Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 5, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Music in the Summer Air... and in Books

You don't have to be told there's music in the air. Just listen, especially in the summer, when drivers can't resist the temptation to "share" their beats at high volume. I actually love the season's auto-driven soundtrack, blending with the sidewalk buskers, and pedestrians belting out whatever's playing through their headphones/earbuds. Mix in a little piped retail music from the stores, and you have a kind of summer street symphony going on.

All this is just to say that music has been on my mind recently. In a Wall Street Journal review of physicist John Powell's Why You Love Music, Peter Pesic noted that he found himself "intrigued by many of the studies he summarizes. Certain kinds of background music in stores measurably induces people to buy more: Classical music increases high-end buying by making people feel 'posh,' as Mr. Powell puts it.... What is more, playing French music will stimulate the purchase of French wine, as German music does for German wine."

And I'm absolutely fascinated by the vinyl resurgence (while simultaneously mourning the long lost albums of my aurally misspent youth), which has sparked several great reads, including Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past by Eric Spitznagel; and photographer Eilon Paz's beautiful Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting.

My summer soundtrack comes from a reliable source--Michael Connelly's detective Harry Bosch. Over the years, he has tipped me off to some great jazz artists, including Frank Morgan, George Cables, Tomasz Stanko, Grace Kelly and, most recently, Kamasi Washington. In The Crossing, Connelly writes that Washington's "tenor sax was coming through the stereo, the sun-scoured desert was hurtling by on either side of the freeway, and Bosch was grinding the case down as he made his way back to L.A."

Sounds good to me. Open the windows, crank up the volume, and read a book about music.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness

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

The Writer's Life

Elisha Cooper: Writing His Way Out of Hell

photo: Christopher Smith

Elisha Cooper is the author and illustrator of the picture books Train, Farm, Homer and, most recently, 8: An Animal Alphabet. Beach won the 2006 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal, and Dance! was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. His adult titles include A Year in New York and the memoir Crawling: A Father's First Year. Cooper's second memoir, Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back (Pantheon, June 14, 2016) explores his family's experiences after his older daughter, Zoë, was diagnosed with cancer. Cooper lives with his family in New York City.

Falling is a memoir about a frightening time in your family's life: the story of your daughter Zoë's struggle with cancer. How and why did you decide to write this story?

I think writers write about their lives and their families. I knew I needed to write about this eventually. I didn't really take any notes during it--not while we were in the middle of it. But once Zoë was out of treatment, I wanted to think about the process.

I wanted to ask questions about cancer and this whole process--not simply "How did we get through it?" but "How do things like humor still work in the face of cancer?" I mean, writers write. I've always had a sketchbook; I've always carried a notebook around. I believe we figure things out by writing, and I thought: if I can write about this, if I can share what I've learned, maybe I can help another parent who's going through something similar.

How did your wife and daughters, especially Zoë, react to being the subject of this book?

Well, I asked their permission before I wrote it. I wanted to be very respectful of their stories. I love these three girls--women--completely, and while this is something that happened to me, it's also something that happened to my daughter and our family. I wanted to respect that.

I ended up reading it aloud to them during the editing process. I'd be sitting on the couch reading an essay aloud, and Zoë and Mia (my younger daughter) would interrupt me and roll their eyes and say, "That's not how it happened!" So it was also a really funny, warm process. I had no problem writing in a negative way about other people outside our family--for example, one particular doctor who made me furious. But as far as my wife and daughters are concerned, I wanted it to be a celebration of them, of our family and how we made it through this thing.

How did it feel to write about such a traumatic experience?

I was obviously very scared for Zoë, but the whole process also made me very angry at times. I was furious and worried. And I wondered about that: Why was I so angry? That's one reason I wanted to write about this, to figure that out. I think one part of it has to do with being a writer: we use words and we control things. We control what we put on paper. And we could not control this at all.

I think this story is bigger than my daughter, though. It's more about dealing with any big, scary thing: What do you do when sh*t happens? I don't know. Other people might have other ways of getting through it. But this is my story. I want to share how we got through it.

Alongside the narrative of cancer in the book, there's a narrative of wanting to teach your daughters to take risks.

I think there's this idea in our society that girls are protected, or ought to be protected--that they should do certain things, wear certain things. And also that they can't do certain things. And I didn't want that. I wanted my girls to feel like the world is out there for the taking.

So Zoë breaks her wrist (in the book) and you're glad--because that's part of childhood. It's part of climbing trees and riding bikes, taking risks.

