Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore Issue for Friday, August 16, 2019

From Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore

Book Review: Headwinds by Edna Bell-Pearson


Today's newsletter brings a review from Mark Scheel, born and raised in Emporia, and resides in Kansas City. Scheel is reviewing Headwinds by Edna Bell-Pearson.

The narrative of Headwinds follows the marriage of Edna to Carl Ungerer, a former bomber pilot, and their establishment, along with other family members, of the Ungerer Flying Service in Marysville, Kansas, immediately following the end of World War II. Not only a representative picture of the arrival of the “Air Age” in America but also an inspiring personal story of determination and dedication overcoming adversity, the work offers a sterling example of what it takes to ultimately succeed at one’s chosen enterprise.

Edna’s skill as a novelist is evident here as the material is organized in a historically chronological manner yet flows as smoothly as if it were carefully crafted fiction. The family members come to life on the page, fully rounded and capturing the reader’s sympathies from the outset. The action builds in intensity and suspense, keeping the reader gliding along through chapter after chapter. The conclusion, although logical, will leave many readers sad to see the end and wishing for more chronicling of the Ungerer family adventures.

One of the greatest strengths of the work is the portrait of American postwar culture brimming with innovation, unity, pride and energy. Modernization was ramping up at breakneck speed. The technological advances made during the war were being adopted and adapted to civilian progress in multiple fields. Readers unfamiliar with that era of American history will get a firsthand education in its spirit and details such as the CAA, flight breakfasts and the Kansas Civil Air Patrol.

Not only terrific leisure reading, the work constitutes a valuable addition to the Kansas historical archives. Edna Bell-Pearson once again has gifted literature lovers with an admirable contribution.

Indiana University Press: God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Elizabeth Lenz


Bunim & Bannigan: David Lazar by Robert Kalich


Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: More to the Story by Hena Khan

In this Issue...

Reviews

These lovely, understated ruminations on time and Tokyo will please those interested in Japanese culture, language or history--or lovers of any city, anywhere.

Read this review >>

Cornelius Sky

by Timothy Brandoff

Set in 1974, this is a searing, gritty portrait of a troubled New York City doorman who is forced to battle the demons of his life.

Read this review >>

Why?

by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

In this delightful picture book, an unlikely friendship between a bear and a rabbit grows through a year of seasons and a slew of questions.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Biography & Memoir Social Science Travel Literature Children's & Young Adult

New Harbinger Publications: Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids by Hunter Fields-Clarke and Carla Naumburg

Book Candy

Yay!: Palindrome Construction

Oxford University Press offered tips on "how to construct palindromes."

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The U.S. Postal Service will celebrate Walt Whitman's 200th birthday with a new stamp in its Literary Arts series.

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In what has become a summer tradition, former President Barack Obama posted on Facebook a summary of his recent favorite reads.

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"Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of her day." Mental Floss shared "10 surprising facts about Pride and Prejudice."

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Author and former crime correspondent for the Guardian Duncan Campbell picked his "top 10 true crime books."

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The Gandhara Scroll, a rare 2,000-year-old text of early Buddhism, is now available online through the Library of Congress.

Sleeping Bear Press: Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan, illustrated Timothy Banks

Great Reads

Rediscover: William the Curious

Prolific children's book illustrator Charles Santore died on August 11 at age 84. He was best known for his interpretations of classic children's stories such as Snow White, The Night Before Christmas and Paul Revere's Ride, and for his celebrity portraits on the cover of TV Guide. Santore's honors include the Society of Illustrators' Award of Excellence and the Hamilton King Award. His works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the National Portrait Gallery, the Brandywine River Museum and many private collections.

In 1985, Santore was asked to illustrate a new edition of Beatrix Potter's Tales of Peter Rabbit by Running Press. The challenge of illustrating an entire book inspired him not only to continue updating children's classics, but also to write his own book. In 1997, he wrote and illustrated William the Curious: Knight of the Water Lilies, about a brave frog who opens a princess's eyes to the beauty of the natural world. It was last published in 2014 by Applesauce Press ($16.95, 9781604334746).

