Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

Garden District Book Shop Issue for Friday, June 23, 2017

From the Shelf

Summertime, and the Reading's Easy

Everyone knows that a sunny summer day wouldn't be complete without a good book. For a walk on the lighter literary side, try Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (HarperCollins; reviewed below) by Balli Kaur Jaswal. It may sound titillating--and it is. But there's so much more to this hilarious and tender story of a London Sikh community's sexual awakening when an adult literacy course becomes an adult literature workshop.

Looking for a well-crafted take on love and life? In The Shark Club (Viking) by Ann Kidd Taylor, Maeve Donnelly is dealing with her twin brother's intent to write a thinly veiled version of her life and the sudden reappearance of her ex-fiancé, a man Maeve's never been able to completely forget. "Absorbing and well-written, Kidd Taylor's narrative is a bittersweet story of love, complicated family ties and living with the past while refusing to be defined by it."

Karen Dionne's The March King's Daughter (Putnam), a "psychological thriller of the highest order," is perfect for reading with all the lights on. When Helena's father kills two guards and escapes from prison, it's up to her to track him down, using the very skills he taught her during a brutal adolescence filled with fear. A "taut page turner that haunts the reader long after the last line is read."

And put your sleuthing skills to good use by reading Magpie Murders (Harper) by Anthony Horowitz. A novel within a novel, this story of an editor who sets out to solve the death of her author inspired our reviewer to claim "clever writing and unusual premise make Magpie Murders irresistible."

--Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

William Morrow & Company: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams / The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Mira Books: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

Akashic Books: Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino

In this Issue...

Reviews

When a violent survivalist escapes prison, the one person who can track him down is his daughter, who learned everything she knows about living in the marshlands from him.

Read this review >>

The Big Bad Fox

by Benjamin Renner

A scruffy, down-on-his-luck fox finds himself raising three sassy chicks in this graphic novel from one of the directors of Ernest and Celestine.

Read this review >>

Punjabi widows turn a literacy course into an erotica workshop, and the result is both hilarious and tender.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Graphic Books History Science Sports Children's & Young Adult Performing Arts

Fabled Films: The Nocturnals by Tracey Hecht - 11 Fun summer boredom buster activities!

Book Candy

Bookish Things Bibliophiles Should Do

Bustle suggested "11 bookish things every bibliophile should do at least once."

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Emma Watson "is hiding 100 copies of The Handmaid's Tale near Paris landmarks," Teen Vogue reported.

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A "shelf's worth of writers" reflected "on the books that mean 'summer' to them" for the Globe & Mail.

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For Reading Rainbow fans and, well everybody: "LeVar Burton Reads to adults in awesome new podcast," USA Today reported.

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Honest: author Miranda Doyle picked her "top 10 books about lies" for the Guardian.

Akashic Books: Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes

Great Reads

Rediscover: Brian Doyle

Oregon author and Portland magazine editor Brian Doyle died last month at age 60. He is perhaps best known for the novel Mink River (2010), a perennial book club favorite set in Neawanaka, a fictional small town on the coast of Oregon. The Plover (2014) follows a world-weary sailor whose lonesome maritime wandering is interrupted by a cast of human and animal shipmates. Martin Marten (2015) is a coming-of-age story in two connected parts: one about a 14-year-old boy living on Oregon's Mt. Hood (or Wy'east, as its original inhabitants called it), the other about Martin, a pine marten leaving its family for the first time. Chicago (2016) is a love letter to "the Great American City," in which a college grad spends five seasons living on the city's north side.

