Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 23, 2015

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Tuck Turns 40

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning." This image opens Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt's novel about the inexorable advancement of time. For many young people, Tuck Everlasting is the first book that ever made them think about what it would mean to live forever.

What are the tradeoffs of immortality? How many people whom you love would you outlive? What would it be like to "stay seventeen till the end of the world," as Jesse Tuck does? For the 40th anniversary of the publication of Tuck Everlasting, Farrar, Straus & Giroux created a special edition that closes with an interview with Natalie Babbitt. "The question of what it might be like to live forever is something that everyone thinks about," she says. "And I think you think about it more when you find out you can't do it." Babbitt explains that she created the four Tuck family members "specifically to talk about different points of view of living forever." She makes us think about what is precious, and what is made more so because we know it cannot last.

Gregory Maguire wrote a terrific introduction for this special edition, offering many wonderful observations. Perhaps the best is, "even though when I meet Winnie Foster again standing in her front yard, I know exactly what she will do later in the book.... what I don't know is what it will mean to me now." That is why we reread. We grow older, and the book, like the Tucks, does not change. Yet we change, and the view from the top of the Ferris wheel seems different somehow. That is the gift of Tuck Everlasting. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

David Whitehouse: Following the Ideas on a Road Trip

David Whitehouse is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter. His first novel, Bed, winner of the 2012 Betty Trask Prize, has been published in 18 countries. His second novel, Mobile Library, is the story of an unusual family's adventurous roadtrip in a truck full of books (our review is below). He has several TV and film projects in development with Film4, Warp, the BBC and others. He writes regularly for the Guardian and the Times, and is currently editor-at-large of ShortList magazine. Whitehouse once made a joke about Lance Armstrong on Twitter that was retweeted 10,000 times.

Sometimes career journalists transitioning to novel writers have trouble letting go of facts in order to embrace fiction and imagination, but that was not the case with David Whitehouse. He says, "My journalism was, still is occasionally, very verbose, very flowery. I was never reporting on war zones or crime or anything serious. I was interviewing film stars and bands and things like that. Experiences in reality are often quite boring and I found myself exaggerating or writing for my own amusement as though I was writing a story. Obviously, in journalism you can't do that, it's really bad. That's why I was a bad journalist. Writing fiction was a release where I could forget about fact-checking and hard-core research, the things I never really enjoyed."

And this approach has worked splendidly for the author of two novels and many scripts. There was one small blip in the process: Whitehouse's rocky trek to publish his first novel, Bed. A trek that almost discouraged him from writing again.

After completing Bed, Whitehouse quickly found an agent willing to represent his manuscript. Finding the publisher, however, was not so easy. After many rejections, Bed moved to his agent's desk drawer, where it sat for two years. It might still be there if not for To Hell with Prizes, a contest for unpublished manuscripts. Bed won the award and the attention of one of the judges, Canongate's publishing director. The validation reinvigorated Whitehouse and found Bed its rightful audience: "I'm of the opinion that people never really know what they're looking for until they see it or read it. In winning the prize it found someone who liked something in it. Had it not won the prize, it would never have been published. And I probably wouldn't have written anything again, at least for a long time. Certainly not by now."

But write again he has, and in grand style. About his debut, Whitehouse explains, "I didn't really know what I was doing, I didn't know if I would ever be published, I didn't really know what publishing was, I didn't even know how long a novel was--I remember Googling, 'how long is a novel?' while I was writing it." He wrote in small snatches of time everyday, what he describes as "that kind of semi-romantic thing."

But the second time around is different. And Whitehouse says he had to wrestle with the process for Mobile Library, keeping regular working hours and treating his writing like a job. "The pressure was on me to prove I could do it again and that I could tell a proper story. Bed is story but not in a conventional sense. Mobile Library is about stories and it's about the form and content of stories and what's hidden in them and what they do to people. So it had to be in every sense a conventional kind of tale. When I sat down to write it, I suddenly realized I'd never actually done that. I was going back to the drawing board and teaching myself about character, plot and pace."

