Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 16, 2016

William Morrow & Company: End of Story by A.J. Finn

From My Shelf

The Dog Days of Summer

Now is the perfect time to lounge in a hammock, sip an iced tea and cuddle up with fictions about furry, four-legged canine companions. Lily and the Octopus (Simon & Schuster) by Steven Rowley--a funny, moving novel about an aging and infirm dachshund who changes one man's life--has become a literary sensation. Here are a few other dog-centric novels:


In Susan Wilson's A Man of His Own (St. Martin's Griffin), a World War II veteran, Rick Stanton, returns home, broken in body and spirit. When Rick and his wife are reunited with their beloved dog, Pax, a rescued German shepherd-mix who was later volunteered to serve in a K-9 military unit, a tug-of-war for the dog ensues between Rick and Pax's devoted handler from the front lines.

Two dogs--Dante, a super-smart Border collie, and Sissy, a sweet-natured spaniel--are unwillingly dumped on Jonathan Trefoil, a floundering, unfulfilled 20-something New Yorker in Jonathan Unleashed (Viking), a romantic comedy by Meg Rosoff. The dogs' attentiveness to Jonathan--and vice versa--create refreshing new beginnings for Jonathan's thorny, uncertain life.

Hector, a fluffy little white dog owned by a widow in a small town, and Trey Barkley, Hector's 26-year-old, professional dog walker who suffers from schizophrenia, are at the center of The Chocolate Debacle (Goodman Beck) by Karen Winters Schwartz. When Hector's owner is found murdered, Trey becomes the prime suspect in this psychologically astute murder mystery.

And in my own novel, The Thing Is (Red Adept), a crafty therapy dog, a lovable Yorkshire terrier named Prozac--with supernatural wisdom, a canine Mensa IQ and an even higher opinion of himself--sets off on an adventurous, comedic quest to rescue a blocked romance writer grieving the death of her fiancé.

So before summer winds down, let yourself "go to the dogs" ...literarily.  

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Lily Brooks-Dalton: The Space Between a Beginning and an Ending

photo: Lisa Brooks

Lily Brooks-Dalton is the author of the memoir Motorcycles I've Loved, a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Her debut novel, Good Morning, Midnight (Random House; reviewed below), is a twist on the literary post-apocalyptic novel, drawing comparisons with Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and California by Edan Lepucki. Good Morning, Midnight is purposefully vague about the exact nature of its apparent world-wide calamity, focusing instead on its two protagonists and how they cope with isolation. Brooks-Dalton takes us back and forth between Augustine, a scientist left (almost) alone in a remote Arctic outpost, and Sully, an astronaut making the long return journey to Earth. Gradually, the stories intersect in surprising and emotional ways.

Do you consider Good Morning, Midnight to be a post-apocalyptic novel? You reveal remarkably little about what apocalyptic event might have occurred--what led you to such an interesting narrative choice?

I do consider it a post-apocalyptic novel, but perhaps some might disagree for the reason you mentioned. I think in many ways we as a society are attracted to post-apocalyptic fiction because we sense that an ending to our own reality is imminent. To me, whether that ending comes in the form of epidemic, climate change or war, seems (in the context of this project at least) to matter so much less than the outcome itself. I love all kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction, but in this novel I wanted to keep the focus on the characters. Letting the mystery of what has happened to civilization linger seemed to reinforce that emphasis, but also to create tension--in the end, you do get a piece of mystery revealed, but it's not perhaps the mystery you were expecting.

You refer to a few classic science fiction novels in the book, including Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Where do you place your novel in relation to the genre? What is your view of melding or bridging genre distinctions?

Not really. I love it all. I love that people are interested in talking about these different genres and how they might blur together or diverge, whatever the case may be, but my interest lies in enjoying others' work and writing my own, without really giving genre distinctions much thought. I loved and admired the novels I mentioned in the book but I also thought that my characters would be attracted to them as well, so that's why I included them.

Your novel features parallel stories unfolding in the Arctic and in space. How did these two distinct, seemingly separate stories wind up becoming a single novel?

