Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 15, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Make Way for Siblings

Children have enough to worry about without the messy disruption of a new baby. Shelf Awareness found three recent picture books that may offer some comfort to the Invaded Ones.

In Alphonse, That Is Not Okay to Do! (Candlewick), by British author-illustrator Daisy Hirst (The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head), Natalie's little brother Alphonse is okay at first. He becomes a real menace, however, when he eats her favorite book: "ALPHONSE, THAT IS NOT OKAY TO DO!" she protests. Alphonse feels bad, even suggesting that they mend her book "with jam," but Natalie's having none of it. Not until she suspects her little brother might be in danger do they make up. With charm and wit, Hirst's truly adorable screen-printed illustrations reflect the rocky, rewarding nature of siblinghood.

"Matisse was a little girl in a big world." So begins Little Big Girl (Dial) by Claire Keane. For a little girl, Matisse does big things. She travels to the big city and sees big whales at the aquarium. It's only when her baby brother arrives, with his cute little fingers, toes and yawns, that she starts to recognize her new "big job" as big sister. With a light touch and inky, free-wheeling brushwork, Keane shows children that being displaced as the "little one" just makes you stand that much taller.

In Monkey Not Ready for the Baby (Knopf) by Marc Brown (the Arthur series; illustrator of Wild About Books), Monkey dreads the new baby, even drawing hopeful pictures of it "flying far, far away into space." The whole family helps him warm up to the idea, and when he gets to hear the baby's heartbeat, he's sold. Endearingly childlike hand-lettering and colored pencil and gouache illustrations capture the sweet chaos of preparing for a new little sister. Monkey ready.

--Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness


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

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Patrick Sheane Duncan

photo: David LaPorte

Patrick Sheane Duncan wrote the screenplays for Mr. Holland's Opus, Courage Under Fire and Nick of Time. He is the producer of the HBO series Vietnam War Story and cowriter/director of the documentary series Medal of Honor. Dracula vs. Hitler (Inkshares, October 25, 2016) is his third novel.

On your nightstand now:

A nightstand is not nearly enough for me. Next to my nightstand is a bookshelf taller than I, stacked with books I want to read. Right now I am looking forward to The Ancient Minstrel, the last book by Jim Harrison, a man who wrote books that reveal the souls of the common man and woman, dark comic revelations that take place in the margins of life. I'm saving this treat for a special day--maybe when my next book comes out. I'm looking to add to the shelves all the time, searching for some sci-fi in the vein of the brilliant Peter F. Hamilton, who just doesn't write fast enough for my addiction.

On weekends I read nonfiction, and I'm now in the middle of E.J. Dionne Jr.'s Why the Right Went Wrong, a remarkable history of the Republican Party since Eisenhower.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My early favorites were the Tom Swift series, first reading those written in the '30s and then the '50s. After I plowed through them, the next logical step was the Hardy Boys. I remember I was fond of biographies: examining the lives of other people, using that information to try to make sense of my own life, to somehow discover a way to escape the grim poverty that was my state at the time.

Being a kid of the '50s, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy: Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon. I still remember the thrill of Andre Norton's Star Rangers.

Your top five authors:

Mark Twain: you can read Huckleberry Finn every 10 years in your life and each time come away with a new insight about the world, humanity, yourself. As a kid it is just a great adventure, as a teenager you begin to see the grand metaphor, in your college years the themes of race and the American psyche poke you in the eye, then in your 30s you delve into the mysteries of friendship, family and the scene where Huck's father is found resonates for a long time.

Kurt Vonnegut's world is a great place to revisit--God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater still delights with every reading, and Slaughterhouse-Five remains a gobsmacking read.

John Steinbeck's East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath are as important to me as the first time I read them; the Cain and Abel drama and that paean to American poverty and the unbending spirit of man made a deep and lasting impression.

Larry McMurtry's unforgettable characters live long after I've finished one of his books. So much so that I have found myself watching someone on the street or at the mall, or on vacation, and thinking: there's a McMurtry character.

As for my fifth author, it's between Raymond Chandler and Jim Harrison, mostly on the sheer joy of language.

