Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 24, 2015

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

The Past Is Ever with Us

William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." That has never been truer than for Armenians, who cite the date of April 24, 1915--when several hundred Armenian intellectuals were rounded up and executed by the Ottoman government--as the beginning of the Armenian genocide; Turkey, however, heatedly rejects this. For an understanding of this fraught past--and its conflicting narratives--we look to history, memoir and fiction.

"They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else": A History of Armenian Genocide by Ronald Grigor Suny (Princeton University Press, $35, April 22, 2015), is a compelling narrative of the events of 1915-1916. Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide by Eric Bogosian (reviewed below), relates the story of a group of young Armenians who assassinated perpetrators responsible for the genocidal "solution." Eugene Rogan contributes an overview of the time and the wider regional conflicts in The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East.

In Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir, reissued in 2009 by Basic Books (paperback, $16.99), Peter Balakian tells of growing up Armenian-American in a family "haunted by a past... fraught with terror" and his investigation into their history. Armenian-American journalist Meline Toumani also felt compelled to explore the "terrifying idea" of Turkey in an attempt to understand her community and its fundamental assumptions in There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia and Beyond. For her, the "dominance of the genocide narrative felt like an artistic and emotional chokehold." Our reviewer called it "an engaging and deeply personal exploration of ethnicity, nationalism, history and identity."

Aline Ohanesian has written a novel, Orhan's Inheritance (our review is below), about an elderly Armenian woman and a young Turkish man--her past and his future intersect in a story "full of pain and heartbreak," but revealing "beauty and truth in the most unexpected of places." Ohanesian has said that fiction presents the possibility for transformation; one hopes that all these books do. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Samuél L. Barrantes

Samuél L. Barrantes grew up in North Carolina and fell in love with Paris, France, where he has lived since 2010. Slim and the Beast (Inkshares, February 3, 2015) is his first novel. Its narrator, based on Sam Elliott's cowboy in the The Big Lebowski, recounts the story of the Beast, a college basketball star with a proclivity for cooking; Slim, a disillusioned war veteran with a brutal neck scar; and Sgt. Dykes, a maniac who haunts Lockart's Bar and raves about tragedy and his estranged cadet--Slim. 

On your nightstand now:

I'm always a fan of reading fiction and nonfiction at the same time, and usually have a short paperback that can fit in my pocket for the metro. The rule of three is a great rule in life, so I'm slogging through David Foster Wallace's The Pale King for the second time (on the first attempt I only got through 300 pages). I've just started Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers, which has blown a lot of historians' faces off apparently. And I am rereading Steven Pressfield's The War of Art for the fourth or fifth time (I always reread this book before starting a new project).

Favorite book when you were a child:

Shel Silverstein's Falling Up was always a favorite of mine, hence my hilarious second-grade attempt at a book of poetry--Funk Backwards--which made no sense at all either then or now.

Your top five authors:

J.K. Rowling (there, I said it): I have never been more lost in a fictional world than with Harry Potter. David Foster Wallace: his essays are shockingly well written, and even if his fiction takes work, it's the most rewarding I've ever read. Viktor Frankl: his philosophy changed the way I approach the world. Dave Eggers: his journalistic approach to novels changed the way I think about the relationship between fiction and nonfiction. Finally, Gary Larson: I remember being oddly excited to go to the dentist's office as a kid because there were multiple collections of The Far Side in the waiting room.

Book you've faked reading:

I can't say I've ever faked reading a book--it seems silly and obnoxious and sad at the same time. Fake-reading a book defeats the point of reading in the first place, and it makes you feel and look like a jackass in the long run.

Book you're an evangelist for:

As far as nonfiction goes, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. It's the least pretentious and most human book I've ever read. Also, everyone should read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. For fiction, it's tough because fiction is so subjective. Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay comes to mind, but I don't think you can evangelize for something that is inherently subjective; that "click" you feel with a great work can only come from the inside.

Book that changed your life:

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace. This was the book that got me into writing, and it helped me realize that philosophy doesn't have to be independent from fiction. Philosophy is simply dialogue (at least according to Plato) and the structure of the "interviews" is genius in my opinion. When he isn't showing off and goading you into reading with a dictionary, there's no comparison for DFW's ability to use prose to reveal something fundamental about the human condition.

Favorite line from a book:

There are far too many, of course--I always read with a pen and put all of my favorite lines in a Word document for reference. I also believe that if you write the same sentences that Steinbeck or Vonnegut first penned--like playing an Oscar Peterson piano solo over and over again--somehow osmosis will get the juices going. In any case, this line from Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius has stuck with me throughout the years:

"I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so--this has always been my dream--so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep."