They were always intertwined in my head. The fact that the stories spend so much of the novel running parallel without connecting seemed like a good way to portray the isolation of both narratives, and their ultimate connection spoke to what I see as the fleeting and imperfect, yet vital, role that connection plays in those characters' lives. In all of our lives, really.

Sully and Augustine are both lonely, isolated people even before the unnamed cataclysm occurs. At times, Augustine even seems relieved to be on his own--that is, aside from Iris, his mysterious (and practically mute) young companion. Is there a sense in which you're giving these characters what they secretly want--true isolation--and having them discover the consequences?

Oh, definitely. The coziness of being alone and the jagged edge of isolation are two extremes that I think about a lot in my own life. Part of what interests me about that is how both of these absences can look so similar--it's really the interior experience that separates one from the other. In the novel, I wanted to use an external isolation to expose an internal absence, and to play with that contrast of inner/outer experiences of isolation/solitude. But I think you make a good point about the characters getting what they secretly want and then struggling with the unforeseen consequences of that.

Your characters are connected by their shared astronomical interests. Why choose fascination with space as a unifying theme? Does it derive from your own interest in the subject?

I liked the mirror of Augustine looking up/out into space, and Sully looking down/in at Earth, but I also did want to explore my own fascination with astronomy, and what better way to do that? I did quite a bit of research, though I'm sure I still got some things wrong, because I wanted the settings to feel accurate and not at all fantastical. A lot of the research didn't make it into the book, actually, but it informed the story, and I had a terrific time flipping through astronomy books or trolling the Internet for interesting facts. was my homepage for quite a while, just so that every time I opened my web browser my mind was instantly on space.

A lot of the action in Good Morning, Midnight plays out psychologically rather than physically. How do you tell a story where the conflicts are rarely external without relying solely on introspection? How did you balance your desire to delve into the characters' stories with the need to move the narrative forward and maintain readers' attention?

It's a tricky balance, for sure. In many ways the landscape itself was a good tool to externalize the interiority of the characters, as I think their experiences are often reflected by the physical space around them. In the end, both of the main characters are on a journey: one is coming home, and another is searching for that home. That motion propels a good deal of the story forward, and the relationships they are cultivating serve that purpose as well.

Thebes, an astronaut on the Aether, says: "We study the universe in order to know, yet in the end the only thing we truly know is that all things end--all but death and time." Along the same lines, Augustine has to learn the hard way that all the knowledge he gathered and the accolades he received are rendered meaningless in the face of humanity's demise. At the same time, you refer to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, a very optimistic take on science and the expansion of human knowledge. Do you find yourself thinking about what pursuits are worthwhile in the limited time we have?

So much of what I love about Carl Sagan is his curiosity. It's a characteristic that I find so invaluable. But a strong desire to learn or know is not the same as knowing. Seeking for answers is not the same as finding them. And so yes, I think that humility and a lack thereof plays a large part in the way that Augustine is portrayed. He isn't curious so much as driven, and when those rock-solid accomplishments become meaningless there is nothing beneath that sense of accomplishment and pride. His motivation reveals itself as overinflated ego.

So, yes, I do think a lot about what is worthwhile. All things end--but I don't believe that should create passivity or hopelessness if we're making the most of the time we have. There's so much space to explore between a beginning and an ending. Focusing on those inevitable bookends neglects all the wonderful, terrifying space in between. For this book, I kept coming back to the question of what is left when everything else is gone. The friction of giving a group of scientists this question, of turning an intellectual pursuit into an emotional reckoning, felt like fertile ground.

A strain of existential terror seems to run through the novel. And yet, there's a warmth and hopefulness among your small group of characters. How do you tell a story involving the possible end of human civilization without veering into nihilism and despair? How do you make sure relationships and character growth feel consequential against such an epic backdrop?

