Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 19, 2015

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

The Span of Luck

There are as many aphorisms and beliefs about luck as there are ways of attracting (or repelling) luck. While many of us are familiar with some of the most common totems--the rabbit's foot, the black cat, the stepladder, the hopefully-not-broken mirror--there's a history of luck, spanning cultures, continents, generations.

Mark Menjivar

One day artist Mark Menjivar found four four-leaf clovers pressed inside an old book. He said, "Finding them made me incredibly curious about luck, and I began to talk with people about their thoughts and experiences about it. The stories people shared and the things people began to give to me deepened this curiosity as I began to look at them side by side. So I decided to go on an exploration of how the concept of luck intersected with belief, culture, superstition and tradition in people's lives. I have been archiving everything along the way and now have over 450 objects, stories and photographs." He has collected them in The Luck Archive: Exploring Belief, Superstition, and Tradition (Trinity University Press, $24.95). But his interest isn't ending with the book: "The project is on-going, and there is no end in sight."

We asked if he was now luckier for all his curating and immersion. "Ha! It has been a really good year! The project has never been about trying to define what luck is. It is more of creating a structure for it and inviting people to participate. I have my own rituals that I like to partake in--putting on my left shoe first or wishing when I see 11:11 on a clock. I am not sure if they make me luckier or not, but most days I tend to slow down and find meaning in these simple acts. Other days I feel more closely aligned to the saying attributed to the golfer Gary Player: 'The more I practice, the luckier I get.' I guess I enjoy holding the tension between these two schools of thought." --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

The Writer's Life

Ken Liu: War and Peace with Airships

photo: Lisa Tang Liu

In The Grace of Kings (Saga Press, $27.99), a generation-spanning epic fantasy set on an island world, Kuni Garu is a bandit with a heart of gold who is swept up into the uprising against a decadent, tyrannical emperor. He meets Mata Zyndu, a physical and intellectual giant, and the two become close friends until they must face off against each other for supremacy as leaders of opposing factions.

Ken Liu's fantasy provides a strong sense of culture and place, with airships draped in silks, massive war machines built with ox sinew, and fickle, shapeshifting gods. Liu, who lives in Boston, is a winner of the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy awards for his short story "The Paper Menagerie."The Grace of Kings, book 1 of the Dandelion Dynasty series, is his first novel.

What inspired The Grace of Kings?

When I started looking for a novel-length story, my wife reminded me that both of us had grown up steeped in retellings of historical romances, the foundational narratives for the Chinese literary tradition, and I got the idea to recast the broad outlines of such a story in the form of an epic fantasy.

Here's the quick pitch for The Grace of Kings: it's War and Peace with airships; it's the Iliad with smart narwhals and living books; it's Romance of the Three Kingdoms with islands and submarines.

The Grace of Kings reimagines the historical legends around the rise of the Han Dynasty in the third century B.C.E. in a brand new secondary fantasy archipelago world with new cultures, new peoples, and of course, new technology. It melds classical Western epic narrative techniques with tropes taken from Chinese historical romances and wuxia [martial hero] fantasies.

I do mean "classical Western epics"--The Grace of Kings shares much more with older traditions like the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid and Beowulf than with contemporary epic fantasy, especially in the way characters are depicted in a larger-than-life manner akin to folklore and myth and the way the plot is advanced via a series of "side stories." These features, not coincidentally, are also very much part of the Chinese historical romance tradition.

How do you build such a massive and intricate world?

The "silkpunk" aesthetic that I devised for the novel employs many elements inspired by Chinese and East Asian traditions that I've always wanted to see in fiction: silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, honor-infused duels that are as much dance as warfare, magical tomes that describe our desires better than we know them ourselves, gods who regret the deeds done in their names, women who plot and fight alongside men, princesses and maids who form lifelong friendships, and sea beasts that bring about tsunamis and storms but also guide soldiers safely to shores. 

The silkpunk aesthetic shares with steampunk a fascination with technology roads not taken, but what distinguishes it is a visual style inspired by Chinese block prints and an emphasis on materials of historic significance to East Asia--silk, bamboo, ox sinew, paper, brushes--as well as other organic building materials available to a seafaring culture, like coconut, whalebone, fish scales, corals, etc. 

