Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 25, 2016

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

Book Club Idea: Sweet and Poignant

It's hard to say what goes into the secret sauce for the ideal book club pick--and, certainly, it varies by the personality of any given club. But A Man Called Ove is a book club favorite for many reasons: its perfect mix of humor and poignancy; its combination of the mundane and the philosophical; its knack for surprising readers with unexpectedly touching moments; the large and varied cast of characters; the big questions it asks about love and aging and family. Fredrik Backman's story of a curmudgeonly old man finding his place in a world he thought he was ready to leave behind hits all the right notes--and if your club is as enamored with Backman's writing style as I am, good news: his second novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, sounds just as promising (and his third, Britt-Marie Was Here, is due on May 3 from Atria Books).

A book club that enjoyed A Man Called Ove might consider Rachel Joyce's 2012 debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. While the two novels differ drastically in plot (Harold Fry is a retiree who decides to go on an impromptu walk across the entirety of England to deliver a letter), both celebrate the experiences of aging, reflecting on a life well-lived (or, in some instances, not so well-lived) and second chances. And if your club likes Pilgrimage, Joyce has written a companion novel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, about the recipient of Harold's hand-delivered letter.

Another poignant read--in a keep-tissues-nearby kind of way--is Gabrielle Zevin's story of a cranky bookseller, A.J. Fikry, and the way lives can unexpectedly collide to bring great joy into the world. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is as much an excellent tale as it is a love letter to the power of books to shape our lives. And what could be a more fitting topic for a club centered on the activity of reading? --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Book Candy

Bunny Picture Books, Easter Egg Wraps

"From Little Rabbit Foo Foo to the Velveteen Rabbit to Peter Rabbit himself," the Guardian's Book Doctor "rounds up bunny picture books for Easter and beyond."


"We've got our competitive Easter bonnets on, baskets in hand, waiting to get our egg hunt on," Quirk Books noted in offering "3 literary Easter egg wrap printables."


"This new restaurant at Universal Studios is Willy Wonka's chocolate factory come to life," Buzzfeed promised.


Pop quiz from Mental Floss: "Can you name the most commonly used words in the English language?"


"We all know their names!" Essay Supply's infographic explored "8 authors who wrote under a pseudonym."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Shakespeare

Not to suggest anyone's forgotten Shakespeare, but the upcoming 400th anniversary of his death on April 23 is sure to unleash a Bard bonanza (see Robert Gray's Readers column on the subject here). His works have been replicated a thousandfold since eight years after his demise, when two of the Bard's buddies assembled the First Folio. His plays now come in standalone tomes of all shapes and sizes or, as many English students will be familiar with, complete collections the size of cinder blocks. Penguin imprint Pelican Books has one such backbreaking volume: The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, 1,800 pages of plays, essays, notes and illustrations.

For more portable play-reading, and to mark Shakespeare's death, Pelican is re-releasing the Pelican Shakespeare Series, published by Penguin Classics, with new covers designed by Manuja Waldia. The first four come out March 29: Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, with Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream expected this summer, and plans for the full series to come out over the next few years. Each book includes updated essays and introductions guided by the 30 years of new Shakespeare scholarship undertaken since the series was first published. Waldia's covers are minimalist neon lines on black backgrounds with some clever reference to the play, like the arrow-studded coffins on Romeo and Juliet or two bleeding crowns enclosing a scepter and dagger for Macbeth, a striking style at once whimsical and grim, much like the plays themselves. --Tobias Mutter

Now in Paper: March

Screening Room: Family Pictures by Alan Lightman (Vintage, $16)
The death of an elderly uncle prompts Alan Lightman to return to Memphis four decades after he left, and the reminiscences inspired by that loss are the foundation for his elegiac memoir. His memories flicker like the light from an old movie projector he meticulously describes in one of the book's many artfully constructed scenes.

