Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 25, 2019

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

From My Shelf

An Open Cage

The first time esteemed 20th-century composer John Cage came to life for me, I was listening to the Bang on a Can studio album Field Recordings. On the track "An Open Cage," bassist Florent Ghys transfigures a recording of Cage reading aloud from his diary into an avant-garde musical performance to match and enhance the elder composer's prosody.

Immediately I tracked down a copy of Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) at my local library and devoured its kaleidoscopic text; it's now available in an expanded paperback edition from Siglio Press ($24). "Continue," the diary begins, "I'll discover where you sweat (Kierkegaard). We are getting rid of ownership, substituting use. Beginning with ideas. Which ones can we take? Which ones can we give?"

Only such a curious, contrary mind as Cage's might seize on substitution after the fashion his experimental compositions took. An early work, 1939's Imaginary Landscape No. 1, relies on turntables, static and test tones. "This was a prescient endeavor," editor Laura Kuhn writes in the introduction to the John Cage Trust's Love, Icebox: Letters from John Cage to Merce Cunningham ($24.95). For other pieces, he used a grand piano he had outfitted with sound-altering objects placed on and between the strings.

What becomes apparent, however, in both his diary and letters, is Cage's deep sense of vulnerability, the emotional force guiding him through his craft and relationships and a world fraught with political unease. In a letter to Cunningham, Cage blurts out, "i want more neurotic love-songs. or don't you feel neurotic?" It is one of many moments throughout both books when the irrationalities of desire, art and society converge and leave him flayed. To see how Cage's brilliant mind transposed disparate elements around him into an ongoing legacy inspires me to keep returning to his challenging, nonlinear work. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Glamorous Women in Crime Fiction

"Bright lights, dark shadows: glamorous women in crime fiction" were showcased by CrimeReads.


Safari, for one. Mental Floss considered "9 words that were borrowed from one language, transformed, then borrowed back."


Consider "50 fictional librarians, ranked" by Lit Hub.


A veteran of the London Review of Books demonstrated "how magazine pages were created before computers." (via Open Culture)


How does Elton John organize his bookshelves? "Very well!" he told the New York Times (via Bookshelf). "I'm very meticulous about things like that."

The Library of the Unwritten

by A.J. Hackwith

"Whenever she read a book in a binge, cover to cover in a day with little break, she always found it stuck in her brain like a haze. The narrative voice stuck in her head, and for a bit after, it was always like a waking dream, living someone else's thoughts. The book haunted like a ghost in her head, coloring moods until she shook herself from it." 

Thus Claire, the Librarian at the Library of the Unwritten, describes a book hangover--a feeling many readers will recognize. In the smart, extraordinary world that A.J. Hackwith has created, The Library of the Unwritten makes for an irresistible waking dream. 

The Library, unfortunately housed in Hell, is where books that authors haven't finished writing go to languish for eternity, under the dominion of Claire, herself an unpublished author. Claire and Brevity, the muse who assists her, work hard to keep the books in order; make sure that all the demons turn in books by their due date; and, most importantly, coax characters into staying contentedly in the library. Claire takes her job seriously, risking life and limb to protect the books. After a scene where some books catch fire, Claire bemoans that it's not just damaged books, "She saw a thousand lives on each cindered page. Here, a band of adventurers, suffocating in a forest. There, a pair of lovers, entombed in the moment before a kiss." 

When a hero manages to escape his book and find his way to a coffee shop in his author's hometown of Seattle, Claire is dismayed, because in her experience, "Nothing folded like a hero without a story. Even damsels were sturdier." Claire, Brevity and a demonic messenger named Leto reluctantly leave the underworld, traveling via a phenomenon known as a "ghostlight," which allows them 24 hours out of Hell, in order to catch the hero. When they arrive planetside, they realize to their horror that the hero is already making his author fall in love with him. As Claire works to return him to his book, she encounters Ramiel, a fallen angel, who's been commissioned by the archangel Uriel to acquire something known as the Devil's Bible in exchange for permission to reenter Heaven. In the confrontation between Claire and Ramiel, Leto manages to grab a fragment of the Devil's Bible, and Claire and Brevity instantly realize how important this scrap of paper is. Heaven will stop at nothing to acquire the Devil's Bible, and war between the dominions is bound to happen, unless the Librarians can find the volume first. 

