From the Shelf
You Are Getting Veeerry Sleeeepy: Bedtime Books
What makes a good bedtime picture book for toddlers? It's not an absolute necessity that bedtime books feature rabbits, but bunnies are strangely tranquilizing. It's not a must that bedtime books rhyme hypnotically, but it helps. All bedtime books don't have to end with the child or animal fast asleep, but everyone knows sleeping can be contagious. The following three 2016 picture books are all charming, and all end with closed eyes. Results not guaranteed.
Lilac skies are the twilight backdrop for the adorable sleepy animal babies in Good Night Like This (Candlewick) by Mary Murphy (Say Hello Like This!). The lovely lullaby begins with a rabbit cradling a bunny: "Yawny and dozy, twitchy and cozy. Good night, rabbits. Sleep tight...." Turn the cut-away page to find the words "like this," the book's refrain. As children bid goodnight to "flitty and shiny" fireflies, bears and squirrels, they may just follow suit.
The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits (Little Bee) by Douglas Florian (Dinothesaurus, How to Draw a Dragon) explores rabbit habits in the most delightful way: "There's waking up early/ to see the sun rise,/ and yawning at dawn/ while rubbing your eyes./ There's leaping/ and creeping and/ digging up holes./ There's frightening frogs and discovering moles." The comical, exuberant rabbits--fabulously illustrated by Sonia Sánchez (Here I Am)--swim and dig, hop and leap all the way to bedtime.
Toddlers are tireless! But even the indefatigable Henry ends up asleep in the rhythmic Henry Wants More! (Random House) by Linda Ashman (Rain!) and illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes (Baby Love). "Papa's lifting Henry high above his head./ Henry's face is joyful./ Papa's face is red./ UP and UP and UP again./ His arms are getting sore./ Papa stops to catch his breath, but Henry hollers:/ MORE!" In the end, Mama kisses Henry's sleeping head and whispers, "More." --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Bonnie McFarlane
Canadian comedian Bonnie McFarlane explores the strange, thrilling world of stand-up in this brutally candid memoir.
by Daniel Black
A homeless African American man learns the meaning and value of family when his life is in danger.
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
This exquisite debut novel set in 1970 Alaska is the gut-punching story of four teenagers whose hard-knock lives overlap in astonishing ways.
Review by Subjects:
10/17/2018 - 11:00AMCoffee Cake Book Club meets the third Wednesday of each month at 11:00 a.m. This month's book will be Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke.
10/18/2018 - 7:00PMWhat: Award-winning author Markus Zusak will discuss and sign BRIDGE OF CLAY, his new novel. When: Thursday, October 18, 7:00 pm Where: Westchester Academy, 901 Yorkchester Drive, Houston, TX 77079 Admission: This is a ticketed event. Visit Brown Paper Tickets to purchase a ticket to the event. Your ticket will admit one person, and each ticket includes a copy of BRIDGE OF CLAY. You can choose to have your ticket mailed to you or to print it out at home. In either...
10/20/2018 - 1:00PMWhat: Our dear friend, author Crystal Allen will discuss and sign her new novel for children, THE MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: MYA IN THE MIDDLE. When: Saturday, October 20, 1:00 pm Where: Blue Willow Bookshop, 14532 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77079 Admission: In order to go through the signing line and meet Crystal Allen for book personalization, please purchase THE MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: MYA IN THE MIDDLE from Blue Willow Bookshop. At the time of your purchase...
Super Tuesday--Or Not
Super Tuesday! Bustle recommended "11 books that'll inspire you to get to the polls on election day." On the other side of the aisle, Signature featured "not so Super Tuesday: 8 quotes about the evils of politics."
Did you ever wonder "what books were taken to the Antarctic 100 years ago"? BBC News did, and explored Sir Ernest Shackleton's reading material.
"Something truly beautiful is happening at this animal shelter," the Dodo observed in showcasing a program that trains kids "to read to dogs as a way of readying them for forever homes, all while instilling a greater sense of empathy in the youngsters, too."
Just in case "you wanted to know how much a butterbeer would cost," the Independent calculated "how much the money in Harry Potter is worth in real life."
"How should we treat animals?" Author Bernadette Russell shared her "top 10 philosophical questions children should ask" in the Guardian.
