedy with love and affection. Without a doubt, this expansive, heartfelt novel provides a fulfilling and rewarding experience. --Tom Lavoie

Discover: In this powerful, brilliant debut novel, a woman is so distracted by the realization of her dreams that she ignores the deterioration around her.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 9781476756660

Season of Storms

by Susanna Kearsley

In 1921, Celia Sands was the muse of Galeazzo D'Ascanio, the celebrated playwright. He wrote a spectacular play for her to star in, but she vanished the night before it opened and was never seen again. Now, some 70 years later, Galeazzo's grandson Alex D'Ascanio plans to stage the play in order to bring attention to the palatial family estate, Il Piacere, which is being given to an Italian historical trust for preservation.

Alex offers the lead to a struggling young English actress--also named Celia Sands. Celia is reluctant at first, because she's tried to avoid trading on her famous name, since she's no relation to Celia the First (as she's dubbed her namesake). But Celia can't resist the lure of playing the role of a lifetime in the midst of a star-studded cast, and she's excited to give up her waitressing job in London to head to Italy.

Once at Il Piacere, however, strange things happen. Servants vanish, artwork goes missing, actors squabble and Celia could swear that Celia the First haunts her bedroom. She finds herself turning to the handsome Alex for answers--answers that may not be Alex's to share.

Much like Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting or This Rough Magic, Season of Storms tells the story of a young English woman in a foreign setting who must dodge danger as she seeks love. Susanna Kearsley (The Splendour Falls) makes Il Piacere a destination worth of readers' dreams with her trademark blend of mystery and gothic romance. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A young actress is haunted by the story of another actress, who vanished mysteriously 70 years earlier.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99, paperback, 9781402258732

De Potter's Grand Tour

by Joanna Scott

Joanna Scott (The Manikin) spins a mysterious, slightly fanciful historical yarn in De Potter's Grand Tour. The titular character is variously called Armand de Potter, Pierre Louis Armand de Potter d'Elseghem or (to the immigration authorities) Pierce L.A. Depotter Elsegern; his personal history is as amorphous and changeable as his name. De Potter lives a legend of his own design, beginning with his immigration to New York from Belgium in the early 1870s, determined to become a person of note. He joins a local society in dredging up oddities from the harbor, which sparks his interest in antiquities. With a few astute investments, he soon becomes an accomplished collector specializing in Egyptian artifacts. He simultaneously works as a teacher (educating aristocratic young ladies in multiple languages), and eventually channels all his skills and interests into a travel and touring company, which has great success. Years later, his wife, Aimée (a former student, born Amy), is devastated when he is lost at sea.

The grieving Aimée finds herself unexpectedly debt-ridden and receives a disturbing final letter from her late husband, which prompts her to examine his past more closely. It now appears that Armand looked to The Count of Monte Cristo as a model for the building of his myth. As Aimée ages, she yearns for her husband, and wonders what really happened on that ship that sailed from Constantinople.

Scott's tone is whimsical, and her characters are idiosyncratic and appealing. De Potter's charming tale, told in split chronology both before and after Armand's disappearance, will please readers seeking a playful trip back in time. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A fantastical mystery of historical fiction, peopled by amiable eccentrics.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374162337

The Lotus and the Storm

by Lan Cao

Dazzlingly, Lan Cao (Monkey Bridge) captures Vietnam's dichotomy as both an enchanting realm and a place of carnage. The metaphorical lotus of the title suggests serenity and acceptance, while the storm or "dark mud" surrounding the lotus represents war, the loss of one's country and the struggle for survival in a new home.

Alternating between the voice of Mai, a Vietnamese American law librarian, and her father, Minh, a former commander of the airborne brigade in the South Vietnamese army, The Lotus and the Storm is both epic and intimate. It spans the Vietnam War, from the 1963 coup resulting in the assassination of South Vietnam's first President to the plight of the Vietnamese boat people. It also illuminates an insular, fabled world where a child's grief is alleviated by the verbal eloquence of a mynah bird and where a seasoned soldier finds peace by practicing yoga in a sanctuary amid lush foliage, far from the ripples of warfare and political betrayals.