Doyle's novels, short stories ("Bin Laden's Bald Spot") and essays ("Children and Other Wild Animals") are heartfelt, often humorous works influenced by his own spirituality. Doyle's most recent book, The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson (Thomas Dunne, $25.99, 9781250100528), was published on March 28. It is based on a real idea for a novel left unwritten by Stevenson, who imagined turning his San Francisco landlady's tales of her soldier/seaman husband into an adventure story. Doyle-as-Stevenson follows John Carson from the Civil War to Borneo while exploring 1880s California, all in tribute to a lost style of storytelling. --Tobias Mutter

Silver Dolphin Books: Kisses for Kindergarten by Livingstone Crouse, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan

The Writer's Life

Michael McGirr: On Getting Home to Bed

photo: Bill Spierings

A former Jesuit priest, Michael McGirr is an essayist and prize-winning short story writer. His latest book, Snooze: The Lost Art of Sleep (Pegasus), is reviewed below.

Homer's Odyssey is a work that continues to provide fodder for comic strips and popular culture almost 3,000 years after it started to take shape (somewhat longer than the average life expectancy of books these days). The hero, Odysseus, leaves the rocky island of Ithaca, where he is king, and goes off to fight the Trojan war. He makes an appearance in Homer's prequel, The Iliad, where he has the clever idea of using a wooden horse to smuggle soldiers into the besieged city of Troy. Once the war is won, Odysseus has to get back home--and this is the plot of The Odyssey. A truly epic tale, our hero has more than his fair share of adventures over the course of the story. But perhaps most interesting is that, even with all the impressive exploits and so much at stake in various circumstances, at its root, The Odyssey is a book about getting home to bed.

It takes Odysseus quite a while to find his way home; by the time he gets back to Ithaca, he's been gone for 20 years. His queen, Penelope, has been waiting patiently all that time. For three of the years Odysseus is away, she keeps her eager suitors at bay by telling them that she can't possibly marry until she has completed the shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. Every day, she works on it, crafting a "great and growing web." Then, every night, she stays awake, undoing the work she has done on the shroud that day, in order to give herself an excuse for the work continuing. It's as good a use for insomnia as the world has ever seen.

Eventually, Odysseus does turn up in Ithaca, dressed in rags and looking like a beggar. Even Odysseus's identity is established by his bed. When Penelope requires proof that this stranger is her husband, she asks, within his earshot, for their bed to be moved. Only Odysseus would know that the request is impossible--he'd carved it himself in situ from the stump of an old olive tree whose trunk had taken centuries to reach the width of a pillar, and he built the walls of their chamber around it. When Penelope makes her request, Odysseus explains exactly why their bed can't be moved. And that's how she knows it's him.

Odysseus will clean out the suitors and be reunited with Penelope, of course. But what's interesting is the way the story is told. The point to which Odysseus returns is not his island, his throne or even his wife. The point toward which Odysseus has been traveling--through storm, disaster, bloodshed and confusion--is his bed.

The bed has roots deep in the earth. This is an evocative image, one which gives bedrock a literal meaning. Odysseus's bed is part and parcel of the rocky soil on which he was born. The entire world of his travels is anchored to it, and a quick flick through The Odyssey soon shows how carefully the theme of sleep is incorporated into the bones and sinews of the poem.

Odysseus's friend and guide among the gods, Athena, is the bringer of sleep. Odysseus gets into trouble at one point for sleeping without having made landfall; his ship is then blown back to square one and Odysseus must endure yet more suffering. Then, when Odysseus touches soil, he immediately drops into a deep, delicious sleep. Throughout the poem, Odysseus's moral stamina is seen in his ability to forgo false luxury in refusing beds that are not his rightful resting place. On his return to Ithaca, he first seeks shelter from Eumaeus, an old swineherd who has remained loyal throughout the king's absence. Though he doesn't know this stranger, Eumaeus still offers Odysseus his own bed. But our hero refuses, and sleeps outside. Hospitality, kindness to travelers and offering refuge are the timbers from which Homer built The Odyssey, a ship that is anchored to the wanderer's bed.

The point of The Odyssey is finding rest. It is curious that Western storytelling, a treasure trove of restlessness, a vast anthology of itchy feet, begins with a tale whose substance is so different. Of course, there is a lot of seepage between the ideas of finding rest and death. But the hero of The Odyssey is a guy who has cheated death. He has come home not to die but to sleep. He has come home to bed.