Rediscover: The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is coming back to the big screen. Twice. The first adaptation, from Disney, comes out April 15, 2016, with Jon Favreau (Elf; Iron Man) directing an A-list voice cast: Scarlett Johansson as the snake Kaa, Idris Elba as the tiger Shere Khan, Lupita Nyong'o as the wolf Raksha, Christopher Walken as the ape King Louie, Bill Murray as the bear Baloo and Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera. The Warner Brothers offering, scheduled for October 6, 2017, with a titular twist (Jungle Book: Origins), is the directorial debut of motion capture master Andy Serkis, who will also voice Baloo, alongside Christian Bale as Bagheera, Cate Blanchett as Kaa and Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan. After Disney's beloved 1967 animated film, these movies have big prints to fill.
The original Jungle Book is an illustrated collection of short stories and poems published in 1894. Though Kipling (1865-1936) wrote the book while living in Vermont, he was inspired by many years spent in India as a child and young adult. His anthropomorphic animals and the "man cub" Mowgli offer moral guidance in the guise of jungle adventures (continued in 1895's The Second Jungle Book). In 1907, Kipling's prolific work in verse and prose (including Just So Stories) made him the youngest Nobel Prize in Literature recipient. A new version of The Jungle Book is out today from Harper Design ($29.99, 9780062389503), featuring illustrations and interactive elements by MinaLima Design, whose portfolio includes work on the Harry Potter film franchise. With jungle maps and spinning dials, this edition has more than just the bare necessities. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Caldecott Winner Sophie Blackall: What Small Thing Might Change the World
|photo: Barbara Sullivan|
Australia-born artist Sophie Blackall has illustrated more than 30 books for children, including the award-winning Ruby's Wish and the popular Ivy and Bean series. On January 11, she was awarded the 2016 Randolph Caldecott Medal for her splendid artwork in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear (Little, Brown). Before Winnie-the-Pooh, Winnie was a real-life black bear, rescued by a soft-hearted Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourn on his way to England during World War I to be a veterinarian. This winning picture book, written by Colebourn's great-granddaughter Lindsay Mattick, tells the story of how that bear ended up at the London Zoo and became the inspiration for A.A. Milne's beloved Winnie-the-Pooh. Here, Blackall answers some questions for Shelf Awareness from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Did you grow up reading Winnie-the-Pooh?
Winnie-the-Pooh was the first book I bought with my own money. It was a battered 1950 edition in my mother's antique shop, and after school I would curl up under an old oak dining table and read it over and over. I used to try to hide it in the shop so nobody would buy it. Eventually my mother sold it to me for a dollar. I polished the steps to earn the money. I had never read a book like it. A book with interjections and digressions and ponderings. One that meandered and backtracked, that bounced and hummed, that drew you in so close that you felt you were in the very forest itself, and simultaneously allowed you to step back and see the actual form of a book. With characters so endearing they became your lifelong friends.
It was E.H. Shepard's drawings that first made me want to be an illustrator. So, when editor Susan Rich sent me the manuscript for Finding Winnie, I felt as though everything had been leading me to this book.
Finding Winnie explains the origin of the "Winnie" part of the Winnie-the-Pooh--from the Canadian soldier's hometown of Winnipeg--but not the "Pooh" part.
Pooh is the name Christopher Robin gives to a swan he feeds in the mornings! "This is a very fine name for a swan, because, if you call him and he doesn't come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying 'Pooh!' to show him how little you wanted him." (from A.A. Milne's When We Were Very Young)
Did you draw when you were a child?
Constantly. On my walk home from elementary school. I would pass the butcher shop and beg for some paper. The butcher would roll me up a few sheets and slice me a piece of mortadella into the bargain. I've been fond of butchers ever since. I wish I could thank him.
Do you prefer drawing animals to people?
I like drawing both, but I confess I almost always want to put clothes on animals. It was all I could do not to give Winnie a scarf or a fetching hat.
The book says your medium is "Chinese ink and watercolor on hot-press paper." Tell us about that.
I use Chinese ink to paint the gray tones, and watercolor washes over the top. I use Schmincke watercolors, in a tin set my father gave me when I was 15. After 35 books, I've had to replace a few of the colors, but they last such a long time.
The cover of Finding Winnie is so clever, showing one leg on the front cover and one leg on the back to make sort of a hybrid person based on the two sections of the book. How did that cover design evolve?