I thought about this a lot, but in so many ways examining the question of what is left when everything else is gone casts a glow around the things that remain, however bleak the void that surrounds those things may be. On the other hand, despair is part of the human struggle, and without despair there is no hope. It's with this give and take, the way that the most horrible things can often yield the most beautiful, that I tried to navigate the circumstances of this novel. And in terms of whether or not relationships matter against an infinite expanse--it matters to the people experiencing them, and that has to be enough. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Sleeping Bear Press: Junia, the Book Mule of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, illustrated by David C. Gardner

Book Candy

Potter's Wands and Hemingway's Antlers

Best headlines of the week thus far: "Spells trouble: J.K. Rowling joins row over Harry Potter fans' right to 'real wands.' " And: "Antlers Hunter S. Thompson stole from Hemingway's home returned to family."


Infographics of the Day: "Films you didn't know were adapted from books" were explored by Jonkers Rare Books. And Mental Floss featured an infographic that explores Shakespeare's relationship with nature."


"She knew that he loved her above all else, more than anything in the world, but only for his own sake." Bustle shared the "15 best breakup lines from books."


"What's the best piece of advice you've gotten from a book?" Buzzfeed asked.


"Geeky backpacks for fictional characters" were showcased by Quirk Books.

Book Review


The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, an outcast even among her fellow slaves--the legacy of her fugitive mother and a fierce confrontation over a garden plot lend her an unbalanced reputation--who makes a break for freedom early in the novel. Fleeing the horrors of the plantation and an almost demonically persistent slavecatcher by the name of Ridgeway, Cora is aided on multiple occasions by the Underground Railroad.

Instead of the metaphorical organization from history, Whitehead's Underground Railroad is an immense network of actual underground railways taking fugitive slaves from station to station. Whitehead writes: "Two steel rails ran the visible length of the tunnel, pinned by wooden cross-ties into the dirt. The steel ran south and north presumably, springing from some inconceivable source and shooting toward a miraculous terminus." When asked who built the railroad, a station agent simply responds, "Who builds anything in this country?" Whitehead isn't interested in the how and why so much as the concept of hopes, dreams, fears and simple imagination made manifest--it's not quite magical realism, but there are points of similarity.

This audacious fudging of history continues throughout the book and gets increasingly phantasmagorical as the story progresses. Cora's path is haphazard, strange, wandering from one temporary patch of safety to another. The wildest, most thrillingly implausible part of The Underground Railroad is not the many-miles-long underground tunnels, but the persistence of hope in the face of senseless, persistent horror. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: A runaway slave makes a fantastical journey north on a literal underground railroad.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9780385537032

Three Sisters, Three Queens

by Philippa Gregory

From a young age, the Tudor princesses in Philippa Gregory's Three Sisters, Three Queens know that they are exceptional, that they will marry the most powerful men in Europe, and that they must hold onto their power at all costs. For Margaret, sister of Henry VIII, this means watching her sisters like a hawk. Despite being betrothed to the King of Scotland, Margaret is tormented by envy for her graceful sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon and her beautiful younger sister, Mary. Yet Margaret holds a strange admiration for these women, too.

Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl and the Cousins' War novels (which serve as the basis of the Starz miniseries The White Queen), is adept at delving into the minds of female monarchs. She reveals Margaret as a woman who possesses both impressive courage and the vanity of a spoiled teenager. While her life may seem obscure to the modern reader, her relationship to her sisters is in some ways typical of many young women today, who admire, envy and measure themselves against their friends.

After resenting her half-sister for years, Margaret thinks: "Oddly, it is Katherine that I miss as I travel north.... I copy her beautiful way of holding her head. I even practise her little roll of the shoulders.... I think that she will be Queen of England and I will be Queen of Scotland and people will compare us one with another, and that I will learn to be as elegant as she is." --Annie Atherton

Discover: Philippa Gregory delves into the affections and rivalries of Margaret, Queen of Scots, in another spellbinding novel about the Tudor court.