Whitehouse can take up teaching if he ever decides to leave writing because he succeeded in teaching himself more than conventions; he taught himself art.

Mobile Library is the story of a young boy who escapes a tragic life with a single woman and her daughter... in a library on wheels. Whitehouse's plan for Mobile Library was to write an adult fairy tale. "The children's books I used to love had really dark hearts to them. And I used to love how those dark hearts were hidden in other things. Even as a child I realized that. In James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros. When he travels to New York on a big peach, that's his escape, his grieving process from losing his parents. I wanted to try to do that in an adult book."

Another love that Whitehouse weaves into his fairy tale is the idea of the road trip. "I love road trip books and movies; I love the idea of running away and escape. That's what the book represents. A book is a time machine or a teleportation device you can get in in the absence of a real time machine and have a journey or an adventure somewhere else. I wanted this little boy to have a million of those around him, have the opportunity to travel anywhere and do anything while going on a literal journey. I wanted to capture that sense of escape that I got when reading books as a child."

And what better mode of transportation than a truck? "Little boys love big trucks," Whitehouse notes. And the novel's truck is modeled after the mobile library his mother cleaned when he was a child. He describes it as "an articulated lorry--an articulated truck. The biggest truck on the road. It seemed to me to go on forever. It was like a transformer: you'd press a button and a staircase would come down to your feet. It sounds like I'm inventing this, but I'm not. It was really great. I could go in and spend all day in there."

Like Whitehouse, his young hero, Bobby, is also fascinated with the truck. And for good reason. "Bobby probably is me for one specific week in my childhood when I was in that library and wanted to escape. Not necessarily what happens to him, but all of his impulses are mine." And about Bobby's best friend, he says, "Sunny is probably the other part of me that didn't really exist but wanted that capacity for mischief. I was probably a bit too well behaved. I was quite a cautious child so I wouldn't be the one throwing myself off the top of buildings and things. I always admired that in kids that could. I do remember once trying to injure myself so I would be sent home from school. But I was too bad at it; I was too scared to jump off anything."

Interestingly enough, Mobile Library started out much different in early drafts. "There was an earlier draft of the book that didn't have Bobby in it. It was about the adult version of Bobby after all of this has happened visiting his hometown where he was the 'Mobile Library Boy.' " This early version was written in first person, but an omniscient narrator tells the story in the final product. Whitehouse explains this is because "I realized [the story] is wider than that. It's about the four of them coming together--it's the biography of an unusual family, rather than one little boy's story."

Family is a subject that overlaps with Whitehouse's first book. Like that family, Bobby's biological family is detrimental to his well-being. But Whitehouse is quick to clarify, "I'm not saying every family is a destructive force, but we can't pretend we're all the Waltons, can we? It was important to me to reflect that families aren't all perfect; the love that you get and the bonds that you have with them can be discovered in other places. Some people have the Internet instead of family. They don't call up their mother and say they've had a bad day, they tweet it."

Readers will not find any tweeting in Mobile Library, however. While their story might have made for an entertaining Twitter stream, the mismatched family members are all too busy in their grand adventure. Since his first and second books are so unalike in style, what will the third bring for Whitehouse? "I think probably something completely different which is probably somewhere between the two. I think Mobile Library dictated the way it was written; so did Bed, actually. I think I'll probably be led down the path by the idea." --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Book Candy

Telephones in Literature; Literary Gamers

Hello? It's been a century since Alexander Graham Bell inaugurated the U.S. transcontinental telephone service, so the Guardian celebrated with a "telephones in literature" quiz."


Bustle found "7 reasons you should never date someone who doesn't read books."


After J.K. Rowling "surprised some people" recently when she admitted playing the world-building game Minecraft with her kids, the Guardian found "a few other famous literary gamers."


Flavorwire asked "some of our favorite contemporary young adult authors about their favorite books for grown-ups."


Noting that "we're talking real printed and bound paper pages here," Buzzfeed wondered: "How well-rounded is your personal book collection?"