Yes. I think going out and getting a little bloody--scraped knees, broken bones--is part of it. I wanted my girls to take risks. I'm a feminist, and I want them to seize the world. And they do. They're amazing. Zoë is trying out for high school soccer, and part of what I feel when I see her play is unadulterated love for her and her strength. I would love watching her play regardless--even if we'd never gone through this--but there's a deeper level of joy to it all, after the cancer.

Your usual artistic medium is picture books. Was it difficult to switch to another mode for this book?

I love writing picture books because the words and art work together. I'm an artist, too, and I always carry a sketchbook. But, of course, there's no art in this book, except the cover. It's very different--it's really its own thing.

Usually, when I'm writing a picture book, I spend a lot of time in cafes, sketching on park benches, that kind of thing. While I was writing this book, I spent a ton of time at the Ace Hotel lobby uptown, which is a very dark space with all these hipsters. It was a public space, but very dim--I could go there and be alone with words. This is a much more internal book than some of my others, and I spent a lot of time sitting alone in the dark and playing with words.

The title, Falling, resonates on several levels.

The way I pictured it initially was that Zoë "fell"--that is, she got sick--and she got better pretty quickly. She recovered physically, and was able to move on emotionally. But I didn't. I had to spend years working through this. I think sometimes for witnesses--for people who are watching someone they love go through illness or pain--it's harder than it is for the person who's actually sick or suffering. You fall, and it takes a while to get back up. So on the book cover, there's an image of a father and daughter in the air. And it's like I'm trying to catch her and I'm sort of unable to do that. But she's flying.

The moments when Zoë was going in for her scans, when I was sitting next to her in that hospital room, may have been the worst of my life. I could feel the world opening up beneath me. And, oddly, it was those moments that made me want to write about it.

It's almost a cliché, because [the musical] Hamilton is everywhere at the moment--but both my daughters are big fans. And there's a line in the musical about how Hamilton wrote his way out of hell. I wrote my way out of this, in a sense. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Book Candy

The Bestseller Code

The words need, want and do "are twice as likely to appear in bestselling books than others," the Independent reported. Check out these and other "bestseller-ometer" indicators.


"Shops are familiar places to us all and yet in stories they are full of mystique and intrigue," wrote Jennifer Bell in sharing her "top 10 fictional shops in children's books" with the Guardian.


A Harry Potter-themed science summer camp actually exists, but there's a catch: "You've got to be between the ages of 7 and 12 to go on this magically scientific adventure. Curses!"


Bustle suggested "10 book characters we all wanted to be in the early 2000s."


What does "Kafkaesque" really mean? Let's go to the videotape (or, in this case, animation).


Fashion show: Sunglass Warehouse explored "the evolution of off-duty superhero fashion."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Valley of the Dolls

When Jacqueline Susann's debut novel, Valley of the Dolls, was published in 1966, the charismatic 48-year-old former actress visited 250 bookstores across the country and charmed local and national media. Five weeks later, Valley of the Dolls hit the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 65 weeks--seven months at #1. It eventually sold more than 30 million copies, and for more than two decades, The Guinness Book of Records crowned it the bestselling novel of all time.

Valley of the Dolls tapped into an audience of people who didn't normally buy or read books. A roman à clef page-turner set in the glamorous and ruthless world of Hollywood and Broadway, Valley spans two decades, following the lives, loves and careers of three young women and their growing dependency on alcohol and prescription pills (aka "dolls"). It was a racy read in the mid-1960s, and while readers clamored for it, early critics dismissed it as a dirty book. Nora Ephron gave the novel one of its few positive reviews, calling it "a very, very long, absolutely delicious gossip column full of nothing but blind items." But respect for Susann's writing grew over the years. Camille Paglia recently called Valley of the Dolls "one of the great books of the postwar era. The kind of language that she uses and the kind of imagination she has are totally contemporary."