Touchstone, $27.99, hardcover, 576p., 9781476758572

Shining Sea

by Anne Korkeakivi

In the years just before the Vietnam War, Barbara Gannon is newly widowed with a brood of children in a Los Angeles suburb. With both epic scope and beautiful minimalism, Shining Sea traces the family lineage from the fallout of World War II through the entirety of Vietnam, across Europe and the Irish Troubles, and into the present day in fewer than 300 pages. The narrative drifts from a central point yet, like its characters, always finds a way to return home.

Anne Korkeakivi (An Unexpected Guest) achieves this ebb and flow by never allowing the Gannons to handle or even think about one thing at a time. Instead, they comically and tragically juggle life's non sequiturs. One of the greatest scenes is near the beginning, when Barbara is hosting her late husband's wake while, at the same time, trying to find her absentminded son who has wandered away from the backyard. Within a few short chapters, this son drifts farther and farther away as his brothers and sisters, in varying degrees, do everything and nothing to keep the family together.

Somehow what both the Gannon family--and readers--ultimately take comfort in is the inevitable forward movement of time. Just like the lives of the Gannon kids, the story moves steadily onward. It seems to say that, no matter what, through war, death and choppy seas, the only way is straight ahead, and perhaps sometime in the future, we may all stand on the same shore together again. --Josh Potter

Discover: This multi-generational story traces one family through some of the world's biggest triumphs and disasters in the last century.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780316307840


by Louisa Ermelino

Though Louisa Ermelino's collection of short stories, Malafemmena, is short--16 stories amount to fewer than 160 pages--it is epic in its scope, spanning continents and cultures, time and space to bring to life a series of nuanced and fascinating female characters. Through a kaleidoscope of sex, drugs, romance, marriage, violence, secrets and lies, Ermelino (The Black Madonna) brings several women to life: an Italian American is kidnapped at gunpoint by her fiancé's sister; a pair of girls backpacking through Europe decide what to do about an unwanted pregnancy; an Italian woman longs to keep her son by her side for his entire life; a young girl travels to Istanbul with her lover and a heroin addict.

Roughly translated, "malafemmena" means "bad woman." In the popular Italian song of the same name, a man sings, "women like you/ don't want to stay for a man/ honest like me." The "women like you" in Ermelino's collection certainly do not stay, be it for a man or for any other reason--though not because they are bad or evil. Instead, they are non-traditional or in trouble or, occasionally, both. They are unmarried, they have unwanted children, they travel alone, they do drugs and they mock convention. But they are warm and sincere, trying to determine how to live and how to love as women in a world of shifting morals and dangers. "How can you protect yourself when your heart is split in two?" one woman ponders, traveling with her newfound lover, asking the question that beats through the entirety of Ermelino's slim but powerful collection. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In a slim but powerful collection of short stories, Louisa Ermelino explores the varied ways women carve out lives for themselves against the odds.

Sarabande Books, $15.95, paperback, 192p., 9781941411292

Good Morning, Midnight

by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Lily Brooks-Dalton's debut, Good Morning, Midnight, is a post-apocalyptic novel that barely mentions the apocalypse. According to one of its protagonists, "the last news from civilization, over a year ago, had been of war," but there's never any mention of the specific calamity that seems to have overtaken almost the entire world simultaneously. Brooks-Dalton instead focuses her attention on characters already at the fringes of human civilization, struggling to deal with the utter isolation of a mysteriously quiet earth.

The narrative toggles back and forth between Augustine, an elderly astronomer, alone in an Arctic observatory except for a quiet young girl named Iris, and the crew of the Aether, a spaceship making the lengthy return trip to Earth after completing a groundbreaking survey of Jupiter and its moons. Mission Specialist Sullivan, or "Sully," is one of the astronauts on board, consumed by confusion and fear after Mission Control abruptly goes silent. Part of the fun of the novel is seeing how Brooks-Dalton manages to weave these two seemingly disparate stories together, drawing her protagonists closer to each other by ingenious narrative and thematic means. Unlike plot-oriented science fiction novels such as The Martian, Good Morning, Midnight derives more tension from existential dread than dealing with equipment failures.