Book Review


Black River

by S.M. Hulse

In S.M. Hulse's spare but rich first novel, Black River, troubles loom for her stoic hero, Wes Carver, and his family like the glacial mountains surrounding their small Montana prison town. Black River's economic life centers on the Montana State Prison where Wes and his neighbors walk the tiers as guards, "enforcing rules, suppressing emotions, intimidating and refusing to be intimidated." When a riot erupts, Wes is taken hostage and methodically tortured by sociopathic inmate Bobby Williams. All his fingers broken, his wrists scarred by cigarette burns and cuts from a makeshift prison shiv, Wes is forever changed. No more can he experience the pleasure of his fiddle playing and composing. Now retired from the state on disability, he and his wife, Claire, move to Spokane, Wash., where he's hired as a mall cop to chase shoplifters and rowdy teens.

Wes's riot ordeal is only the latest traumatic incident in his scarred life. His woodworking father committed suicide, leaving his young son nothing but questions and a beautiful handmade fiddle. Claire's son, Dennis, a child of rape, resents his stepfather and threatens Wes with a loaded pistol. Claire develops leukemia, requiring cycles of hospital visits and treatments until the disease finally wins. Wes's nemesis, Bobby Williams, now supposedly a born-again Christian, is up for parole in Black River and Wes returns to attend the hearing.

With neither Claire nor his music, Wes's salvation can come only from "keeping his word. Following through. Doing what needed to be done." Black River is a transcendent story subtly unfolding in flawless prose--a remarkable first effort. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A precise evocation of a harsh Montana world where redemption comes only for moments and doesn't last.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 9780544309876


by Mo Yan, trans. by Howard Goldblatt

Mo Yan's Frog is as alien and upsetting as good science fiction. His first novel since winning the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature opens in 1960, in a village where all newborn children are named after body parts. A classroom of 35 starving students discover that they can eat coal to survive. The novel becomes truly surreal when it gets to China's disturbing, viciously enforced one-child policy.

Narrator Wan Zu ("Foot"), nicknamed Tadpole, is gathering material about his indomitable aunt Gugu, who was the first professional midwife in Northeast Gaomi Township, the locale of many Mo Yan novels. Gugu is the best there is; she's also the aggressive enforcer of the Party's one-child policy and is responsible for more than 2,000 involuntary abortions. She stands at the center of the novel, and carries it largely unsympathetically. When Tadpole's lovely wife refuses to abort her second pregnancy, Gugu swears to uphold the Party policy. That Mo Yan (POW!) manages to make her ultimately self-aware and forgivable is a measure of his constant compassion toward mistake-makers.

Frog is a big, challenging novel with a dizzying number of characters with similar names, but the narrative thrills far outweigh the confusion. The final section of the book is the script of the play that Tadpole has been trying to write throughout the story, in which Gugu finally confronts her own guilt for following Party directives, a theatrical conclusion to Mo Yan's portrait of a brilliant doctor who makes some horrible politically driven choices while dedicating her life to her community. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: This big explosion of a novel follows an entire Chinese district through the upheavals caused by the controversial one-child policy.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780525427988


by Rachel Cusk

British writer Rachel Cusk's Outline is a brilliant marriage of her fiction (Saving Agnes) and her memoirs (fearless if highly self-absorbed accounts of motherhood and divorce).

Outline's narrator is all but nameless; only near the end does she let her name slip. She's a divorced British writer headed to Greece to teach creative writing. The wealthy, much-divorced Greek man in the next seat tells her about his life during their flight and, later, on his yacht; his stories double back, correcting themselves, reflecting the normal inconsistencies of memory and of self-presentation. Others around her--friends, new acquaintances, writing students--offer accounts of their own pivotal moments and the resulting novel consists largely of anecdotes that don't center on the narrator.

