Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 13, 2015

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

From My Shelf

Welcome Back, K-9 Maggie

The Promise is Robert Crais's 20th novel and second Scott and Maggie novel (our review is below). After reading the first, Suspect, we fell in love with Maggie, and asked Crais about her welcome return.

Crais & friend

"I brought Maggie back because I love her. Simple as that. Creating the character of K-9 Maggie--a German shepherd who sniffed out explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan before she lost her handler to an IED attack--was one of the most interesting, fascinating, and moving pleasures of my career. I wanted Maggie to be a true and realistic dog, which meant I had to learn about dogs. I'm not talking about the general and loving knowledge that comes with having a dog as a pet, but the roll-up-your-sleeves deeper knowledge that would open the doors to discovering what Maggie was capable of as a character, what part she would play in the story, and how she would add to the drama. This meant spending time with LAPD's K-9 Platoon, which I did (and do), but I also had to learn how Maggie--how a dog--takes in the world, what drives her, motivates her, and why dogs bond with us the way they do. I had to learn how and why dogs love us, and we, them. Readers fell in love with Maggie, I think, because the bond between Maggie and her handler, LAPD K-9 Officer Scott James, rings true. Readers see their own pets in Maggie, and their love for their pets in Scott's love for his K-9 partner.

"Having Elvis Cole and Joe Pike team up with Scott and Maggie was inevitable. I love writing about those guys, but I was still writing Suspect when scene ideas mixing Elvis and Joe with Scott and Maggie began spooling up for The Promise: how Elvis and Scott might meet, the fun I could have bringing Maggie face-to-face (or nose-to-nose) with Elvis Cole's crazy cat. Cooking up a story that would bring all four characters together in an exciting and believable way was an absolute bear, but once I had it, the novel exploded as fast as a patrol dog sprinting after a suspect." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

James Renner: Conspiracy Theories

photo: Christopher Yohn

James Renner is the author of the novel The Man from Primrose Lane and several works of nonfiction, including Amy: My Search for Her Killer, The Serial Killer's Apprentice and the forthcoming True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray (May 2016). His true crime stories have appeared in The Best American Crime Writing Anthology as well the Cleveland Scene and Renner's method of using social media to solve cold cases was the subject of a CNN profile in 2015. He lives in Akron, Ohio, with his wife and children. His new novel is The Great Forgetting (see our review below).

In this book, you create an alternative reality where the United States lost World War II and was invaded by the Nazis. Tesla invented the atomic bomb, not Oppenheimer. Native Americans are granted their own continent on the fabled lost continent of Mu. Hawking invents a machine that allows us to forget about our pasts. Describe the process of the "Great Forgetting."

I was inspired to write The Great Forgetting the moment I learned of this notion called "phantom time." It's this theory that our current calendar is inaccurate and that world leaders in the past purposefully altered the historic record to further their own agendas. Pope Sylvester II is believed to have skipped over a hundred years in the official calendar so that he could be Pope during the turn of first millennium, in 1000 A.D. The question is, has it happened since? Has it happened recently?

What are the lost cities of Cahokia, Missouri, and Miakoda, Wyoming?

Cahokia and Miakoda were great cities built by Native Americans that were wiped from the maps--and our memories--when white settlers overwhelmed this land. In my novel, these cities existed well into the 20th century and were destroyed during World War II by the Nazi Wehrmacht. Wouldn't it be nice to visit them again? What secrets were destroyed along with their buildings?

The Great Forgetting is a conspiracy goldmine: UFOs, Area 51, Mengele's experiments, 9/11, fluoride, HAARP, Clementine, Deepwater Horizon, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, underground bases, lost continents, secret islands in the Pacific--you've got them all. Did you start with one large picture where you wanted to connect the dots or did one topic lead to the next, and so on?

I wanted this novel to play with conspiracy theories the same way that Harry Potter played with magic. Let's get all the old conspiracies in here and give them a new spin! And what if all these little conspiracies were somehow tied together, what if they were operating cells of a grander conspiracy? What would that be? And why would it be so important to protect it?