Offering a rarely discussed perspective on the Vietnam War, Cao's second novel contends that the loss of Vietnam was not inevitable, but due largely to the U.S.'s misguided exit strategy that left South Vietnam vulnerable to the Communist North. Shifting her focus to life in the U.S., Cao also questions the trajectory of material success among Asian Americans. Her novel suggests that a calm, integrated self--in spite of any traumatic history--promises more fulfillment than any outward embrace of the American Dream. As such, The Lotus and the Storm upholds Buddhism's fundamental tenet: the need to cherish the present and let go of lost dreams. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine.

Discover: A two-stranded narrative on the Vietnam War and its lasting impact on the lives of soldiers and refugees.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670016921

Mystery & Thriller

The Secret Place

by Tana French

Since his turn as Frank Mackey's sidekick in The Faithful Place, Detective Stephen Moran has been biding his time working in Cold Cases, hoping to get his foot in the door with the elite Dublin Murder Squad. He gets a lucky break in the form of Mackey's daughter, Holly. A teenager attending the prestigious girls' boarding school St. Kilda's, she ditches school and shows up at the station. In her hands is a card with the words "I know who killed him" glued across a picture of Chris Harper, a popular boy who was found dead on the campus of St. Kilda's months ago.

Moran talks his way into the investigation alongside Detective Antoinette Conway, an ambitious officer two years Moran's junior: Moran's universal likability and optimism make him the perfect good cop to Conway's cynical, bullish bad cop. As they face down a tight-lipped headmistress, a bevy of teen girls who may as well have "razor blades in their hair," and a ticking clock before they're shoved off the school grounds, Moran and Conway must learn to trust each other if they're going to catch a killer.

Tana French expertly lays bare the striations of age, class and gender that keep people apart while making them need each other more. With carefully crafted characters and motives, French not only makes a boarding school murder seem plausible, she makes the reader wonder how teenagers could ever live in such close quarters without doing each other grievous bodily harm.  --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Tana French's latest Dublin Murder Squad tale is a trip into the raw and shaky world of adolescence, revealing the dangers inherent in friendships true and false.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670026326

Graphic Books


by Michael Cho

In emotive two-color illustrations, Michael Cho (Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes) explores the quarter-life crisis now common to young professionals through the eyes of one twentysomething woman.

In college, Corinna Park had big dreams. A literature major, she planned to write a novel and become a full-time author. Five years after graduation, she writes for a living but has traded her novelist fantasy for an ill-fitting job as a copywriter. Even the stray cat she rescued regards her with disdain. Burned out on trying to make it in the big city, uninterested in partying with her coworkers and not sure how to make a change for the better, Corinna's only thrill comes from indulging in shoplifting: "Magazines only. Honest." She rationalizes her behavior--she doesn't do it all the time, magazines are cheap, she's stealing from a corporation rather than a real person--but truthfully, her petty thefts give her the rush online dating, flipping TV channels and writing copy about little girls' perfume can't. Although her life seems stuck in an inescapable limbo, Corinna is moving toward a confrontation and a decision that will profoundly affect her future.

Cho expertly depicts the internal conflict between the need for security and the desire to explore one's dreams. His drawings possess a subtlety yet broadcast emotions clearly; a single change in the set of Corinna's mouth takes her from doubtful to wistful in only two frames. This quick read will capture readers' sympathies with its everywoman heroine and quiet but powerful climax. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The resonant story of a young professional woman struggling to reconcile her college dreams with her current situation.

Pantheon, $19.95, hardcover, 9780307911735

Health & Medicine

Misdiagnosed: One Woman's Tour of--and Escape From--Healthcareland

by Jody Berger

We should thank the neurologist who misdiagnosed reporter Jody Berger and then refused to return her phone calls. Berger, a 43-year-old award-winning reporter, journalist and marathoner, refused to accept that the light pins-and-needles tingling in her fingertips was multiple sclerosis, even when an MRI led a respected neurologist to this diagnosis. Instead she spent two years investigating holistic medicine, including Ayurveda, chelation, osteopathy and craniosacral therapy, and found, "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.... The doctor with an MRI machine and a self-proclaimed proclivity to diagnosing MS found MS. The traumatologist found trauma. The neuropsychiatrist found anxiety and depression. And the doctor with faith in a heavy metals test found heavy metal toxicity." However, each specialist provided clues that helped Berger track down and arrest the true culprit of her discomfort: gluten.