Grove Press has just released Valley of the Dolls: 50th Anniversary Edition in both hardcover ($27; 9780802125354) and paperback ($16; 9780802125347). The new edition contains bonus material: Susann's 1966 essay "My Book Is Not Dirty!," an introduction by Simon Doonan and a preface (with photos) by Lisa Bishop and Whitney Robinson, directors of the Susann archives. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Book Review


Underground Airlines

by Ben H. Winters

After successfully fusing the detective genre with apocalyptic speculative fiction in his excellent Last Policeman trilogy, Ben H. Winters has created another masterly genre-bender with his novel Underground Airlines. Set in a United States where the Civil War never happened, it retains the noir-inflected detective protagonist (of a sort) and swaps out the doomsday backdrop for an impressively realized alternate history. In Winters's version of American history, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated soon after his election, and to avert war, the government passed a series of compromises allowing slavery to continue in slave-holding states. In the present day, the remaining slave states have been whittled down to the infamous Hard Four, which practice a perversely "modernized" form of industrial-scale slavery.

Victor, the protagonist, knows the horrors of the Hard Four from personal experience. After escaping them, he was captured by the U.S. Marshalls and forced to become a bounty hunter tracking down fellow escapees. Now embittered by the choices he's made to stay free, Victor is a consummate pessimist, frequently reiterating his fatalistic motto "everything happens." He is embarking yet again on the "devil's work," but as so often happens in noir, this case turns out to be far more complex than Victor would have ever predicted.

Underground Airlines is an undeniably entertaining novel. Winters doles out twists and turns at perfect intervals--his pacing is all-around excellent. The parallels with modern-day racism in the United States are difficult to miss. Ben Winters, in other words, makes no compromises with Underground Airlines. He has improbably created a novel that calls to mind Raymond Chandler and Ta-Nehisi Coates in equal measure. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: In this brainy, troubling alternate-history noir, the American Civil War never happened and slavery is still practiced.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 9780316261241

Angels of Detroit

by Christopher Hebert

Christopher Hebert's epic saga begins tellingly with young college dropout Dobbs hitchhiking to Detroit from a Kansas truck stop where "no one would admit to being headed in his direction." This is 21st-century Detroit--hollowed out, burned down, boarded up--a city that "emptied faster than it could be filled." Angels of Detroit is the story of a ragtag group of young white activists trying to save the city with half-hearted street demonstrations, while living peacefully among those who stubbornly stayed in their emptied neighborhoods, attempting to rebuild them one step at a time.

Hebert (The Boiling Season) meticulously juggles a broad swath of urban characters in addition to the idealistic protestors, including Dobbs, reluctantly caught up in human trafficking through debt, and African American security guard Darius at HSI (the last multi-national manufacturer with a factory in the city). HSI top executive Ruth Hamilton is fighting her board to keep the local plant open. Hispanic woodworking craftsman Boni lives in his grandmother's old house, plotting to blow up abandoned buildings to call attention to urban blight. Cranky Constance, in her 70s, is trying to hold her family together and turn the empty lots around her into a cornucopia of vegetables. And Constance's precocious, wild great-granddaughter, Clementine, fearlessly navigates the city streets and alleys, picking up "treasures" and helping whoever needs it.

Ambitious, well-paced, observant--Angels of Detroit is a first-rate novel of flawed but admirable characters who want a brighter future in what one of them calls "the new Old West." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Angels of Detroit is rich in character, plot and the ambience of a city down but not yet out.

Bloomsbury USA, $27, hardcover, 9781632863638


by Jade Sharma

Listen to Maya, the likable narrator of Jade Sharma's righteous first novel, Problems: "This is life: You walk down this path and people join you. Then they leave, and you're alone again, and you keep replacing them. Then these people leave too." Maya's got problems in spades. Her alcoholic husband leaves her. Her older lover breaks off their affair. Living on peach yogurt, cigarettes and fudge brownie ice cream, she works part time when she has to and fantasizes about life with a child: "Facebook with baby pictures, my hair in a baseball cap, complain about how tired I was." But mostly, she's a junkie--blissed out, strung out, turning Craigslist tricks for cash to score another bundle, trying to taper off with a recovering friend's Xanax and Suboxone, and knowing well that "this powder people snort or shoot... makes them feel good, but they end up turning into zombies, lying around, wasting their lives, getting older, and doing nothing."

An MFA graduate of New York's New School, Sharma knows the city with its home-delivery drug dealers and its impossible costs, where "you work fifty million hours a week just to sleep in a room where only a bed fits." She knows addiction: "You have to be tough to be a drug addict. You have to sit there a lot of the time and be sick." And she knows Maya, her voice by turns raunchy, clever, spunky, sage, funny and forlorn as she barrels through the vicissitudes of a life of addiction grasping for an escape hatch--such a fresh voice that we can't help but hope she finds one. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Jade Sharma's debut novel of a young New York City junkie is on the money, harrowing, perspicacious, funny and somehow still uplifting.

