Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Gift Books: Last but Not Least

This gift book column, being the last of 2014, is a crush of good books. If we just had a few more weeks (like seven or so) till Christmas, but no...

Jane Austen's die-hard fans will want Jane Austen Cover to Cover (Quirk Books, $24.95)--200 years of covers beginning in 1811, ending with movie posters and foreign editions. Rockport Publishing, known for design books, has come out with  four illustrated classics--clever, modern, hip; our office favorite is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ($25), illustrated by Olimpia Zagnoli. Also available: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Grimm's Fairy Tales and Edgar Allan Poe: Stories and Poems ($25 each).

An intriguing "visual memoir," Vajram Muratyan's About Time (Little, Brown, $22), is a graphic art exploration of time and memory that is original, lovely and invites you to slow down and think about how precious minutes are spent. If you want to spend some of your minutes being an amateur art critic or keeping kids happy on road trips, Lonely Planet's Instant Expert ($19.99) is the book to get--a visual guide to skills you either have always wanted, or didn't know you wanted until now. But being an expert doesn't always work out, as seen in Inventions That Didn't Change the World by Julie Hall (Thames & Hudson, $30). An "improved" machine for cutting turnips, a complicated apparatus for scoring lawn tennis, and artificial leeches are just a few of these bizarre Victorian inventions.

Some photography books that are simply stunning: Melting Away: A Ten-Year Journey through Our Endangered Polar Regions by Camille Seaman (Princeton Architectural Press, $55)--icebergs, glaciers, land and fauna as may never be seen again; National Geographic: The Covers, curated by Mark Collins Jenkins ($50), with the stories behind the photos; and Galaxy: Mapping the Cosmos by James Geach (University of Chicago Press, $35), sublime photographs that will fill you with awe. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Christmas Gifts, Books and Food

"It was Christmas Eve in Dublin and the sun was splitting the rocks." Stylist magazine shared "20 of the greatest opening lines from our favorite Christmas and winter-themed books."


Bustle showcased "7 remade classics series with cool covers that would make perfect holiday gifts."


Culled from the pages of Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook (1660), "39 dishes from the first Christmas menu" were served up by Mental Floss.


"The only Christmas presents William Faulkner would accept from his family were pipe cleaners." This is just one of "10 surprising literary facts for Christmas" highlighted by the Huffington Post.


In the U.K., they really test readers' knowledge this time of year with the Telegraph's "fiendish Christmas quiz," the Guardian's seven-round "big Christmas books quiz" and, just for good measure, the Guardian's "Christmas in books" quiz.


"From a charming scene in War and Peace to Kingsley Amis's depiction of a ghastly crew of septuagenarians," the Guardian shared the "10 best Christmases in literature."

Great Reads

Who Is Patrick Modiano? And Why Did He Win the Nobel Prize?

Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, is virtually unknown in the United States, although he wrote the screenplay for one of the classic French films of the '70s, Louis Malle's controversial Lacombe, Lucien, about a 17-year-old peasant boy in Nazi-occupied France who joins a group of Fascist collaborators, until he falls in love with a Jewish girl.

Like fellow Frenchman Marcel Proust, Modiano's concerns are time and memory. Unlike Proust, he writes very short novels in clear, simple prose. Most of his melancholy stories take place in the past, and consist of patched-together pieces of memory. The 2014 Nobel Prize cited Modiano "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation."

One character after another in his fiction reveals a piece of a puzzle, though not always the piece you think it will be. Clerks and service personnel frequently provide clues, along with porters and concierges, removal men and waiters, hotel managers and nightclub bartenders, black marketeers and housekeepers. Characters recur from one novel to the next: Modiano's father, Albert, mysteriously released from jail; the love of his youth, Jacqueline; a caring and protective older woman, variously named; and the deadly, metamorphosing, self-reinventing Pacheco. Though they may not know themselves very well, Modiano's characters know every street in Paris, and name whichever one they are wandering down in the fog of memory. Layer by layer, Modiano peels back one memory to reveal another beneath it.