Crown Publishing Group: The Little French Bistro by Nina George

Book Reviews

Fiction

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

by Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Southall, London, Sikh community gets a sexual awakening when an adult literacy course becomes an adult literature workshop in Balli Kaur Jaswal's U.S. debut, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.

Modern but struggling Nikki begrudgingly agrees to post her traditional sister's profile on their Sikh temple marriage board. There she discovers an opportunity to prove to her family and herself that she's not a complete failure. She takes a job teaching what she thinks is a creative writing class for women. The course is the brainchild of Kulwinder Kaur, the temple's new community development director, but it quickly becomes apparent that Nikki and Kulwinder have conflicting notions of what these classes are for. The students, primarily widows, are illiterate. Nevertheless, they are a sharp, lively bunch who begin an eye-opening new oral tradition after discovering a collection of erotica in Nikki's bag.

The storytelling sessions are as sexy as they are hilarious. But religious communities are often known more for their rumor mills than their sexual openness, and the Sikhs in Southall are no exception. Some young women have even turned up dead for not conforming to traditions of honor, and Nikki and her students are in danger as the classes grow more and more popular.

While the expectations of one generation don't always align with the experiences of another, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows makes an excellent case for continued conversation. As one student puts it: "These storytelling sessions are good fun but I think I've also learned to speak up for what I want. Exactly what I want." This novel is a treat, sure to leave readers breathless--more than once. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Punjabi widows turn a literacy course into an erotica workshop, and the result is both hilarious and tender.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062645128

The Space Between the Stars

by Anne Corlett

In Anne Corlett's debut novel, The Space Between the Stars, Jamie Allenby feels lost in the universe. A swift-acting virus has wiped out most humans on Earth and its colonized planets. "Zero point zero zero zero one." She repeats this number like a mantra. Zero point zero zero zero one percent might have survived.

Months earlier, Earth-born Jamie had migrated to Soltaire for a job as a veterinarian. She was mourning a miscarriage and seeking solitude, leaving Daniel, her partner, on the planet Alegria. She knew he had been headed for Earth before the virus struck. Had he survived? They used to joke that in case of a zombie apocalypse, they'd meet on a certain beach in Northumberland. Now all she has is despair mixed with faint hope, and two other people--Lowry, a clergyman, and Rena, a research scientist. They've sent up a distress signal.

Anne Corlett has taken the themes of apocalypse, people attempting to create Utopia but unleashing Armageddon, population engineering and breeding programs, and put her particular stamp on the familiar. The Space Between the Stars is a sci-fi story laced with homey details like e-readers and jigsaw puzzles--there are no esoteric descriptions of warp drives or biodomes or aliens. But there is adventure, there is romance, there is self-discovery. Jamie looks at a blue sky, which "felt like a lie, after so much time spent up above it, in the black of space." But she finds, in this intriguing and wise story, what can fill the space between the stars. --Marilyn Dahl, editor emerita, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Anne Corlett's debut novel portrays a universe after a virus has wiped out most of the people, as a few survivors search for a new home.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 368p., 9780399585111

Isadora

by Amelia Gray

In 1913, Isadora Duncan was at the height of her fame. Born in San Francisco, she became one of the early century's most celebrated dancers with works that broke free from the rigidity of traditional ballet. She sought "to capture in their ease of movement the vital, visceral expression of beauty's purest form," as Amelia Gray writes in Isadora, a work of historical fiction. The dancer had two children by two different men, the second being Paris Singer, heir to the sewing machine fortune.