Lily Brooks-Dalton puts much of her writerly energies into introspection, having her protagonists delve deep into their copious emotional baggage. Before the calamity, Augustine and Sully preferred to focus on the stars rather than relationships, a course that left both of them with plenty of regrets. Here, at the end of the world, Brooks-Dalton turns her protagonists' gaze inward. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: An astronomer and an astronaut must reconsider what matters most in the face of possible human extinction.

Random House, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780812998894

Dinosaurs on Other Planets

by Danielle McLaughlin

Danielle McLaughlin's short story collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets is a near perfect, enormously promising debut. Most of the stories take place in the author's home country of Ireland, in the shadow of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. McLaughlin enjoys playing with the contrast between rural Ireland's fantastical natural beauty and the often unpleasant realities of day-to-day living. She specializes in the quiet accumulation of dread, frequently building to moments of gothic intensity.

In "A Different Country," the protagonist is forced to come to terms with how little she understands her new boyfriend. Moments of seeming insensitivity and small interpersonal mysteries contribute to a rising sense of anxiety that McLaughlin manages carefully, driving the reader toward a climax that is simultaneously horrifying and believable. Quite a few of the stories deal with the experience of or proximity to slowly fracturing sanity. "In the Act of Falling" and "Along the Heron-Studded River" feature a husband and a wife, respectively, struggling to hold on to their loved ones as they fade further and further away from reality.

McLaughlin's subject matter and themes are serious, undercut brilliantly by a sly strain of pitch-black humor. In "Silhouette," for example, McLaughlin writes: "Her mother's problems, being terminal, were far beyond the reach of podiatry, but, still, she debated the subject of calluses with an intensity that was unsettling." Dinosaurs on Other Planets is reminiscent of "The Yellow Wallpaper" in how it depicts madness and despair emerging all too naturally from the mundane. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: A brilliant, quietly disturbing debut story collection portrays Irish characters in the uncertain wake of the recent financial crisis.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9780812998429

Mystery & Thriller

The Ninja's Daughter

by Susan Spann

Susan Spann (Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai) continues her Hiro Hattori series with The Ninja's Daughter. Unbeknownst to anyone, Hiro is a shinobi, a master ninja, with the mission of protecting a Portuguese priest, Father Mateo, from the many dangers of 16th-century Kyoto. Father Mateo cannot overlook injustice, and he and Hiro, ostensibly his translator, have become adept at solving crimes; particularly those that yoriki (members of the samurai police force) find beneath them.

In this case, when Emi, the daughter of an actor, is strangled near the river, Hiro and Father Mateo want to solve the crime--even after being forbidden to do so, because "no investigation is required" for the death of someone as low-caste as she. Sneakily, to avoid being arrested for breaking the command of the local yoriki, Hiro and Father Mateo delve into the secrets of the actors' guilds and Emi's past.

Susan Spann's novels capture the vibrant intricacies of life and etiquette in feudal Japan. With such detailed protocol, where every word must be uttered delicately, Hiro and Father Mateo must tread very carefully in order to solve the mystery of Emi's death. Further complicating their investigation is the political tumult in Kyoto following the death of the region's shogun, putting the sleuths' lives in danger as yoriki and other samurai jockey for positions of honor. A captivating glimpse into an era unfamiliar to many Westerners, The Ninja's Daughter is sure to fascinate both mystery and historical fiction lovers. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A Portuguese priest and Japanese ninja team up to solve the murder of a woman in feudal Japan.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 230p., 9781633881815

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman

by Mamen Sánchez

Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey, his own personal kettle and a particular mug. In fact, he'd prefer not to leave England at all. But when his publisher father, Marlow, discovers that the Spanish literary magazine Librarte is hemorrhaging money, he sends Atticus to Madrid to close it down. Librarte, however, is run by five whip-smart women who have no intention of losing their jobs. From Atticus's arrival, Spanish novelist Mamen Sánchez weaves a highly entertaining story of corporate fraud, literary intrigue and cross-cultural romance in her fifth novel (and first published in English), The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman.