Book you've faked reading:

I don't know if I have ever faked reading a book. I used to finish books I didn't like, feeling some sort of guilt, that I somehow owed it to the author. Nowadays I say to hell with it, if a book hasn't ensnared me in the first hundred pages I drop it and grab another off the stack.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I have throughout the years repeatedly given away copies of Daniel J. Boorstin's trilogy: The Creators, The Discoverers and The Seekers, the sort of history that answers a lot of questions you never thought to ask and makes you go searching for more information.

I also tell everyone to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez's awe-inspiring dreamscape of a novel.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Ace sci-fi doubles--as a kid in the '60s I bought them used--they were cheap and there were two of them!

Book you hid from your parents:

I was working at The Coffee Gallery, a beatnik hangout in Holland, Mich., when an enlightened Hope College student gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was in 1965 and I was a senior in high school. The town was 99% white--the only black people around were a family from Africa from a missionary exchange. Malcolm X's story had a huge impact on me. I related to being poor, the rough childhood, of course, but it was his outsider status that I connected with the most--being different, smart and angry at your situation. The anger really resonated. The inner rage at the blatant unfairness, the dark side of the American Dream, the impotency of the poor.

I couldn't read the book at home, my mother and her latest man both being racists. At school one of the teachers even told me I shouldn't read such "trash." So, I put the slipcover of another book over it, a tattered A.E. Van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher. The forbidden designation, as usual, only made the book more precious.

Book that changed your life:

I was in Vietnam and an old girlfriend sent me a copy of Catch-22. Reading that darkly funny book in the midst of the military madness surrounding me was so surreal that I had to stop reading it oft-times just to protect my own sanity. The trouble with that magnificent novel is that as ludicrous as the characters may be, as outrageous the situations, they still pale in comparison to the real thing.

Favorite line from a book:

A Raymond Chandler quote that has become almost a cliché in its popularity among authors, but here it is:
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen." --Red Wind

Five books you'll never part with:

East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath, along with the journal Steinbeck kept while writing Working Days.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain--probably one of the annotated versions.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

All of these books can be read over and over and reveal something new each time.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, of course!

What you thought of this exercise:

All of these questions made me dig a bit deeper into the question of why I read. Early on it was a way to escape a life of misery and want. Reading novels and nonfiction gave me examples of people who triumphed and gave me a stimulus to try to exceed my own circumstances. Later they were lessons on how to be a better person. I've always thought of myself as a self-made man, and the route, however wandering, was lit by the light of the books I have read.

Book Candy

Book-Sized Earworm

"You know that song you just can't get out of your head? What if it's a whole book?" Quirk Books featured "our favorite fictional musicians."


Buzzfeed shared "32 beautiful book quotes to read when you're feeling lost."


"These wine bottles wrapped with books are all you need to make your evening perfect," Bustle promised.


"Literary tights display classic texts on your legs," Mental Floss noted.


Road Trip: Signature invited fans to "visit abandoned Hunger Games, Star Wars movie sets."


Bookshelf showcased the Beehive bookcase "containing student theses at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose State University, Calif."

Book Review


We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories

by Clare Beams

We Show What We Have Learned is a debut story collection that introduces readers to the brilliant mind of Clare Beams. It has the hair-raising electricity similar to that of a new generation of writers that includes Karen Russell, Diane Cook, David James Poissant and Kelly Link, yet reads with the stateliness of a bygone era.

Beams's stories range from wicked to wistful, and feature characters--often women--at some transitional stage. In "Hourglass," a girl is sent to a boarding school that teaches young women to achieve physical perfection. "All the Keys to All the Doors" imagines a widowed benefactor of a small town, whose buildings erase dirt--and people. In the title story, a fragile schoolteacher falls apart at her students' jeering, literally. "World's End," the collection's most straightforward piece of realism, follows a young architect whose ego swells as he imagines a relationship--and a place--that will never be.

These may sound like punch lines, but Beams plumbs her material for mystery and depth. Her writing is relaxed but authoritative, letting scenes unfold without authorial intrusion. Beams's style could almost be called old-fashioned, matching her frequently historic settings. Her topics and scenarios are strange and surreal, yet the writing is oddly comforting. Perhaps that's why Joyce Carol Oates compares her with Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson. Like Jackson, Beams's stories are eerie and precise. Like Munro, each one hinges on a subtle truth, each uncovering some mystery of humanity, each story a revelation. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This debut story collection slips effortlessly between the real and unreal, fantasy and horror.