The universe of this book feels nearly infinite, as though you had access to everything you could ever need in order to create Jack and Cole's journey through this fantastic world. Were you helped along at all because conspiracy is largely a mixture of fact and fiction?

Yes! Exactly. What I loved about the process of writing The Great Forgetting was the research it allowed me to do in the world of conspiracy theories. Every new weird and wonderful thing Jack and his friends stumble across during their adventures is inspired by real stories and events. There is nothing stranger than the real world. It's not necessary to create something new.

For example, have you ever bothered to take a look at that tube of toothpaste sitting on your bathroom sink? There's a poison control warning on there because of the fluoride, man. If you accidentally swallow it, you're supposed to call poison control. If it's that dangerous, why are we drinking fluoridated water? Why are we bathing in it? We forget about the conspiracies all around us because we want to feel safe.

You're also a journalist and seem to have a taste for the weird, unexplained and macabre. What does fiction afford you that journalism and nonfiction do not?

An ending. The real world has no closure. It is existential. The cold cases never get solved. The UFO sighting is never explained. But a good fiction story can have a conclusion, and that's cathartic for me.

How does this book differ from The Man from Primrose Lane?

They exist in the same world--and begin in the same region of Northeast Ohio--but the characters never overlap in this one. The Man from Primrose Lane was about love, loss and time travel. The Great Forgetting is about love, memory and conspiracy theories.

This book has something for everyone. How much fun did you have writing it?

Too much! The first draft was 950 pages. It was so crazy. I mean, Phil from the TV show Deadliest Catch was a main character for a while. And there was a ridiculous fisticuffs battle between Obama and Cheney in the White House. But nobody's gonna read a book that size by James Renner (yet!). I mean, it's no Infinite Jest--although I did want to play around with notions of histrionics and entertainment. There was just too much. So I spent two years whittling it down to a more manageable 400 pages. I'm happy I got to keep my ape/human hybrids. Phil is still in there, too, if you look closely.

Given the state of the world today, what kind of future do you think we are creating?

If we stay the course and allow corporations to run our country, we are in for a dystopia that is worse than anything imagined in literature. This novel is a fun ride, but at its core is an important message: What could drive rational men and women to commit terrorism? If we recognize the lessons of the past, we may still have time to make a better future. But capitalism has no place there. --Jarret Middleton

Book Candy

Gift Ideas for Book Lovers--and Grammar Nerds

"In addition to all the books, of course." Buzzfeed showcased "27 gifts every book lover should ask for this year," as well as "17 gifts only grammar nerds will appreciate."


Brooklyn Magazine "asked as many writers and editors and book people it could think of to talk about the piece of writing that changed them."


Electric Lit highlighted "10 great punk songs inspired by books."

For those who are flailing in their National Novel Writing Month quest, the Huffington Post suggested "7 writerly books to read instead of finishing NaNoWriMo."


"Somebody actually designed a bookshelf that stores one book," Curbed reported.

Book Review


Along the Infinite Sea

by Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams (The Secret Life of Violet Grant) continues the saga of the Schuyler sisters and their knack for uncovering secret histories as Pepper Schuyler meets a French widow whose past hides an epic love.

In 1966, being single and pregnant is bad enough, but Pepper's also on the run from the baby's famous father, who's anxious to hush up the potential scandal. After restoring and auctioning off a vintage Mercedes, Pepper plans to use the money to have her baby in safety and ensure their future. However, when glamorous Annabelle Dommerich buys the car, she confides to Pepper that she and her husband used it to escape Germany on the eve of World War II. Instantly sympathetic to Pepper's situation, Annabelle insists on taking in the younger woman, and slowly she unspools her secrets. At the age of 19, Annabelle saved the life of a charismatic Jewish man in France and quickly fell in love with him. When he seemingly abandoned her, she hastily married steadfast widower, baron and German army officer Johann von Kleist. However, even as marriages, misunderstandings and global politics worked to keep them apart, Stefan and Annabelle found their way back to each other time after time, and middle-aged Annabelle bets cynical Pepper that she can convince her to believe in true love.