His works consist of almost 30 short novels, his form of choice, of which only half a dozen are currently in English translation  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish Modiano's latest novel, Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, or So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood, in fall 2015). Among those now available:

Missing Person, translated by Daniel Weissbort (Verba Mundi/David R. Godine, $16.95 paperback, 1980)
Modiano's 1978 novel Rue des Boutiques Obscures (literally Street of Dark Shops), translated as Missing Person, was awarded France's highest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. Private investigator Guy Roland finds himself out of a job after eight years in detection, and decides to turn his skills upon himself. A survivor of the Nazi occupation of France, his past has inexplicably been erased by amnesia, leaving him searching for clues to his own identity. Two bartenders remember vaguely that he used to go around with a tall Russian, which starts him on a journey through Russian émigrés, yellowing photos, newspaper clippings, phone directories, old documents, memorabilia and dusty boxes of souvenirs. The villain is memory. Do we really remember who we are? How much of the past remains accessible to us?

Honeymoon, translated by Barbara Wright (Verba Mundi/David R. Godine, $16.95 paperback, 1992)
Modiano's 1990 novel Voyages de noces, translated as Honeymoon, follows a documentary filmmaker about to escape from his unfaithful wife and unsatisfying career by disappearing on a supposed flight to Brazil. Jean B. slips out of his own life and vanishes, returning to Paris like a ghost to secretly walk through the rooms of his former home. Changing hotels every week, he arrives at one shortly after a woman has committed suicide there, a woman he once knew. He begins writing about her, re-creating his experience with Ingrid 18 years earlier when he was picked up hitchhiking by her and Rigaud, her new husband. Swept away by the two charming illegal drifters, Jean B. embarked on a stolen holiday during wartime, in a world where guests had false papers and lived in fear of police raids. Soon Jean is telling the story from Rigaud's point of view, reconstructing their lives before they met him, trying to understand what drove Ingrid to take her own life.

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, translated by Mark Polizzotti (Yale University Press, $16 paperback, 2014)
The first short novel in Polizzotti's excellent translation is from 1993--Chien de printemps (literally Dog of Spring, or Goddamn Spring), here translated as Afterimage. It's a mosaic of memory fragments from the author's friendship with the photographer Francis Jansen, dating from when Jansen used Modiano and his girlfriend as his models for an article on Paris youth. The 19-year-old narrator offers to catalogue all of Jansen's photos. The two become friends. Nicknaming him Scribe, antisocial Jansen mentors him in the realities of life, including dealing with a romantically obsessed married woman and her jealous husband. Famed for his photos of fences, walls, stairs, garages, and his own shoes, after taking pictures for nearly 25 years, Jansen gives his camera to his young Scribe.

The title novella in the collection, Suspended Sentences (Remise de peine, 1988), takes place during wartime in a small town just outside Paris. An actress in a touring company leaves her two sons with colorful, eccentric friends for more than a year while she's on the road. Ten-year-old narrator Patouche, nicknamed "blissful idiot," is expelled from school while staying in the house with Little Helene, a tiny former circus acrobat, and beautiful 26-year-old Annie, who wears a man's leather jacket. Patouche and his brother soon discover the house has secrets. Annie's friends have taken political risks, and an impending police raid will force her to move the boys into the house across the street before it's too late.

The collection concludes with Flowers of Ruin (Fleurs de ruine, 1991), which investigates a happily married young couple who in 1933 take their own lives for no apparent reason. They are last seen at nightclubs with two other couples. Twenty-five years later, the narrator tries to find answers and becomes obsessed unearthing of the identity of a man who may have crossed their path that fateful night, the mysterious Pacheco, pretending to live where he doesn't live, flinching at the mention of earlier times, wanted by the law for colluding with the enemy. Pacheco leaves his suitcase behind and never returns. Locked inside that suitcase is a clue to the fate of the doomed couple.

Out of the Dark, translated by Jordan Stump (Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, $16.95 paperback, 1998)
Out of the Dark is a translation of Modiano's 1996 novel Du plus loin de l'oubli (literally, From the Far Edge of Forgetfulness). The narrator recalls 30 years ago, when he was an underage drifter with a false student ID card who survived by selling used art books and knew every apartment building in Paris with two exits. He meets Gerald Van Bever, who lives for the casinos on weekends, and becomes spellbound by Gerald's wife, Jacqueline, who begs him to steal a suitcase from a dentist's office. In classic noir fashion, the smitten young man commits the crime. That's where the similarity with noir ends. The party sequence finale, in which he's an uninvited guest posing as the friend of a friend in his obsessive search for his lost love is a suspense masterpiece.