We must have tried at least a dozen different ideas for the cover. We knew we wanted the front to show Harry and Winnie and the back to show Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh. I had drawn both pairs full figure and it took a while to work out that I needed to zoom in and just show the legs.
I love the book cover underneath the jacket, with the silhouetted soldiers marching, led by the bear. Are there any more secret things hidden inside Finding Winnie?
This inner cover is one of my favorite things about the book. It's an homage to E.H. Shepard's endpapers in my old edition of Winnie-the-Pooh. I tucked quite a few secrets and jokes into the book, one of the many fun things about being an illustrator. There's a message to be decoded in the signal flags, and several details to be discovered in the map of the zoo. Careful readers will notice the owl in Cole's bedroom. [In Finding Winnie, Cole is the little boy listening to his mother's story as it unfolds.]
The story starts in 1914 Canada, then moves to England when Harry Colebourn goes off to war. What sort of research did you do to make sure the illustrations were historically accurate?
I visited the archives of the London Zoo to see photographs and news clippings and the ledger in which Winnie's arrival was recorded by the zookeeper in exquisite copperplate. I went to the Imperial War Museum and read soldiers' diaries and I traveled the road Harry and Winnie took to the city, past Stonehenge.
Back at my desk, several things had me tied up in knots: the bird's-eye view of the zoo, which involved researching period photographs of every building and cross-referencing those with a footprint map I had from 1913; getting the train right (luckily I share a studio with Brian Floca who offered encouragement--I think I can, I think I can--and access to his library of train books); figuring out the parade of ships with the only existing color reference being a painting called Canada's Answer--an impressionistic interpretation of the crossing made some years after the event--and learning signal flags. In addition to my own research, I was so fortunate to have access to Lindsay Mattick's family documents and photographs, many of which appear in the album at the end of the book.
At one point, the World War I part of the story ends, and the focus shifts to Christopher Robin Milne, A.A. Milne's son, the boy who sees Winnie at the London Zoo. Tell us about that visual shift.
Hearing that Harry leaves Winnie at the zoo, the little boy, Cole, is devastated. His mother explains, tenderly, that sometimes you have to let one story end so the next one can begin. "How do you know when that will happen?" he asks. "You don't," she says. "Which is why you should always carry on." This makes me choke up every time.
We turn the page to see Christopher Robin with his bear and it feels like a new beginning, "Once upon a time..." I think this idea is quite profound. It's how, as human beings, we deal with loss and change. And it ties these momentous events in our lives back to storytelling. Every family is full of stories and we pass them down from generation to generation. The wonderful thing about a book is that when we get to the end, we can begin again at the beginning.
You share an art studio with a handful of luminaries from the children's book world--you mention Brian Floca, Eddie Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano and Sergio Ruzzier. It sounds positively dreamy.
My studio mates are my second family, my best friends. I have learned so much from working in their company. We share reference books and industry gossip and lunch and I can't imagine going back to working in isolation. In fact, we are planning a retirement home for illustrators. We'll all have arthritis by then so we'll play Pictionary with our feet.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new series with my studio mate John Bemelmans Marciano, called the Witches of Benevento, which comes out this April with Viking, and a picture book with Chronicle, which is immense and immensely exciting.
Anything else you'd like to tell the readers of Shelf Awareness?
Finding Winnie is about a spur-of-the-moment act of kindness. It's about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. It's about the connections we make throughout our lives and the possibility that any of those might prove to be profound. It's about stories passed down to us through generations and the stories we share with children and the stories we leave behind.
This story belongs to Captain Harry Colebourn and his great-granddaughter Lindsay, and her son Cole. It belongs to everyone who ever loved Winnie-the-Pooh, and it belongs to every child who wonders what he or she may do in their lifetime, what small thing might change the world. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Listen to the Lambs
by Daniel Black
In Daniel Black's (Twelve Gates to the City) allegorical tale of a successful African American man who gives up all of his material possessions--and his family--in order to live fully, readers will find the striking beauty of an exceptionally talented writer. Listen to the Lambs is a literary ballet of sweeping proportions, and the choreography of the characters' lives is meticulously crafted to deliver a pointed story of race, class and family.