Williams knows how to pour on the glamour--Parisian landmarks and luxury yachts feature prominently, and Annabelle's debauched aristocratic family lives in decidedly genteel poverty. Headstrong Pepper also knows her way around high society despite her dire straits. Passionate and starry-eyed, Williams's latest romance is a beautiful escape from everyday life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In 1966, a middle-aged Frenchwoman recounts to a single pregnant woman the story of her triangle with the Jewish man she loved and the German officer she married in 1935.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399171314

Avenue of Mysteries

by John Irving

Often long and heavily plotted, John Irving's fiction regularly features troubled childhoods, violent maiming, sexual promiscuity, circuses, sports, religion, writers and writing, domesticated animals, travel and memory. Avenue of Mysteries sits right in the sweet spot of Irving's obsessions--and as with his past books, its imaginative storytelling overcomes its plot complexity and characters' often over-the-top behavior.

Irving tells a rambling story that moves in and out of chronological time. At 14 years old, Juan Diego lives in a shack with his younger sister, Lupe, and their suspected father, Rivera, outside Oaxaca, Mexico. They are the "dump kids," and Rivera the "dump jefe." Along the journey of Juan Diego's life, he and Lupe join a traveling Oaxacan circus, and Rivera accidently runs over Juan Diego's foot, giving him a permanent limp. By the time he is 54, the novelist-protagonist Juan Diego is visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Manila, Philippines, ruminating on the many ghosts and memories from his past.

Juan Diego is an inspired character who provides Irving with a platform from which to explore the mysteries of growing old, of religious fanaticism and fantasy, of language, of companionship and love, and especially of writing. Regarding his maimed foot, Juan Diego thinks: "A cripple's life is one of watching others do what he can't do, not the worst option for a future novelist." From wherever it came, Irving's knack for telling a good story is as strong as ever. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The prolific John Irving tells of a broken-footed writer's journey from his youth in Oaxaca, Mexico, through a professorship in Iowa City to a middle-aged visit to Manila, Philippines.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 9781451664164

One Out of Two

by Daniel Sada, trans. by Katherine Silver

Daniel Sada (Almost Never) died in 2011, but the prolific Mexican writer left behind many short stories, novels and poems, and Katherine Silver has translated his humorous novella One Out of Two into English for the first time.

"Now, how to say it? One out of two, or two in one, or what?" Constitución and Gloria Gamal are identical twin sisters, and this is their shared identity and life's work. At 13, they were orphaned by a car wreck, but they did not notice for weeks, not until they ran out of food, so consumed were they with one another. Now in their 40s, they dress alike, wear the same makeup and hairstyle; whoever gets up first in the morning gets to choose that day's attire for both. They have practiced the same gestures and mannerisms until they are indistinguishable. They even switch names from day to day. ("Why shouldn't they!") Then a problem challenges the Gamal sisters' contented tricks of identity: one of them meets a man.

Sada's winding, lyrical, frequently abstract language is one of the great joys of this comical, silly and touching story. Of course, the introduction of a suitor raises questions for the twins. Separate or share? But the tension of One Out of Two is related to illusion, deceit and identity, as Constitución and Gloria discover envy and competition for the first time. Sada dances his reader through these conflicts and on to a joyfully droll and loving conclusion. His readers' only regret is that it is over so soon. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This delightful novella translated from Spanish about identical twins and the tricks they play explores identity and loyalty.

Graywolf Press, $14, paperback, 9781555977245

All the Houses

by Karen Olsson

Narrated by 34-year-old middle daughter Helen, All the Houses is really two stories. Just a teen in the 1980s, Helen watched her father, Tim, a mid-level White House adviser in the Reagan administration, lose his job in the frenzy of the Iran-Contra scandal. The resulting stress led to her parents' divorce and her eventual drift to Los Angeles to write and sell an Iran-Contra screenplay. Her mother moved to Philadelphia to do nonprofit fundraising; her hip younger sister became an adjunct professor in New York City; and her older sister, Courtney, worked and married her way into the suburban Washington wealthy. When Tim has a heart attack in 2005, Helen comes back to Washington to help with his recovery--a return that drops her into the same taxing, frustrating relationship with her sisters and parents that she fled 20 years earlier.