Lookout Books, $17.95, paperback, 9781940596143

Virgin and Other Stories

by April Ayers Lawson

Art, religion and sex: three topics that guarantee provocative, thoughtful fiction in the hands of an assured writer. April Ayers Lawson is just such an assured writer. She addresses these challenging topics with uncommon grace and insight. In the five stories of this debut collection, focusing on characters from the Carolinas, Lawson explores, with admirable restraint, troubled lives and the repercussions of one's choices.

Each story features an artist confused about sexuality and relationships. In the title piece, 26-year-old Jake suspects that his wife, Sheila, a violist and Bob Jones University graduate, is having an affair and contemplates an infidelity of his own. The "Three Friends in a Hammock" are divorced women--a writer, painter and cellist--whose reunion becomes a meditation on what constitutes love. In "The Way You Must Play Always," Gretchen, a student at a private Christian school, falls for her piano teacher's pot-smoking brother, who is recuperating from brain surgery. "The Negative Effects of Homeschooling" chronicles the obsession Conner, the 16-year-old son of a church elder, has with Andrew Wyeth's Helga paintings and his mother's deceased transgender friend. And in "Vulnerability," a married Southern painter entertains an affair with her New York art dealer. Each protagonist in Lawson's perceptive debut works toward an understanding of Sheila's point from the opening piece: "I think everything is already there inside of you.... What I think is that you just become this purer and purer version of what you already are." --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: In April Ayers Lawson's winning debut collection of stories, Southerners struggle with the complexities of religion and desire.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23, hardcover, 192p., 9780865478695

Monsters in Appalachia

by Sheryl Monks

Monsters in Appalachia presents the short stories of Sheryl Monks in a collection that ranges over a region but offers a cohesive vision. United by their sense of place, these stories are compassionate and impassioned, often disturbing and filled with energy.

The dangers of coal mining strike the young and the experienced alike. A 14-year-old girl is encouraged by her mother and aunt to pursue men, but resists. A man searches for a dog he believes holds the key to better luck. An exchange at a small-town grocery drives home class inequalities and double standards. Factory workers consider devising on-the-job accidents to collect disability. And in the final, titular story, an old man hunts and captures monsters while his wife prays for punishment for the couple's sins.

The monsters are in fact many and various, figurative and surreally literal. Monks's characters are plagued by poverty, abuse, limited education and a shortage of resources and options--upholding some of the stereotypes of Appalachia--but in their choices, they prove more than their typecasts. Dialect and place-specific details establish settings like the mountains of West Virginia, where a panicked mother "can't spot a single star for the heavy swag of tree branches that flank the road as it winds itself around the mountain." A stern, moody atmosphere is one of Monks's strengths, although there are points of light in this dark collection. Monsters in Appalachia is often painful but always authentic, both muscular and sensitive. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Short stories defined by their location offer a complex Appalachia filled with both light and dark.

Vandalia Press, $16.99, paperback, 192p., 9781943665396

Mystery & Thriller

The Mistletoe Murder

by P.D. James

The late P.D. James, author of many popular novels, turned her hand to the classic detective short story in The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. In the style popularized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, four of James's excellent pieces have been collected here. Two of them have Christmas themes, including one starring a young Sergeant Adam Dalgliesh, making this slim volume a perfect stocking stuffer for mystery lovers.

These stories feature a young woman who is quite sure she's solved a murder during the height of World War II, but unsure if she should get involved; a rather sleazy law clerk who witnessed a murder from his office window, but who can't report the death without being discovered for his minor crimes; and the impeccable Dalgliesh--in one story doing a favor for his godfather, and in another waylaid en route to a Christmas dinner.

With James's trademark wit and skill, these tales quickly draw the reader in, and, in spite of their brevity, offer a surprise or two. The art of the mystery short story is a tricky one--providing enough information to keep the reader interested, but not so much that the conclusion is immediately obvious. James's pitch-perfect balancing act is sure to leave readers bereft at her loss all over again, even as they enjoy the gift of these last few holiday stories. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: The Mistletoe Murder is a collection of excellent short stories from the late P.D. James.