Grabbing Hero--much to his author's woe--and acquiring a few more allies along the way, Claire finds herself leading a ragtag band as they race between realms, from Hell to Valhalla to Earth and back again, in a quest to beat the angels. Unfortunately for the team, they overstay their ghostlight limit, causing even more chaos as the hounds of Hell begin baying in pursuit.

Not only does Hackwith nimbly manage multiple storylines within the gorgeous, theatrical world of the Librarians, but she has also written characters with whom readers are sure to identify. Along with Claire, the determined guardian with memories she suppresses, we get to know Brevity, the happy-go-lucky muse who longs to please her demanding boss; Hero, who just wants to be the star of his own story; Leto, who lingers somewhere between his current and his past lives, struggling to reconcile the two; and Ramiel, who regrets the past and wishes to make amends. 

Clever and full of sly, bookish humor, The Library of the Unwritten is a delightful paean to knowledge and its power. Readers will particularly enjoy a verbal duel in Valhalla, where Claire faces off with Bjorn the Bard, who has gone to his eternal rest after spending several centuries as the Librarian in the Middle Ages. Claire strikes first with "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once," and Bjorn returns scornfully, "Shakespeare.... A beginner's move." The duel moves on to Shelley, Nabokov, Atwood and Tolkien, with the words becoming sharper and spikier as each librarian strikes, eventually drawing blood. 

Hackwith explores the bite and power of words both literally and metaphorically. She shrewdly pokes fun at a number of bookish tropes, and spins the very idea of right and wrong topsy-turvy, as angels persecute demons for trying to save a book. As Claire grumpily snaps after she realizes what's going on with the angels and demons battling over the Devil's Bible, "Demons, angels... politics ruins everything." Funny, insightful and wildly magical, The Library of the Unwritten is sure to charm many readers, even those who don't often venture into fantastical realms. --Jessica Howard

Ace Books, $16, paperback, 384p., 9781984806376

A.J. Hackwith: Hell, Seattle and Beyond

A.J. Hackwith is a queer writer of science fiction and fantasy living in Seattle. She has written two science fiction romances under the name Ada Harper. The Library of the Unwritten (out now from Ace, $16 paperback) is the first entry in her new fantasy series about stories that aren't finished. These books are kept in the Library of the Unwritten, which just happens to reside in Hell.

What were your initial inspirations for creating The Library of the Unwritten? 

Ideas are a bit like ants. One day your kitchen is clean and spotless; the next, you turn on the lights and gosh, there they are. You most probably left all kinds of crumbs that caused them, but they seem to appear on their own.

I was caught in a tech career that had begun to wear on my soul, and I was feeling it when I started writing The Library of the Unwritten. Though I'd always been a writer, for the last decade most of my brain cells had gone to a graduate program, and then writing on the tech/nonfiction side in my day job. There's a lot of glamour in our industry about being the brilliant young talents that turn out novels at 20, and that can lead to the feeling that you've missed your chance. I might have brooded over the books that never got written quite a bit.

By that time, I had been carrying a library of unwritten books around with me for years--it was almost a relief to start writing a story about them.

Occasionally fictional characters escape from the Library and head to Earth to try to convince their authors to finish writing their stories. As an author yourself, do you have characters that you can imagine coming to plead with you?

I can't imagine many of my characters being so polite as to plead, rather than show up in the dark of night and rifle my pockets for prose. That is usually how my books get written, anyway--persistence, and ideas that won't leave me alone.

The ones I would feel the most guilt seeing are the characters from my earliest stories--well-loved but now deeply buried in the trunk. There was that deeply earnest urban fantasy I wrote in college, or the apocalyptic politics vampire half-a-book I attempted. They were shelved for a reason.

There are still ideas I love in there, and may mine for bits and pieces later. But if those characters showed up at my door? You know the sound you make when you get a bad sunburn? Yeah, that.

At one point, Claire, the Librarian, says, "Stories are, at the most basic level, how we make sense of the world." How does writing help you make sense of the world?

Writing is how I string together hard moments to reach the other side. Writing can be meditative. It is a way to parse down and simplify the world. You don't have to act on the enormity of the problem--just find the next word, next sentence. 

Stories, however, stories are how we chain together the whole package deal. If writing is the beads--gemstones, pearls, sometimes just mostly polished turds--then stories are the continuous thread we string them on. 

We're storytelling creatures. I think, in some ways, evolution took a look at us, realized we were grumpy, hairless apes with absolutely no skill for listening to survival instincts, and decided to give us stories instead. Stories keep us alive. Want something to be remembered, to protect your children when you're not there? Wrap it in a story. 