When Lazarus Love III realizes his corporate job is slowly killing him, he wants to quit. But his wife can't comprehend this desire to abandon the affluent life to which they are accustomed, and she asks him to leave. So Lazarus takes up residence below an overpass where he watches his two children from afar and builds a new family with other homeless individuals: Cinderella, a white, middle-aged woman whose prized possession is a pair of red shoes; Elisha, a young African American man who fled the foster system; Legion, who is intersex and has been abandoned by family; and The Comforter, the ethereal presence who brings a level of spirituality to the tribe of vagabonds. A terrifying threat to Lazarus's life brings them together, and they discover, "Strength ain't money or power or even influence.... Strength is unity."
Black's characters dance to the rhythm of his language: intense descriptions, "e" as Legion's genderless pronoun, strong dialogue and powerful symbolism. There's a minor, yet readily noticeable, misstep in the presentation of courtroom procedure; however, the small distraction takes little away from this elegant performance. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A homeless African American man learns the meaning and value of family when his life is in danger.
We've Already Gone This Far: Stories
by Patrick Dacey
The first story, "Patriots," in Patrick Dacey's debut short story collection, We've Already Gone This Far, sets the tone for the rest of the book. What would be any other American suburb is turned into a cauldron of resentment, fear, loneliness and, finally, redemption. When a woman--still reeling from her husband's abandonment--takes her anger out on her neighbor's Iraq War veteran son, it's clear that Dacey analyzes human nature closely and mines relationships for insight.
In subsequent stories, a bored ex-football coach goes on a joyride with an old player who's come into hard times, and Dacey takes his readers into the depths of sadness and loneliness in both, showing how each man's expectations for the night become stand-ins for the expectations they had for themselves. A man living in a hotel after his wife leaves him has a revelation about love, friendship and responsibility in an Applebee's bar. Another man drives around the country looking for job opportunities that he can write home to his daughter about.
The story "Ballad," about an ex-musician trying to write a song with his baby daughter for his wife, unfolds as a literal representation of the collection's many layers. The narrative, written without punctuation as a stream-of-conscious monologue to the infant, becomes a story about the musician's failings as a husband, which becomes the perfect song.
For Dacey's characters, every moment of every day carries the potential for either dizzying heights or crushing defeat. --Josh Potter
Discover: Patrick Dacey's stories expose and explore the small moments that create a person's world.
Man on Fire
by Stephen Kelman
Man on Fire, Stephen Kelman's follow-up to his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Pigeon English, is a peculiar novel, the story of an Englishman named John Lock who, after receiving a cancer diagnosis, leaves his job and his wife to seek out a minor celebrity in India named Bibhuti Nayak. Bibhuti, who dictates some chapters from his own zen perspective, has made a name for himself by setting unusual records such as "43 kicks to the unprotected groin in one minute and a half" and "31 water melons dropped on stomach in one minute from height of 10m." He has achieved a guru-esque status thanks to these bizarre feats and his teachings advocating self-improvement. Lock arrives in India with an offer to help Bibhuti complete his next record attempt and ends up facing a crisis of conscience when Bibhuti's attempt reveals itself to be potentially life threatening.
Perhaps even odder than the premise is Kelman's approach to the story. The character of Bibhuti, an addendum reveals, is based on a real person, and many of the feats described in the book are based on actual records he set. This might explain why Kelman does not take an overtly humorous approach to the material, treating Bibhuti's painful search for transcendence with respect and compassion instead of ridicule. What on paper looks like a humorous book with a silly premise is better described as a melancholy commentary on the extreme lengths to which people can go to find inner peace. Man on Fire is thoughtful, occasionally funny and highly original. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
Discover: Man on Fire uses extreme record-setting to create the convoluted narrative of John Lock, a depressed Englishman who travels to India searching for meaning.
by Olga Grushin
In Forty Rooms, Olga Grushin (The Dream Life of Sukhanov) tells the story of a woman's life, from her childhood dreams of becoming a poet to her closing fugue-like days, when those dreams entwine with her experiences and her regrets. Grushin emphasizes the choices that people make between following one's creative vision or a life of material comfort.