American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus (Harper Perennial, $15.99)
For decades, stories have circulated that the historic La Posada Hotel in Santa Fe, N.Mex., is haunted. Part of the hotel was once a private home, and the ghost is supposed to be former resident Julia Schuster Staab, great-great-grandmother of journalist Hannah Nordhaus. The supernatural elements are entertaining, and Nordhaus's chronicle of her unlikely pioneer ancestors is fascinating and frequently surprising.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Grove, $16)
British poet and naturalist Helen Macdonald, inconsolable after her father's sudden death, had a recurring memory of a goshawk she'd seen while working at a bird-of-prey center. In H Is for Hawk, she shares her decision to adopt one, Mabel, and her months-long dedication to training this fiercest of creatures.

Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday (Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $15.99)
Graham Holliday, the Noodlepie blogger, takes readers on the ultimate food safari on the streets of Vietnam. He follows his nose through the hidden alleyways of Hanoi and Saigon, tasting testicles and entrails, devilish moonshine from cobras, bears and lizards, along with more sedate fare like iced coffees and teas.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (Broadway, $17)
In May of 1915, a torpedo fired from a German submarine struck the RMS Lusitania, a British passenger ship with nearly 200 Americans aboard, an event that helped push the United States to enter World War I. In his usual entertaining and detailed style, Erik Larson examines the final days aboard the Lusitania and related events and characters in Dead Wake.

Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman (Simon & Schuster, $16)
In this entertaining, quirky tour through the landscape of oxidation and other forms of corrosion, Jonathan Waldman introduces readers to people obsessed with documenting, studying and circumventing rust's destructive effects. It's full of stories about decaying structures, heroic solutions and characters whose egos and shortsightedness made bad problems worse.


Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (Washington Square Press, $16)
In this Cold War thriller set in 1949 Berlin, an American writer--a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany--quickly learns his role as a CIA spy. But what awaits him defies even his imagination as a writer: a botched kidnapping, the murder of an East German agent and encounters with friends from his past thrust him into danger and intrigue.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce (Random House, $16)
The companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is every bit as affecting, sweet and sad. Harold remains off-screen in The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, in which Queenie replies to the postcards he sent her in Pilgrimage. She has written to him from hospice care, sharing the news of her impending death.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Picador, $16)
The Sellout is an over-the-top fable of a young black man street-named Bonbon who farms an urban tract in South Los Angeles. Beatty is funny as hell and offers a serious consideration of race through a relentless parade of stereotypes skewering blacks, whites, Mexicans, celebrities, Africans, even autistic kids. Behind the humor, however, Beatty asks important questions about racism and identity.

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss (Melville House, $15.95)
Roger--a sarcastic, well-read, talking cat who solves cryptic crosswords--is the star of Cat Out of Hell, an adventurous, gothic mystery novel that straddles a fine line between humor and horror, good and evil, life and death. Rich characterizations and inventive structure serve to enhance this endearing, insightful and often wicked novel.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (Harper Paperbacks, $15.99)
In 1962, Kitty Miller is a 30-something, single woman who co-owns a small Denver bookstore. Many women Kitty's age are married and raising families, but Kitty believes she is content and doesn't need anything more. Then one night she dreams of an alternate version of her life, the life she would have had if one phone call had lasted just a few minutes longer.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, trans. by Simon Pare (Broadway, $16)
Nina George's enchanting The Little Paris Bookshop deals with the nature of grief and the power of friendship, love and truth. The narrative centers on 50-year-old Monsieur Jean Perdu, who owns a bookstore called the Literary Apothecary--actually a floating barge "the length of three truck trailers" that houses 8,000 books, moored on the Seine.