Outline touches on familiar questions of narrative reliability but goes much further. "I was beginning... to see in other peoples' lives a commentary on my own," she says. Her reactions to what she hears are cerebral, provided without commentary; she herself remains invisible, and yet the outline of a life slowly takes shape. Other characters' experiences of marriage, parenthood, self-expression and identity take the stage, but they suggest the life of a woman profoundly engaged with similar preoccupations.

A novel so thoroughly reliant on information told by secondary characters with little response from the narrator is unusual, but Outline is an ingenious and highly successful marriage of form and content. It is also a reminder that we may see the lives of those around us as disconnected episodes that might make good stories, but behind those events are lives as deeply lived as our own. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: A shimmering novel about marriage, self-expression and authorial invisibility.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374228347

Mobile Library

by David Whitehouse

In an exciting and heartwarming adventure befitting the greatest of literary heroes, David Whitehouse (Bed) explores the meaning of family and the value of love.

Bobby Nusku, like many fairy-tale characters, lives in a dark world. His mother is gone; his father neglects him. At school he's an outcast, bullied by his classmates. His only true friend, Sunny, moves away, leaving Bobby completely alone--until one day a ray of light pedals into Bobby's life on an oversized tricycle. Rosa, the tricycle's rider, has a disability that makes her a target for bullies as well.

Bobby and Rosa form an immediate bond. When Bobby meets Rosa's mother, Val, who cleans the town's mobile library, his luck seems to be turning. He finds the warmth, love and safety missing from his biological family and begins to thrive in their presence.

But the utopia is short-lived. When the town puts the bookmobile out of commission, forcing Val to look for work elsewhere, and Bobby's father beats him for spending time with his new friends, Val decides to run away in the library-on-wheels. This unlikely group of misfits, joined on the road by an ex-soldier, gradually melds into a family. Now they have to elude the authorities if they're going to live happily ever after.

Whitehouse wields language like a sword, fencing to defend story. He lunges with suspenseful pacing, advances on references to literary works and guards by developing rich characters. As a result Mobile Library prevails in engaging and entertaining readers, and story lives to fight another day. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The road trip every bibliophile will envy--an escape from evil in a 16-wheeled mobile library truck.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781476749433

Mystery & Thriller

Fear the Darkness

by Becky Masterman

Becky Masterman (Rage Against the Dying) follows up her first Brigid Quinn adventure with a thriller that pits the 59-year-old ex-FBI agent against a sly killer in a case complicated by family ties. Readers last met Brigid as she dealt with the loose ends of her past; this time, her future hangs in the balance.

When Brigid's beloved sister-in-law dies after a long illness, Brigid and her husband return from the funeral with unusual cargo: Gemma-Kate Quinn, their 17-year-old niece. Although her father, Brigid's brother, is still very much involved in Gemma-Kate's life, a move to Tucson will allow the brilliant girl to study biology at the University of Arizona without paying out-of-state tuition.

While she helps her niece settle in, Brigid also agrees to investigate the apparent suicide of a teenager whose parents attend her church. She intends to help the dead boy's mother find peace by allaying any suspicions of foul play but soon questions the circumstances of his drowning. Her attention is diverted when one of her pugs is poisoned and Brigid herself starts experiencing strange symptoms. As peculiar incidents multiply, it seems that Gemma-Kate might be the common link, and Brigid wonders if her niece's sweet smile masks a cold-blooded secret.

Masterman riffs on fears of disease and mortality while delving into the rocky landscape of family dynamics. Gifted at laying false trails and establishing multiple threads of possibility, Masterman pulls off a surprise ending with virtuoso-level skill. Feisty and multilayered, Brigid is an admirable if unlikely heroine readers will look forward to seeing again. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Brigid Quinn--senior citizen, loving wife and ex-FBI agent who can kill a man with her bare hands--takes in her teen niece. But is the girl a monster?