Her protagonist, the daughter of Russian intellectuals, grows up in Moscow and stays up late reading forbidden poetry. A romantic, she imagines the characters in her mind as mythical creatures. They enter her world in hallucinatory dream sequences, and they beckon her to a place where she, too, can be a poet, immortal and capable of seeing past the mundane surfaces of life. Her dreams propel her to apply to college in the American South, and then to the urban Northeast to make her way as a writer. There she connects with Paul Caldwell, a college friend from a wealthy family, and settles into a comfortable, upper-middle-class suburban life of motherhood, shopping and competitive decorating, interrupted only occasionally by the taunting memories of her youthful dreams. She turns a blind eye to the fissures in her life, filling the emptiness with yet another pregnancy, eventually finding deep pleasure in her children.
The genius of Forty Rooms is its suggestion that a betrayal of childhood dreams can still allow for a life filled with meaning, one that is contradictory, replete with loss, contentment, regret and its own definition of purpose. Forty Rooms is a beautiful, moving novel of dreams that reflects life as it is lived. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: A woman navigates the conflict between her artistic and domestic needs.
All the Winters After
by Seré Prince Halverson
Twenty years after the plane crash, Kachemak Winkel and his aunt Snag still blame themselves for what happened that dismal day, when Kach's parents and older brother slammed into an Alaskan mountain. In their grief and guilt, Kache and Snag have put their lives on hold, but now, 38-year-old Kache has come home to Caboose, Alaska, to face the past and the future in All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson (The Underside of Joy).
Anxiously awaiting Kache's return from self-imposed exile, Snag is eager to see her beloved twin brother's son, but dreads what she must confess: she has never in 20 years summoned the courage to visit the family homestead. Kache is resolved to confront painful memories--but fears the house itself has sunk into the Alaskan woods. When Kache catches sight of the cabin--smoke curling from the chimney and grounds well tended--a third character enters the saga.
Even more remote from the village of Caboose than the Winkel homestead are "Old Believer" towns founded by members of the Russian Orthodox sect when Alaska was a Russian territory. Ready to confront the squatter in his family home, Kache discovers Nadia, who fled an abusive arranged marriage and has lived in the cabin, maintaining the property, for a decade. She slowly reveals her story, and the two support their mutual recovery from tragic pasts.
Halverson's three main characters--plus elderly Gram, Caboose locals and Snag's unlikely love interest--are patient and loving as they face old truths and try to plan a future. Conflicts resolve, but not predictably, and the majestic natural wonders of Alaska are a sensory delight throughout. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A remote Alaskan village holds sorrow and hope for three residents confronting painful memories and preparing for a brighter future.
Flight of Dreams
by Ariel Lawhon
On May 6, 1937, the luxury German airship Hindenburg met a spectacularly disastrous and highly publicized end when it went up in flames attempting to land at a New Jersey airfield. Despite a subsequent investigation, the cause of the fire was never clear, and the ship's demise has long been a subject of debate. Ariel Lawhon's second novel, Flight of Dreams, weaves the facts of the ship's final voyage together with a series of intertwined narratives of several passengers and crew members, each of whom has something to hide.
Journalist Gertrud Adelt has had her press card revoked by Joseph Goebbels and is still smarting from the insult. Novice cabin boy Werner Franz is desperate to prove himself to his crewmates. Widowed stewardess Emilie Imhoff is making secret plans for her future, which may be complicated by her feelings for navigator Max Zabel. And a mysterious American, traveling under an alias, will stop at nothing to carry out his murderous objective.
Lawhon (The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress) deftly braids together the complex threads of her characters' stories, narrating via a keenly observed third-person voice. Her taut prose and subtle plotting create a gripping narrative, rich with historical detail and spiked with plenty of surprises even for those who know the Hindenburg's fate. Through her vividly drawn characters, Lawhon's story touches on grief, family loyalty, ambition, romance and complicated international politics. Like the spectators who observed the Hindenburg's fiery descent, readers will find themselves unable to look away. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Ariel Lawhon weaves a gripping narrative of the final voyage of the airship Hindenburg in her novel Flight of Dreams.
Mystery & Thriller
by Jo Nesbø , trans. by Neil Smith
Jo Nesbø's narrator in the standalone thriller Midnight Sun is running from the Fisherman, a powerful drug lord with eyes everywhere. The narrator knows it is only a matter of time until he is found, but he figures Kåsund, a small village in the far north of Norway, is as good a place to hide as any.
