From the Shelf
Independent Bookstores Depend on You
If you are reading this newsletter, you probably know that Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day, a "national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country.... Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different."
IBD is also something else; something that might sound contradictory, and yet is a critical factor in the success of indies. Tomorrow is a day to celebrate being dependent... upon readers like you.
Independence and dependence are dual forces that make our world of books flourish only when they are in harmony, a kind of biblio-centric yin and yang. It's complicated.
For their independent spirit to thrive, bookshops depend upon local communities to value and sustain them; on the loyalty and hard work of staff booksellers (those intelligent, devoted and passionate handsellers who are a bookstore's face and personality to most patrons); on other bookstores, through personal friendships as well as regional and national organizations; on authors and editors, publishers and distributors, publicists and sales reps and more.
Most of all, however, independent bookshops depend upon individual readers like you. I was a bookseller for many years, and I learned early on how important seemingly casual conversations about books with people like you could be. You make time to visit your local bookshop, looking for a great read or to attend an event. Your conscious actions and interactions are the not-so-secret ingredient that makes any bookstore an intrinsic part of its community.
There are many things a bookstore can do to become a destination spot. None of them works without you. Please stop by your favorite indie bookshop tomorrow to enjoy the IBD festivities. It's really your day. Making connections--to books, to readers, to booksellers--is the way of the book world, where we are at once fiercely independent and necessarily interdependent. --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Lesley Nneka Arimah
A dozen stories--some domestic, some speculative fiction--chronicle the lives of Nigerians in the U.S. and West Africa.
by Sarah Gerard
Clear-eyed but compassionate, Sunshine State is a thoughtful essay collection about growing up on Florida's Gulf Coast.
by Barry Lyga
Fourteen-year-old Sebastian, who accidentally killed his infant sister as a preschooler, finds himself at a crossroads between guilt and letting go over the course of one summer.
Review by Subjects:
From Village Books
04/28/2017 - 7:00PM
04/28/2017 - 10:30AM
04/29/2017 - 2:00PM
04/29/2017 - 4:00PM
04/29/2017 - 10:30AM
04/30/2017 - 4:00PM
Secrets of Ghostwriters
Mental Floss shared "9 secrets of ghostwriters."
"Make a cup of coffee to find out what book you should read," Buzzfeed challenged.
Who is Dr. Zhivago? Russia Beyond the Headlines asked readers to "test your knowledge of one of the world's best-known Russian novels and its author, Boris Pasternak."
"The cosplay habits of fictional characters" were showcased by Quirk Books.
Flavorwire showcased a "fantastic foreign film posters for Shakespeare-inspired movies."
Rediscover: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
First published in 1974 by William Morrow, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig was a spectacularly popular philosophy book that was loosely autobiographical, tracing a father-son motorcycle trip and flashbacks to a period in which the author was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Its thesis was that quality is the basis of reality, and that this understanding unifies most East Asian and Western thought. Pirsig called this system of thought the Metaphysics of Quality.
In the New Yorker in 1974, George Steiner wrote, "This is indeed a book about the art of motorcycle maintenance, about the cerebral concentration, about the scruple and delicacy of both hand and ear required to keep an engine musical and safe across heat or cold tarmac or red dust. It is a book about the diverse orders of relation--wasteful, obtuse, amateurish, peremptory, utilitarian, insightful--which connect modern man to his mechanical environment ... the analogies with Moby Dick are patent."
Amazingly Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishers before Pirsig found one that fully appreciated his work. "The book is brilliant beyond belief," Morrow editor James Landis wrote before the book was published. "It is probably a work of genius and will, I'll wager, attain classic status." Landis, of course, was right. The book has sold more than five million copies worldwide and is "an enduring landmark of American literature that has inspired millions of readers," Morrow said this week when it announced that Robert M. Pirsig had died on Monday at the age of 88. His masterpiece is available from HarperTorch ($7.99, 9780060589462).
The Writer's Life
Lisa Damour: The Guide to Teen Girls
|photo: Colleen Chrzanowski|
Parents faced with the challenges of childrearing often wish they'd been provided with "the manual." You know the one--answers for all the questions you never imagined were even possible, all the thorny situations that rear up. Psychologist Lisa Damour, director of the internationally renowned Laurel School's Center for Research on Girls, has written such a book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. Newly out in paperback from Ballantine Books, Damour's work offers a helpful slant that could resonate with a lot of families.
Tell us about the "seven transitions" of the title, and how you came to see this as a useful way of supporting teenage girls.