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312622954

City of Blood

by Frédérique Molay, trans. by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Nico Sirsky, chief of police in Paris, knows from the moment he turns on the television that a complicated case is headed his way. Thirty years earlier, famous artist Samuel Cassian buried the remainders of a huge banquet in the La Villette park. Now, what is billed as "the first archeological dig of modern art" is underway, to see what the intervening years have done to the leftovers. But the archeologists and reporters present are shocked when, amidst the goblets and plates, a skeleton is found. Within days of the discovery, several men are attacked and killed in La Villette, upping the ante for the officers investigating.

Juggling his concern over his mother's poor health, the intense scrutiny that the case's publicity has caused and the dilemma of how to catch a murderer when the statute of limitations is long over, Sirsky must carefully direct his team as they investigate Cassian and his history and try to determine if there is a link between the skeleton and the modern victims.

With frequent asides about the history of La Villette (which formerly housed Paris's abattoirs) and snippets of information on French police procedure, City of Blood from Frédérique Molay (The 7th Woman) is a fascinating tale for an international audience. The case is interesting, Sirsky is a sympathetic character and the Parisian setting is unmatched. Its slim length makes for a quick read, providing a perfect (albeit slightly grisly) escape to Paris for an afternoon. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: An "archeological dig of modern art" in Paris turns gruesome when a skeleton is found.

Le French Book, $16.95, paperback, 9781939474186

Graphic Books

Fatherland: A Family History

by Nina Bunjevac

In her graphic memoir, Fatherland: A Family History, Serbian-Canadian artist Nina Bunjevac tells the blood-soaked history of the former state of Yugoslavia through the lens of one family's story.

Fatherland centers on Bunjevac's father, whose involvement in Serbian terrorist organization located in Canada led her mother to flee with her daughters to Yugoslavia in 1975 and ended with his death in a bomb explosion. Moving back and forth in time and place, from modern Toronto to Yugoslavia during both the Nazi occupation and the Cold War, Bunjevac explores the steps that led to her father's extreme nationalism and its tragic consequences. Using a combination of strong lines, pointillism and cross-hatching that evokes the feeling of an old newspaper, she tells a story in which there are no heroes and every choice, personal or political, has traumatic consequences. (Bunjevac's mother is forced to make a classic "Sophie's choice": the only way she can take her daughters to Yugoslavia is to leave her son behind.) Both the country and Bunjevac's family are torn apart by the bitter divisions between Serbs and Croats, partisans and collaborators, royalists and communists.

Bunjevac makes no moral judgments about her family's choices. Instead she approaches their history from several viewpoints, introducing increasing complexity and moral ambiguity with each new layer. The only thing that is black and white in Fatherland is Bunjevac's exquisite and often grim illustrations.

Fatherland is powerful visual storytelling that will appeal to fans of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Joe Sacco's Palestine. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A graphic memoir about the personal consequences of political choices.

Liveright, $22.95, hardcover, 9781631490316

Biography & Memoir

A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France

by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

Less than a decade after Miranda Richmond Mouillot's Jewish grandparents wed in 1944, Anna walked out on Armand, taking their two children with her. They cut off all contact with one another and never revealed what led to their bitter divide. "The more I contemplated it, the more I felt I had no right to go on with my own life until I had learned what had happened in theirs." In 2004, after graduating from college, Mouillot moved to France to uncover the reason behind their estrangement and write A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France.

When she began, she had barely any factual information, not even the date her grandparents had married. Slowly she pieced together Anna and Armand's story using their refugee files and other sources, including a "jumble" of reminisces her grandmother had written down over the years about her wartime experiences. Eventually Richmond Mouillot delved into an area of Armand's life she had previously overlooked: his postwar years working at the Nuremberg Trials, where he was one of two Jewish interpreters. She had filed away this time in his career as a "proud accomplishment" and then forgotten about it in her quest to learn more about Anna and Armand's relationship because her grandmother hadn't been there. But it was the tragic knowledge Armand acquired at Nuremberg that ultimately broke apart his marriage.