Modiano's novels are so short you can read them easily in one sitting, but their brevity doesn't prevent them from bursting out of the restrictions of detective fiction and morphing beyond genre recognition. Modiano has put his finger on something quite creepy, the fluid drift and metamorphosis of personality through time, how we become strangers to our past selves, only to become detectives in search of our own identities, perpetually trying to solve the mystery of who we really are. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Book Review



by Jo Baker

Published in the United States for the first time, Offcomer is the striking first novel by Jo Baker (Longbourn). In Belfast, Claire Thomas is struggling with a messy relationship with an overstressed and self-important academic; a degrading, beer-stained job in a second-rate pub; loneliness; and self-harming. Baker presents Claire's story in disjointed chronology, beginning mid-crisis, jumping back to when she meets her troublesome philosopher boyfriend, Alan, for the first time, then forward to the aftermath of a minor breakdown, as she travels home to confront her mother about the misrepresented mysteries of their shared past.

Claire, a recent college graduate floundering through early adulthood, is looking for an identity, a place in her world. In the dialect of Lancashire, an "offcomer" is an outsider or a nonlocal. Her family history is shadowy, fractured and geographically unstable; true to her family's offcomer status, she can't get comfortable, can't decide who she is: "Claire saw herself reflected in a hundred different ways, distorted, fragmented, multiplicitous.... She couldn't begin to resolve... discarded, throw-away ideas of Claire." One of Offcomer's artistic feats is that of perspective. By shifting slightly from Claire's point of view to Alan's, for example, Baker subtly asks questions about the truth and nature of their self-images. Claire's specific trials and disconnected family history are a vital part of her coming-of-age; her story is a universal one made fresh in Baker's creative hands. Thoughtful, somber and perceptive, Offcomer will resonate with all who have searched for home. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A delicately wrought debut novel about self-identity in a big, rough-edged world.

Vintage, $15.95, paperback, 9780804172615

Mystery & Thriller

Last Days in Shanghai

by Casey Walker

Casey Walker's first novel tells congressional aide Luke Slade's story of a botched five-day meet-and-greet for his boss, California Congressman Leo Fillmore, arranged and funded by Fillmore's wealthy benefactor Armand Lightborn. Luke has no romantic illusions about playing a role in shaping the future of the world. He knows his job is to keep his boss away from liquor long enough to stay on schedule--"to prevent, as much as I could, full public knowledge of the crooked timber he was made from." After perfunctory visits to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, followed by yet another hard-drinking dinner, Fillmore goes off the rails and disappears on a bender, leaving Luke to stand in during key negotiations over a Chinese contract to build an airport in Fillmore's district. Luke inadvertently accepts a briefcase of cash to "facilitate" the deal, becomes implicated in the death of a regional Chinese mayor, and winds up in Shanghai with no sign of Fillmore or Lightborn and only the pretty translator Li-Li to help him untangle things and get his man back home in one piece with reputation intact.

Last Days in Shanghai displays a good deal of cynicism about the "Chinese economic miracle" and the United States' naïve efforts to exploit it. But it's also a perceptive novel about the old giving way to the new and of one young man's attempts to find an abiding moral center in the heady swirl of a Washington-Beijing axis of money, power, women and corruption. Walker dances with the big global superpowers and waltzes away with a suspenseful modern story of sin, subterfuge and redemption. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A young Washington aide's fight to stay centered in the swirling chaos of modern China.

Counterpoint, $26, hardcover, 9781619024304

Death with All the Trimmings: A Key West Food Critic Mystery

by Lucy Burdette

As the holiday season approaches, Key West food critic Hayley Snow is thrilled to land a plum assignment: an in-depth review of the hippest new restaurant on the island, run by hotshot New York City chef Edel Waugh. But when Hayley interviews Edel, the chef confides that someone has been sabotaging her pasta sauce and tampering with other ingredients. When the restaurant goes up in flames and the body of Edel's ex-husband turns up in the rubble, both Hayley and Edel wonder if the killer will strike again.

In Death with All the Trimmings, Lucy Burdette (Murder with Ganache) brings Haley back for her fifth culinary cozy along with a host of familiar characters, including Hayley's mother, her coworkers at the magazine Key Zest and her cheerful elderly roommate, Miss Gloria. Family tensions and office politics escalate along with the mystery plot, set against the festive but zany backdrop of Christmastime in Florida. Hayley's complicated relationship with the local police department is amusing, as is the town's lighted boat parade and Haley's run-ins with her neighbor's high-strung schnauzer.