The seven transitions articulated in Untangled aim to help parents understand the developmental tasks of adolescence. The transitions, addressed one per chapter, are: Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe, Harnessing Emotions, Contending with Adult Authority, Planning for the Future, Entering the Romantic World and Caring for Herself. While I have cared for teenagers in my practice and as a consultant in school settings for more than 20 years, the impetus to organize the teenage years into a set of transitions actually grew out of my work with graduate students in psychology. I started thinking in terms of specific developmental transitions in order to give these budding clinicians a framework for evaluating the mental health of teenagers seeking psychotherapy. When we asked, "In which transitions is the teen progressing, struggling, or stalled?" we could make order out of what looked like chaos. Thinking about girls in terms of the many transitions involved in teenage development is practical for professionals, but, much more important, it allows parents to pinpoint the specific achievements that turn girls into grown-ups and makes sense of familiar, but confusing, teenage behavior.
There are so many considerations when addressing teenage challenges--how to avoid being a helicopter parent while also not putting on blinders; how to validate them when they're feeling frustrated, even if (especially if!) the frustration is directed at the parent. How do you approach families when the teenager is struggling because of how the parents are trying to intervene?
It can be so hard for parents to know how and when to step in when they are feeling concerned about their teenager. This is made all the more true by the fact that so much of normal development in teenagers can strike parents as worrisome, unfriendly or odd.
Untangled seeks to support parents' relationship with their teenagers in three ways. First, each chapter gives parents a fresh perspective on behavior that otherwise may not make sense. For example, Parting with Childhood sheds light on why, by age 11 or 12, many teenagers retreat to their bedrooms. Parents sometimes view the closed bedroom door as a personal rejection or a sign that something is amiss, rather than seeing it as a way for teenagers to seek independence while still living at home. Most teenagers start to spend a lot of time in their rooms simply to practice moving out psychologically before the time comes to move out physically.
Second, every chapter of Untangled ends with a "When to Worry" section that clarifies the difference between normal teenage behavior and that which is truly concerning. Untangled helps parents distinguish between the garden-variety challenges that come with raising teenagers and those that might require a dramatic shift in approach or a professional consultation.
Finally, by offering parents a developmental framework for understanding teenagers--a series of transitions and tasks--Untangled helps parents to take their child's behavior less personally. When parents can see their daughter's adolescence as a process she is working through, as opposed to something she is doing to them, they are able to hang back and allow that process to unfold. And, when it is time to step in, they are better able to do so in a way that won't make a difficult situation worse.
There's a growing body of research about the challenges introduced by technology into childhood development. Are the problems facing teenagers today different from the problems of previous generations? Do you see any legitimacy to the idea that we may be looking at behaviors that qualify as addiction?
The challenges of being a teenager haven't changed over time, but I believe that modern technology has increased the stress that comes with those challenges. For example, teenagers have always worried about how they fit into their social spheres, but they haven't always been able to quantify popularity with "likes." Teenagers have always fretted about their appearance and compared themselves to one another, but they haven't always been able to scrutinize a constant stream of images of their peers. And teenagers have always wanted to be as connected to their friends as possible, even when those relationships involve stress and "drama," but they haven't always been able to participate in a large social network 24 hours a day.
I do think that it's legitimate to see social media use as compulsive, if not addictive. Many teenagers (and adults, we should note) feel that they can't stop themselves from checking in with their social media, even when they are distressed or overwhelmed by what they find there. And we can easily imagine how technology, like other "addictive" forces, might become so compelling as to undermine a teenager's overall quality of life. That said, there's an emerging body of research showing that the rise of social media has coincided with a drop in drug use for teenagers. While there are certainly several forces at play, experts are not ruling out the possibility that teenagers who, in the past, turned to drugs to manage feelings of boredom or disconnection are now turning to social media instead. On balance, I'd prefer to have a young person become caught up with Snapchat, rather than a dangerous and addictive chemical substance, any day. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
by Lesley Nneka Arimah
The opening story of What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah's debut collection of short fiction, sets the tone for the revelatory experience that awaits readers. "The Future Looks Good" is chilling; childhood memories torment the younger of two Nigerian sisters, while the older is married to an abusive husband. Also packed into its eight short pages are a father who hot-wired cars in his youth and the 1967-1970 Biafran war. Arimah's works, which include speculative fiction and African mythology, demonstrate her gift for telling detail and odd twists, and illustrates the lasting influence of Nigerian politics on the characters, even those who have spent most of their lives in the United States.