This quietly riveting story is one of love, loss, sadness and survival. Through the lens of her grandparents' lives, Richmond Mouillot explores the legacy of tragedy, the responsibility of keeping history alive and the emotional ravages of war. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Discover: A powerful expression of a woman's love for her grandparents and a poignant contribution to the pantheon of Holocaust and World War II literature.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780804140645

The Art of Not Having It All: True Stories of Men, Sex, and Other Disasters

by Melissa Kite

Melissa Kite is a sort of Bridget Jones whose experiences as a single woman with a life far from perfect became the basis of a popular weekly column called "The Real Life" in England's the Spectator. Her unabashed and self-deprecating memoir, The Art of Not Having It All: True Stories of Men, Sex, and Other Disasters, pays homage to women like her who embark on never-ending searches for love and Mr. Right.

Kite's story begins with her remorse about an 11th-hour pre-wedding breakup and the ensuing custody battle over an unwanted pair of clownfish. To ensure that she is never alone to deal with the "loose nuts and bolts of everyday existence" (such as unmuting the TV and navigating trash collection schedules), she falls helplessly in love with a gay Adonis and indulges in her "damsel-in-distress complex" by relying upon a succession of pseudo husbands--a wealthy shoe-tying maniac, a compulsive farter and an unattainable, married CEO. She is not above designing impromptu home improvement projects to bag a handyman boyfriend. Failing to find an ideal beau, Kite valiantly resolves to prove her own independence and throws common sense out the window (as on an ill-advised horseback trek across unfamiliar country with city-slicker girlfriends, a useless GPS device and a map they can't read).

Neurotic, self-centered but also comically endearing, Kite celebrates many of the qualities that make some women who they are, no matter how many Mr. Rights end up being Mr. Wrongs. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The trials and tribulations of a real-life Bridget Jones in her bumbling and sometimes disastrous search for "the one."

Thomas Dunne/St, Martin's, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250055149


Reads Well with Others: An Unshelved Collection

by Gene Ambaum, Bill Barnes

Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes, the dynamic duo of bibliothecal humor, have added an 11th book to their collection of acerbic and unforgiving Unshelved comic strips, offering wisecracks and biting observations on just about every aspect of patron (and librarian) behavior. Old-school reference librarian Colleen is retired (though she makes occasional appearances to cite broken rules). In her absence are unattended children, meaningless staff-training seminars, user-unfriendly website redesigns, laconic computer users permanently parked at workstations and fickle patrons who would jump ship at the first sighting of advanced technology (iPads and game rentals) at a competing library.

With witty sarcasm and characteristic ribbing, Ambaum and Barnes address a variety of topics in Reads Well with Others, including what authors really mean when they write, great books that are made into awful movies, dwindling library budgets (and resources) and enforcement of cell-phone policies (which always elicits sighs of exasperation and disgust). The strips offer valuable tips on how to hoard advanced copies and other freebies while attending annual book-industry conferences--strategies conference-goers of any stripe can appreciate. With graphic-novel critic and teen librarian Dewey, Mallville Public Library's underachieving and underworked antihero, they aim to debunk the myth that librarians read everything.

Also included among the strips (a mixture of new and previously published Web comics) is an insider's look at the creation and development of Barnes and Ambaum's beloved Mallville family, including some of Barnes's penciled storyboards. In a matter of a few panels, their caustically charming characters winningly vent their frustrations about an underappreciated and misunderstood profession. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The continuing misadventures in library use and abuse by the creators of the Unshelved comics.

Overdue Media, $11.95, paperback, 9781937914066

Children's & Young Adult

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson

With the precision of a poet, Matt de la Peña (The Living) chronicles a boy's heartwarming Sunday morning routine with his nana. Christian Robinson's (Gaston) uplifting palette and culturally diverse cast brightens the rainy-day backdrop.

A bustling, inclined city street that suggests San Francisco hosts a rainbow of row houses and a squat church with citrus-bright stained glass. Out of the church's front doors bursts CJ: "The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain." Where CJ spies "all this wet," his nana sees an opportunity to pull out her orange umbrella. When he asks why they don't have a car, she tells CJ, "We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you." Robinson paints a dragon on the side of the bus, and the driver pulls a coin from behind CJ's ear. CJ whines about their destination, but Nana builds anticipation about Bobo, the Sunglass Man and Trixie's brand-new hat.