Rp Minis: Dancing with Jesus: Bobbling Figurine by Sam Stall

The Writer's Life

Amy Pixton: 10 Years of Indestructible Books for Babies

photo: Monica Erdmann

Amy Pixton, a mother of triplets, created Indestructibles after bits of traditional board books found their way into her babies' mouths. Pixton lives in Kansas City with her husband and their three children.

Tell us about the Indestructibles' origin story--it includes a local bookstore and a bookseller advocate, right?

I have 15-year-old triplets. When they were babies, they explored everything with their mouths--and books were no exception. (I once pulled a hunk of cardboard from my son's mouth.) I packed all the books into a closet. Around this same time my mother-in-law, Kaaren Pixton, an artist and art teacher, was making outdoor murals using Tyvek. It didn't matter if it got wet--it wouldn't rip or tear. Paper that didn't rip or tear when wet?! That's exactly what I needed for my babies who were slobbering all over their books.

TyBook was officially born at the end of 2005. It was not an easy road and there must have been a million steps from those first three books inspired by our slobbery babies to publication with Workman. For example, I originally self-published. Due to a miscommunication with the first printer, round one of printing had a spiral ring and two staples in the binding. Not a good idea for a baby book! It was back to the drawing board.... Then, the owner of Rainy Day Books, my AMAZING local bookstore here in Kansas City, made the introduction to Workman. 

Who wrote and illustrated those very first books sold before you connected with Workman? How did you feel about trying to sell those first few books?

I originally hired my mother-in-law as the illustrator. The first three titles that she illustrated (also the first three books Workman published with a few minor changes) were wordless picture books. Wiggle! March!, which is still being sold, was originally called Farm Charm. Each page contained a single farm animal--I had done a lot of research on early literacy and I also took into account my own experience reading to my babies. Naturally, when I looked at a book with farm animals, I started making animal noises. "What does the cow say? Mooooo." Babies eat that up. Not only are they getting quality time with someone they love but they are also learning language.

I admit that I am not a salesperson. I couldn't even sell M&M's to raise money for my softball team as a kid and I love M&M's! But these books have always sold themselves. And as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. I had no idea what I was up against. In 2007, I finally had a product that was safe and I started selling books to local independent book and toy stores and online. Rainy Day Books had a display on their counter and sold them like crazy.

When Rainy Day Books requested more and I went to drop them off, the owner, Vivien, asked me how things were going. I told her I was interested in taking things to the next level. Vivien made a call to Peter Workman of Workman Publishing. She later told me their conversation went something like this: "We have been doing business together for over 30 years and I have never called you to say I think we've got something, but I think we've got something."

How do you feel now on the 10th anniversary of the series?

From the beginning I had the grandiose goal to sell a million books. But, honestly, I am still shocked and amazed. The folks over at Workman are my heroes.

In what ways have you seen the books grow and change over the years?

The artists have changed, words have been added, a few books are being translated into Spanish... The number of titles will blow up to 36 by the end of this year but the basic format and charm remain the same.

In what ways have the books made you grow and change over the years?

I love this question! In a roundabout way it has given me great confidence. There is not anything I don't think I can do. After all, I am a social worker who created a series of books for babies with over five million copies in print.

How involved are you now in the creation of the books?

My role has changed over time. In the beginning, I was doing EVERYTHING. Now, with Workman, there's a great team in place. I stay in close touch with the special sales team. I suggest titles. I show up at conferences every now and again and work the booth. All the fun stuff!

Do you happen to have a particular favorite?

Honestly, I LOVE them all. Wiggle! March! is a favorite for making those farm animal noises; Baby Peekaboo, because who doesn't love this classic baby game; I love the artwork in Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star for the line "up above the world so high," and how the dog friends from Row, Row, Row Your Boat make an appearance on that page. I love when grandma and grandpa show up in Jingle Baby, and there is a new Hanukkah book coming out. Do I have to stop there, because I can keep going....

Looking around the Internet, I found more than a few videos and pictures (here, here) of babies doing their darnedest to destroy these books. How indestructible are they really?

I always tell people to test them out.

I have moms coming to me telling me they are able to keep passing them down to the next baby in the family. Sure, they get a little wrinkly, but it shows how much they are loved.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?