But Isadora's world changed when a car carrying her two young children and their governess plunged into the Seine. All three drowned. Gray chronicles Duncan's attempts to deal with the deaths, her visits to such places as Corfu and the Tuscan city of Viareggio to ease her pain, and how the tragedy affected her career. Isadora shifts among several perspectives: Singer, who is "haunted by his father's success" and tends to the particulars of choosing the children's burial clothing; Duncan's sister Elizabeth, who runs the dance schools founded by her youngest sibling; and Max Merz, Elizabeth's companion. Some of the prose and dialogue are too florid, but Gray has a gift for encapsulating character and relationships with memorable lines like "Isadora would have hated Max if she ever cared enough to learn his name." An entertaining portrait of a modern dance genius. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: This work of historical fiction about the early 20th-century dancer Isadora Duncan depicts the effect of a family tragedy on her life and work.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 400p., 9780374279981

Nest in the Bones

by Antonio Di Benedetto , trans. by Martina Broner

Little known in the English-speaking world during his lifetime, Argentinian author Antonio Di Benedetto is considered by many to be one of the great 20th-century Latin American writers, working in the same tradition as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. Nest in the Bones, translated for the first time by Martina Broner, collects short works of fiction from Di Benedetto's career, showing an impressive swath of subjects, emotions and perspectives.

Ranging from a few pages to novella-length, the works in Nest in the Bones explore faith, love, family and loss. "Aballay," one of the longer pieces, follows a penitent man who remains upon a horse for years as a form of hermetic piety. It's strange and funny, never playing the man's odd decision to remain equine-bound for laughs, but well aware how both odd and deadly serious the man's life has become. "Very Early Morning in the Cemetery," the last story in the collection, might be the most brutally funny. There, a brother and sister command men to crush their father's embalmed corpse in order to properly bury him beside his recently deceased wife (there being room in neither her grave nor his tomb). It's ghastly, but a testament to the ridiculous lengths people will go to keep up tradition.

Readers with a love of Latin American authors will find Di Benedetto a welcome addition to the canon that's available in English. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Nest in the Bones collects short stories from Argentinian author Antonio Di Benedetto, world-acclaimed but only now available in English.

Archipelago Books, $18, paperback, 250p., 9780914671725

Mystery & Thriller

The Marsh King's Daughter

by Karen Dionne

Helena, a wife and mother of two daughters, loves hunting, fishing and being alone in the woods. She credits her father for her knowledge of the flora and fauna of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, plus the survival skills to live off the land, if she should need them; Jacob taught her everything she knows. But she hasn't told her husband, Stephen, anything about her father--a man who has killed two guards and escaped from prison, a man she must find before he does any more harm. Nor has she spoken of her childhood--living in a ramshackle cabin far from modern society, where Jacob's rules and the rules of nature had to be obeyed.

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne is a psychological thriller of the highest level. Alternating between Helena's viewpoints as a child and as an adult, the story opens with Jacob's escape. Dionne quickly reveals that Jacob kidnapped Helena's mother when she was 14, and forced her to live with him in a primitive setting, where she gave birth to Helena. But Helena knew nothing of this as a child, and assumed their lives were completely normal.

Life with Jacob was less than ideal, yet he is Helena's father, and she loves him for the skills and knowledge he has given her--the very abilities she'll need to track him down now. Dionne has set up an intricate balance between the lush richness and harsh reality of the natural world with the love, respect and genuine fear Helena has for Jacob, creating a taut page turner that haunts the reader long after the last line is read. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: When a violent survivalist escapes prison, the one person who can track him down is his daughter, who learned everything she knows about living in the marshlands from him.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9780735213005

Graphic Books

Instrumental

by Dave Chisholm

Tom Snyder should be content: he plays trumpet with a quintet that bears his name. His music is good and his bandmates are having fun, with regular gigs at a New York flower shop/bar. Lately none of it has mattered though, and Tom feels like giving up. Then a strange man hobbles up to him after a show one night and offers him an old trumpet, free of charge, calling it "the solution to your problems."

Tom accepts the gift and immediately feels a difference in his playing. His music comes alive, his band starts to draw bigger crowds and Tom's obsession grows. When a member of the audience swoons and drops dead, he shrugs it off. Soon the body count starts piling up, and a couple of goons come around asking about the trumpet, which may or may not be a stolen relic belonging to a mystical cult of sound.