It doesn't matter if it's fiction. Even stories with no overt "lesson" teach us something. Stories are truer than true. There's a quote from Neil Gaiman's Coraline: "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." We absorb that, and it makes the next dragon a little more survivable.

One of the most handy tools for survival, to me, is a narrative sense of self. Being able to place yourself in relation to a story is one way of reminding yourself that the story isn't over yet. It has its dangers--thinking your current relationship is Act One of a quirky romance when it is actually Act Three of a cautionary tale is a mistake we've all made--but stories, stories keep us going.

The characters in the Library of the Unwritten visit Hell, Seattle, Heaven, Valhalla and Malta, among other locations. If you could pick one fictional realm to visit yourself, which would you choose? 

Oh, what a choice. Am I limiting myself only to realms that exist in my book's world? If so, I think I'm going to pick one that actually readers don't see until book two: the Dust wing. It is the wing of the Library that contains books and stories which were written (thus not in the Unwritten wing) and shared with the world--but then lost to time via any number of circumstances. (War and dogma are popular historical culprits.) There's a shared sense of magic in getting to read something other people loved and lost. I want to read the works of marginalized voices that were erased, or never amplified in the first place. Not just the lost works of Sappho--but the thousands of other women of her time that we don't have records for.

I'd only stay for a visit, mind you. Time in the Dust wing makes the Unwritten wing look like afternoon tea. Being unwritten might turn a story restless, but being forgotten can turn a story into something else entirely. 

Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process? 

Every idea starts as a prolonged daydream for me. When I think I've got the big bits in my head, I shape up a rough outline. On the scale of plotter versus pantser, I lean heavily on the plotting side. I usually start with a general idea and some big "cinematic" scenes in my head, then work on filling in the connective bits of plot and scenes between them. That usually produces an initial list of scenes/chapters for me to start drafting, but I also discover more necessary bits as I go. Outlines, like any plans, do not survive contact with the enemy. 

Any sneak peeks as to what's next? 

I just turned in a revision on the sequel to The Library of the Unwritten, and I'm starting to draft the third and final book in the series. It's a weird sensation trying to write a satisfying ending for a bunch of characters readers haven't met yet!

This trilogy certainly isn't the only one in my own personal unwritten library, however. There are projects-in-waiting that I am right now internally referring to as "Shrinepunk-heist book" and "Map! Magic book." I hope readers will enjoy the journey of The Library of the Unwritten enough to join me on the next one. --Jessica Howard

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Olive, Again

by Elizabeth Strout

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (My Name Is Lucy Barton) traced the life of a rigidly stoic, set-in-her-ways, lifelong inhabitant of fictional Crosby, Maine. Olive--a former high school math teacher and the wife of a small-town pharmacist--is judgmental, with often-grating hard edges that forge her opinions and resilience.

In Olive, Again, Strout picks up Olive's story in her seventh and eighth decades. Olive, an aging widow, contends with a now elusive world and her feelings for widower Jack Kennison, the antithesis of Olive. Jack, a staunch Republican and former professor at Harvard, migrated to Crosby after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and he was fired. He is drawn to Olive, questioningly.

As the narrative unfolds, readers learn that Olive and Jack have married. Despite their vastly different pedigrees, they are moored in similar emotional harbors, which unites them. Olive and Jack had first marriages to good people, yet both carry--and grapple with--guilt. Loneliness plagues them. They take stock of their fates, choices and destinies in a changing world, while facing the often-humiliating infirmities of aging. Jack tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, a lesbian whom he never accepted. Similarly, Olive contends with her strained relationship with her son, who's married and raising a blended family in New York City.

The 13 episodic stories that constitute Olive, Again are deep and meaningful--made richly entertaining and accessible through Strout's skillful blend of the serious with the comedic. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A prickly Maine woman finds hard-won wisdom as she butts up against the challenges of aging and ordinary life--and others struggling to survive.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780812996548

Mystery & Thriller

Curious Toys

by Elizabeth Hand

During a sweltering summer in 1915 Chicago, a little girl wanders off with a stranger and is never seen again. Her mother tells the girl's sister, 14-year-old Pin, that the world is too dangerous for little girls and Pin must now dress and act as a boy to be safe. This suits Pin just fine, because boys are treated better than girls anyway. Pin's mother reinvents herself as Madame Zanto, who tells fortunes just outside the local amusement park.