Which character you most relate to:

Oh, boy. That's like asking, "What's your favorite song?" I'm going to have to go with Kramer from Seinfeld, and I'll let the reader decide what that suggests. It's true, Seinfeld isn't a book, but it's an interesting assumption that writers most relate to characters in novels. Paintings and songs and all other art have "character," too--there's a painting by René Magritte, for example, called The Empire of Lights that I feel much more connected to than any character in a novel. Since this is about books, however, I'll play ball and say Hans, the protagonist in Andrés Neuman's outstanding Traveler of the Century.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Nonfiction: Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I would like to know what life felt like before discovering his theory of "the will to meaning."

Fiction: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was in the third book of the series that something shifted for me, when I realized Harry Potter was no longer (and could no longer be) a simplistic fantasy series. I had one of those "Oh, boy, here we go" moments, and that feeling is awesome.

Book Candy

Earth Day Reads; Best Recent Poetry

To celebrate Earth Day this week, Brightly recommended "9 Earth-friendly reads for kids." noting that even when kids are not outside, they "can still expand their understanding of nature through books that celebrate the wonders of the world around them."


Ready for an epic National Poetry Month debate? Flavorwire opened the discussion with its list of the "50 best American poetry books of the decade so far."


Relationship advice from Brain Pickings: "How to turn down a marriage proposal like Charlotte Brontë."


"Which Greek myth did Margaret Atwood adopt for a spin-off novel?" The Guardian featured a new quiz: "How well do you know rewritten classics?"


"I just sold my book for one million billion dollars, so consider this my two weeks' notice." Buzzfeed imagined "18 things all writers wish they could say."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Frederic Morton

Born Fritz Mandelbaum, Frederic Morton was a child when he and his family left Austria after the Nazis took over. He grew up and lived in New York City for most of the rest of his life. This past Monday, Morton died at age 90 in Vienna, visiting the city that figured largely in his histories and novels--and which embraced him in later years. Morton won several Austrian honors, was given several 90th birthday parties last year in Vienna, and in 2002, the city distributed 100,000 copies of The Forever Street (Simon & Schuster), his saga of three generations of a Jewish family in Vienna, to residents as the first offering of its "one city, one book" program. Asked if the honors and attention might be an act of expiation, a request for forgiveness, Morton told the New York Times in 2003: "I'm sure. I always say on such occasions that I accept this on behalf of my generation, because I feel that this is in a sense restitution."

Morton's best-known work was The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait, about the banking family, which became a Broadway musical in 1970. Other nonfiction included A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888-1889, which focuses on the Mayerling deaths and has appearances by Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt and Arthur Schnitzler; Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-14, about the city on the cusp of World War I; and a memoir, Runaway Waltz (Simon & Schuster). He also wrote a series of novels that have "a European flavor on themes involving money and power," the Times wrote. Morton led a remarkable, inspiring life, and his works are a testament to that.

Book Review


Orhan's Inheritance

by Aline Ohanesian

Aline Ohanesian's debut novel, Orhan's Inheritance, is a stunning exploration of how choosing to remember--and to forget--can shape an individual, a family and an entire people. The story opens on Kemal, an aging tailor found dead in a vat of cloth dye. His death is strange, but his will is even stranger: he has defied Turkish tradition and left his business to his grandson Orhan and his house to Seda, a stranger to the family living in an Armenian nursing home in Los Angeles.

Intending to recover his grandfather's house for his family, Orhan sets off to Los Angeles to convince Seda to renounce her claim to the decrepit, far away property--but also to understand who she is and how she knew his grandfather. What unfolds is a test of wills: Orhan's, to better understand his grandfather and family history, and Seda's, to suppress her memories of the past. In halting, hesitant fragments, Seda opens up, and what she tells Orhan--and what Kemal intended Orhan to learn--proves to have the potential to redefine Orhan's understanding of his family's history, and of his nation's past.

Ohanesian moves seamlessly between the present day and Seda's guarded recollections of her history, to relay an emotional and at times horrific story of the Armenian genocide a century ago. Seda's story--the story of a struggle and the suppression of an entire people--is full of pain and heartbreak, but Orhan's Inheritance proves the power of storytelling to reveal beauty and truth in the most unexpected of places. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A compelling story of the Armenian genocide and how an old woman's past intersects a young man's future.