Introducing himself as Ulf, up from Oslo to hunt grouse, the narrator meets Lea and her precocious son, Knut, after they discover him sleeping in the church. Lea lends Ulf her husband's rifle since he has nothing to hunt with and shows him a small cabin in the woods where he can stay. Time alone in the secluded shack affords Ulf the opportunity to reflect on the past he's trying to escape. But he also spends time with the newly widowed Lea and grows fond of young Knut. Those familiar with a Nesbø novel know serenity can only be short lived, and it isn't long before Kåsund's visiting hunter becomes the hunted.
Midnight Sun is short, swift and thoroughly captivating. The author of the Harry Hole series continues his trend of well-crafted, surprising plots populated by complex, haunted characters. Midnight Sun offers several superb twists, as well as well-placed humor and strong symbolism--like the 24-hour sunlight offering no darkness in which to hide. The relationship dynamics of Kåsund's colorful citizens add to the suspense and illustrate Nesbø's skill for depicting rich, dimensional characters, regardless of their role. Ulf is arguably one of Nesbø's finest; his return would certainly be welcome. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A man on the run finds more than a place to hide in a small Norweigan village where the sun shines 24 hours a day.
Biography & Memoir
You're Better Than Me: A Memoir
by Bonnie McFarlane
Bonnie McFarlane begins her memoir You're Better Than Me with a confession of sorts: "How I Failed at Being a Serial Killer, or Why I Am a Comedian." The chapter title says much about her sense of humor: dark, off-color and deeply self-deprecating. Breaking down the ways in which her rural Canadian childhood resembled that of the average serial killer's, according to Wikipedia, she recounts eating her pet cow, punching the local bully and suffering from extreme social anxiety--a condition that, oddly, improved only when she tried stand-up. Among fellow comedians (who tended to be as weird or weirder than she thought herself), she learned to transmute her idiosyncrasies into entertainment and, in doing so, finally felt at home. Taking inspiration from other outspoken female comics such as Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo, McFarlane worked her way up from a rough Canadian bar scene to the ultra competitive clubs of New York City, eventually appearing on Last Comic Standing and Late Night with David Letterman.
You're Better Than Me is published under the imprint of Anthony Bourdain and, like his debut memoir, Kitchen Confidential, it is essentially an homage to the love of work. Describing her first experiences with stand-up as "horrible, scary, pathetic, and thrilling," McFarlane is nonetheless drawn to her chosen profession like a moth to a flame (or, in her words, an addict). While she may joke about bombing sets and taking shots before shows, her commitment to the craft is unwavering. Now settled in New Jersey, she runs the podcast My Wife Hates Me with her husband, Rich Vos, a fellow comic. --Annie Atherton
Discover: Canadian comedian Bonnie McFarlane explores the strange, thrilling world of stand-up in this brutally candid memoir.
Sunny's Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World
by Tim Sultan
Tim Sultan wandered by accident through the door beneath the sign that read simply "Bar," in the derelict neighborhood of mid-1990s Red Hook in Brooklyn, N.Y. Charmed by the proprietor, Antonio Raffaele "Sunny" Balzano, Sultan become a bar regular, then a bartender, and eventually left his Manhattan high-rise job to devote himself to the bar--or, more accurately, to Sunny himself. Sunny's Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World is an appreciation of that man.
Sunny's bar is "on the edge of the world" because Red Hook is both a point on what Sunny calls the Mississippi-Hudson River (because of the Hudson's role in his youth, which he recalls in parallel to the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn), and an outlier in the consciousness of greater Brooklyn. Sultan explores the history of the neighborhood as well as of Sunny and his bar, a family affair for generations. The result is both memoir and biography, alternating between the protagonists' years of friendship and their separate pasts: Sultan grew up in West Africa and Germany while Sunny's childhood was confined to Red Hook. Also an artist in diverse media, Sunny is wildly charismatic, with endless stories that unfailingly hold his audience spellbound; this is the real story of the bar. As Sunny and Sultan share histories, escapades (including a near-drowning in the Mississippi-Hudson) and hospital visits, old Red Hook wise guys (some still bending an elbow at Sunny's), poets, lovers, musicians and artists make for a colorful, eclectic and winning tale--like Sunny himself. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A vividly portrayed Brooklyn bar serves as vehicle in a young man's ode to his friend.
by John Kinsella
John Kinsella is the international editor of the Kenyon Review and author of more than 40 books. In Firebreaks, he drops readers into the countryside of Western Australia, bringing lyricism to such mundane tasks as putting in a fence in "Fencing Reversals": "You wouldn't read about it: me putting a fence in/ rather than taking out; but today, that's just/ what I did," he writes. "I can barely hit the hard green keys/ of the priest's old typewriter, fingers so cut,/ scratched, pierced, and punctured."