Pin wanders the park doing odd jobs and searching for dropped coins. She discovers the body of young girl at one of the attractions. Then, a few days later, another dead girl is found nearby. It's clear a serial killer is preying on little girls, but the owner refuses to shut down the park because people are flocking to see where the murders took place. The police are pressured to make any arrest whatsoever, while Pin suspects the murderer is the same person who took her sister.

Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner Elizabeth Hand (Hard Light) has created a host of strange, dangerous and misunderstood characters with whom Pin interacts on her quest to find the killer: Lord Clyde the Hoo Doo King, who also plays Satan at another attraction; Ida the Living Mermaid & Eighth Wonder of the World; disgraced cop Fatty Bacon, who works in park security; slow-witted Henry, the man-child who claims he's been hired to protect little girls in the park; and a wild group of boys who pickpocket and dole out beatings with impunity. But it's the tight writing that moves this killer story along like a runaway roller-coaster. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this gripping historical mystery, a tough teen from the poor side of town chases a serial killer preying on children at an amusement park.

Mulholland Books, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9780316485883

A Bitter Feast

by Deborah Crombie

A Bitter Feast, the 18th entry in the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie, is a gently paced mystery set in the beautiful Cotswolds, part of the English countryside characterized by rolling hills and houses built of golden stone. Duncan and Gemma, both high-ranking police officers, are taking a long weekend with their children at the gorgeous, stately home of the parents of Melody Talbot, Gemma's detective sergeant.

Viv Holland, a well-respected local chef is planning a charity luncheon, and the Talbots hope it helps Viv make a name for herself. Gemma is looking forward to the luncheon, and for a chance to explore the fall foliage. But Duncan is delayed by several hours. When he does appear, he's bloodied and dazed, the victim of a car accident in which the other driver and passenger died. And, it turns out that the other car's passenger was a chef with an old connection to Viv.

Despite its place well into the series, A Bitter Feast almost reads as a standalone, a vacation from overarching plot-lines just as it's supposed to be a respite for Duncan and Gemma. But, of course, they can't ignore deaths in their near vicinity, especially when another body turns up. So, they have a bit of a "busman's holiday," helping the local police investigate the deaths. Character-driven and nuanced, Crombie's novel will draw readers deep into the Cotswolds. Perfect for fans of Louise Penny or Donna Leon, A Bitter Feast is a lovely, autumnal mystery. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this slow-burn mystery, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James investigate the death of a chef while on vacation in the Cotswolds.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062271662

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Supernova Era

by Cixin Liu, trans. by Joel Martinsen

Newly translated from Chinese, this science fiction parable by Hugo winner Cixin Liu (The Three-Body ProblemBall Lightning) imagines a world in which the children become the future much sooner than anyone anticipated.

The Earth's Common Era ends with the death of a faraway star. Its explosion turns the twilight bright as midday, makes human beings phosphoresce and leaves behind a new nebula. Despite the wonder in its wake, the Dead Star also wreaks havoc. While children under 13 will survive the effects of the widespread radiation poisoning, their elders will not. Within one year, the Earth will be a planet of children. 

Around the world, governments hold various selection trials to choose Earth's new leaders. In Beijing, Specs, Huahua and Xiaomeng become the heirs apparent to China's government, even though they just graduated from middle school. Adults across the nation labor tirelessly to train their children as fighter pilots and childcare providers for the infant survivors, and they build a store of resources to sustain a new society the adults envision as identical to their own.

When the changeover of power occurs, though, the children of China are more interested in turning part of their country into a giant amusement park than in re-creating the old world order. As the three teen leaders struggle to corral a nation of first panicked and then defiant younger children, bigger trouble brews across the sea in the United States, where unlimited access to weapons has spawned deadly games of soldiers.

With Joel Martinsen's translation, Supernova Era gives speculative fiction readers food for deep thought. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: When a star eight light years away goes supernova, the radiation kills Earth's adult population and leaves its children to start a world of their own.

Tor, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250306036

Biography & Memoir

Beautiful on the Outside

by Adam Rippon

Figure skating Olympic medalist Adam Rippon delivers a gold medal-worthy memoir that is both laugh-out-loud funny and inspiring. Rippon's sassy, outspoken personality and his skating skills made him a star of the 2018 Winter Olympics. At age 28, he was a decade older than his teammates. He had missed out on two previous Olympics and had broken his foot a year before he finally made the team. But he was also skating at his best. "I think people really connected with all that," he writes. "And I was doing Invisalign, so my teeth were straight and perfect."