Algonquin, $25.95, hardcover, 9781616203740

Oh! You Pretty Things

by Shanna Mahin

Jess Dunne, the protagonist of Shanna Mahin's Oh! You Pretty Things, is 29 years old, recently divorced, third-generation Hollywood and not sure what to do with her life. The story opens with her quitting a barista job at a hipster café because she's not hip enough to get the desirable morning shifts.

One thing she can do is cook, and the guy who takes her coveted shifts at the café refers her to his former boss, an Oscar-winning film composer who might be agoraphobic. Jess becomes the composer's personal assistant, which leads to her landing the plum gig of assistant to glamorous A-list actress Eva Carlton. Just when Jess is enjoying her life adjacent to the spotlight, her estranged, former-child-star mother comes to Los Angeles for an extended visit, threatening Jess's sense of stability and making her revisit some ugly secrets from her past.

Jess is a likable heroine, an anchor among flighty people. What helps her maintain her sanity is a sense of humor ("I've been watching the shopping channel so long, I'm running out of reasons to not order those fake ponytails.") Though she's not an actress, Jess keeps up a façade to hide the painful childhood her mother subjected her to.

Pretty Things skewers the film industry with a ring of truth and equal helpings of snark and heart because Mahin, like Jess, is third-generation Hollywood. But the novel is less about the gloss and excess than about finding one's identity and place in a slippery world full of illusions. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A funny, poignant glimpse of a woman growing up and living in Hollywood but never feeling that she belongs.

Dutton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780525955047

The Given World

by Marian Palaia

Marian Palaia's debut, The Given World, is a Vietnam War-era road novel, the saga of a young Montana girl's bolt from the family farm for San Francisco, "determined to beat the crappy odds and discover the Pacific" and to find some relief from the loss of her idolized older brother, missing in action somewhere in the tunnels of Cu Chi. Reminiscent of Sissy in Tom Robbins's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Palaia's protagonist, Riley, is up for anything. When seriously busted up as young girl from a fall off the farmhouse roof, she gets a taste of morphine, and after Mick goes MIA, parlays that into a 30-year trip of booze and drugs and sex--working odd jobs and living on the streets, in parks, in cars and the occasional co-worker's flop. She fixes broken-down cars, delivers newspapers, bartends at a lesbian bar, shoots pool and beds junkies and abusive losers. Riley's a mess and knows it; but in Palaia's very capable hands, she's a survivor and an admirable mess.

A peripatetic scholar with several degrees, including a University of Wisconsin MFA, Palaia knows the smells and sticky tavern floors of San Francisco's Mission and Castro districts; the desperation of "rockheads searching the sidewalks, picking up anything small and white... something that will make their a**-out lives feel worth living awhile longer"; and "Saigon's incessant din and treacly grime and sleepless lunacy." In Riley, she has created a character who believes in second chances. The Given World is a moving novel of an era that just won't go away. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The reckless Riley, a woman with enough heart to shoulder the still-troubling angst of the Vietnam War era.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781476777931

The Beekeeper's Daughter

by Santa Montefiore

Santa Montefiore (Secrets of the Lighthouse) has a knack for creating intriguing romances in the vein of Maeve Binchy or Rosamunde Pilcher. The Beekeeper's Daughter is no exception: it's a sweeping, multi-generational saga of love that begins shortly before World War II.

In 1973, 19-year-old Trixie Valentine is sure her parents are wrong. Jasper Duncliffe, the Englishman who swears he loves her, will come back to tiny (and fictional) Tekanasset Island, Mass., for her. But Trixie's mother, Grace, with tragic memories of an Englishman who didn't follow through on his own professions of love some 30 years earlier, is skeptical.

Told in alternating chapters, The Beekeeper's Daughter is mainly the story of young Grace Hamblin, daughter of the Marquess of Penselwood's beekeeper, in the golden years before World War II. But as the reader quickly realizes, Trixie would not exist if things had gone according to Grace's dreams, and the gap between her hopes and her reality is what keeps the pages turning.

The quirky Tekanasset islanders add charm to this story, as do the servants on the Penselwood estate. Montefiore has created an appealing world, in which long-suppressed secrets of a mother and a daughter finally come to light. Although both Grace and Trixie make some poor decisions, in the end, love has a way of winning out. The Beekeeper's Daughter is a pleasant and enjoyable read for fiction and romance readers alike. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A mother and a daughter both harbor secrets about the men they love.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781476735412

Science Fiction & Fantasy

A Crown for Cold Silver

by Alex Marshall

Alex Marshall's debut epic fantasy novel, A Crown for Cold Silver, begins with a massacre. A regiment serving the Crimson Empire surrounds and slaughters a village full of men, women and children in a failed attempt to murder a retired, and legendary, general known as Cobalt "Cold" Zosia.