Hayley may be a foodie, but she's no snob: Burdette treats readers to mouthwatering descriptions of both elegant restaurant meals and take-out Cuban sandwiches. Burdette also includes recipes for six dishes featured in the story, including Scarlett O'Hara Cupcakes and spaghetti Bolognese. Juicy, entertaining and twisty without being gruesome, this is a perfect seasonal treat for readers who love both a turkey dinner and a good mystery. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Key West food critic Hayley Snow stars in a mystery that combines Christmas festivities, family tensions and murder.

Signet, $7.99, paperback, 9780451465900

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spirit of the Wolves

by Dorothy Hearst

Book three of Dorothy Hearst's Wolf Chronicles series (Promise of the Wolves; Secrets of the Wolves) opens shortly after Kaala, a young female, mixed-blood wolf, has survived an attack by a male human. Because she's befriended a young girl, Kaala is distrusted and no longer welcome with her pack, the wolves of Swift River. Determined to continue her task of bringing about peace between humans and wolves, Kaala leaves the Swift River area with her human companion, TaLi, a few younger packmates and a helpful raven to find her absentee mother, who might have answers to the questions that fill Kaala's mind.

Kaala knows, "When I defied my pack and the Greatwolves to be with TaLi, I discovered that our legends were lies, and learned the true Promise of the Wide Valley Wolves; we were to be guardians of the humans and to watch over them for all time." With the help of the raven, she's able to meld minds with others, which enables her to fight off both the Greatwolves and the humans and provides Kaala with insights into the ways in which some humans are turning against nature. This only solidifies Kaala's desire to fulfill the Promise, regardless of the costs.

Hearst has adroitly blended realistic descriptions of wolves on the hunt, at play and as they establish their hierarchy into the story, giving readers a fantastic sense of these creatures' nature. Imaginative and inventive, with an underlying message regarding humans and their approach to the environment, Spirit of the Wolves is a robust adventure. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The final chapter in the saga of a young wolf who wants all wolves to be friends with humans.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781416570028

Biography & Memoir

Letter to Jimmy

by Alain Mabanckou

In 1988 at age 22, novelist Alain Mabanckou (Broken Glass) left his native Republic of the Congo for Paris. Today he also makes his home in Santa Monica, Calif., and teaches French literature at UCLA. On a parallel path in 1948, the black, openly homosexual novelist and playwright James Baldwin left his native New York City at age 24, bound for Paris and an expatriate French life. Letter to Jimmy is Mabanckou's homage to his literary mentor, written in 2007, on the 20th anniversary of Baldwin's death.

Mabanckou's focus is not biographical; rather, it is on his own search within Baldwin's life and work for better understanding of the roles race, expatriation and social isolation play in the writing of a modern black man. In this exploration, he latches on to Baldwin's insistence that literature must be more than protest when he criticized the work of black intellectual giants like Richard Wright and Malcolm X. Mabanckou applies this conclusion to his own struggle with "child soldier" or "Rwandan genocide" literature where "an African author will be able to do nothing but await the next disaster on his continent before starting a book in which he will spend more time denouncing than writing." With great admiration, he praises Baldwin for the individuality of his work in the face of social and political headwinds (one chapter title sums up Baldwin's obstacles: "black, bastard, gay and a writer"). Mabanckou should likewise be praised for raising tough questions about race and art--and exploring the answers so fearlessly. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An exploration of the challenges facing black writers and James Baldwin's impact on novelist Alain Mabanckou.

Soft Skull Press, $14.95, paperback, 9781593766016

The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words

by Raymond Chandler, Barry Day, editor

Though born in Chicago, Raymond Chandler was raised in England, so when he returned to the United States at age 24 he felt foreign. He had to learn what he called the "American" language, but conquered it in writing The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and many short stories in the noir style--a style he helped perfect. He created the archetypal hard-boiled private investigator Philip Marlowe and wrote screenplays for Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia and Strangers on a Train. When he died in 1959, he left a variety of written works behind, and many are respected as classics today. In The World of Raymond Chandler, editor Barry Day (The Noël Coward Reader) compiles Chandler's published and epistolary writing to form a picture of the man behind Marlowe.

Rather than a narrative told in Chandler's words, this is a collection of quotations. Selecting from letters and articles, but more often from Chandler's fiction, Day patches these fragments together with commentary into chapters on themes or common topics of Chandler's work: cops, dames, Los Angeles, Hollywood. Day makes the argument that Marlowe's voice represents Chandler's, particularly in their later years, as both softened (but not, Chandler insists, mellowed) until Marlowe in The Long Goodbye was "as hollow as the spaces between the stars."