At age five, Rippon begged his parents to take him ice skating after he saw an image on a popcorn tin of people skating. He was really more interested in getting a white muff like one held by a female skater in the illustration. Over the next decade, Rippon began competing and winning medals at local, national and international skating competitions. Despite fears that it might keep him off an Olympic team, Rippon publicly came out as gay a year before he finally made the team. He became the first openly gay U.S. athlete to win a medal at any Winter Olympics. Months after his win, his popularity exploded when he attended the Academy Awards wearing a leather harness, began training for Stars on Ice, and signed on for a season of Dancing with the Stars (and won).

Rippon's winning personality shines through on every page. Jaunty and thoughtful, Beautiful on the Outside is the feel-good memoir of the season. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Cheeky figure skating Olympian Adam Rippon's rollicking and inspiring memoir is a gold medal delight even for non-sports fans.

Grand Central, $28, hardcover, 256p., 9781538732403

The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

by William J. Mann

Although both critics and other actors generally acknowledged Marlon Brando as one of the world's finest actors, he consistently downplayed his talent and the acting profession. For decades, the media lamented that he found no fulfillment in acting. But in this outstanding, intelligent and insightful biography, The Contender, William J. Mann (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn) examines Brando's life and passions from a different angle. He posits that Brando found true satisfaction in his fight for civil rights and his relentless commitment to social justice.

Brando (1924-2004) was a complex and sometimes difficult man, but Mann's expert research finds the reasons behind his actions. Brando was a bookworm and "a thinker, an observer, an examiner of himself and the world with the goal of figuring out both," writes Mann. But he was also a sexual adventurer with both men and women.

Playing Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire (on Broadway and in the 1951 film) catapulted Brando's career, yet by the 1960s, few film projects earned his full attention. His 1961 directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks, was recut by the studio, leaving him depressed and disillusioned. At this point, his political activism began to take center stage. With few exceptions (The Godfather; Last Tango in Paris), his post-1970 films served only to finance his activism, alimony and lifestyle. Mann calls the last 30 years of Brando's life "a catalog of tragedies that approach the Shakespearean."

At more than 700 pages, The Contender is a brisk and adroit read that is perceptive, thoughtful and gives fans a new view of their idol. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: William J. Mann's outstanding and superbly researched biography, The Contender, reveals Marlon Brando's real passion was for social justice.

Harper, $35, hardcover, 736p., 9780062427649


The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History

by Nathalia Holt

In the 1930s, a woman seeking employment at Walt Disney Studios beyond its pink-collar-ghetto Ink and Paint department was apt to receive the company's stock rejection letter: "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men." Change had to start somewhere, and Nathalia Holt (Rise of the Rocket Girls) devotes The Queens of Animation to the iconoclastic women who got in early at the House of Mouse. Among her five principal subjects are English-born Sylvia Moberly-Holland, who through her work on Fantasia's "Waltz of the Flowers" became Disney's first female story director; plucky Retta Scott, who through her work on Bambi became the studio's first credited female animator; and the legendary Mary Blair, a painter who brought a refreshingly modern look to Disney animation and was a bona fide art director by the time she worked on Peter Pan.

The Queens of Animation does double duty as the story of Disney's animation studio, which was in debt for years and continually seeking financial relief through new technologies. Holt, foremost a science writer, is good at describing how innovations like Technicolor, the optical printer and xerography work. Her book takes readers through the studio's early 21st-century switch to CGI, which finally obliterated the need for cripplingly costly hand-drawn animation. Of course, the irony is that in the studio's financially unstable golden era, when its male employees thought it beneath them to draw fairies, it was movies about women--a princess here, a Poppins there--that reliably saved Piglet's bacon. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This incisive look at the first women to work at Walt Disney Studios also tells the story of the animation department's years of struggle to make ends meet.

Little, Brown, $29, hardcover, 400p., 9780316439152

Psychology & Self-Help

The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic, and the Rest of Life's Stressors

by Brian King

In The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic, and the Rest of Life's Stressors, Brian King demonstrates how humor and the right attitude can facilitate stress and anxiety management. It's well documented that humor can alleviate tension, but King's particular approach is original and refreshing. He combines a winning balance of accessible science, engaging stories and comic relief to drive home a compelling message.