This incident spurs a dozen plots and subplots, with Marshall ably jumping among characters scattered across a huge and well-imagined world. Cold Zosia's blood-soaked quest for revenge as she takes up arms again forms the backbone of a narrative that encompasses fanatical religions, ethnic conflict and enough fiendish political maneuvering to make George R.R. Martin jealous.

A Crown for Cold Silver is distinguished by the sheer thrill of its action scenes, which benefit enormously from Marshall's pulp-infused prose. One character named Maroto, a veteran and former addict, is endearing largely thanks to his semi-comic displays of aggression: "There hadn't been as much bubbly left as he had hoped, so he stretched his arm back and casually rapped the empty bottle against Hassan's noggin. Something cracked, and as the noble fell away Maroto held up the bottle to make sure he had just broken the glass and not the boy's skull."

Marshall compounds the accomplishment of his storytelling by having it take place in his wholly engaging world. The Crimson Empire and its outlying territories are libertine and surprisingly progressive in some respects--a wonderful backdrop to the bloody business Marshall depicts so well. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: An engaging tale set in a violent and obsessively detailed fantasy world.

Orbit, $26, hardcover, 9780316277983

Biography & Memoir

I Was a Child: A Memoir

by Bruce Eric Kaplan

Bruce Eric Kaplan, known to fans of his New Yorker cartoons as BEK, charms with this quirky, doodle-adorned memoir of his formative years.

Born in 1964, Kaplan had the type of childhood that has quickly gone from the norm to nostalgic memory. Instead of structured play dates, children knocked on each other's doors and played outside until dark. Cell phones, cordless phones and even answering machines belonged to the future. Television reception came from a foil-wrapped antenna, and no one's parents exercised. Movie theaters seemed like "magical temples," and baseball cards came with bubblegum so dry it disintegrated in your hands.  

In this unusual and captivating account, Kaplan sketches out a complete portrait of a bygone era with just a few well-chosen words and drawings. "I think a lot of us are born waiting to be adults." The clarity of Kaplan's memories suggests a childhood spent in keen observation of surroundings and behavior made alien by his inexperience or simply by genuine oddity, as in the case of his father's secret, never-worn toupee. He perfectly captures the viewpoint of a child; what is simply is, usually with no explanation. His understated tone conveys introspection and a sometimes wistful contemplation of the past, and his semi-formed doodles express a child's viewpoint perfectly. While later generations may view it as a chronicle of how their parents or grandparents lived, today's readers are likely to laugh and give more than a few nods of recognition to Kaplan's vignettes, finding charm in the absurd. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A nostalgic memoir of a 1960s-'70s American childhood from New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan.

Blue Rider Press, $25.95, hardcover, 9780399169519


Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide

by Eric Bogosian

In 1915, as many as one and a half million Armenians were systematically murdered across Anatolia by order of the Turkish-dominated Ottoman government. Eric Bogosian's grandfather survived the genocide and filled his grandson's childhood with terrifying stories of "burning churches and sadistic horsemen," instructing him: "If you ever meet a Turk, kill him." It is unsurprising, then, that Bogosian has written a history so full of grief and righteous anger.

Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide focuses on a small group of Armenian men who between 1920 and 1922 assassinated six Turks and Azerbaijanis who had orchestrated the genocide, and Bogosian (Perforated Heart) provides more than enough background to give pathos to the assassins' mission. These young men, broken to various degrees by the extent of their suffering, killed as an "existential pronouncement to the world that the Armenians were not sheep."

Operation Nemesis is not merely a stirring account of well-justified revenge, however. Bogosian complicates the narrative by questioning whether the assassinations helped the Armenian cause in the long run. Even though the dramatic murders and ensuing trials brought attention to a great crime that the Turkish government was--and is--eager to bury, the decades since have left the matter unresolved. For now, Bogosian suggests, we must respect the innocent dead and honor the few desperate men who fought for justice. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: An impassioned history of revenge taken for the Armenian genocide.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 9780316292085

Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich

by Walter Kempowski, trans. by Shaun Whiteside

The final collapse of Nazi Germany in spring 1945 was a hellish maelstrom of chaos and death amid some of the war's most fierce fighting in the ruins of Berlin. Hitler Youth, Volkssturm militia and remnants of the SS battled veteran Red Army units in merciless house-to-house fighting. German civilians suffered from lack of supplies and shelter, and many died in the crossfire or at the hands of Soviet occupiers. As Hitler hid in his bunker, commanding armies that no longer existed and ranting about the betrayals of party members, the scope of Nazi concentration camp atrocities was revealed to a horrified world.