The result is a technology vocabulary that feels more organic and inspired by biomechanics. A good example can be seen in the bamboo-and-silk airships, which compress and expand their gasbags to change the amount of lift, like the swim bladders of fish, and are powered by feathered oars, which means that when illuminated at night, they pulsate and move like jellyfish through an empyrean sea. Similarly, artificial limbs described in the book draw their inspiration from the "wooden ox" of Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which are constructed from intricate wood-based mechanisms powered by ox sinew.

Here are some characters I really liked from the novel's huge cast:

Kuni Garu: He's a rogue: pragmatic, unconventional, romantic, preferring the "interesting" over the "right" or "safe" thing to do.

Mata Zyndu: a scion of old nobility who is the greatest warrior in the land and Kuni's companion/foil.

Gin Mazoti: A street urchin who becomes the greatest tactician of her generation. She starts a revolution that will continue in the rest of the series.

Jia Matiza: An herbalist who falls in love with Kuni. Over the arc of the series, she becomes a power to be reckoned with. 

Luan Zya: An engineer who invents machines for both war and peace. He's probably the character I love the most.

And many many more gods, generals, scholars, peasants--all of them with their own stories and their own roles in a revolution that transforms the land.

Perfect summer reading list: what books would you recommend to anyone looking for solid vacation reading?

I don't have a perfect reading list. Every reader is different and what works for me won't necessarily work for you. But here are some books I've enjoyed in the past:

Trading Up by Candace Bushnell. I think this is a wonderful update to the Great American Novel, a kind of Gatsby recast as "chick-lit."

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu. An exciting sci-fi action thriller that plays with history in an interesting way. It's the first book in a series that gets better with every book.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. Jane Austen with magic!

The Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott. This collection of short fiction by one of today's best fantasy writers is a great introduction to her amazing world building and characterization.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. A heartbreaking and powerful tale by a master of sci-fi.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. I love all of Mitchell's books, but this one is probably my favorite. It's a tale about coming of age in the time of Reagan and Thatcher.

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson. An erudite, thoughtful history of the technology of cooking and food.

The Nature of Technology by W. Brian Arthur. A new way to look at and think about technology.

Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. A book about how to thrive in our increasingly fragile world.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. Mary Roach's books are always excellent and full of the craziest facts. This one is no different. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Father's Day GoT Cards; More Beach Reads

"Father's Day is coming," Buzzfeed warned ominously in featuring "Game of Thrones Father's Day cards" for undeserving dads.


Under the theory that there can't be too many "beach reads" lists, we offer a few more: Bustle's "8 summer books to read to make a beach vacation even more relaxing"; the Huffington Post's "7 (fairly) new books every middle-aged person should read this summer"; "Wall Street's must-read books of the summer" from Bloomberg News; "Summer's best beach reads" from Vogue; or, just for the naysayers, Buzzfeed's "31 reasons you should never read during the summer."


Daniel Hahn, author of the new Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, chose his "top 10 underrated or forgotten children's classics" for the Guardian.


"Extend" is a bookend "on which books can be placed in the air as an extension of a desk. It can be fixed to a tabletop by a clamp and the length can be adjusted as you like," Bookshelf reported. 

Book Review


The Cherry Harvest

by Lucy Sanna

Set in Wisconsin during World War II, Lucy Sanna's first novel, The Cherry Harvest, revolves around the passion and intrigue that arise when German prisoners of war come to the Christiansen farm to pick the cherry harvest. Though she's desperate for the money the sale of the fruit would bring, in order to continue feeding her family, Charlotte is leery of these "murderers" and doesn't like them near the house where she and her daughter, Kate, spend their summer days. Her son is off fighting the Nazis, so the last thing she wants is personal contact with her enemies. But when her husband, Thomas, befriends Karl, who is an intellectual like him, and brings the German to the house to tutor Kate in math so she can attend college in the fall, Charlotte is forced to see that Karl, this "murderer," is just a man--who longs for his life back in Germany, has hidden desires and craves the end of the war just as she does. And while Charlotte slowly warms to Karl, Kate discovers her own hidden appetites with a rich boy who has so far avoided the draft.

Sanna has adeptly interwoven details of life and hardship for many in the U.S. during this time with the very different lives of the rich who profited off the war. By blending them with the personal struggles of Charlotte, who must confront her fears and her desires and with the dreamy longings of Kate, Sanna has created an impassioned and spirited historical romance. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Suspense and romance when Americans and German POWs confront each other in Wisconsin during World War II.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062343628

The Surfacing

by Cormac James

Cormac James's North American debut is a stunning historical novel that deals with the ill-fated 1845 John Franklin expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. After the expedition's two ships weren't heard from for years, more were sent to find them. The Surfacing imagines the story of what happened to the men on one of the rescue ships.