Coffee House Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781566894425


by Gordon Chaplin

Paraíso is an atmospheric novel both realistic and rooted in fantasy, traveling from New York City to Baja, Mexico, and exploring the nuances of love in all its forms. Gordon Chaplin (Joyride) offers a cast of whimsical, imperfect, loveable characters that readers will not soon forget.

As children, they were almost preternaturally close. Their mother named them Peter and Wendy, perhaps an early sign of something odd in family undercurrents. As teenagers, they stole the family minivan and ran for Mexico, but they never made it, apprehended instead at the very point Huck Finn and Jim aimed for.

These episodes are visited in flashbacks, from a present in which Peter and Wendy have been estranged for a decade, over a mysterious family secret. Wendy has finally made it to the little Mexican town of Paraíso, on the Baja peninsula, where she finds herself at the intersection of love and peril. Peter fled New York City after the towers fell, seeking his lost sister. They circle one another as Paraíso nears its conclusion, joined by charismatic associates, friends and lovers. These include Wendy's best friend, who has been the siblings' go-between for years; a sinister half-Mexican auto mechanic; an artista from Mexico City; and a teenage girl Peter mentors at work. The momentum of this expertly paced noir fairy tale increases as it nears its denouement.

Gorgeous, vivid scenery and fascinating people enrich a story that is both eccentric and universal: how to love and how to handle betrayal. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Set in Mexican "Paradise," this moody novel combines fantasy, noir and the complexities of every form of love.

Arcade Publishing, $15.99, paperback, 9781628725988

I Am No One

by Patrick Flanery

Hardly the first novel to tackle the paranoia of a regular guy caught in the snares of an omnipresent, prying state, Patrick Flanery's I Am No One is the most up-to-date. The world of I Am No One is the one we have today: Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the Panama Papers, ubiquitous drone and CCTV surveillance, cyber-warfare and court injunctions to unlock private mobile phones.

Jeremy O'Keefe is a white, upper middle-class everyman: a divorced New York University history professor in his 50s with a daughter, Meredith, who owns a successful Chelsea gallery and is married to a wealthy media executive. Jeremy has a university apartment and lives a quiet life of take-out, teaching and old movies.

But he becomes increasingly paranoid when a series of unmarked boxes are left with his doorman. They contain detailed transcripts of a decade of his e-mails, web searches, phone calls, bank records, credit card statements and tax returns, and surveillance-like photos of his travels and gatherings with family, Oxford students and colleagues, and lovers. When he finally reveals his fears to his daughter, he pleads: "But I'm no one." She replies: "We are all no one until we do something to turn ourselves into someone... you can blink and end up in jail." 

Through Jeremy's blend of the real with the paranoid, I Am No One leads us into the labyrinth of surveillance we have come to accept. Flanery's finely crafted novel suggests that anonymity is from a time now gone. It's hard to be "no one" today. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: I Am No One is a neo-thriller falling somewhere between Kafka's The Trial and Auster's New York Trilogy.

Tim Duggan Books, $27, hardcover, 9781101905852

Mystery & Thriller

Another One Goes Tonight

by Peter Lovesey

Another One Goes Tonight is the 16th entry in Peter Lovesey's delightful Peter Diamond series, and the brilliance of the slightly cantankerous and overweight detective superintendent still shines strong.

Two cops, at the end of an exhaustingly long shift, end up crashing in their patrol car, killing one officer and putting the other in critical condition. Peter Diamond is assigned to investigate the accident (a different purview than his usual position in charge of the murder squad).

To the horror of the top brass, Diamond discovers a civilian, barely breathing, who had been lying undiscovered at the side of the road for hours after being hit by the police car. The detective's quick CPR efforts save the man's life, although he now languishes in a coma.

Diamond, discontent with investigating the car crash, can't help nosing a bit into the life of the civilian, and discovers, to his revulsion, that he may have saved the life of a serial killer. Without letting the higher-ups know, he and his team begin their own murder investigation.

Bringing the beautiful city of Bath and the political problems plaguing modern police departments vividly to life, Another One Goes Tonight is an irresistible entry in the Diamond series. The many subplots tie together nicely as Diamond keeps probing, with a final resolution that may surprise even those familiar with Lovesey's writing. And new readers are sure to love jumping right into such a wonderful series. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: After performing CPR, a police detective discovers he just saved the life of a possible serial killer.