Book Review



by Jung Yun

Jung Yun's Shelter is an arresting first novel about 36-year-old biology professor Kyung Cho, his wife, Gillian, and their four-year-old son, Ethan. Their suburban Massachusetts middle-class life and marriage are on edge, with an underwater mortgage, past-due student loans and maxed-out credit cards--"a just-tolerable state of atrophy." But Kyung refuses to ask for help from his far wealthier parents, who live in a meticulously restored Victorian mansion on the tony side of town. His Korean immigrant father, Jin, is an engineering professor whose patents and research grants provide more than enough for their big house and a vacation home on the Cape. Jin is also a tyrannical patriarch who established in his new country a traditional household of martial order over his uneducated wife, Mae, and young son. As Kyung remembers his youth, "His father hit Mae. Mae hit him. That was the order of succession in their family." The wounds of Kyung's abused childhood go deep. Much as he tries to avoid bringing his past into his own marriage, his carefully distanced life is upended when Jin and Mae are the victims of a sadistic home invasion by two drug- and alcohol-fueled transient criminals. Temporarily without their home and recovering from the brutal assault, they move in with Kyung's family--and the repressed anger and raw emotion of his youth bubble to the surface.

Shelter is primarily Kyung's story. Sometimes irrational, often impulsive, he keeps trying to overcome his damaging past. Yun's powerful debut novel leaves a memorable wake. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A strikingly suspenseful debut novel, Shelter digs into the secrets and troubles of two generations in a Massachusetts Korean-American family.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 9781250075611

The Story of Hong Gildong

by Minsoo Kang, translator

Whether The Story of Hong Gildong is the oldest extant Korean prose fiction or the second oldest, whether it was written by poet and statesman Heo Gyun (1569-1618) about a real bandit or whether it's popular fiction by an anonymous commoner in the second half of the 19th century matters greatly to some. Not so much to the lucky English-language reader who comes upon Minsoo Kang's exciting new translation of this ancient story, now available from Penguin Classics.

About the length of The Epic of Gilgamesh, this little 77-page classic of the pre-Korean Kingdom of Joseon is the account of a high minister's son who, because he is born of his father's concubine, is "not allowed to address [his] own father as Father and [his] older brother as Brother." This is the famous, often-quoted lament for which Gildong is known in Korean culture. The sons of secondary wives had access to wealth and education, but no legal standing in society and were not accorded the rights of nobility.

The fast-paced, plot-driven narrative is fueled by scenes of exciting action alternating with scenes of high emotion. As Korea has been historically conquered and colonized, Gildong's recovery of dignity and respect has a national echo that has made it persistently popular. As a secondary son who is "disrespected, unappreciated and underrated," attempting to overcome the disadvantages of his birth to prove his true worth as a leader of his people, Hong Gildong is the embodiment of an oppressed and underestimated Korea. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A frustrated secondary son deprived of a nobleman's rights becomes the leader of a band of outlaws.

Penguin Classics, $15, paperback, 9780143107699

Hanging Mary

by Susan Higginbotham

Susan Higginbotham (Her Highness, the Traitor) turns to the American Civil War with this historical novel about Mary Surratt and her young boarder, Nora Fitzpatrick. Told from the alternating perspectives of both women, Hanging Mary is Higginbotham's account of their world in the days following President Lincoln's assassination.

As the war nears its end, Mary, a widowed mother of three, is running a boarding house in Washington, D.C. She is a Confederate sympathizer, and her son, Johnny, is an active secessionist who falls in with John Wilkes Booth and becomes a messenger for the Rebel cause. Soon Johnny's cohorts, including Booth, are regular fixtures at the Surratt house.

Nora is recently out of convent school. She lost her mother at a young age, and Mary serves as her surrogate; Nora even contemplates matching her widowed father with her. Despite Nora's loyalty to the Union--she reads to injured soldiers at the local hospital--she is devoted to this woman who provides a welcome maternal presence in her life.

When John Wilkes Booth assassinates Abraham Lincoln, Booth's routine presence at Mary's boarding house leads investigators to suspect all of the residents in the unthinkable crime that rocked the nation.

Hanging Mary is well researched, but the novel's greatest quality is its empathetic narrators, especially Nora. Her passion and self-sacrifice create a humanizing view of some of U.S. history's greatest villains. In Higgenbotham's hands, this little-known woman is heroic and riveting. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: Combining evidence and imagination, Susan Higginbotham tells the story of Mary Surratt, the only woman tried for Abraham Lincoln's assassination and the first woman executed by the federal government.