Instrumental is the first graphic novel by Dave Chisholm, a New York trumpeter. His black-and-white drawings have the looseness and intensity of Craig Thompson and the compositional playfulness of Joe Sacco. Passages following the cult are at times disorienting, but overall this Faustian story is fun and easy to follow.

Chisholm's creativity and ambition overfloweth: a jazz soundtrack accompanies the book (available to stream or purchase on CD). Written and performed by Chisolm, each of the seven tracks corresponds with a chapter, meant to illustrate them or "enhance the mood." --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: A New York City jazz musician receives a trumpet with mysterious powers in this winsome multimedia fable.

Z2 Comics, $24.99, paperback, 224p., 9781940878157

History

The Russian Revolution: A New History

by Sean McMeekin

The year 2017 marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution, a convulsion of political violence, anarchy and terror that ended the 300-year reign of the Romanovs and shaped the remainder of the 20th century. This epoch of uprisings has long been analyzed and mythologized, though it took the fall of the Soviet Union to tell its whole story. In The Russian Revolution: A New History by Bard College history professor Sean McMeekin, original archival research shines much-needed light on events that still cast a long shadow over modern geopolitics.

McMeekin sets the stage of a tsarist Russia ripe for revolution, though not necessarily destined for one. This ancient autocracy had been shaken in 1905 after a humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, but the state was rapidly industrializing. A prolonged period of peace might have prevented what befell Nicholas II. Instead, the tsar's decision to side with Serbia in 1914, thereby kicking off World War I, was the catalyst of his own demise.

McMeekin emphasizes revolutionary Russia as a nation at war, a simple fact he considers overlooked in other histories. In fact, the plotters of the February Revolution in 1917, which initially overthrew the tsar, were bolstered by anti-German, somewhat pro-war sentiment; they feared that the tsarina (who was German by birth) was part of a cabal seeking peace with Germany. It was Vladimir Lenin (with generous German support) and his extremist Bolsheviks who overthrew the provisional government by force in October 1917, setting up years of disastrous civil war. The Russian Revolution tells this tumultuous account in an accessible, engaging narrative with sometimes day-by-day or even hour-by-hour detail. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Original archival research sheds new light on the Russian Revolution.

Basic Books, $30, hardcover, 496p., 9780465039906

Science

Snooze: The Lost Art of Sleep

by Michael McGirr

Australian writer Michael McGirr (Things You Get for Free) has suffered from sleep disorders all his life. Working as a Jesuit priest, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea. After he left the priesthood and married, he and his wife--already parents of a one-year-old--had twins, and McGirr experienced the perils of true sleep deprivation. Chronic tiredness and fatigue inspired him to examine the history and culture of sleep, while also probing his own personal struggles.

McGirr is not a clinician. He does not offer advice to improve sleep. Instead, he presents personal anecdotes documenting his insomnia experiences, while offering profiles of ordinary people plagued with sleep issues, from students pulling all-nighters to soldiers returning home from battle. Added to the mix are segues into nightmares and narcolepsy, the role of medication and coffee, sleeplessness as a byproduct of some diseases, as well as fascinating stories about "famous wakers and sleepers." Thomas Edison credited his success to working 18 hours a day for 45 years--with frequent catnaps. After Florence Nightingale's heroic efforts during the Crimean War, she took to her bed and stayed there for the next 50 years. Writers like Dickens and Balzac wove their sleeping woes into their work. And sleep issues have infused great literature, including The Odyssey, Macbeth and even fairy tales.

Readers have McGirr's tossing and turning to thank for a dynamic, multifaceted book that serves as an entertaining, philosophical lullaby for the deprived. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A former Jesuit priest turned sleep-deprived father of three entertainingly examines the history and culture of sleep.