This agonizing chapter of human history was chronicled in journal entries, memoirs and, in Hitler's case, a final political testament dictated just prior to his suicide. German author Walter Kempowski (1929-2007), himself a Hitler Youth conscript, spent much of his career curating a 10-volume biographical collage called Das Echolot (sonar or echo soundings). This collection explored the experiences of belligerents and civilians, mostly unknown, on both sides of the European war through their own writings.

Kempowski narrowed his original goal of cataloging every day of the war down to especially important days. Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich covers April 20, Hitler's last birthday; April 25, the day Soviet and U.S. Forces met on the Elbe; April 30, Hitler's suicide; and May 8/9, when Germany officially surrendered. The first of Kempowski's works to be translated into English, Swansong is a fascinating, emotionally resonant use of original sources. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: The last days of Nazi Germany explored through a collage of eyewitness accounts.

W.W. Norton, $35, hardcover, 9780393248159

Essays & Criticism

Three Kinds of Motion: Kerouac, Pollock and the Making of American Highways

by Riley Hanick

One might see similarities between artist Jackson Pollock and novelist Jack Kerouac, but it takes a stretch to add U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower as the third leg of a 1950s creative innovation stool. In 2005, when the original 120-foot 1951 manuscript scroll of Kerouac's On the Road was displayed next to Pollock's 20-foot painting Mural in the University of Iowa Museum of Art, adjacent to the Iowa I-80 spur of Eisenhower's 41,000-mile 1956 National Highway Act interstate system, Riley Hanick made just such a leap. In Three Kinds of Motion, a cornucopia of personal meditation, history, criticism and philosophy, Hanick (Murray State creative writing professor and Iowa MFA graduate) weaves the artistic and historical motivations of the major works of these three mid-century giants into an innovative creation of his own.

With tidbits of early criticism of On the Road ("typing") and Mural ("painting with a broom") mixed with his own experiences ("after reading him in high school... Kerouac had become embarrassing to me") and even the history of road-building design and materials (including architect Louis Kahn's comment about his favorite material: "Concrete really wants to be granite but can't quite manage"), Hanick's Three Kinds of Motion is a captivating reading adventure. Whether he is describing Ike's participation in the Transcontinental Convoy of 1919 or jumping ahead to Iowa City's great flood of 2008 that nearly destroyed the museum (FEMA declared it "not to have been damaged enough to warrant the funding of its demolition"), Hanick's curiosity and reflections make for an entertaining road trip. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An innovative meditation on Jackson Pollock, Jack Kerouac and Dwight Eisenhower.

Sarabande Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781936747900


Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX

by Ginny Gilder

Ginny Gilder made her way from a privileged Upper East Side life in New York City to Yale University in 1975, in the early years of Title IX, which legislated equal educational opportunities for both men and women in all areas, including athletics. Ginny had never been an athlete; her family instead emphasized business success and keeping up appearances. But she was drawn to the grace, beauty and seeming effortlessness of rowing, and against the coach's instincts, joined the Yale crew. The story she tells in Course Correction of collegiate competition, gender discrimination, the long road to the Olympics and personal growth, also yields Ginny's eventual healing from the emotional traumas of a well-concealed family history.

In four sections titled Catch, Drive, Release and Recovery--the four parts of a well-executed rowing stroke--Gilder details the corresponding segments of her life. Rowing captures her passion; she drives herself through injuries and health problems to an eventual Olympic medal; she learns to let go; she forms a successful family of her own, despite a damaged past.

Gilder's prose is earnest, heartfelt, expressive and clearly strongly felt. Her narrative will appeal to sports fans and readers dedicated to memoirs of pain and redemption. Course Correction touches on the injustices that Title IX was designed to correct (including a memorable scene involving a nude protest), and portrays a painful, affecting and impressive athletic career. But it is centrally a story of one woman's lengthy and hard-won coming-of-age and coming home. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The exertions of rowing crew under Title IX, as a means to overcoming one woman's demons.