Sourcebooks, $15.99, paperback, 9781492613626

Something Will Happen, You'll See

by Christos Ikonomou, trans. by Karen Emmerich

Stylistically and thematically reminiscent of Raymond Carver, the 16 stories in Something Will Happen, You'll See concern the harsh realities of the working poor suffering from the economic and political crisis in Greece. Christos Ikonomou uses spare punctuation and heavy repetition of words, phrases and paragraphs to mirror the relentlessness of the lives and struggles of his protagonists. 

One character tells his drinking companions--a poor naval pensioner, a family man who had to beg for money to pay for a funeral, and a junkie's father--"sometimes I think hatred is like the air we breathe in this city. It may be killing you slowly, but you still can't live without it." Indeed, it is often hatred, of the wealthy, of the police, of politicians, of romantic partners who have failed them, that drives characters' actions--perhaps the only thing that gives them agency in a world outside their control. In a later story, one worker remarks, after going unpaid yet another month, "it's so strange to be poor, you're like one of those penguins they show on TV watching the ice melt all around them and they have no idea what to hold onto or how to keep themselves from going crazy and so they start attacking one another out of fear."

This collection dovetails with The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, also translated by Karen Emmerich, which features students questioning education and facing a miserable future due to the austerity crisis. Something Will Happen, You'll See may be their future. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa

Discover: Set in contemporary Greece, these stories focus on characters struggling to maintain their dignity, relationships and self-worth in a failing society.

Archipelago, $18, paperback, 9780914671350

Beijing Comrades

by Bei Tong, trans. by Scott E. Myers

Translator Scott E. Myers's introduction to Beijing Comrades is itself an engrossing story: the tale was originally serialized online, and the author--listed here as Bei Tong, elsewhere as Beijing Comrade, Miss Wang and other names--remains anonymous; Myers does not know Bei's gender. This is the first English translation and the third version of the novel to be published, combining two previous publications and a new manuscript by Bei with an expanded story and explicit sexual detail.

Beijing Comrades is about Handong, a privileged, successful, egotistical businessman, and Lan Yu, a younger man of modest circumstances. When Lan Yu arrives in Beijing as a student, Handong immediately takes him as a lover. The older man had been accustomed to myriad sexual conquests of both men and women, defined by psychological domination and materialism, but this liaison is different, eventually coming to dominate both men's lives. Over the years, Handong and Lan Yu strain to reconcile their relationship with a culture in upheaval: late 1980s China, experimenting with capitalism, approaching the Tian'anmen Square protests, increasingly materialistic and anti-gay.

While the dialogue is stylistically inconsistent, reminding readers of the fact of translation, the emotions of the story reinforce its realism. First-person narrator Handong is not always a likable character: he is cynical, profit-driven, fickle in love and often cruel. But these flaws make him credible, and even increase the impact of both men's anguish.

Beijing Comrades is an important entry in the Chinese historical record as well as a moving, erotic and emotional novel. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A passionate, troubled love affair between two men is set in a time of cultural upheaval, in late 20th-century China.

Feminist Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781558619074

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

by Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories collects 15 of Ken Liu's (The Grace of Kings) best short fiction, including "Mono No Aware," "The Waves" and "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species." The title piece, "The Paper Menagerie," is the only story to have won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards within the same year, and, while it is the best-known story of this collection, the others are equally enthralling. These stories represent a fascinating sample of what Liu calls his "interests, obsessions, and creative goals," a blend of science fiction and fantasy, with elements of steampunk, history and realistic personal narrative. Emotionally unpredictable, Liu's stories take off in unexpected directions and arrive at destinations both startling and satisfying.