A couple of the stories don't quite gel, but the highlights are jewels--among them is "Windfalls," in which a 15-year-old girl's widowed mother forces her to fake falls in grocery stores so that they can collect monetary settlements. "Who Will Greet You at Home" is a futuristic depiction of a society in which "motherless girls" form babies out of tough materials, such as raffia, and hope that they will be blessed into life. In the title story, the protagonist, one of 2,400 people called Mathematicians in the mid-21st century, uses a special formula to remove negative emotions from paying clients, yet the accuracy is questioned when a man plummets to his death. This astonishing collection is an impressive debut. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer
Discover: A dozen stories--some domestic, some speculative fiction--chronicle the lives of Nigerians in the U.S. and West Africa.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
by Hannah Tinti
A rambling saga that bounces across the United States, Hannah Tinti's ambitious second novel (after 2008's acclaimed The Good Thief) is the story of widower and vagabond Sam Hawley and his adolescent daughter, Loo. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a road trip through Sam's criminal past, flashing back to the shooting incidents that tattooed him with 12 bullet-hole scars. It is also a novel of the Olympus, Mass., coastal town where Loo's mother, Lily, lived before hooking up with Sam. All Loo knows of Lily and her premature death by drowning is gleaned from Sam's bathroom shrine of bric-a-brac memories. Much of what she knows of her taciturn father is the story behind each of his many guns and his terse fatherly advice about shooting, recognizing navigable stars and valuing work.
Tinti's novel covers a lot of ground, but at its heart lies Loo's emerging adulthood and independence. Sam takes her back to Olympus to meet her grandmother, who still resents him for taking Lily away. The school principal was once Lily's schoolmate boyfriend, and covers for Loo's wildness in class and tendency to break the rules. She falls for a loner boy whose environmental activist mother is trying to cap the local fishermen's catch.
Like Melville, Tinti occasionally runs on with details of guns, bullets, shirtsleeve first aid, whale habits, hot-wiring stolen cars, fishing and digging clams. But she pulls it together at the end as Loo maneuvers to save Sam from yet another shooting. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a big novel--ambitious, expansive and satisfying. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Tinti's ambitious second novel is a father/daughter saga about the role that legacy and choices play in creating family bonds.
by Kate Eberlen
Two young Brits repeatedly meet by chance but chronically fail to connect in Kate Eberlen's captivating first novel, Miss You. Their circuitous journey starts in summer 1997, when Tess and her best friend are traveling after high school graduation. In Florence, they cross paths with Gus, also a recent high school grad, who is traveling with his parents after the tragic death of his brother, the favorite son. A simple search for gelato first brings Tess and Gus together, but their encounter is fleeting because he feels inhibited in the presence of his parents. They return separately to London, and Gus heads to university to study medicine. Meanwhile, Tess defers academia because her mother dies after a battle with cancer; Tess must assume the care of her five-year-old sister, Hope, who has Asperger syndrome.
What ensues is a compelling story--told in alternating points-of-view--about the sense of responsibility and guilt inflicted upon both. Miss You maps Gus and Tess's crisscrossing journeys over 16 years. They briefly meet again at London coffee shops, a Rolling Stones concert in Glastonbury and when Gus's children get temporary tattoos at the salon Tess manages. Detours, distractions, sacrifices and bad choices lead to life-changing betrayals by friends and lovers. This episodic, detail-rich narrative breeds suspense as readers grow eager to learn if fate will ever allow these two lost souls--who often feel trapped by the elusive nature of love and happiness--finally to find each other. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Two young Brits keep missing each other--and their chance for true and lasting love--over the course of 16 years.
Mystery & Thriller
by Donna Leon
Earthly Remains, Donna Leon's 26th novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti (after The Waters of Eternal Youth), takes a slight departure from the standard Venetian setting. During an interrogation, Brunetti makes a rash decision, and realizes his mental health has been compromised. He needs a break. His wife, Paola, suggests he spends a few weeks at her wealthy aunt's exclusive villa on the secluded island of Sant'Erasmo.
Brunetti finds the retreat idyllic and infinitely peaceful, spending his days decompressing and rowing on the lagoon with Davide Casati, the caretaker of the villa. But then, during a storm, Casati goes missing. But Brunetti cannot believe that such an experienced boatman would suffer an accident. Worried that perhaps it was suicide, because of the strange things the elderly man would sometimes mutter, Brunetti can't resist using his official status to delve into the mystery of Casati's disappearance. What he finds is shocking--and leads to questions that Brunetti and his team struggle to answer.