Beacon Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9780807074770

Children's & Young Adult

Such a Little Mouse

by Alice Schertle, illus. by Stephanie Yue

With a charming and resourceful mouse as a guide, Alice Schertle (the Little Blue Truck series) and Stephanie Yue (the Guinea Pig Pet Shop Private Eye series) lead readers through the seasons.

A lush landscape with a small mound of dandelions in the foreground appears with the opening lines: "Way out in the wide world/ there is a meadow./ in the middle of the meadow,/ under a clump of dandelions,/ there is a hole." The view then telescopes down to the hole's opening and the critter that lives within: "Such a little mouse,/ with his smart gray coat,/ with his ears pink as petals,/ with three twitchety whiskers on each side of his nose." Yue zooms in on the fellow's features in four windowpane close-ups. She visually charts the changes of each season to the meadow and the mouse's routine, while Schertle returns to the refrain: "Such a little mouse./ Off he goes into the wide world." In spring, "he watches the busy bees on the clover blossoms." A cutaway view depicts the mouse's cozy three-room home (kitchen, bedroom and storeroom) as he tucks away food supplies, preparing for the day when the autumn wind and the ants whisper, "Winter is coming." As snow covers the meadow, Shue's series of vignettes reveal the mouse busy in his kitchen, making use of the ingredients he's collected in warmer seasons.

Children will appreciate the thoughtful details such as a bed made from a hotpad and matchboxes that support the mouse's bookshelf, and identify with the little mouse who accomplishes big things. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A mouse hero leads readers through his preparations and the changing seasons in his meadow home.

Orchard/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780545649292

Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection

by Charlotte Zolotow, illus. by Tiphanie Beeke

Charlotte Zolotow would have turned 100 this year (she died in 2013), and these 28 poems, arranged by season, allow young readers to experience life's epiphanies through observations in nature.

The first poem, "Change" (originally published in River Winding in 1970) sets the stage for the collection, as a child describes herself in relation to the passing seasons. Tiphanie Beeke pictures a blonde girl who seems to mature from the left page to the right: "This summer/ still hangs/ heavy and sweet/ with sunlight/ as it did last year." She similarly experiences autumn, winter and spring as consistent, year to year. Zolotow ends with a surprise: "It is only I/ who have changed." For the concluding poem, "So Will I," Beeke portrays a boy on his grandfather's shoulders, imagining a future in which he will honor the man's memories ("white snow falling falling"; "the bluebird and thrush/ at twilight/ calling, calling./ He remembers long ago/ .../ And so will I/ so will I").

Zolotow's poems vary in rhyme, rhythm and mood, as changeable as life itself. For "Autumn," a child describes the shortening day as "the light long summer/ is grown old"; another child sees a harbinger of spring this way: "Little crocus/ like a cup,/ holding all that sunlight up!"

Zolotow's fans may wish that the poems' original publication dates had been included. But this is a small quibble in an ideal introduction to poetry's big ideas. Zolotow had a gift for describing singular moments from a child's eye–view. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A collection of Charlotte Zolotow's poems that convey a reverence for nature and the insights to be discovered there.

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781492601685

Gone Crazy in Alabama

by Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams-Garcia takes the three sisters introduced in her Newbery Honor book, One Crazy Summer, to their paternal grandmother's childhood home in Alabama, and digs deeply into the complexities of race and societal hierarchy during the summer of 1969.

Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are 12, 10 and eight, and they are processing what they are learning at different rates. Delphine knows that what's usual at home in Brooklyn is not so easily tolerated in the Deep South where Big Ma and her mother, Ma Charles, live. Still, it upsets her when her beloved cousin JimmyTrotter ("no space in between") hangs his head and says "yes sir" to Sheriff Charles when they meet him on the street. She discovers just how complicated things can be when she finds out Sheriff Charles runs with the Klan--and that he's kin to Ma Charles. Ma Charles and her half-sister, Miss Trotter, are not on speaking terms, but their conversations with the three sisters reveal how similar they are. Delphine also discovers, at the root of the pair's rivalry, a need to know that each was loved by the father they shared. When a tornado strikes and Vonetta goes missing, the family comes together--every branch of it.

With humor and wisdom, Williams-Garcia layers in the themes of all three books the way that Delphine, Vonetta and Fern "[lay] their voices down," and the cumulative effect is spellbinding. Themes of self-realization, reconciliation and accepting a painful past in order to be whole all culminate in this grand finale. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The spellbinding conclusion to the series that began with One Crazy Summer affirms family as the top priority.

Amistad/Harper, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780062215871

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