Spring, 1850: The Impetus with six officers, one Greenlander, 10 other men and a boy has arrived at Disko Island, Greenland, to take on supplies. The island "looked like burned bog," no trees, no grass. Huts roofed with sod were dug into the hillside. While in port, Lieutenant Morgan enjoys a fling with the governor's sister, Kitty, one he thinks is safely behind him when his ship again sets sail in search of the Franklin expedition. Unbeknownst to Morgan, however, Kitty has stowed away, and it's too late to turn back when the lieutenant finds out.

Morgan follows rules and cares for his men, but Kitty, now pregnant, turns his world upside down. James delves deeply into Morgan's psyche to uncover what happens to a man when he learns he's to be a father--in a hostile, threatening environment. He portrays the daily drudgery of life on the ship and the frozen surroundings in the most exquisite prose. The ice pack "crackled like a burning log" and felt awake--"They listened to it fret." And later: "The ice had the cold conscience of pearl." James's novel is a chiseled, cool work of poetic brilliance. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A mesmerizing novel about never-ending ice, bitter cold, shipwrecks and fatherhood.

Bellevue Literary Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781934137925

The Library at Mount Char

by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins's debut novel, is strange and complicated and convoluted. But with a little trust in Hawkins's world-building, readers can acclimate to the book's fantastical elements. What emerges from the first chaotic scenes is a dark and philosophical novel about the nature of power and control, cruelty and humanity.

Carolyn has always lived in the same suburban development. After her parents were killed, she (along with other newly-orphaned children in the neighborhood) was taken in by a powerful man, Father, and the small group lived an isolated existence inside their community. Father lacked paternal instincts, but had a wealth of knowledge to offer: his vast learning, collected in the Library, gave him god-like powers, and each of his adopted children was assigned one catalogue within the Library to master. After years of study, each child has grown to a young adult, master of their catalogues (War, Death, Languages, etc.) but estranged from what normal life might look like. When Father goes missing, the Library--and all of the power that comes from it--is left unguarded. Carolyn draws on all of the knowledge she has amassed within her catalogue and outside of it to make the Library hers.

It sounds strange because it is: Hawkins has built a world within our own that is entirely foreign and yet, with a bit of effort, understandable. At times humorous, more often dark and frightening, and always fast-paced, The Library at Mount Char is an epic fantasy novel that is remarkable for its imagination and originality. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A bold new voice in fantasy tells a convoluted and wildly entertaining story of god-like powers and an epic battle for control.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780553418606

Mystery & Thriller

Finders Keepers

by Stephen King

Best known as a master of horror, Stephen King's talent has never wholly lain in one genre. Finders Keepers is further proof that he's just as capable of writing a pulse-pounding crime novel as a story that gives readers the heebie jeebies. A sequel to 2014's Mr. Mercedes (though it's not necessary to have read that book to enjoy this one), Finders Keepers follows young Peter Saubers after he finds a buried chest filled with $20,000 in cash and the long-lost notebooks of a John Updike-like author named John Rothstein. Pretending the money is from an anonymous benefactor, Peter uses it to soften the effect of the Great Recession on his family, and in the meantime falls in love with Rothstein's work and keeps the writing to himself. But the man who killed Rothstein and buried the chest has returned and is hell-bent on finding the notebooks.

King's books all hit particular touchstones (young boys in peril, prominent characters who are writers or are fascinated by the written word, the casual indecency of adults to children), and Finders Keepers is no exception. But while the story is familiar, it doesn't feel like a retread, mostly because it's too propulsive. King never lets the tension drop from the very first scene, sending Peter toward a conclusion that, while not surprising, still manages to be thrilling. King may not be the dynamic storyteller he was in his first few novels, but Finders Keepers proves that he can still excite. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The country's greatest horror writer provides a pulse-pounding sequel to Mr. Mercedes.

Scribner, $30, hardcover, 9781501100079

Hell's Gate

by Richard Crompton

Detective Mollel, having left his nomadic Maasai roots to become an urban policeman, previously appeared in Richard Crompton's Hour of the Red God. As Hell's Gate opens, Mollel has just been incarcerated in a Kenyan prison. The prologue ends with shocking violence, and then the story flashes back one week to Mollel's arrival in the tiny backwater town of Hell's Gate.