Pegasus Books, $26.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781681774190

Sports

Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth

by David Gessner

Well-respected naturalist and chair of the Creative Writing department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, David Gessner (All the Wild That Remains) wasn't always so establishment and settled. As an undergraduate at Harvard in the early '80s, he was an insecure kid with a romantic dream of becoming a writer. After a few beers and bowls, however, he turned into a hellion--until the fringe sport of Ultimate Frisbee saved him from self-destruction, with its free-form, no-referee rules and tie-dyed camaraderie. Ultimate Glory is his funny memoir of living the Frisbee life in his 20s while his classmates were lusting after membership in the right club, residential house and career network.

Ultimate Glory is also a detailed story of guys with nicknames like Moons, Turbo, Wheels, Rasta and Guido, who took this fledgling club sport out of its 1960s hippie past into an international professional circuit heralded by George Plimpton as "a demanding full-time sport of nonstop running, accurate throwing, and all out diving to catch that plastic disc." Gessner throws readers into the middle of scrappy tournaments between early league champs like the Rude Boys and the Hostages. He shares the aches and gashes of no-pads, no time-outs play, and chronicles the ego-driven styles of East and West Coast teams. In the end, Gessner's game days played out; he married, became a father and published books--but he hasn't forgotten that pure joy "when the combination of alcohol and sunshine and sweat and the glory of being in great shape combined in a perfect primal way." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Naturalist and journalist David Gessner's candid memoir of his youth in the Ultimate Frisbee leagues dives into the history of this niche sport.

Riverhead Books, $16, paperback, 352p., 9780735210561

Children's & Young Adult

The Big Bad Fox

by Benjamin Renner

Best known as one of the directors of the 2014 Academy Award-nominated film Ernest and Celestine, French animator Benjamin Renner makes his American graphic novel debut with this comedy about a scraggly, underfed fox whose meal plans go hilariously awry.

Though he fancies himself "The Big Bad Fox," Renner's hero is more deserving of the title "worst fox ever." The unmotivated farm dog gripes at him for not cleaning up after himself, and the farm's pig and rabbit set aside baskets of turnips for him to eat when the tasty-looking hen chases him away. Disgruntled by the disrespect and his vegetarian diet, the fox hatches a plot with the truly terrifying wolf to steal the hen's eggs and eat the chicks when they hatch. The scheme founders when the three emerging chicks see the fox as their mother. The wolf directs the fox to fatten them up, but as the chicks grow from fluffballs into smart-mouthed preschoolers who think they're foxes, their reluctant "mommy" finds himself and the vicious wolf at odds over their fate.

Renner's forest-toned watercolor-and-ink scenes are placed elegantly against a pure white background, and Joe Johnson's translation of the dialogue flows perfectly. The humor often takes an adult approach by playing off stock parental experiences like sleepless nights and endless questions, but Renner adds plenty of kid-friendly slapstick and absurdity, including an army of fox-crushing hens and the least convincing chicken costume imaginable. Young readers and their parents will chuckle at this family-friendly rib-tickler, which is forthcoming as a film from Studiocanal in France. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library (Ohio)

Discover: A scruffy, down-on-his-luck fox finds himself raising three sassy chicks in this graphic novel from one of the directors of Ernest and Celestine.

First Second, $15.99, paperback, 192p., ages 7-12, 9781626723313

Superstar

by Mandy Davis

"Oh, Lester, you're going to love it so much," Lucy Musselbaum promises her 10-year-old son about entering Quarry Elementary. Homeschooled until now, Lester is understandably wary--change is always tough for him--but Lucy gently explains she's "100 percent sure" she needs to go back to work to support their family of two. Five years ago, Lester lost his astronaut father in a horrifying space shuttle accident. Now with their savings "running low," Lucy's found work as a librarian.