Feeling stressed is really about feeling out of control, the way one might feel when confronted with a bear in the wilderness or when traffic is a mess. These are two distinct scenarios with different possible outcomes, but the underlying point is that it's not about the particular stressor, rather it's about how one responds to it. King (The Laughing Cure) is a psychologist, humor therapist, stand-up comedian and new parent. All four roles influence his advice in this book.

In the section titled "Worry Is the Worst," King explains that worry is when the brain creates its own stress. It's a familiar and often comforting pattern of thought, so our brains tend to default to worry, which is different from realistic concern--the former extracts a high cost from the worrier in the form of compromised physical and mental health, while the latter does not negatively impact well-being. Readers of The Art of Taking It Easy will find themselves mentally reframing their approach to problems and stressors based on King's persuasive instruction, which will in turn improve their chances of surviving confrontations with the proverbial bears in their lives. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Psychologist/comedian Brian King delivers a wealth of practical advice for anyone struggling to overcome negativity or improve their ability to handle life's inevitable stressors.

Apollo, $22.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781948062466


The Way I Heard It

by Mike Rowe

Popular television host, narrator, actor and product pitchman, Mike Rowe presents 35 cleverly written short mysteries about public figures and notables that are culled from his podcast, The Way I Heard It. Between the mysteries, Rowe, with his signature humor and dry wit, ties in entertaining anecdotes about his own life--childhood adventures while growing up in a tight-knit Baltimore family; his mentors and his girlfriends; his penchant for Travis McGee novels; and his many comical experiences on the winding, bumpy road to success.

Rowe has hosted several offbeat shows on networks such as QVC, the Science Channel, CNN and National Geographic. He's most known for Dirty Jobs, where he performed 300 messy occupational duties alongside regular, hardworking employees. Rowe's affinity for the programs of radio broadcaster Paul Harvey served as inspiration for his creation of the mysteries of the book--what he pitches as "some true stories you probably don't know about some famous people you probably do." This includes obscure facts about presidents, musicians, writers, sports figures and more--the living and the dead--as well as places and events.

Readers will be greatly amused and intrigued by Rowe's presentation of each story. He offers just enough information and clues to keep readers engrossed--and guessing--about the who or what of each subject before he delivers surprising twists and reveals the mysterious identity at each story's conclusion. For all the jobs Mike Rowe has held in his storied career, writing might just prove to be his forte. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Popular TV personality Mike Rowe cleverly spins and unravels mysteries about notable public figures, while sharing stories of his own life.

Gallery Books, $28, hardcover, 272p., 9781982130855

Parking the Moose: One American's Quest to Uncover His Incredible Canadian Roots

by Dave Hill

Billed as "the greatest Canada-based literary thrill ride of your lifetime," comedian and radio host Dave Hill's Parking the Moose does not disappoint. Hill, from Cleveland, Ohio, was convinced early on by his Ontario-born grandfather that Canada was a far superior country. Tossing aside the ingrained ideology of the U.S. as the "greatest nation on Earth," Hill became obsessed with Canada. Hockey was his only sport, he eschewed bacon for the "far more delicious" Canadian variety and "whenever the subject of health care was brought up, [he] was more vocal about the vast merits of the Canadian system than perhaps any other nine-year-old you'd ever want to meet."

His passion for our northern neighbor waned following his grandfather's death, but as Hill (Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore) barreled into middle age, he felt a yearning to learn more about the man and his national pride. Over the next year and a half, Hill and various pals (some he met via social media or podcasts and was mostly convinced were not serial killers) visited cities from coast to coast to determine just what was so special about Canada.

Hill constructs his work as a loose travelogue, a tongue-in-cheek narrative steeped in humor. In this love story to his Canadian weaknesses--poutine, heavy metal and knickknacks--Hill seeks genuine connection and understanding. The result is a laugh-out-loud view of the differences between neighbors and the obvious merits of people who are kind, gentle and still imperfect. Though Canadian multitudes cannot be contained in a "mere book," readers will fall for the country that Hill's grandfather "simply wouldn't shut up about." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Comedian Dave Hill hilariously reports on the time he spent exploring his Canadian roots.

Doubleday Canada, $24, hardcover, 304p., 9780385690041

Children's & Young Adult

Roar Like a Dandelion

by Ruth Krauss, illus. by Sergio Ruzzier

This previously unpublished picture book by the inimitable Ruth Krauss, author of such classics as The Carrot Seed and A Hole Is to Dig, is perfectly paired with the subtly colored pen, ink and watercolor art of 2011 Sendak Fellow Sergio Ruzzier (Two Mice). Delicately filled with enticing details, whimsical commands and humorous illustrations, Roar Like a Dandelion is an unusual, playful alphabet book.