Much of All the Houses tellingly describes the back rooms and secrets that characterized the now mostly forgotten covert efforts of "a few bureaucrats and a gang of freelance old hands drawn to the rush of counterrevolution and back-channel deals" to supply arms to Iran in order to raise unauthorized funds to support the Contra rebels against the "Communist-leaning" Nicaraguan government. But the heart of Karen Olsson's (Waterloo) novel is Helen's gradual acceptance of her sisters' comparatively greater successes, understanding of her father's weaknesses and recognition of her own professional writing flair.

Politics and family may make strange bedfellows, but in the knowing and amusing novel All the Houses, Olsson makes them inseparable. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: In her second novel, journalist Karen Olsson tells of a Washington family fragmented forever by the 1980s Iran-Contra political scandal.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 9780374281328

Playing Days

by Benjamin Markovits

Shortly after graduating from Yale in 1995, novelist Benjamin Markovits (You Don't Have to Live Like This) departed for Germany. There he spent a year playing basketball for a minor league team while searching for his identity as a writer. He's transformed that experience into the frank, disarming autobiographical novel Playing Days, originally published in England in 2011, now in print in the United States for the first time.

Though he never played college basketball, on the strength of a homemade video showcasing his shooting skills, the Texas-born Benjamin Markovits of the novel improbably lands a contract with a second division team called the Yoghurts in the small medieval town of Landshut, about an hour's train ride from Munich. He joins a ragtag band of teammates that includes American Bo Hadnot, at age 30 aching for one last shot at the NBA, and Karl, an undisciplined German teenager whose preternatural talent already has him marked for greatness.

In scenes that are striking both for their insight and for the chasteness of their characters' behavior, Markovits effectively portrays Benjamin's stumbling entry into the adult world. He nails the mind-numbing repetition of the team's twice-a-day workouts and the tedium of traveling for hours by bus through the German countryside to play a game before a few hundred fans. Readers who aren't basketball enthusiasts may find themselves skimming the novel's intermittent game scenes, but those who love the sport will grasp quickly Markovits's talent for describing the rugged ballet that is its essence.

That he's done it so artfully makes Playing Days such a pleasing novel. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Benjamin Markovits's autobiographical novel Playing Days is the affecting story of a young man starting to find his way in the world through basketball.

HarperPerennial, $15.99, paperback, 9780062376633

Mystery & Thriller


by J.S. Law

Lieutenant Danielle "Dan" Lewis has been with the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Navy for 18 years, most recently with the Crimes Involving Loss of Life Division, also known--to her distaste--as the Kill Squad. She's obstinate, she's a loner, she has the balls to request green tea at the officers' mess. She's also deeply troubled since her go-it-alone style almost got her killed and made her an outcast within the naval community.

Dan is in Portsmouth, waiting for a new assignment. Several days earlier, Tenacity, a nuclear hunter-killer submarine, docked with Stewart Walker aboard. That evening his wife, Cheryl, was beaten, raped and murdered. He was informed Monday morning; Tuesday evening he was found hanging in the engine rooms. Since Tenacity is due to sail again in four days, the sub's commanding officer wants the investigation wrapped up before departure. But when the sailing date is moved up, the investigation barely begun, there is one, and only one, berth available. If the inquiry is to continue, either Dan or Granger can leave with the sub. Dan takes on the challenge with trepidation, desperate to find Cheryl Walker's killer.

In his debut novel, J.S. Law has crafted thrilling suspense in a setting that offers many opportunities for confined, oppressive menace. He has also created a compelling character in Dan Lewis. She is headstrong, she is relentless, she is tough to befriend, but she is undeniably brave. Law ends Tenacity with a perfect segue into a sequel. It can't come too soon. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Discover: The investigation into a submariner's suicide becomes intensely claustrophobic when the sub sets sail.