"School is... going to take a little while to adjust," Lucy tells Lester. In Mrs. Raines's fifth-grade class, Lester has 27 other students to meet. He's already had a run-in with "that Ricky kid," but Abby is friendly (she wants to dress him in "Superhero chic"), and Michael Z. "[doesn't] care if [he's] weird." Lunchtime is tough, with unbearable noise levels in the cafeteria, but Lester inadvertently finds refuge--and relief from his distracting hunger--in the principal's office.

While Lester eases into school with bumps and victories along the way, his mother, his classmates, his teachers and even the principal learn a lot as well. Between lessons in friendship, playground politics, paper aerodynamics, "special spot" breaks and kickball, Lester also comes to understand that autism is "a way of being in the world." Using first-person narrative, debut author Mandy Davis imbues Lester's voice with unguarded openness and candid observations. Struggling but resilient, challenging but determined, Lester repeatedly proves the many, many ways he's truly the titular "superstar." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Mandy Davis's debut introduces Superstar Lester Musselbaum--a 10-year-old boy with autism--as he figures out how to handle public school for the first time.

HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9780062377777

Claymates

by Dev Petty , illust. by Lauren Eldridge

Two lumps of clay have only just gotten to know each other when a pair of hands reaches down and changes them into a wolf and an owl. After their initial shock, and once they learn they can mold themselves--and each other--they realize: "Wow, this IS fun!" One piece of clay is gray and bold while the other is brown and shy, but both are unstoppable once their imaginations take flight. Drawing on the art supplies around them, they transform quickly, assuming the shape of figures like an elephant, a peanut and even an octopus with tentacles made of sculpting tools. When their creator returns, they are very nearly caught--but after another brief spell as wolf and owl, they prepare for a new round of reinvention.

Readers and pre-readers alike will be delighted by the comic panel-inspired layout of Claymates and the story of two new friends who just want to make "something wonderful" together. Illustrated by dynamic photographs and word bubbles filled with charmingly silly dialogue by Dev Petty (I Don’t Want to Be a Frog), the value of play for the sake of play shines above all else. Photographic illustrator Lauren Eldridge manages to take a pair of googly eyes and some simple sculpted features and give each lump of clay more personality than the human hands that controls it.

Fair warning: do not read this book out loud unless you have a lump of clay to offer newly inspired sculptors at its end. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

Discover: In this bright, clever picture book, two animated lumps of clay create and re-create themselves over and over using sculpting tools and their imagination.

Little, Brown, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780316303118

Performing Arts

Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s

by Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor's first collection of film essays exudes energy, persuasiveness and a deep knowledge and love for movies and pop culture. He writes with a passion and unbridled enthusiasm that rivals Pauline Kael. Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You (so entitled because most '70s exploitation films opened midweek, rather than on Fridays) is a love letter to some lesser-known American B-movies that came out in the 1970s. "Some are good, solid pieces of moviemaking, and some are shrewdly put-together junk," writes Taylor. "All the films in this book share an air of disreputability."

Each essay starts off focusing on one or two films but Taylor always brings a fascinating historical context to each film or genre. His appreciation of Coffy and Foxy Brown ("Has any movie goddess ever done more with less than Pam Grier?" he asks) blossoms into an analysis of blaxploitation films, the "role model" characters that straight-jacketed much of Sidney Poitier's career and the current dismal landscape of roles for black, middle-aged women in films. Other films spotlighted include Eyes of Laura Mars ("A celebration of sleaze as high chic."); Robert Aldrich's ultra-violent western Ulzana's Raid; Sam Peckinpah's studio-ruined Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Walter Hill's Depression-era boxing film Hard Times; Jonathan Demme's goofy Citizen's Band; and the oddball JFK assassination conspiracy comedy Winter Kills (featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Jeff Bridges and Toshiro Mifune).

Opening Wednesday is an intelligent, opinionated and fascinating introduction to some great lower-profile 1970s films. Film buffs will find Taylor's guide illuminating and indispensable. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Charles Taylor's introduction to lesser-known 1970s films is remarkably persuasive and written with energy and a deep appreciation for film and pop culture.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 208p., 9781632868183

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