What Day calls the master's "ground rules" are treasures, including "The mystery must elude a reasonably intelligent reader" and (sadly) "The perfect mystery cannot be written." At the end of this admiring collection, Day's reader is left wondering if Chandler came closest. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A collection of noir master Raymond Chandler's reflections and witticisms, edited into themed chapters.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 9780385352369


Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties

by Rachel Cooke

The stereotype of the 1950s housewife--pearls, red lipstick, perfectly set hair--is both painfully familiar and rarely accurate. In Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, journalist Rachel Cooke profiles women who upended this and other social mores in postwar Britain through their trailblazing careers and complicated personal lives.

Cooke's breezy group biography trains the spotlight on women in varied lines of work, such as movie producer Muriel Box, archeologist Jacquetta Hawkes and barrister Rose Heilbron. Most chapters feature one of the women, tracing the rise and fall of her career and delving into the details of her private life; two chapters highlight groups of women who had strong personal ties to one another. Most of Cooke's subjects rose from humble origins to leave their mark on the world. The vast majority of them dealt with romantic troubles, forming attachments to strong men or mercurial women who, one suspects, might have been threatened by their intelligence and moxie.

While Cooke has done her research well, her tight focus on individual women means the book sometimes loses a sense of a larger context. Her detailed descriptions of the women's personal affairs occasionally devolve into gossip, with echoes of the 21st-century debate over whether women can "have it all." Two brief chapters on fashion and literature at the end feel tacked on. Despite these flaws, Cooke's book provides a sparkling group of portraits that, taken together, cast the '50s in a new and modern light. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A group biography of 10 women in postwar Britain whose careers and private lives defied stereotypes.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062333865

Current Events & Issues

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream

by Joshua Davis

Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Ariz., specializes in teaching marine science and computer programming to its student body, which is 94% Hispanic. Because of its strong Latino presence in a state where illegal immigrants are common and not well treated, few people paid attention to the four Mexican American boys who entered a national underwater robotics competition in 2004. Spare Parts is the story of these intelligent young men who fought against racism, poverty and other stigmas associated with being Mexican in the U.S. and dared take their dreams to the highest level.

With the help of two science teachers who encouraged and inspired them to keep working toward their goal, Lorenzo, Cristian, Oscar and Luis used their wits and what little money they could scrape together to create a working robot from bits of PVC pipe, trolling motors, a sump pump, a balloon and a water-resistant briefcase. With the choice of competing against other high schools or colleges, the foursome chose the college category, figuring it's better to lose against the well-funded MIT team than a high-school group. The narrative, as laid out by Wired contributing editor Joshua Davis (The Underdog), negotiates highs (the results of the competition) and lows (what happened afterward, despite the boys' achievements). Because of strict immigration laws in Arizona, the fear of deportation was a constant, attending college was problematic and good job opportunities didn't exist. The story of these four students is a poignant reminder that much needs to be done to improve the lives of Mexicans in the U.S. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A bittersweet story of triumph against all odds, which also addresses the inequality and racism Mexican Americans still face in the U.S.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, hardcover, 9780374183370

Essays & Criticism

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II

by Molly Guptill Manning

Molly Guptill Manning (The Myth of Ephraim Tutt) opens When Books Went to War by documenting the horrified response in the United States to Nazi Germany's book burnings, beginning in 1933. Bibliophiles fought back in what was characterized as a "total war" of both military might and ideas.

To supply bored, lonely troops with reading materials, librarians in the U.S. organized the Victory Book Campaign, which collected more than 10 million books. To educate the public, the Council on Books in Wartime recommended relevant, topical titles for readers at home, but it found its stride with Armed Services Editions (ASEs). These pocket-sized, lightweight paperbacks, designed for use in the field, not only provided entertainment, escape and enlightenment to American servicemen, but also revolutionized the paperback book in a market that had previously shunned it, employed struggling publishers and helped to jumpstart the publishing industry after the war. Between 1943 and 1947, more than 120 million copies of more than 1,200 fiction and nonfiction titles were printed and efficiently distributed to American soldiers in every theater.