Soho Crime, $27.95, hardcover, 9781616957582

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Malka Older

Modern election cycles are often attended by punditry about the health of the current political system. Few go so far as to reimagine the nation-state; however, that's exactly what Malka Older does in her debut novel, Infomocracy.

Fifty years in the future, the world has reorganized itself into a "micro-democracy," wherein groupings of 100,000 people ("centenals") elect their favorite brand of government. The most popular of these vie to become the Supermajority--a sinister power in the wrong hands. Orchestrating all of this is Information, a ubiquitous search engine that can fact-check politicians or synchronize global communications in the blink of an eye. The novel is set during an election cycle, and follows the actions of a handful of operatives from various governments (and Information itself) as they zip across continents, jockeying for influence. That everybody is completely dependent on Information is the weakness no one appears to recognize.

Infomocracy is a political thriller at its core. Older's satire is less pointed and zany than Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and less dystopian than the cyberpunk of Sterling or Gibson. The emphasis is on the action--characterization, and sometimes plot, take a backseat--and that's okay. The pleasure of Infomocracy is in discovering Older's fully realized, fully believable world and watching the author, an expert on international aid and development as a Ph.D. candidate studying governance and disasters, address one what-if after another, faster than the reader can anticipate them. A sequel is already in the offing. How long before an HBO series? --Zak Nelson, writer and editorial consultant

Discover: This fast-paced geopolitical thriller is set in a richly detailed future where governments are brand names and Information is everything.

Tor, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765385154

Essays & Criticism

Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, & Other Literary Essays

by Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick (Foreign Bodies) has been a brilliant and acclaimed central figure in U.S. literature for almost half a century. She begins Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, & Other Literary Essays with a manifesto on the importance of literary criticism for novelists and the general culture. Critics, she emphasizes, are key. Not so much reviewers--especially not Amazon reviewers, who "expose their insipidities to a mass audience" in a "fetid sea, where both praise and blame are leveled by tsunamis of incapacity." But a community of erudite, idiosyncratic, passionate critics can illuminate the links among books, set them in cultural and historical context, and goad the literary world toward excellence.

"A critic is nothing without an authoritative posture, or standard, or even prejudice, against which an opposing outlook or proposition can be tested." Ozick has many of her own, and forges ahead with them in this collection of forceful, witty, thoroughly argued essays. In "Novel or Nothing," she tells of the renowned critic Lionel Trilling's frustrated ambition to become a great novelist. Her review of the collected letters of Saul Bellow becomes a tribute to his career and the strength of his legacy.

Ozick has her tics; "contrapuntal" is one of them, and most readers are likely to find at least one or two words she uses obscure. She would probably tell you to look them up. No one is likely to agree with everything she has to say about American literature, nor should they: these essays challenge readers to form their own well-considered ideas. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A forceful and witty collection of literary criticism by a brilliant critic and novelist.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, hardcover, 9780544703711

The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction & Nonfiction

by Christopher Bram

Christopher Bram takes on the broad subject of what history has to offer literature--and vice versa--with The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction & Nonfiction.

Beginning with memories of a high school English teacher, Bram celebrates the interest and value of reading and writing history. His thesis is that history need not be written in dry, textbook form: in both fiction and nonfiction, a talent for storytelling and a keen eye for just the right details, in the right quantity, can render the near and distant past in enthralling fashion. "Details," he says, "are the raisins in the raisin bread." He examines works including Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas and Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, and topics ranging through war, slavery in the United States, comedic perspectives and the blending of lines between fiction and nonfiction. An author in both disciplines, Bram does not claim objectivity: he is clear about his love for Toni Morrison's Beloved and his disregard for Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, among others.

Books in "The Art of" series inspect craft from a perspective seemingly for writers and critics, and Bram offers good advice: "In both fiction and nonfiction, writing well means knowing what to leave out." But The Art of History works for readers as well, as in an appendix of Bram's recommended reading. Exploration, appreciation and instruction combine in this slim, accessible study of literary history and historical literature. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A succinct survey of history in both fiction and nonfiction offers advice for writers and readers.

Graywolf Press, $12, paperback, 9781555977436

Performing Arts

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Former Entertainment Weekly writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong follows her 2013 history of the beloved sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted) with a breezy and entertaining portrait of Seinfeld. The iconic show defined television comedy in the 1990s and beyond, and became an enduring and influential cultural touchstone.