Knopf, $24, hardcover, 176p., 9780451494146

The Hanging Club

by Tony Parsons

The third novel in Tony Parsons's Max Wolfe crime series (after The Slaughter Man) brings the London detective constable face to face with a group of domestic terrorists. The four vigilantes make headlines when they kidnap a taxi driver, execute him by hanging and post a video of the act on YouTube. The victim turns out to be a man convicted of abusing young girls. He received a light sentence, so now this gang of killers--using the identity of Albert Pierrepoint, England's executioner in the mid-20th century--seeks justice.

And they are just getting started. When they repeat their crime with a rich businessman who killed a young boy while driving drunk, and then a drug addict who beat a destitute war veteran into a coma, Max and the murder investigation team delve into England's history of capital punishment for clues to uncover the Hanging Club.

While many Londoners cheer on the vigilantes, viewing them as heroes who deliver justice when the legal system does not, Parsons throws a wrench into Wolfe's beliefs by forcing him to deal with unfair circumstances in his own life. The philosophical conundrum adds heft to an already weighty story that challenges the morality of the death penalty.

But the gravity of themes doesn't slow the pace of the plot, which moves swiftly and intensely. Parsons has a tendency to unnecessarily repeat details throughout the novel--something tighter editing could have improved. Nevertheless, The Hanging Club is a riveting thriller and a strong addition to the series. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Detective Constable Max Wolfe struggles to find a cunning gang who are taking justice into their own hands through hanging executions they share with the world on YouTube.

Minotaur, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250052711

Graphic Books

The Trial of Roger Casement

by Fionnuala Doran

Fionnuala Doran's first graphic novel, The Trial of Roger Casement, gives the historical account of a British diplomat, humanitarian and Irish Nationalist. Roger Casement (1864-1916) was an activist in Africa and South America, which earned him fame and knighthood before he was eventually stripped of the title and put on trial for treason.

Writer and illustrator Fionnuala Doran tosses readers into the heart of Casement's world, intimately following him through his friendships, his relationships, his encounters. Within the first three pages, he slips from a boat and almost drowns, which he deems a "metaphor for my whole life." That observation proceeds to haunt the rest of the story. Doran, though, is careful in her treatment of her subject. For example, she sensitively depicts Casement's love life as a gay man in a country where homosexuality was illegal. As a result, sadness tinges each page.

At the end, Doran includes a timeline to highlight the story's main events. The illustrations throughout are quite simple, every so often accented with green and orange backgrounds, and yet they convey the world beyond the panels beautifully. Readers can see the Casement's world and its landmarks, hear the voices and fill in the rest, as they take in such a tumultuous time in British history.

Doran's art style is bolstered by occasionally heavy prose, which might attract readers who may not habitually explore graphic novels. All in all, The Trial of Roger Casement is perfect for readers interested in Irish history and Casement's place in it. --Carol H. Hood, writer, graphic novelist, social commentator

Discover: Graphic novelist Fionnuala Doran recounts the rise and fall of Roger Casement, British knight and diplomat.

Selfmadehero, $19.95, paperback, 120p., 9781910593202

The Bind

by William Goldsmith

The illustrations and imagination of William Goldsmith (Vignettes of Ystov) adorn a story of bookbinding and family history with The Bind.

This graphic novel opens in 1912, as the ghost of Garrison Egret tours his family business, Egret Bindings, now run by his sons, Victor and Guy. Garrison is frustrated by the way they've "tarted it up," and by the way Guy overworks himself without taking enough credit while Victor takes too much credit without doing the work. Their latest project will showcase the Egrets' finest talents, and test both their skills and their relationship; it is a poetry collection called A Moonless Land, jewel-encrusted, hand-tooled with leather inlays and gold leaf. Victor, the high-maintenance artist, pulls out all the stops while business-minded Guy worries about the bottom line. Will "the most expensive book in existence" prove to be too much for the most prestigious bookbinding firm in London?