Inspector Manchego, a stolid policeman with a fondness for poker, is assigned to investigate Atticus's vanishing. Manchego does his best, but is completely flummoxed by the schemes of the Librarte staff. Editor Berta keeps Manchego running in circles in Madrid, while beautiful staff writer Soleá whisks Atticus away to Granada, enticing him with promises of a long-buried literary find. Meanwhile, Librarte's other staff members are harboring a few more secrets.

With a breezy narrative style and plenty of plot twists, Sánchez crafts a complicated story with a light touch. Soleá's sharp-eyed Granny Remedios is a wonderful character, as are Berta and Manchego. The solution to the literary mystery is surprising, but the real charm of this story lies in the amistad between Librarte's staff members and the romance that peeks impishly around every corner. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Mamen Sánchez's novel spins an entertaining story of a hapless Englishman in Spain, caught up in literary mystery and romantic intrigue.

Atria Books, $24, hardcover, 336p., 9781501118852

Graphic Books

March: Book Three

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

The March series--Congressman John Lewis, Capitol Hill staffer Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell's Eisner Award-winning project documenting the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in comic book format--concludes with a message that has proven to be just as relevant in 2016 as it was 50 years ago.

The third volume continues where the second left off. Less than a month after Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, four teenage girls are killed in a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church's Youth Day celebration in Birmingham, Ala. Members of Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the SNCC are outraged and threaten to march on the Alabama capital to demand the resignation of Governor George Wallace. Before either group can take action, however, news comes of President Kennedy's assassination. While Lyndon B. Johnson ultimately champions their cause, he does so without changing the status quo. As the SNCC and SCLC continue their protests, their efforts incite further violent backlash from the police and surrounding communities, and fractious struggles within the SNCC threaten to derail the march from Selma to Montgomery.

There is a lot of tension and emotion with no sugarcoating of history here; Powell's drawings evoke a close-up black-and-white documentary atmosphere, recording the movement's major victories as well as the tumult that the young Lewis faced. Nevertheless, March: Book Three ends on a hopeful note. What better way to teach younger generations than by historical example of what is achievable when people are willing to sacrifice greatly for a worthy cause? --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: John Lewis and Martin Luther King make "good trouble... necessary trouble" by leading the history-changing march from Selma to Montgomery.

Top Shelf Productions, $19.99, paperback, 256p., 9781603094023

Biography & Memoir

The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan: An American Memoir

by Cecily McMillan

Cecily McMillan's revelatory story of how she became the face of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWSM) is a lot like riding in a car when the brakes fail: it has moments of sheer exhilaration and adrenaline-rush excitement, but just as quickly becomes a nightmare of epic proportions. Her brutal honesty paints her as a less than sympathetic character in her rebellious childhood in Texas and Atlanta--fighting with her family and teachers, repeatedly running away and behaving in ways that result in confrontations with the law. She didn't enjoy a cushy life in middle-class suburbia; in many ways she epitomized the stereotypes of her trailer park environment.

However, McMillan's defiance of rules and boundaries matures as she does. And when she begins to examine the systems instead of merely battling them out of spite, she sees the disparities, inadequacies and biases. Her desire to do something about those wrongs leads her to start a high school political action club, demonstrate against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget bill and join the OWSM.

Her frankness throughout the memoir is what makes the horror of her OWSM arrest, felony conviction and incarceration at Rikers Island so persuasively and shockingly believable. The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan brings to light some of the injustices and atrocities in the U.S. legal system, but it also illuminates an astounding young woman who grappled with her identity and found a voice for the 99%. Emotionally provocative, politically explosive, this memoir is a beautiful reminder that true patriots never stop battling to make their countries better. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A rebellious young member of the Occupy Wall Street Movement finds her freedom behind the iron bars of Rikers Island.

Nation Books, $25.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781568585383

Children's & Young Adult

The Bot That Scott Built

by Kim Norman, illus. by Agnese Baruzzi

It's Science Day, and all the students are showing off their projects, be it ant farm or erupting volcano. Jaws drop, however, when Scott takes the stage with his impressive robot: "This is the bot/ the bippity bot,/ the rabbit-eared robot,/ that Scott built."