The absurd quality of the activities and the accompanying pictures will be immediately appealing to any child (or adult) with a wry sense of humor: "Paint a picture of a cage with an open door and wait" appears on a two-page spread showing a small animal artist sleeping next to a cage painted on an old wall; strange, winged creatures fly eagerly toward the open cage. The white space on each page provides a sense of quiet order, while the illustrations of individual birds, insects, plants and other objects cavorting exude a happy, wild feel. Ruzzier creates a visual narrative with recurring characters: a cat holding an umbrella as elephants "Fall like rain," for instance, scatters a few pages later when the elephants "Jump like a raindrop." Whether listening to the book as a read-aloud or reading the pages independently, children will surely want to join in on the action ("Hold your arms out like a little pine tree"). A single child or a whole group can easily engage with Roar and follow the silly directions. Not a first alphabet book, this small gem will encourage imaginative wordplay and movement. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Roar Like a Dandelion is a picture book abecedary that concentrates on verbs and action phrases that encourage writing, thinking and speaking.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-7, 9780062680075

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

by Jason Reynolds

How much do we really know about the people around us? The students at Latimer Middle School are typical kids: energetic, seemingly carefree and full of life. But beneath the surface, there are stories that sometimes even those closest to them have never heard. Everyone knows the Low Cuts steal pocket change; no one knows the oddly heartwarming reason. Say-So's teacher, in an attempt to keep her from "derailing the entire lesson," permits the class clown five minutes of jokes at the end of each period; Mrs. Stevens doesn't know that Say-So relies on jokes to make her hardworking mother laugh and to bond with her ailing grandfather. And those two boys clamoring down the hall--small Kenzi riding piggyback on "walking anvil" Simeon's back--aren't trying to be disruptive: Kenzi's diminutive stature has resulted in injuries from accidental elbows to the face in the crowded halls.

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down) is an unconventional, clever exploration of the secret trials and tribulations of middle schoolers. The 10 connected and intertwining tales are not neatly contained nor completed at the end, but rather left ambiguous, allowing readers to decide what happens next. Each of Reynolds's characters is so highly developed and memorable that they are easily noticed as background players in the others' vignettes. This insightful novel contains thought-provoking truths, often found within hilarious slice-of-life moments. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer

Discover: In Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, Jason Reynolds explores the lives of middle schoolers in 10 brief, interwoven stories.

Caitlyn Dlouhy/Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 10-14, 9781481438285

Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems

by Margarita Engle, illus. by Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez

In Margarita Engle's Dreams from Many Rivers, nuanced stories in verse about the territory now called the United States ring out from the pages in a chorus of distinct voices. Each poem--inspired by historical figures and a multitude of Latinx experiences--has a name, a location and a year attached in an effort to "portray a few glimpses of a vast and complicated past." The 2017-2019 Young People's Poet Laureate wanted to face "the shameful atrocities of Spanish conquistadors and their descendants" and "acknowledge that the history of the modern US begins in Puerto Rico," highlighting how people "have felt simultaneously accepted and rejected." Split into six sections, the poems begin in 1491 Borikén ("now known as Puerto Rico") and span generations, each section paired with an illustration depicting the growth of the United States.

Engle's poems show a variety of emotions, inviting in a range of readers. In "Daydreams," Yaima asks, "Are all little girls/ just as happy/ as I am/ when I swim/ with quiet manatees,/ telling them/ enchanting stories?" Spanish soldier Vicente de Zaldívar laments in "Vicious" that "violence/ is like a fever, contagious, destroying/ everything in its path, including/ my conscience." Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez, in her picture-book debut, depicts in sharp, gray-scale art specific details of Latinx life, giving the reader a more concrete experience with the time period discussed and the emotional state of the speaker.

The book ends on an upbeat note, though the poem comes from Elsa in Florida, who has just survived a school shooting: "We are the hopeful future,/ triumphing over this country's/ troubled past." Young readers may see this as an invitation to learn from history and "be leaders, not followers." --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.

Discover: The history of the United States--from before its founding to the present day--is told through a variety of Latinx stories in verse in Margarita Engle's middle-grade Dreams from Many Rivers.

Holt, $18.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 10-up, 9781627795319

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