No matter the fantastic wrapping, Liu's themes of cost and consequence, adaptation and distrust are part of a common human experience. In "Good Hunting," Liu borrows from mythology and legend to tell the story of a fox spirit in China who needs to adapt to the modern age if she is to survive after her magic is destroyed by human development. "The Literomancer" takes readers to Japan during the Cold War Era and explores how people are able to justify even the most horrific actions as necessary when distrust and suspicion guide their decisions. Each story leaves readers questioning their own lives and wondering if Liu's new worlds are so far from this one. No fan of science fiction, fantasy or exceptionally stirring stories should miss this anthology. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: Ken Liu's emotionally complex and thematically diverse stories will please readers of many genres.

Saga Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9781481442541

Food & Wine

Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself

by Klancy Miller

Klancy Miller, pastry chef and contributor to Food Republic and Recipe for Success, hopes Cooking Solo will "encourage you to spend a little quality time with yourself, regardless of your age or station in life." Over brunch one day, Miller asked a few friends what they most enjoyed about being single. Answers ranged included "freedom," "never having to compromise" and "the opportunity to have space and time to myself." Miller realized these qualities reflect many of the joys of cooking solo, too: "Preparing a meal for yourself is a special exercise, an unpressured act of creativity, self-care, and validation."

While Miller's love and background in French cuisine is evident throughout Cooking Solo, most of her recipes can be prepared in 30 minutes (or less). To expedite the cooking process, Miller begins with the section Stocking Your Larder, covering staples such as salts and oils, grains and pasta, and flours and meals, to name a few, as well as basic equipment essential for any home cook. Miller's personality shines through her recipes; for instance, Chocolate Pancakes with (Oh My Gosh) Ganache and Emerald Elixir (Going Green in the A.M.); Grilled Blue Cheese with Curried Red Onions (When You Need a Hug) and Roasted Chicken Sandwich with Mango Chutney on Rye (The Tina Fey); Pasta with Kale (The Easiest Way to Eat a Superfood) and Milk Chocolate Sorbet (Bonjour Happiness). Cooking Solo celebrates the uncompromising freedom that so many singles relish, one meal at a time. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Klancy Miller celebrates the joy of cooking solo, where the only constraint is your own palate.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $19.99, paperback, 9780544176485

Biography & Memoir

Alligator Candy: A Memoir

by David Kushner

On a Sunday afternoon in 1973, 11-year-old Jon Kushner rode his bike through the woods to the 7-Eleven. His four-year-old brother, David, had asked for one kind of candy in particular. Jon's family never saw him alive again. Journalist David Kushner still struggles to fathom his brother's murder and his family's experience; Alligator Candy is his memoir of investigation and connection.

Kushner lovingly portrays his hippie parents, eldest brother and Jon, who struggled with an auditory deficit disorder and was known for his compassion. Their community in Tampa, Fla., included activists and academics, and emphasized freedom and the outdoors. It was perfectly natural for a boy to ride alone through the woods. Jon's murder presaged an end to the "ability of kids to simply get on their bikes and go," as one family friend put it.

Alligator Candy explores how a family and community survive loss. The twin terrors of not knowing fully what happened but knowing the horrific details of exactly what was done to Jon comprise only two reasons that this is a painful story. However, Kushner can also be funny, and he skillfully captures a child's innocent curiosity, even in loss. He writes so simply, but this is deceptive. Alligator Candy is sensitive, insightful and understated.

Forty years later, Kushner (Bones of Marianna; Masters of Doom) still struggles with grief, isolation and guilt. In writing Alligator Candy, however, he discovers certain details of his brother's case for the first time, begins to comprehend his family's coping methods and, finally, achieves a long-sought connection with Jon. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This tender, intimate memoir probes the childhood murder of the author's older brother.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781451682533

Essays & Criticism

The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People

by Bethanne Patrick, editor

Over the years, writer, blogger and social media consultant Bethanne Patrick (An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy) has interviewed hundreds of authors and celebrities on her favorite topic: books. In The Books That Changed My Life, she collects 100 mini-essays (averaging three pages each) from notables about the literature that has inspired or changed the course of their lives. This is the perfect gift for book lovers. The impressive contributors are highly persuasive evangelists, and few readers will finish this delightful volume without creating a lengthy list of what they must read next.