Holt, $27, hardcover, 9781627794565

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery

by Sally Andrew

Nonfiction author Sally Andrew (The Fire Dogs of Climate Change) stirs up a satisfying mystery in her debut novel, Recipes for Love and Murder. Tannie ("Auntie") Maria van Harten enjoys writing her recipe column for the newspaper in her small South African town. When the Gazette's editors decide to nix the recipes in favor of an advice column, Tannie Maria tries her hand at mixing culinary and romantic tips. Soon the letters are flooding in, and Tannie Maria finds herself helping readers with matters of both the table and the heart.

When Martine, an abused woman who has written to Tannie Maria, ends up dead under suspicious circumstances, the cook-cum-journalist and her colleagues are drawn into a murder investigation. Against the backdrop of the vast South African veld, Tannie Maria and fellow reporter Jessie attempt to trace the killer before he or she strikes again.

Andrew has created a charming protagonist in Tannie Maria, who sprinkles her first-person narration with baking tips and Afrikaans words. "My mother was Afrikaans and my father was English and the languages are mixed up inside me," she explains. "I taste in Afrikaans and argue in English."

"We can be sure that our lives will all end with death," Tannie Maria writes to a reader. "There's not much we can do about that. But you can add love and good food to your life. That is your choice." With a dash of South African history and a pinch of social consciousness, Tannie Maria's first adventure serves up a satisfying mix of romance, humor and crime solving. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A satisfying South African mystery, narrated by a widow who writes a recipe-and-advice column for the local newspaper.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062397669

The Promise

by Robert Crais

After his standalone hit Suspect, Robert Crais returns to his popular Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series with The Promise, bringing along Suspect's LAPD K-9 Officer Scott James and his canine partner, Maggie. PI Cole is hired to find Amy Breslyn, a missing explosives expert who seemingly embezzled funds from her employer, a company with ties to the Department of Defense.

Cole's search for Amy intersects with James and Maggie's pursuit of a murder suspect when they end up at a house containing a dead body and an even bigger surprise. Cole becomes a person of interest to the LAPD, but due to the sensitive nature of Amy's government work, he can't divulge the truth about his case. When it looks like al-Qaeda might be involved, Cole asks for a little help from his friends--agency partner Joe Pike and private military contractor Jon Stone. Together the men attempt to bring Amy back, but can they keep her alive?

The procedural aspects of The Promise are timely and engrossing, the prose tight, and dialogue snappy, but the novel's--and series'--chief appeal lies in the humanity of the characters. Cole, Pike, Stone and James sometimes commit brutal acts, but only to mete justice and protect those most vulnerable. Don't even think about threatening the dog in their presence. These are tough men capable of deep compassion, and if they make a promise, they will keep it at all costs. When Crais promises readers a crackling new thriller, he keeps his word, too. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike look for a missing woman who might be dealing with al-Qaeda.

Putnam, $27.95, hardcover, 9780399161490

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Great Forgetting

by James Renner

History teacher Jack Felter returns to his hometown in Ohio to care for his sick father. While home, he picks up the trail of his old friend Tony, a psychiatrist who went missing three years before. As he pursues the truth about what happened, he meets Cole, Tony's last patient, who could very well be at the center of one of the largest conspiracies ever fathomed.

What if history was neither the official narrative nor shared memory at all? What if history was everything that had been forgotten?

The Great Forgetting depicts an alternative reality where the United States lost World War II and the Nazis conquered America, a world where Nikola Tesla invented the atomic bomb and Stephen Hawking invented a machine that allowed everyone collectively to forget the past. In search of these histories' origins, Jack and Cole wind up in the farthest flung reaches of the earth--from a secretive underground facility in the Catskills to a lost island in the Pacific--in order to discover the truth about their own pasts and the project known as "The Great Forgetting."

This book is a conspiracy goldmine. Working their way through this heady plot are aliens, Area 51, HAARP, 9/11, fluoride, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the lost continent of Mu and much more. There is a conspiracy for everyone, and it is evident Renner had as much fun putting them together as readers will have figuring them out. --Jarret Middleton, author, freelance editor

Discover: This hilarious, mind-boggling book mixes thriller, sci-fi and alternative realities with the best conspiracy theories of American culture.

Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374298791


Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge

by Antony Beevor

World War II has been so thoroughly covered by books, movies and other media that it's difficult to imagine any history enthusiast feeling underserved by the available material. In Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, British historian Antony Beevor covers well-trodden ground in a well-trodden war, focusing on Hitler's desperate counterattack in the waning days of the conflict. However, few historians are as skilled at presenting the arcane details of troop movements, fighting conditions, morale and petty leadership squabbles that make up the bulk of military history. Having honed his skills in books on Stalingrad, D-Day and more, Beevor turns in another assured and highly readable effort in Ardennes 1944.

In the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler improbably committed his prized Panzer armies to an assault through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium and northern France. It was a gamble that didn't pay off, but Beevor recaptures the shock of the unexpected attack and its early (apparent) successes. Beevor's book is arguably most valuable for re-contextualizing events that loom large in the public imagination. For example, the 101st Airborne's heroic defense of Bastogne has been justly lauded, but Beevor pays particular attention to the crucial role played by American artillery crews, many of them manned by African Americans. Beevor also reveals that German attempts at subterfuge--including outfitting English-speaking soldiers in American uniforms--were, in practice, pathetically unsuccessful. Ardennes 1944 may not break new ground in World War II historiography, but it's highly successful as popular military history. Armchair generals, take notice. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Ardennes 1944 provides a detailed, balanced account of the famous counterattack that pushed American troops to the limit but wound up being the Wehrmacht's last offensive maneuver.

Viking, $35, hardcover, 9780670025312

Performing Arts

Patti Smith Collected Lyrics, 1970-2015

by Patti Smith

Rock 'n' roll song lyrics are a weird hybrid genre that run the gamut from elementary-level school doggerel to literary art. At the high end of the spectrum, witness Patti Smith, who in addition to being an acclaimed memoirist (Just Kids; M Train) and respected poet (Auguries of Innocence), is one of the foremost rock lyricists of the last 40 years. Her Collected Lyrics is a valuable addition to the imprecise art of matching profound word play to primitive rhythms.

From the beginning of her career, Smith has walked a tightrope between controversy ("Jesus died for somebody's sins/ but not mine") and reverence, the topical and the surreal ("Standing outside the courthouse in the rain/ seemed like a lost soul/ from a chapel of dreams"). She can punch like a street thug one minute and offer the tender embrace of an earth mother the next. This wonderful range helps lift her lyrics to authentic poetry; they don't lay inert on the page without the galvanizing force of her shambolic howl and the power punk chords of her band behind her. These lyrics protest war, celebrate the sensual, movingly remember the dead, and serve as Buddhist and (non-traditional) Christian devotionals ("Even Christ yearns to be/ to possess the skin/ and bones of man the blood of man").

Collected Lyrics is a physically beautiful book, too, packed with facsimiles of Smith's handwritten lyrics, concert posters and other eye-catching treats. This is a worthwhile addition for rabid Patti Smith fans or for any student of literate rock. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A wonderful treat for Patti Smith fans and literary rockers everywhere.

Ecco, $29.99, hardcover, 9780062345011

Children's & Young Adult

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray

by Dave Eggers, illus. by Tucker Nichols

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge wasn't originally meant to be orange, and Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and Tucker Nichols (Crabtree) tell this story in this artful, charmingly odd, 100-plus-page picture book.
"In the beginning there was a bridge," the book begins. A simple, textured, gray, cut-paper bridge on a blue strip spans the spread. "No, before that, there was a bay," corrects the companionable narrator, who then explains why some felt a bridge was needed to cross the bay. Some absolutely didn't: "It will mar the beauty of this land, they said." (Here, the dissenting voices are represented by eight colorful cut-out talking heads.) In 1928, the decision to build the bridge was made, and Joseph Strauss was hired to design it. His first design was "functional, but it was grotesque," so he called in Leon Moisseiff to help, then Irving Morrow. The navy thought the bridge should be yellow and black ("like a tiger with jaundice"), and the army preferred red and white stripes ("like a candy cane"). But Irving Morrow wanted it orange, the same reddish orange as the rust-prevention paint used on the bridge's steel and, in time, he convinced "the powers that be."