Goldsmith's illustrations in black and gray, rust and rose, are understated and beautifully evocative. Characterization is accomplished through detail, like a carnation in Victor's lapel, and the finer points of Egret Binding's products. In large format on heavy stock, with bonus foldout panels, The Bind is as impressive a physical object as the Egrets' great creation--minus the rubies and topazes. This carefully presented ode to the craft of bookbinding is also a story of family dynamics and the dilemma of faithfulness to artistry in a modernizing world: a special treat for booklovers, and a lovely work of art. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This graphic novel celebrates sibling rivalry and the art of bookbinding in a sepia-toned historic London.

Jonathan Cape/Random House UK, $39.95, hardcover, 120p., 9780224097024

Business & Economics

To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History

by Lawrence Levy

Part memoir, part business primer, Lawrence Levy's To Pixar and Beyond chronicles the author's time as CFO of Pixar and his journey with Steve Jobs as they helped transform an obscure computer graphics company into one of the most innovative film studios of today. Levy had never heard of Pixar when Jobs called, nor had he met Jobs, but both charmed him; he became a witness to an absorbing and unlikely success story in the entertainment world.

To Pixar and Beyond is mostly focused on Pixar as it makes Toy Story and prepares for an IPO. Levy is an affable guide who writes with clarity about otherwise Byzantine business maneuverings and obscure contractual legalese. The book could have used more of Levy's detailed explanations of how an IPO works or how Pixar tried to wrangle out of its onerous relationship with Disney, because these are the strongest and most fascinating sections. Levy also writes insightfully about how Pixar and John Lasseter fought to maintain their distinctive corporate culture and not fall into the trap of complacency and stagnation, which can plague many companies dealing with newfound success.

Levy doesn't offer anything revelatory about Steve Jobs, nor is the rise of Pixar exactly obscure news. Yet his account of the inner workings of the company, and the personalities that shaped it into what it has become, is an informative and engaging read. --David Martin, freelance writer

Discover: To Pixar and Beyond provides a fascinating firsthand look at the development of the famed animation studio.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780544734142

Essays & Criticism

Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created

by Laura Miller, editor

The brief essays collected in Literary Wonderlands survey nearly 4,000 years of inventive storytelling. Under the editorial direction of Laura Miller (The Magician's Book), the work of more than 40 contributors is organized into a timeline tracing from ancient myth and legend to modern fantasy and speculative fiction.

Literary Wonderlands skews toward the relatively recent and toward Western works, although there was clearly an effort made to diversify the selections. And with a few exceptions--Richard Wagner's Ring operas, Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide radio play--the modern fictional worlds considered here spring from conventionally bookish origins. (The "greatest fictional worlds ever created" for movie and television science fiction don't seem to fall under the scope of the subtitle.)

While some essays consider their subjects in terms of themes or influences, the critique is approachable rather than academic, and all include a detailed synopsis of the story under consideration. The literary forms represented range from medieval poetry and drama (The Divine Comedy, The Tempest) to fiction that defined genres (The Time Machine) and broke them open (Slaughterhouse-Five). Contributors explore the worlds of characters associated with children's literature--Alice, Peter Pan, Harry Potter--alongside the adults-only settings of Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. Middle Earth, Oz and Narnia also get their due. The book includes more than 100 illustrations, mixing drawings, maps, paintings and photographs.

An engaging read on its own merits, Literary Wonderlands is equally valuable as a resource for further reading and as fodder for arguments over the works it includes (and leaves out). --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading. 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: This book surveys more than 100 fictional worlds that have appeared in literary works dating back nearly 4,000 years.

Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780316316385

Performing Arts

Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop

by Marc Myers

Rock and jazz journalist Marc Myers's column "Anatomy of a Song" is a popular feature of the Wall Street Journal's Arts section. With interviews from the singers, songwriters and producers of chartbusting megahits, each column captures the historical and musical backgrounds of songs that altered popular cultural history. Anatomy of a Song collects 45 of those columns, covering what might be the playlist of a baby boomer's life. From Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" in 1952 to R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" in 1991, Myers (Why Jazz Happened) chooses those that made a difference--by his definition, that they "stood the test of a generation--twenty-five years." Here's a taste--Smokey Robinson on his fellow Motown group: "The Temptations were the greatest background maker-uppers ever." Grace Slick on her fame: "I was just a f**k-off who got lucky.... I'm not a genius, but I don't suck." Mavis Staples on the ending of "Respect Yourself": "I had to put some fuel in it, to keep it going. That's the seasoning." Or Gladys Knight on "Midnight Train to Georgia": "I wanted an Al Green thing going, you know? Something moody, with a little ride to it."