Showcasing the stark contrast between Venice's organic beauty and the decay that centuries of neglect and overindulgence have laid upon it, Earthly Remains delicately captures the tension that modern Italians face. Government corruption, police fatigue and unbridled capitalism are clearly portrayed as negative, while Brunetti's love of ancient Roman history and the natural peace of the lagoon are celebrated. Mystery readers who enjoy a little philosophical introspection are sure to love this latest entry in a delightful series perfect for fans of Henning Mankell or Louise Penny. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A vacationing Commissario Guido Brunetti inadvertently begins an official investigation when he looks into the disappearance of an elderly friend.
Food & Wine
Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America
by Jeremiah Tower
America's Test Kitchen's Chris Kimball called Jeremiah Tower "the Lord Peter Wimsey of your food generation--flamboyant, sharp-tongued, talented, and in love with the style of the thing as much as the thing itself." Tower's California cuisine--formulated while serving as executive chef at Alice Waters's Chez Panisse in the 1970s, and perfected in the 1980s at San Francisco's Stars--formed the cornerstone of New American flavor. His legend is covered in the Anthony Bourdain-produced documentary The Last Magnificent, which coincides with the release of Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America.
The memoir touches upon Tower's privileged, jet-setting childhood--filled with luxurious banquets--before moving onto his college years at Harvard during the turbulent 1960s, when he forsook student protests in favor of culinary revolution. He honed a sophisticated palate on expensive wines and French cooking, thanks to a generous allowance from his grandfather. But when his grandfather died, Tower was forced to find employment. He landed at Chez Panisse with no restaurant experience, but a keen eye toward promoting his version of perfection. Tower's fastidiousness, and his flair for applying classical French cooking techniques to fresh, local ingredients, put the restaurants he managed on the map. His work influenced generations of chefs, yet for all his successes, Tower's story also serves as a cautionary tale concerning how the excesses of such a lifestyle come with a cost. What begins as arrogant, haughty self-obsession becomes a thoughtful consideration of one chef's place in American culinary history. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: The godfather of modern American cuisine provides a thoughtful analysis of his career and the revolution he inspired.
Castle: Their History and Evolution in Medieval Britain
by Marc Morris
In his marvelously entertaining and educational Castle, medieval historian Marc Morris (The Norman Conquest) charts the evolution of the castle over a period of 600 years--beginning with King Edward the Confessor in 1051 and fading out in the 17th century after the English Civil War.
Morris reveals the changing role of castles and some of the dramatic events that have happened within their walls. With an expert's eye for detail and a storyteller's charm for making history personal, Morris explains how these amazing structures were built, rebuilt, extended and adapted to function not only as defensive fortresses but also as luxurious homes.
Castle was originally published in the U.K. in 2003 (and immediately turned into a six-part documentary for British TV), but this is the first time it has been published in the United States. It is a vital, stirring and energetic overview of medieval British history while also serving as a travel guide to these long-standing and iconic fortresses. Morris is enthusiastic and confident as a tour guide and his writing is wry, well researched, accessible and entertaining. (He calls Bodiam Castle "a pin-up castle" because it's used in so many ads, calendars and movies.) History buffs, armchair travelers and Anglophiles will enjoy the fascinating history behind these massive structures and will delight in this engaging guide's more than 50 photographs and illustrations. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Historian Marc Morris's Castle offers an enthusiastic and marvelously entertaining socio-architectural history covering 600 years of British castles.
Essays & Criticism
Sunshine State: Essays
by Sarah Gerard
If readers have yet to discover Sarah Gerard's poignant and unflinching personal essays in the online magazine Hazlitt, then Sunshine State, her brilliant first collection, is an excellent introduction to her work. Gerard (Binary Star) combines memories of growing up in Florida with captivating insight into the state's history. She wrings beauty and heartbreak out of experiences as varied as taking drugs, watching an impoverished best friend grow distant and resentful, and volunteering at a bird sanctuary run by a "blithe, almost charming" but fraudulent ex-model and his cadre of loyal bird-lovers. Taken together, these essays paint a portrait of a state ravaged by economic hardship but enriched by cultural diversity.