Most contributors find it hard to narrow their choice to just one. Monty Python's Eric Idle writes, "My life is not changed by a single book. My life is changed by books. On a daily basis." Most essays suggest at least two or three other titles. Sidestepping the question in opposite directions, Fran Lebowitz writes of amassing 10,000 books in her small apartment, while Fay Weldon admits, "I am not fond of books as objects."

Arranged alphabetically, the contributors (including Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, Gillian Flynn, Carl Hiaasen, Laura Lippman, Gregory Maguire and Susan Orlean) write astutely about their chosen titles, and offer funny and touching details of how the book altered their lives. Jodi Picoult's thoughtful essay compares reading Gone with the Wind as a romantic 13-year-old to revisiting it as an adult dealing with its race and social issues. Bibliophiles will find engaging and smart compatriots among the contributors and treasures among their book choices. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: A book lover's delight, Bethanne Patrick's bountiful collection gathers recommendations from a who's who of persuasive literary and arts figures.

Regan Arts, $24.95, hardcover, 9781941393659


The Swimmer: Poems

by John Koethe

After almost 50 years of writing poetry and nine published collections, John Koethe (ROTC Kills; Ninety-fifth Street) is at ease with himself and the conundrums life hands him. At 70, he admits to being "in the warm September of my years" and "Declaiming, as the golden hour wanes, my long apology/ For all the wasted time I'm pleased to call my life." The long, ruminating, mostly free-verse poems of The Swimmer touch on some of Koethe's favorite themes: music, community, philosophy and "little highs defining days/ In need of definition: the package on the porch/ The email, the unexpected phone call."

Some, like "Tulsa" and "Chappaquiddick," venture into the dark waters of American politics. Others, like "La Durée," consider modern philosophy in which Koethe admits "real time,/ Objective time.../ Is something Bergson didn't understand, and I don't either." His eclectic interest in music finds expression in poems like "Frank Sinatra's Trains," "Von Freeman" and "Covers Band in a Small Bar"--the latter tracking the evolution of his rock tastes: "more Stax, less Motown,/ Then the Velvet Underground and IQ rock--/ God, I was a snob."

There's something for everyone in The Swimmer, but mostly it reflects the mind of a thoughtful, observant man contemplating his future, where "What's left/ is wonder, wonder and waiting, canvassing the possibilities." Koethe is the Leonard Cohen of American poetry--passionate, self-deprecating, unpretentiously aging, resiliently young--who might nod along with Chelsea Hotel #2: "We are ugly but we have the music." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: John Koethe's terrific poetry collection captures both the rhythms of daily life and the complexities of a puzzling universe.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23, hardcover, 9780374272326

Children's & Young Adult

Character, Driven

by David Lubar

Eighteen-year-old "Jersey boy" Cliff Sparks is a charming narrator, even if he is rather obsessed with breasts and other female body parts--especially how they magically combine in a new girl at Rismore High named Jillian. Cliff was once described by a classmate as having "the aquiline visage of a second-rate medieval scholar or perhaps a rabid possum." The paradoxes continue. He exalts painting, yet considers tattooing the phrase "And so it goes" from Slaughterhouse-Five on his stomach so he can have a "Vonne-gut." He's a hopeless romantic who can easily sink to the "lowest lizard level." His best friends are the Jamaican-born Robert and elfin-white-long-haired Butch, who "worked with sighs the way Van Gogh worked with swirls of raw sienna and Prussian blue." Butch and Robert stand by Cliff as he clumsily, yet steadily, pursues Jillian; steels himself against his father's open contempt; and tries to survive school while working two part-time jobs.