Greatest hits lists always get plenty of argument, especially in rock 'n' roll. Myers includes the Stones, Joplin, Elvis, the Doors, the Allman Brothers and even Steely Dan (Steely Dan??)--but no Hendrix, Dylan or Springsteen. No matter. With its eye-opening, candid interviews and detailed discussion of the songs' instruments, rhythms and lyrics, Anatomy of a Song is a juicy history of the music that got audiences onto the dance floor, out in the streets and cruising down the highway. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With 45 songs covering four decades, Anatomy of a Song hits the high notes of what might be the soundtrack to a Baby Boomer's life.

Grove Press, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780802125590

Children's & Young Adult

A Boy Called Christmas

by Matt Haig, illus. by Chris Mould

Until A Boy Called Christmas, nobody knew that long ago, an "ordinary boy called Nikolas, living in the middle of nowhere, or the middle of Finland, doing nothing with magic except believing in it" would wind up as jolly old Saint Nick. A woodcutter's son living in the second-smallest cottage in Finland with scarcely a carved turnip doll to call his own, 11-year-old Nikolas is accustomed to making the best of rough circumstances. But when his father goes off on an elf-finding expedition and leaves him in the care of his evil, ancient aunt ("Hardly anyone lives to be forty-two"), Nikolas reaches his limit. He and the cottage mouse, Miika, who believes in cheese though he's never seen it, set off to the Far North to find his father and to see if the elves his father seeks are real. The journey is perilous and heartbreaking, but ultimately transforms Nikolas into a man who understands the flaws and frailty of humankind (not to mention elves, pixies and trolls).

Award-winning British author Matt Haig (To Be a Cat) writes with warmth, wit and irreverence. Young Nikolas is every bit as delightful as the ho-ho-ho-ing grownup he becomes, but his poignant humanity is what makes him truly lovable. Chris Mould's comical, appealingly scritchy black illustrations capture the magic of the Far North and the distinctive personalities of each character. Bonus: We learn that the reindeer Blixen has a sense of humor "[a]nd the thing he found really funny was weeing on people." A holiday--or anytime--classic is born. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Father Christmas's backstory is revealed in British author Matt Haig's fantastic tale of magic, treachery, disgruntled elves, Truth Pixies and a land where "impossible" is a swear word.

Knopf, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9780399552656


by Ananda Braxton-Smith

Twelve-year-old Neen Marrey thinks it's possible that her great-grandmother might have been a wild-eyed merrow, a sort of mermaid or "glamorous fish," and so maybe her own Mam might not have abandoned her when her fisherman Pa drowned, but instead "just gone home to her people under the sea." Auntie Ushag is "as touchy as a slug" about her niece's theories. But the glowering, purse-lipped woman has become quite the "spit hag" of late, making Neen feel that much more alone in the world. The villagers whisper about how wrong it is for Auntie to keep the girl isolated in such a "wild and shattered place" on the shore: "I would have given just about anything to have a friend who wasn't a cow," Neen muses.

Merrow, Australian author Ananda Braxton-Smith's debut novel, is set on the island of Carrick (actually the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, according to the author's note), a place a-swirl with old stories of "sprites and half-beings and what-nots." Despite what Ushag tells her, Neen may be one of those cursed and feared half-beings, too. Why else would she sometimes grow red, itchy scales on her skin? Why else would her soul be so homesick? Neen finally wears her taciturn Auntie down until the stories of her sister, Neen's mother, spill out. But are they true stories? What is a true story, anyway? "What I needed was my own, my very own story," thinks Neen. Merrow is like the tide pools it describes in such gorgeous detail, every crevice offers a new surprise. A salty, exquisitely written exploration of identity. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this lyrical novel by Australian author Ananda Braxton-Smith, 12-year-old Neen suspects she has sea-enchanted "merrow" blood but her tight-lipped Auntie keeps her in the dark.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 14-up, 9780763679248


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

Powered by: Xtenit