Demoted and transferred from the Nairobi force, Mollel is reluctantly partnered with a slightly sleazy local cop named Shadrack. Mollel and Shadrack are investigating the drowning of a young flower picker when it becomes clear to Mollel that much more is at stake than the death of one woman and that Shadrack may know more about underground activities in Hell's Gate than he's admitting.

The gritty beginning, the introspective Mollel and the vibrant Kenyan setting all make Hell's Gate irresistible. Crompton neatly portrays the complicated dilemmas of Mollel who is caught between his Maasai heritage and the modern world, trying to be honest in a land of rampant corruption. The action is fast-paced, forcing the reader, along with Mollel, frequently to change opinions about the relative innocence and guilt of the many policemen and criminals who inhabit the pages of Hell's Gate.

Set in the wake of the embassy bombings and the disputed elections of 2007, Mollel's world is sometimes an ugly one, but it will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Hell's Gate is a mystery not to be missed. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A convoluted mystery set in modern-day Kenya, starring an introspective Maasai detective.

Sarah Crichton Books/FSG, $26, hardcover, 9780374280581

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Fold

by Peter Clines

People have always been attracted to the notion that a machine could be built to allow them to teleport through space, but so far, no projects have been successful. That is, until Mike Erickson, a high school English teacher from Maine with an extremely high IQ, is sent by a friend in the government to investigate the claims of a small group of government-funded scientists who have a machine they call the Albuquerque Door. Highly secretive, the clique of researchers refuses to tell Mike everything, claiming some details are too classified for his knowledge. They do say, "We take over six hundred pages of math and force-feed it to the universe through an electromagnetic funnel. We tell the universe 'I don't care what you think. I'm lifting my foot here and putting it down there.' " But after studying stacks of files filled with data on the hundreds of tests they've conducted, as well as observing several demonstrations of the machine's abilities, Mike is impressed, confused and not altogether sure "teleportation" is the correct term to use when discussing what the machine does really do.

Peter Clines (the Ex-Heroes series and 14) skillfully brings together just enough scientific research to give The Fold credibility--along with multi-faceted characters and a bit of romance--to create a fast-moving sci-fi thriller. As Mike tries to discover the Door's true purpose, what he learns has serious implications for everyone on Earth, leaving readers with the chilling sense that perhaps humans shouldn't meddle in the grand scale of the universe. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The hunt for the truth about a machine that can supposedly allow mankind to teleport through space.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780553418293

Biography & Memoir

After Perfect: A Daughter's Memoir

by Christina McDowell

Christina McDowell's childhood was the stuff of fantasies: private jets, summers in Nantucket, a sprawling mansion in Virginia. It seemed a world impervious to suffering, so when her father was arrested for fraud while she was in college, she could not imagine the hellish chaos that would follow. He was a lawyer entangled with Jordan Belfort, the man whose story would inspire The Wolf of Wall Street. After Perfect is her story--the story of a daughter coping with her father's imprisonment, attempting to support herself as a cocktail waitress in Los Angeles's seedy nightclubs, and fighting her own downward spiral of denial and self-destruction.

Without sensationalizing her lifestyle (even after her father's arrest, her acquaintances included such celebrities as Emma Stone and Arianna Huffington), McDowell faces her past with an admirably rigorous level of criticism and self-awareness. She recalls how ill equipped for working she was, how crippled by shame. Only through connecting with fellow family members of the incarcerated did she eventually find the strength to move on and claim a new identity of her own.

In 2013, 10 years after her father's arrest, McDowell wrote an opinion piece for LA Weekly titled, "An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself." In it, she condemns the film for glossing over the suffering of those affected by crime--an issue she continues to be involved with in her community. She now volunteers with InsideOUT Writers, a nonprofit for children affected by the criminal justice system. --Annie Atherton

Discover: The memoir of Christina McDowell, whose father was found guilty and imprisoned during the fall of Jordan Belfort (the "Wolf of Wall Street").

Gallery, $25, hardcover, 9781476785325

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

by Rosemary Sullivan

Despite her lifelong desire to disassociate herself from her father, a notorious dictator who was responsible for killing tens of millions of people, Svetlana Alliluyeva struggled to step out from the shadow of Joseph Stalin, even after his death.