Character, Driven by David Lubar (Hidden Talents; Flip)--a poignant, entertaining literary ride--begins with Cliff's "crazy-drunk stepfather" beating him with a belt. But then, unsettlingly, Cliff says that didn't actually happen. "Do I have your attention?" he writes. "Good. That's crucial. Grab the reader with the first sentence." Lest readers fear such an "untrustworthy guide" might be annoying, worry not. The truth is, Cliff is a compassionate and principled person who stands up to bullies and tries to make sense of the suffering all around him--a young man who, once he gets past the "slow, low-level pain" of daily existence, will someday make the world a better place. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In David Lubar's top-notch YA novel, 18-year-old Cliff Sparks--big-hearted and hormone-driven--downplays his charms to no avail.

Tor Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780765316332

The Opposite Zoo

by Il Sung Na

"The sky is DARK, and the/ Opposite Zoo is CLOSED./ But the monkey's door is OPEN! Time to explore...." Chaos usually erupts when a monkey's cage is open at night, but all is quiet--except for the noisy baboons--in The Opposite Zoo, a dazzling concept book for preschoolers by Korean-born illustrator Il Sung Na (A Book of Sleep; Welcome Home, Bear; A Book of Babies).

The monkey seizes its chance to visit all the zoo animals, giving young readers the pleasure of locating the curious creature in each illustration. The owl--in jewel tones with rough, loopy crayon scribbles as feathers--is "AWAKE!" and the panda is "asleep," draped in a tree. The monkey checks them out, hanging by an arm from a nearby branch. The lion, whose mane is an explosive wreath of kinetic lines, is "Hairy," and the swimming blue hippo is "Bald." The monkey peeks at a temporarily rock-colored chameleon over the top of a boulder... and that's "shy." A peacock flashes its spectacular tail and is "BOLD." The monkey grabs on to a "Fast" cheetah's tail and the "S l o w" sloth has no hope of catching up.

By the time "BRIGHT" morning comes, the zookeeper closes the monkey's cage and, in the closing aerial zoo view, preschoolers will revel in having met each and every beast up close, whether noisy or quiet, fast or slow. The dreamily washed skies, playfully loose line work and unusually splendid colors alone will keep readers mesmerized, from that sublime peacock tail to the Chagall-like owl. Two monkey thumbs up. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Il Sung Na's gorgeous book of opposites takes readers to the zoo, where a monkey observes a fast cheetah and a slow sloth, a soft tiger and a prickly hedgehog.

Knopf, $16.99, hardcover, 24p., ages 2-5, 9780553511277

Stories from Bug Garden

by Lisa Moser, illus. by Gwen Millward

From far away, a flower garden may look still, unpopulated. But get a lot closer and there will be bugs.

Illustrator Gwen Millward opens Stories from Bug Garden with a lush, beautiful garden so detailed in ink, pencil and watercolor it's almost pointillist, inviting readers in with an open gate, a path, a creek. In the first poem, "The Garden": "No one came down the weedy path/ to take care of it/ or sit among the flowers./ So they moved in/ one/ by one/ by one." The "they" author Lisa Moser (Railroad Hank) is referring to are bugs. The garden's comical, sweet-faced, bug-eyed residents are introduced in storylike poems, or poem-like stories, full of teasing humor and wordplay. In "Ladybug," Ladybug is no lady--she runs barefoot and makes mud angels. Butterfly doesn't see the mighty horse hooves Horsefly is pretending to have, but Horsefly gets even: "Well, you're not Butter, either," he sniffs. In "Dragonfly," Dragonfly tries to warn Horsefly "Go no farther," but Horsefly ignores him... and flies right in to "a gob of tree sap." Bee just wants to be, despite all the bugs bugging him to make honey or sip nectar. Big Ant and Little Ant snuggle up to watch the botanical equivalent of a fireworks display: flowers blooming.

In the spirit of The Wind in the Willows, this whimsical collection of sometimes fable-like storylets offers a cozy microcosm of creatures. Readers will be glad to see the wheelbarrow and gate they glimpsed from a distance among the garden's close-up wonders... a home for the bugs now, no longer abandoned. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this funny, gloriously illustrated collection of vignettes, Ladybug, Horsefly, Dragonfly and Butterfly all find a home in a beautiful garden where even Bee can just... be.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780763665340

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