In her moving history, Manning fervently describes the many GIs who returned from war with a love of reading they hadn't had when they left home, wrote impassioned letters to authors and council members and attributed their college educations to books they discovered as ASEs. For military and general history buffs and lovers of books and libraries, it is difficult to imagine a more inspirational story than this celebration of reading in a time of war. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A heartfelt history of Armed Services Edition paperback books that helped save the sanity of many GIs in World War II.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 9780544535022

Nature & Environment

Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made

by Gaia Vince

Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, humans have altered the planet "beyond anything it has experienced in its 4.5 billion-year history." As journalist Gaia Vince explains, "No system on Earth is ever truly isolated from another, which is why the human changes we make to even small parts of the planet can have such enormous consequences." This extraordinary period deserves its own epochal designation, so many scientists have taken to calling it the anthropocene.

Vince struck out on a stunning world tour personally to examine some of these era-making changes and see how they are affecting those most closely connected to them. The result of her trek is Adventures in the Anthropocene, a passionate illustration of the planet and its inhabitants, broken down into sections that correspond with the building blocks that help make up the Earth, such as rivers, farmlands, oceans and cities.

In each section, Vince offers background on the problem plaguing that region and then introduces people who live there as well as those who are battling their predicament in astonishing ways, like Salamon Parco who is painting the Chalon Sombrero mountain peak in Peru white in an effort to encourage ice formation on the once-glaciated peak.

Vince offers multiple perspectives on each issue, sharing the costs and benefits of all options in terms and examples understandable to those without a scientific degree. The power of this weighty read, however, comes from Vince's obvious love and respect for the planet. Her poetic descriptions are breathtaking and her zeal will certainly inspire readers to examine their world in a different light. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: One journalist's examination of the planet's troubles and its incredible problem solvers.

Milkweed Editions, $30, hardcover, 9781571313577

Children's & Young Adult

Blue on Blue

by Dianne White, illus. by Beth Krommes

Debut author Dianne White describes in rhyming couplets the drama of a rainstorm. Caldecott Medalist Beth Krommes (The House in the Night) invents a visual story line about how it transforms the routine on an idyllic farm.

The book opens at daybreak: "Cotton clouds./ Morning light./ Blue on blue./ White on white." Krommes's scratchboard and watercolor illustrations create layers of possibilities: a white bird in a blue sky, a blue roof on a white clapboard house with blue curtains in the window, a white sail on a blue river. A girl and her baby sibling play outside as their mother hangs laundry. "Weather changes./ Air grows colder" accompanies a horse's eye–view from a hilltop: a farmer plows a field as his hat blows off, the pigs run for cover and, on the next page, the sailboat lists perilously. The girl and one of her two dogs hide under the covers in her room while, through the window, readers see the farmer lead the horses into the barn ("Thunder! Lightning!/ Raging, roaring"). Finally, "Winds shift./ Drops drip" and child and puppies venture out. One of the pups watches a turtle surface (children will love discovering two submerged turtles). "Muddy, muddy.../ everywhere!" ushers in a wallowing party for pigs and child.

By moonrise, everyone is clean and peaceful ("Glitter stars, twinkling light./ Black on gold.../ on silver night"), from the house to the barn to the sea. Krommes connects these three setting through her palette and the stars shining through them all. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A first-time author and a Caldecott Medalist convey the transformative experience of a rainstorm.

Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-8, 9781442412675

George in the Dark

by Madeline Valentine

In Madeline Valentine's (The Bad Birthday Idea) psychologically adept picture book, young George proves that you can be brave only by confronting your fears.

The first few illustrations demonstrate just how daring George is, jumping over a snarling dog, confronting a bully and climbing to the top of a tall tree. "But bedtime was a different story," says the text, as George in his red pajamas cowers in the lighted doorway of his pitch-black bedroom, clinging to his red stuffed bear. His parents kiss him goodnight, and as soon as he's alone, he dashes out into the brightly lit hallway. Comical images of George horizontally clinging to the door and also peeking over his blanket contrast with his parents' assurances ("There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of!"). A show-stopping pure-black two-page spread depicts only the whites of George's wide eyes. Dinosaurs, snake and clown toys seem to come alive ("In the dark, George did not feel brave"). In his anxiety, George misplaces his snuggly bear. He reaches over to squeeze the bear, but "it was nowhere to be found.... Then he saw it. In the scariest and darkest place." In his rescue attempt, with bear barely visible in the darkness, "George was almost fearless."

Children will recognize George's words of comfort to his bear: "There is nothing to be scared of," the boy says. "And George felt very brave." As he demonstrates that there's always one more fear to conquer, George makes readers feel that they can be courageous, too. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A brave hero proves that courage comes from confronting fear head-on.

Knopf, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780449813348

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