Rosemary Sullivan's biography Stalin's Daughter reveals Svetlana to be, in many ways, a naïve and sweet girl who craved love she never received from her parents. Growing up in Soviet Russia under her father's regime, she personally suffered many losses, witnessing her own family and friends disappear without explanation. Her mother died, apparently a suicide, when Svetlana was six.

Disgusted with what her father had done and the oppression he brought to the Soviet Union, in 1967 Svetlana defected to the United States. She smuggled with her a memoir she wrote in secret, Twenty Letters to a Friend, which was published soon thereafter. She was hopeful her life in a new country would lead to a future free of her father's legacy, but negotiating American culture proved difficult, and she found she was never beyond her father's influence. No matter where she was or whom she was with, people never failed to associate her with Stalin.

Sullivan (Villa Air-Bel) writes a thoroughly researched and detailed depiction of Svetlana's life, from her childhood to her death in 2011, using archives of interviews, correspondence, letters and unpublished works. Many of the specifics Sullivan shares of Svetlana's life come from Svetlana's own correspondence and stories, affording readers an intimate and profound representation of her state of mind and understanding of the world. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: A humanizing portrait of Joseph Stalin's daughter, who couldn't escape her father's shadow.

Harper, $35, hardcover, 9780062206107

Political Science

The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts

by Dominic Tierney

In The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts, Dominic Tierney (How We Fight and Failing to Win) explains why most major American military operations since the Korean War have ended as stalemates or defeats. The "Golden Age" of war--with clear strategic goals against morally unambiguous enemies in uniform--is over. Tierney goes on to explain how conflicts that are either unwinnable without unacceptable costs, of dubious strategic value, or both, might be averted, bucking the trend of military fiascos that resemble the messy nation building and interference in civil strife as exemplified in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Considering the U.S. track record with these sorts of engagements, Tierney prepares a concise plan he calls "surge, talk, and leave," to prepare for inevitable future conflicts.

Once an operation becomes unwinnable (as in, the costs of decisive victory become too great to bear), a surge of troops, like those deployed in Iraq in 2007, can stabilize the situation. "Talk" refers to negotiations with the enemy, like the recent begrudging talks with the Taliban, to find a diplomatic solution. The leaving process includes immediate troop redeployment and the long-term stability of friendly regimes left behind.

The Right Way to Lose a War strips away lofty rhetoric and obfuscating moral judgments for a necessarily candid guide to salvaging messy entanglements abroad. Tierney's engaging style and thorough historical details have created a book as readable as it is thought provoking. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: An unflinching guide for future U.S. military operations.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 9780316254885

Art & Photography

Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century

by Jed Rasula

On a cold February evening in 1916, at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, Switzerland, a group of freethinking artists and poets put on a very strange performance. Three poets read the same poem simultaneously in three languages, and someone recited a Maori tribal spell while moving like a belly dancer. They called it Dada. Formed from the chaos of World War I, it was the "most revolutionary artistic movement of the twentieth century," Jed Rasula writes in Destruction Was My Beatrice. Romanian Tristan Tzara, one of the club's founders, said, "true dadas are against DADA." Favoring anti-art, they filled their movement with contradictions.

After Zürich, Dada showed up in war-torn Berlin. Here Max Ernst "leaped onto Dada like a hobo jumping a freight car." From there, "like a gunslinger in the Wild West," it showed up in Paris and drew the interest of André Breton, Jean Cocteau and Ezra Pound. The movement jumped to New York, attracting new artistic "hobos" like Marcel Duchamp, who was fond of turning everyday objects into art, and fellow visual artist Man Ray.

Rasula (This Compost) argues that Dada's irreverence has had an enduring influence, pointing to Charlie Chaplin (whom the Dadaists adored), the Marx Brothers and the early work of Robert Rauschenberg. Filled with fascinating details and memorable personalities, Rasula's history tells of a brief movement that spit in the eye of art yet captivated the world. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A thoroughly enjoyable and accessible history of Dada, an art movement destined to shock and then to fade.

Basic Books, $29.99, hardcover, 9780465089963

Children's & Young Adult

The Night World

by Mordicai Gerstein

Through the eyes of a redheaded boy narrator, Caldecott Medalist Mordicai Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) unlocks the wonders to be discovered at night and the magic of the sunrise.