Echoing the popular British nursery rhyme and cumulative story "This Is the House That Jack Built," things--chaotic things--start to happen in the classroom, starting with the topple of the ant farm: "These are the ants,/ the angry ants,/ that tread on the teacher/ in polka-dot pants,/ who calmed the class/ that gawked at the bot/ that Scott built." The giant Venus flytraps go wild for the ants: "These are the plants,/ carnivorous plants,/ that feasted on flies/ and fiery ants,/ that tread on the teacher/ in polka-dot pants,/ who calmed the class/ that gawked at the bot/ that Scott built."  Author Kim Norman (This Old Van; Ten on the Sled; Puddle Pug) doesn't miss a beat with her jaunty rhyme as frogs leap from the "bathtub bog," the classroom boa escapes, a Tesla coil sparks... and Scott's bot saves the day.

Italian illustrator Agnese Baruzzi creates an inviting, spacious and colorful classroom with stylish, textured artwork and a diverse cast of characters, including the brown-skinned robot inventor Scott. Subtly embedded photos of actual objects, such as light fixtures, drapes and plant leaves--and many other funny, delicious details--will have readers lingering over every page. (The singed Science Day banner, a casualty of the erupting volcano, is a nice touch, for instance.) A blue-ribbon read-aloud for Science Day or any day. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this homage to the cumulative rhyme "This Is the House That Jack Built," Science Day erupts in chaos, but Scott's robot comes to the rescue.

Sterling, $14.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-8, 9781454910640


by Paul Dellinger, Tom Angleberger

Sixth grade is tough at futuristic Vanguard Middle School, with Barbara the computerized vice principal watching a kid's every move.

Barbara assigns discipline tags for infractions like talking too loud or, worse, for displaying creativity during class, which focuses exclusively on helping students pass the endless rounds of Constant UpGrade exams. Maxine Zelaster--her pals call her Max--knows that students who fail to improve their scores are expelled. But when the Robot Integration Program (RIP) enrolls Fuzzy, the first-ever robot student, at Vanguard, Max's curiosity compels her to use precious study time to show the new, electronic kid (with dark wig and unblinking bright blue eyes) the ropes.

Fuzzy's name comes from fuzzy logic, the flexible form of reasoning that allows a computer to deal with uncertainty. He turns out to be a true friend to Max, updating his programming with a high-priority "HelpMax()" subroutine in an effort to aid her as she battles the increasingly dictatorial Barbara. This means ignoring threats posed to his own safety by a rogue hacker, and instead focusing on a real kid problem: learning how to think for yourself.

In Fuzzy, coauthors Tom Angleberger (the Origami Yoda series; Horton Halfpott) and Paul Dellinger weave computer concepts into the action, using snippets of programming code to show Fuzzy's perspective. In the climax of this exciting story, Fuzzy faces a human dilemma, choosing between right and wrong. The use of code as a storytelling device is funny, and cleverly illustrates the way a young mind processes the overwhelming input of a typical day in middle school. --Ann Shaffer, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A curious sixth grader befriends Fuzzy, a cutting-edge robot, and together they take on the challenges of a futuristic middle school.

Amulet/Abrams, $14.95, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781419721229


Author Buzz

Visions of Flesh and Blood:
A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium

by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Dear Reader,

Today is the release of VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, the Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium, and I am so excited that you finally get to see and read it!

I saw the love you had for Miss Willa, watched how following along with all the series twists and turns brought you joy, and thought... wouldn't it be nice to have a book to help with that, yet give even more new stuff?

So, my publisher and I came up with a plan. It included loads of stunning art commissions, strategic disclosures, and brand-new material. When it all came together, it was even better than I imagined.

VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD is so much more than a series bible. It's a journey and a work of art. A collector's item for sure!


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Visions of Flesh and Blood: A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 20, 2024


List Price: 
$7.99 e-book

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