Armstrong's "Seinfeldia" is a "special dimension of existence, somewhere between the show itself and real life," a place where the show's "characters, settings, jokes, and catchphrases continue to intrude on our daily reality twenty years later." Much of that durability, she suggests, flows from the porous boundaries of the typically trivial daily irritations Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld and their writers used as fodder for the show's comedy. Not to mention the 180 episodes of highly polished comedy they produced. Armstrong relies heavily on interviews with Seinfeld's writers--David and the show's stars did not participate--and those conversations reveal how remarkable it was that Seinfeld maintained such a high standard of originality and quality when the writing staff turned over almost annually.

Readers looking for scandal, intrigue or score settling won't find it in Seinfeldia. Armstrong's admiring account clearly is aimed at the show's vast fan base, old and new, that continues to revel in its "detached, sardonic outlook" as they fuel a syndicated afterlife that's generated $3 billion in revenue since the controversial 1998 network finale. Not bad for a sitcom that started with nothing more than, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, "Two guys talking." --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong delivers an admiring peek behind the scenes of one of television's iconic shows.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781476756103

Children's & Young Adult

When Friendship Followed Me Home

by Paul Griffin

It's not every day that a book touching on foster care, bullying, loss and cancer is as funny and heartwarming as it is gut-punching, but Paul Griffin (Adrift; Burning Blue) pulls it off in his thoroughly engaging middle-grade novel When Friendship Followed Me Home. The author doesn't play fair... there's an irresistible stray pup named Flip, a "freaky little banana" of a dog that wriggles his way into everyone's heart even though "his breath is not particularly fantastic."

Twelve-year-old Ben Coffin, though friendly and "not totally revolting," is not immune to being bullied at his Coney Island school, to the point where he's nervous about even carrying a book around. Ben has been in the foster care system, but finally, just two years ago, he was adopted by a 67-year-old woman named Tess who tells him "We're forever." Based on personal history, Ben is loathe to believe in the idea of "forever," and he's proved right again when he has to start over with Tess's sister Aunt Jeanie and her insecure, abusive boyfriend Leo, who is nowhere near ready to take care of anything, let alone a sensitive boy and his tiny dog.

When the pink-wigged cancer patient "Halley Like the Comet" streaks into Ben's life, colors blazing, he wishes even more that he could believe in "forever." The dynamic duo shares a mutual adoration of Jacqueline Woodson's Feathers (even though he's more of a Star Wars/sci-fi/comics guy) and they start writing a story--their own story--as an allegory called The Magic Box. Heartbreak comes from unexpected places, but so does love in this witty, ultimately hopeful two-hanky novel. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Paul Griffin's middle-grade novel, a scrappy little dog named Flip becomes the rock for 12-year-old Ben when the boy's world crumbles around him.

Dial, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-14, 9780803738164

My Favorite Pets: By Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski's Class

by Jeanne Birdsall, illus. by Harry Bliss

National Book Award winner Jeanne Birdsall (the Penderwicks series) joins forces with New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator Harry Bliss (Bailey; A Fine, Fine School; Diary of a Worm) in this entertaining exploration of sheep and sheep shenanigans. Gus, a creative and busy maker of mischief, lives with his family on a farm with 17 sheep and decides to write a report about his "pets" for Ms. Smolinski's class.

Gus's sheep report, handwritten on ruled lines, is fairly basic. For example, he points out that multiple sheep are still sheep, not sheeps. And, "A girl sheep is a ewe." (But, as illustrated, if you are hanging from a tree branch by the threads of your T-shirt and shout "Hey, Ewe," the ewe won't answer.) Gus also describes how "Sheep look silly with pajamas on their heads" (especially his little brother's favorite porpoise pajamas) and that "Sheep have wool instead of hair" (which can be shaved off their bodies to make a very nice fake beard).

Harry Bliss's expressive, slapstick, black India ink and watercolor illustrations expertly capture Gus's comical exploits, including his attempt to use a sheep as an umbrella and trading his little brother for a lamb. Gus clearly has a lot of time on his hands... and his brother and the poor sheep no doubt wish he had a little less. A fun, artful collaboration sure to inspire bleats of delight. (Spoiler: Ms. Smolinski gives his report a B+!) --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Jeanne Birdsall and Harry Bliss's fetching picture book, a boy named Gus writes a school report about the 17 sheep that live on his farm.

Knopf, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780385755702


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

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

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


Available on Kobo

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

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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