He can take the energy of thunder and lightning and raise them to new heights, as in "Arc":
the time-rending slash of light,
that blinds in distending
sight into the infinite's
finitude, a slicing apart
of tissue and time, temporal
glitch where thunder and lightning
are one, no one counting down to safety,
as just metres away (imperial
and metric anneal), charged steel
fencepost, groundstar telescoped
to firmament, glistens and crackles.
Writing in multiple poetic formats, Kinsella evokes the ethereal quality of Thoreau while he lived near Walden Pond, but with a definite Aussie flavor all his own, which provides insight into a culture and environment that many may not be familiar with. He examines what it means to call a place home, to observe the landscape through its seasonal cycles, and to leave a homeland and return with fresh eyes that see the familiar in a new light. His work is refreshing, invigorating and well worth reading. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: These poems are cutting edge, expressive and ecologically minded.
Children's & Young Adult
The Smell of Other People’s Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Set in remote 1970 Alaska, when indigenous communities still mourned losses that came with statehood in 1959, The Smell of Other People's Houses explores relationships that bind, falter, recover and flourish. First-time novelist Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock introduces the distinct voices of four teenagers who, over four seasons, undergo drastic changes: Ruth, raised by her stern grandmother, poignantly realizes how "houses with moms in them... tend to smell better"; Dora has the bad luck of winning the lottery, which brings her unwanted attention from her unstable parents; Alyce is worried that her dedication to ballet means alienating her fisherman father; and Stan is determined to protect his two younger brothers after the loss of their parents--one forever gone, the other made neglectful from desperate loneliness.
Resonating details--soap-making nuns, Goodwill boots, orca whales, a name scribbled on a bathroom paper towel--create an intimate narrative about a troubled community in which too many young people have seen too much: "My mom loves to laugh, especially when nothing is funny," Dora remarks. "It's an important trait to have around here, but I'm afraid I didn't inherit it." What lingers beyond Hitchcock's evocative words are the titular "smells"... of cedar, fish, disinfectant, blueberry pie and even "the smell of too much love."
A fourth-generation Alaskan and a public radio journalist, Hitchcock crafts an affecting story of fractured love and surprising redemption. Beyond the seemingly impossible serendipity and the deus ex machina resolutions, she writes fluidly with earnest veracity. Readers will cheer for (and weep over) the near-magical four-pronged endings--which prove to be wonderfully hopeful beginnings. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: This exquisite debut novel set in 1970 Alaska is the gut-punching story of four teenagers whose hard-knock lives overlap in astonishing ways.
The Land of Forgotten Girls
by Erin Entrada Kelly
"Once upon a time there were two sister princesses who lived in a tower. They ate leftover gas station food, stale cereal, and peanut butter sandwiches--only they had to settle for creamy because the evil stepmother didn't like crunchy." If their life really were a fairy tale, 12-year-old Sol Madrid and her six-year-old sister Ming would live happily ever after... once their magical, mythical Auntie Jove showed up in Louisiana to rescue them from their evil stepmother. But Tita Vea, the cruel woman their father married after their mother died, is, tragically, all they've got. After Papa abandons them all for another woman in the Philippines, their home country, Sol bounces between fantasy and reality as she navigates her existence with Tita Vea ("a fire-breathing dragon in dirty pink slippers"), her little sister whom she can't protect forever, and her best friend, Manny, who is becoming annoyingly interested in kissing her.
Filipina-American Erin Entrada Kelly's (Blackbird Fly) themes of sisterhood, friendship, truth and hope are what lift The Land of Forgotten Girls into the realm of the truly special. Sol is authentic--a Filipina girl with a thousand counts against her, who is as likely to be throwing pine cones at a private-school albino girl as she is to be befriending the one she has bloodied. Perhaps Sol's greatest saving grace is her ability to find the real-life heroes, and to accept their care and support in spite of her fiercely independent spirit. Readers who feel marginalized or alone in their troubles will adore Sol and her ragtag family, both chosen and "real." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Two Filipina-American sisters walk the line between real and make-believe to cope with their difficult life in Louisiana with a genuinely cruel stepmother.