Each piece is beautifully written and brimming with compassion for some of Florida's most disreputable people, but "Mother-Father God" is Gerard's most moving and well-observed. It begins with her mother, who after escaping an abusive husband, met the man who'd become Gerard's father. When that relationship starts to disintegrate, the mother seeks solace in Unity-Clearwater, a New Thought church with origins in Missouri, and convinces her husband to join her. From there, the essay takes a historical look at how the church's traditions extend from the teachings of Christian Science and how its practices have changed over time. Gerard's tender and candid look at her family's need for religion serves as commentary on larger matters, like loneliness and abuse. In this way, Sunshine State is a sympathetic examination of not only Florida but of communities everywhere. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Clear-eyed but compassionate, Sunshine State is a thoughtful essay collection about growing up on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Darwin's First Theory: Exploring Darwin's Quest for a Theory of Earth
by Rob Wesson
Geologist and earthquake researcher Rob Wesson traces the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the exciting scientific travelogue Darwin's First Theory: Exploring Darwin's Quest for a Theory of Earth.
Wesson follows Darwin's famous excursions in South America, notably in the Andean highlands of Chile, outlining not the man's theory of evolution, but rather his lesser-known contributions to plate tectonics. After all, Darwin was a geologist before he was a biologist, Wesson points out. He was a naturalist at a time when scientific fields themselves weren't heavily specialized and researchers followed their curiosity more than the rules of any one discipline.
Wesson succeeds in incorporating Darwin's writing into his larger narrative and provides plenty of relevant and illuminating passages. The mystery of mountains, the magnitude of their uplift, seems to haunt Darwin as he describes rocks, topography and the processes of erosion and deposition. Though not all his geological theories turn out to be correct, he was on the right track by surmising that powerful forces beneath the Earth's crust constantly alter landforms.
With the benefit of modern science, Wesson eschews the technical in favor of the descriptive. By placing himself in the same environments Darwin explored, he's able to evoke similar feelings of awe. Furthermore, his deft journalistic accounts of Chileans affected by recent earthquakes put a human face on geologic forces. The smart interplay between all these elements makes Darwin's First Theory indispensable reading for rock hounds and fans of natural history. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
Discover: An adventurous researcher follows the famous travels of Charles Darwin in order to unearth the principles of modern geology.
Collecting Evolution: The Galapagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin
by Matthew J. James
Originally a trip to burnish the institution's reputation, the voyage became the organization's lifeline when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed virtually all of its holdings; the eight men learned halfway through their expedition that their work would help start the museum from scratch. James weaves the personal histories of the men with that of the Academy, and of course the work of Darwin, showing how two visits to the Galapagos had unexpected reverberations in science and culture.
By shedding light on the latter visit, James reveals the riveting story of a museum recuperating from disaster, and of science at the dawn of the 20th century. For a book that has "The Galapagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin" as a subtitle, however, it doesn't do a good job of explaining that vindication. Still, for those looking for an interesting take on the history of science, Collecting Evolution is a good pick. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Collecting Evolution documents the expedition to the Galapagos Islands that saved the California Academy of Sciences.
House & Home
Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism
by Fumio Sasaki , trans. by Eriko Sugita
What do you do when it seems you have it all, yet can't find happiness? For Japanese editor Fumio Sasaki, the answer was to get rid of his belongings, right down to his bed. In Goodbye, Things, Sasaki shares how he did this and his emotional transformation to a state in which owning less resulted in more joy.
The minimalist movement has experienced a recent resurgence, a phenomenon Sasaki credits to a growing awareness that many people use possessions to measure worth. Goodbye, Things is a very personal journey, but the ideas and concepts are presented in a way that is both motivating and adaptable. Sasaki defines minimalist as someone who knows which items are truly essential and does away with the burden of anything extraneous. De-cluttering in a meaningful way theoretically leaves what's really important rather than what exists for appearance's sake.
Sasaki doesn't just tell, he shows with numerous photographs. The guide itself is quite beautifully pared down, from the gorgeous cover design to the well-organized interior. Even the pages are calming--large margins and spacing, along with numerous headings, render them pleasing to the eye.
Minimizing is particular to each individual, and Sasaki compiles different methods and tips for downsizing. We're all somewhere on the spectrum between hoarder and "sute-hentai" (weirdo obsessed with throwing stuff away), so our sweet spots will be different. The key is making peace with the idea that we are more interesting than our things. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: An editor aims to find his true self by getting rid of his possessions and maintaining a minimalist lifestyle.
Children's & Young Adult
by Barry Lyga
Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers trilogy) leaves serial killers behind and returns to Brookdale (The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl) for a heart-aching slice-of-life drama about the life-altering effects of a single moment.