Misdiagnosed is a gripping mystery that begins with the MRI that first revealed the lesions on Berger's spine: "I felt my heart drop down, falling through my back, through the table I was lying on, through the floor and into the earth. I felt my heart falling through dark and quiet earth, toward what I didn't know." Throughout her journey, Berger explores the role of pharmaceutical companies in the epidemic of over-diagnosis in the United States, mind-body connections, imbalanced doctor-patient relationships and the role of food and nutrition as medicine. In Berger's case, a simple elimination diet was the cure, so she recommends that more people start with food and nutrition rather than pharmaceuticals, and ultimately learn to trust their instincts. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: How a misdiagnosis of MS led one reporter to discover unsettling truths in the medical profession.

Sourcebooks, $14.99, paperback, 9781402293887

Children's & Young Adult

The Fourteenth Goldfish

by Jennifer L. Holm

In The Fourteenth Goldfish, Jennifer L. Holm (Our Only May Amelia) brings to amusing light questions of immortality, family and growing up.

Ellie is 11 years old, and that means things are changing. Fast. She's just started sixth grade, her best friend seems to be moving on without her, and she still hasn't found her passion in life. One September evening, Ellie's mother brings home a teenage boy who bears a suspicious resemblance to Ellie's grandfather, Melvin. A scientist whose research focuses on immortality, Melvin has found a way to reverse the aging process using a newly discovered species of jellyfish. With no way to prove his claim, the now-youthful Melvin is forced to move in with his daughter and granddaughter. Melvin opens Ellie up to the world around her and all the possibilities science has to offer. As Melvin explains, "Scientists fail again and again and again. Sometimes for our whole lives. But we don't give up because we want to solve the puzzle." As Ellie and Melvin grow closer, she forms a tentative friendship with Raj, who eventually agrees to help the pair sneak into Melvin's former lab and retrieve the jellyfish.

Holm keeps her characters lively and entertaining, while also offering very human reactions to aging, dying, stages of friendship and love. She interweaves snippets of biographical information on famous scientists such as Galileo, Jonas Salk, Marie Curie and Robert Oppenheimer, educating readers while also furthering the plot. Ellie's memorable journey into the world of science will inspire readers to explore the world around them and celebrate the possible. --Kyla Paterno, and blogger, Garfield Book Company at PLU

Discover: Eleven-year-old Ellie finds adventure when her scientist grandfather appears in the driveway after transforming himself into a teenager.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 9-12, 9780375870644

Baby Bedtime

by Mem Fox, illus. by Emma Quay

This soothing picture book--sure to become a nighttime ritual--upholds Mem Fox's (Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes) proven track record as a master of rhymes for early childhood.

"I could eat your little ears," says an elephant snuggling a baby elephant close. "I could nibble on your nose," the adult continues, about to kiss the little one's trunk. The intimate exchange continues through the house, up the stairs and into the nursery. Emma Quay (the Bear and Chook series) introduces collage elements that add texture to the wallpaper, chairs, books on the shelves and toys in the toy box. Readers can see the baby elephant's reflection in window as the youngster pulls down the shade: "I could gaze at you all night," says the caregiver. "I could whisper lots of stories till the darkness turns to light." Although Fox's narrator is an adult, the rhymes are completely child-centered, and inspire cuddling, stories and settling in to sleep. "I could sit you on my knee," appears alongside the baby leaning in to read a book, "I could sing you all the songs that my mother sang to me."

Fox's simple rhyme and Quay's soft pencil outlines and twilight palette attest to a complex understanding of what children at this age need in order to settle down: reassurance that their loved ones are near, consistency and cuddling. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This new Mem Fox picture book is sure to become a nighttime favorite.

Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781481420976


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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