"Good night, Sylvie," the boy says to his black cat as she stares outside at a darkening landscape. A tricycle rests under the trees. Pink clouds pick up on the roses in the bushes beneath the boy's window. The sound of Sylvie's "meow"--in white type against the smoky-black background--prompts the child to sit bolt upright. Cat and child move like dancers through the dark house, where "everyone is sleeping, even the goldfish." Everything looks different to the boy in the dark. "Me-out!" cries Sylvie, as if the night gives voice to the cat. "It's coming.... It's almost here.... Hurry!" Outside, in the shadows, the boy thinks he sees roses, lilies and sunflowers: "Where are the colors?" he wonders. Gerstein plays with contrasts and shapes, and the way the child identifies the familiar things of his world without benefit of light and color. Into the illustrations Gerstein tucks hidden rabbits, mice, raccoons and other animals, "It's coming.... It's almost here!" they say. On the horizon, a glow emanates upwards. The nocturnal creatures slip away, and the clouds turn pink and orange. "It's here!" Sylvie says. The roses, lilies and sunflowers stand out in glorious detail.

It's as if all of nature has shared its secret with the boy, allowing him to witness the wonder of the sunrise. Marvelous. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A Caldecott Medalist's adventure of a boy and his cat as they move through darkness toward the prize that awaits them.

Little, Brown, $18, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9780316188227

Kissing in America

by Margo Rabb

Margo Rabb (Kissing in America) paints a multi-layered portrait of the ways in which love makes human beings myopic.

Sixteen-year-old Eva's father died in a plane crash two years ago, and a wall went up between her and her mother. Eva needs to talk about him; her mother wants to pretend he didn't exist. Eva reads one romance novel after another; her mother is a professor of women's studies at Queens College ("That happiness only comes from romantic love is the biggest myth of our society," she tells Eva). Then real romance enters Eva's life. Will comes into the tutoring center for help and is assigned to Eva. "He had dark, wavy, unkempt hair like... all the wind-blown men on my romance novel covers." But he also carries books by Baldwin, Heller and Vonnegut. And always has a beautiful girl waiting for him after the tutoring sessions. Readers will get the picture before Eva does. But that doesn't stop her from plotting to travel to California when Will goes there to live with his father. Her ticket is her best friend, Annie, qualifying as a contestant for a California quiz show with a $200,000 prize.

Eva and Annie's banter carries the novel, along with their witty observations on their cross-country road trip. Eva's relationship with her mother's friend Lulu is also a high point. Rabb's ambitious novel takes a couple twists toward the end that feel rushed, but the conclusion offers hope for Eva and her mother to have a more open, honest relationship. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A buddy road trip novel in which Eva gains a broader perspective, not just of the U.S., but of herself.

Harper, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9780062322371

Sheep Go to Sleep

by Nancy Shaw, illus. by Margot Apple

The team behind Sheep in a Jeep delivers an original twist with this charming take on bedtime.

Blues and golds dominate the pages as the fluffy white heroes return to their shed: "Winking fireflies light the way,/ as sheep stroll home to hit the hay." The five sheep tuck under the straw in their cozy shed. Then "Screeches! Rustling! Noisy crickets!/ Sheep hear hoots from nearby thickets." Margot Apple draws the culprits in colored pencils--a pair of owls--plus a creeping skunk near the shed, and the shadow of another unknown four-legged critter. Luckily, the four legs belong to a "trusty" border collie ("Sheep bleet. Sheep sigh"). As the collie helps the sheep fall asleep, Nancy Shaw works in a bit of a math and grammar lesson. The collie's hug helps one sheep snore, and the dog fetches a drink for another (that one slumbers, too). "Another sheep begins to snore./ Two asleep! How many more?" Shaw uses "how many more?" as a refrain, to check in with readers after each sheep falls asleep. She also gets across, in context, that "sheep" can refer to one and also more than one. Author and artist vary the examples: the collie, sandwiched between two sheep, "calms the flock" when they "tap rhythm, hum, and rock" a lullaby. When the five well-rested sheep awake at sunrise, they find the devoted (exhausted) pooch still asleep.

Shaw's meter never falters, and Apple's drawings keep the woolly quintet (and their canine guardian) front and center. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A clever bedtime countdown in which a border collie helps five sheep fall asleep.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780544309890

Powered by: Xtenit