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray is sure to pique the interest of anyone who has, or hasn't, thought about the creative, engineering, logistical and bureaucratic hurdles, "dangerous and complicated work" and just plain bickering that go into building a bridge. The book is also an inspiring testament to making bold choices--orange!--and having the courage of one's convictions. (Bonus: The book jacket folds into a poster.) --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols tell the story of why San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is orange in this hefty and delightful picture book.

McSweeney's, $19.95, hardcover, 104p., ages 6-up, 9781940450476

Ninja Baby

by David Zeltser, illus. by Diane Goode

" 'Congratulations,' said the doctor, backing away. 'You have a ninja baby.'" Nina, the ninja baby, is in full-on combat mode from the moment she's born, when she karate-chops the doctor for thumping her gently on the bottom.

When Nina's mother tries to feed her, she discovers her little one (now a toddler) has already "launched a sneak attack" on a box of doughnuts. As her parents watch TV on the sofa, Nina stands very still on top of a side table, disguising herself as a lamp, ninja-style, "training herself in advanced infiltration." Being a self-sufficient ninja is a lonely life, but it gets even lonelier when her new baby brother shows up. This tiny Kung Fu Master could "disarm his captors with a single look." He never does anything by himself. In a dance of delicately kinetic spot illustrations, a furious, red-faced Nina flips out, expertly kicking her toys and knocking things over... but no one comes. She goes in search of the baby Kung Fu Master to learn his secret to winning their parents' affection, but "it was like listening to the wind in the bamboo." He just looks at her and gurgles. She takes note of his brilliant technique, and together, the two little ninjas join forces. Watch out, parents!

Lug author David Zeltser's Ninja Baby is a witty take on both new-sibling angst and the wobbly line between independence and loneliness. With breezy pen-and-ink lines splashed with color, Caldecott Honor artist Diane Goode's (When I Was Young in the Mountains) comically captures the wee ninjas and sets just the right tone. --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A ninja toddler meets her match when her parents bring home her baby brother, a real Kung Fu Master.

Chronicle, $16.99, hardcover, ages 3-5, 9781452135427


by Richelle Mead

In 16-year-old Fei's remote mountaintop Chinese village, where the entire population is deaf, there are three main jobs: artists, miners and suppliers. The responsible, fiercely loyal Fei has worked hard to make sure she and her sister, Zhang Jing, keep their high-status jobs as artists, painting the daily news. Their work, as the elders say--in sign language--is part of an "ancient and exalted tradition." It began generations earlier when their ancestors mysteriously lost their hearing, some say due to the mythical winged lion, the pixiu, looking for some peace and quiet on the mountain.

Living atop a steep, unstable mountain peak with no safe egress and no way to sustain themselves with crops or livestock, the near-starving villagers rely on the supplies sent up via zip line from the township below, in exchange for precious metals. But when the deaf villagers also begin going blind, their tiny civilization becomes more precarious than ever. Fei decides to join her forbidden childhood love, Li Wei, in his bold, dangerous quest to save the village from sure extinction... a goal made significantly more realistic by Fei's sudden, miraculous ability to hear.

In Soundless, the thrilling stand-alone fantasy by Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy and the Bloodlines series), the surreal shattering of a lifelong silence challenges readers to examine the nature of sound and its role in human communication. Myth, magic and romance underlie the suspenseful, intensely dramatic scenes of the two star-crossed lovers dodging avalanches and escaping from vigilantes of the valley kingdom that cruelly exploits the vulnerable mountain community. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Richelle Mead's first stand-alone fantasy, a deaf community that has been unknowingly held hostage for centuries must awaken to a terrible truth.

Razorbill/Penguin, $19.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 14-up, 9781595147639

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