As a four-year old, Sebastian Cody, now 14, shot and killed his infant sister Lola with their father's gun, "[a]nd the thing is this: I don't even remember doing it." His parents' divorce, the stares and pity from everyone in town, and the crushing weight of his guilt all trace back to the accident. During the summer that marks the 10-year anniversary of Lola's death, Sebastian plans to put everything right just as he once made everything wrong--with a gun. Then he meets Aneesa, a girl his age who wears hijab and whose captivating gaze turns him "to stone from shock. Metaphorically." Thrilled to befriend a pretty, intelligent girl who knows nothing about his past, Sebastian teams up with Aneesa to turn his pizza-making hobby into a YouTube show. As he lets joy and friendship into his life, though, Sebastian finds himself caught in a vicious circle of guilt he might not escape alive.
Lyga shifts among variations on guilt, healing, gun violence and Islamophobia with ease as Sebastian struggles to cope with his complicated life. Though YA stories often absent parents from the action, Sebastian's relationships with his estranged father and irreparably damaged mother grant an extra layer of reality. Painfully raw and accented with hope and anguish, Bang will connect solidly with older teens looking for a deep and affecting story. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Fourteen-year-old Sebastian, who accidentally killed his infant sister as a preschooler, finds himself at a crossroads between guilt and letting go over the course of one summer.
The Explorers: The Door in the Alley
by Adrienne Kress , illust. by Matthew Rockefeller
Twelve-year-old Sebastian comes from "a family of pragmatic minds." He's confident that the choices he makes are all logical, until the day he takes a wrong turn down an alley and discovers the "wondrous, strange, sometimes itchy" Explorers Society. After rescuing a pig wearing a teeny hat, Sebastian finds himself working after school at the nonsensical society, supervised by the pig. When resident adventurers insist that the obedient boy do something inappropriate, Sebastian (with the pig's help) sneaks a mysterious wooden box home from the society. Inside are mementos of the wild exploits of a team of explorers, the Filipendulous Five. Sebastian wonders why the box was hidden away, and why he has never heard this group mentioned at the society.
Meanwhile, an orphan named Evie, who lives at the "uninteresting and uninspiring" Wayward School, is bored out of her mind. Her only change of scene is dinner each week at the beige home of a boring couple, until one evening a nasty gunman with his jaw wired shut joins them. Evie escapes with a letter from the grandfather she has never known, and instructions to find the Explorers Society. Thus begins a partnership between Evie and Sebastian to find Evie's grandfather, who's also one of the Filipendulous Five.
Narrated with a smart, brisk tone and plenty of snark, Canadian author Adrienne Kress's (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman) series debut The Door in the Alley packs plenty of twists, turns and danger. Matthew Rockefeller's wonderfully detailed b&w art enriches both the playfulness and the mayhem. As a parting shot from the narrator, the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Twelve-year-old Sebastian teams up with orphan Evie to find her grandfather, a member of a mysteriously missing group of explorers, the Filipendous Five.
Shawn Loves Sharks
by Curtis Manley , illust. by Tracy Subisak
Shawn is a major fan of sharks. He loves their big, wide mouths full of sharp teeth and their "dark, blank eyes." And he so loves "how everything got out of the way of a shark" that he mimics shark behavior at recess when he chases the girls: "CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP!" His favorite prey is Stacy, naturally, because she "screamed the loudest." So when it's Predator Day at school, Shawn is thrilled. What could be better than learning about his favorite predator for credit? Unfortunately, when he pulls the name of "his" predator from the bowl, it's not a Great White, but a leopard seal! And, because justice is nothing if not poetic, it's Stacy who pulls the shark name from the bowl. In spite of his pleading and negotiating, Stacy won't trade--and soon, much to Shawn's chagrin, she gets a taste of the shark power Shawn has been wielding--and likes the flavor.
In their sweetly relatable Shawn Loves Sharks, Curtis Manley (The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read) and Tracy Subisak (Cy Makes a Friend) use a ferocious medium to gently explore childhood obsessions and bullying. Readers sense all along that Shawn's shark-like behavior is a passing thing--deep down, he's no cool-skinned predator of the deep. And as he diverts some of his passion to leopard seals, surprise! He finds a fellow predator devotee in Stacy. Subisak's appealing and dynamic artwork, in particular the expressive faces of the characters, pops on a clean white background, perfectly suited--visually and plot-wise--to Manley's economical and funny text. Readers will chomp-chomp this one up. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Shawn's mania for sharks spills over into his relationships at school, until prey turns on predator, and Shawn learns the value of reining in his obsession for the sake of friendship.