Author and artist create a microcosm of society in that bus, and the serendipitous interactions of unlikely companions. As CJ pines for an iPod, a guitar player starts plucking his strings. A blind man offers a tip for listening, and Nana and CJ take it. Little by little, CJ's attitude shifts: "He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look." By story's end, readers, like CJ, may well gain a whole new appreciation for the many gifts right in front of them. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A routine rainy Sunday morning is transformed when a boy comes to see the world through his nana's optimistic eyes.

Putnam, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780399257742

Convergence: The Zodiac Legacy, Book One

by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, illus. by Andie Tong

Stan Lee, the force behind Spider Man and X-Men, pens his first prose tale--this page-turning, high-stakes adventure.

Mild-mannered Chinese-American student Steven Lee is on a field trip with his suburban Philadelphia classmates in a Hong Kong museum when he hears screaming from a hidden door. He follows the sound and gets pulled into a clash between a high-tech warmonger named Maxwell and two of his associates, Jasmine and Carlos. They're attempting to keep him from extracting superpowers from the Zodiac via an ancient compass called a shipan. A strange green light administers the energy of the Zodiac's 12 animals, and Maxwell has already absorbed a handful. But Maxwell can only keep the powers of the Dragon, his own sign. (He must distribute the other powers among his associates born under different signs.) Moreover, the Dragon power is split between himself and Jasmine (a Dragon, too). In the ensuing fray, the Tiger energy seeks out Steven--who was born under its sign. As Steven helps Jasmine and Carlos destroy the shipan, they inadvertently release the energies for the homeless Zodiac powers, which search the planet for hosts with matching astrological signs.

Andie Tong's two-color illustrations ratchet up the suspense as the trio hunts down the unwitting hosts before Maxwell and his henchmen can. The artist's cityscapes of Hong Kong and Paris carry as much electricity as the fight scenes. Stan Lee explores issues of newly discovered strengths (an ideal metaphor for adolescence) and complex motives, and sets the scene for the next two episodes in this promising trilogy. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Marvel comics legend Stan Lee's first foray into prose, starring a teen who stumbles into superpowers and learns to harness them.

Hyperion/Disney, $16.99, hardcover, 480p., ages 8-12, 9781423180852

Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony

by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Michele Wood

Poet and author Nikki Grimes (Words with Wings) and artist Michele Wood (I See the Rhythm) together present two fascinating figures from history, as if they were engaged in conversation: Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman.

The historical framework is factual. In 1904 at the 28th annual convention of the New York State Suffrage Association, in Rochester, Anthony introduced the famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, who was a guest speaker. Grimes then imagines a conversation between them in Anthony's home, prior to the convention. Each page number appears against what resembles a quilt square. Woods's acrylic and oil paintings carry this theme throughout the book. As Susan takes Harriet's coat, a vine of leaves threads through the patterns of Susan's gray gown, and diamond motifs dominate Harriet's dress in chocolate brown. This palette connects the pair throughout the book. Harriet's warm rust-colored turban becomes an identifying detail in the images that chart her journey on subsequent pages. Grimes covers a lot of ground, touching on the Temperance, Abolitionist and Women's Suffrage movements, the Quakers' involvement in them, and Tubman's many trips to rescue her own family, then others from captivity. Grimes's conversational tone makes accessible an abundance of information. Some may wish for attribution of sources from which she based her quotes, but four meaty pages of sources will point them to further reading.

Readers may be surprised to learn how closely Frederick Douglass worked with the two women, as well as John Brown and others. An eye-opening, aesthetically pleasing account of two extraordinary women. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Poet Nikki Grimes presents an eye-opening, aesthetically pleasing account of two extraordinary women, Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony.

Orchard/Scholastic, $18.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 7-10, 9780439793384


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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