Love your babies. Read to them. Talk to them. They will be 15 and in high school before you know it. And no one ever warned me how scary it would be to have teenage drivers!

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Reviews

Fiction

Cornelius Sky

by Timothy Brandoff

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The underbelly of New York City during the summer of 1974 is the setting of Timothy Brandoff's meticulously rendered first novel, Cornelius Sky. The story maps the travails of Connie, a troubled, down-on-his-luck doorman at a posh Fifth Avenue apartment building.

Hard-living Connie finds it tough to hold a job. Having been employed at a half-dozen buildings over a period of 10 years, he lands a swing shift working at an upscale building that houses a widowed former First Lady and her 13-year-old son. Connie befriends the rebellious teenager, and the two smoke pot and play board games in a stairwell to escape the prying eyes of the Secret Service detail. But Connie camouflages the fact that his own life is spiraling out of control: Connie's drinking has unraveled his marriage; his wife has changed the locks and thrown him out; and his 12-year-old son is filled with seething rage and hatred for his drunken father. Connie's floundering inability to take control of his life threatens everything--including his latest job--until he faces a sudden reckoning, where strangers in his path enlighten him to hard truths.

Brandoff paints an emotionally searing portrait of his protagonist, slowly divvying out details of Connie's past and showing how that past shaped him--his strengths, the pitfalls to which he succumbs and the gaps in his character. Rich, beautiful writing enlarges dramatic scenes that serve to amplify the gritty authenticity of a powerful story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Set in 1974, this is a searing, gritty portrait of a troubled New York City doorman who is forced to battle the demons of his life.

Kaylie Jones Books, $15.95, paperback, 216p., 9781617757082

Things You Save in a Fire

by Katherine Center

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Katherine Center (How to Walk Away, Happiness for Beginners) vividly explores the world of firefighting in Things You Save in a Fire. Firefighter Cassie Hanwell has always been great in a crisis. She's loved by her coworkers, and she's a rising star in the Austin, Tex., fire department, until she sticks her foot in it by insulting a local politician. Asked to resign, Cassie heads to Massachusetts to help care for her estranged mother, who is having some health problems.

Cassie discovers that the hidebound Boston fire department has nothing in common with Austin's inclusivity. She's the only woman, and most of the other firefighters clearly resent her presence. As she competes with a handsome rookie to earn a permanent spot in the Boston crew--on top of assisting her quirky, artistic mother with her doctor's appointments--Cassie discovers things about herself that she's been suppressing for decades.

Things You Save in a Fire is a wonderful exploration of personal vulnerability and strength that takes the reader along on Cassie's journey. Center's descriptions of the dangers that the firefighters face, as well as Cassie's gently burgeoning relationship with the rookie, provide interesting contrasts of drama and romance. Cassie is an outstanding, yet very sympathetic, heroine, and her attempts to avoid falling for the rookie while finding a way to belong with the rest of the fire crew make for a charming narrative. Things You Save in a Fire is sure to be a hit. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this delightful novel, a woman works to earn a permanent spot in the Boston fire department, while trying to avoid falling in love with a rookie firefighter.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250047328

Mystery & Thriller

The Hidden Things

by Jamie Mason

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In an instant, 14-year-old Carly Liddell becomes a sensation. She successfully fends off an attacker as she enters her home, and it's captured on a security camera installed by her stepfather, John Cooper. Within hours, police upload the video to social media and the video goes viral as viewers watch Carly kick ass. But for four people, the video reveals something else entirely.

Hanging in the foyer, a corner of a painting appears in the video for a flash: a strange object that can only be from Landscape with Obelisk by Govaert Flinck, a 400-year-masterpiece stolen in a heist decades ago. Four years earlier, John Cooper--then known as Jonathan Spera--possessed it, and attempted to rid himself of it and make a handsome profit by partnering with Marcelline Gossard, a seductive art dealer, and Owen Haig, a fearless employee of a wealthy family. When John enlists the bewildered Roy Dorring to help execute the deal, it all goes sideways: John vanishes with the painting, Marcelline is left for dead and Owen and Roy go their separate ways. Until the video brings them all back together.

In The Hidden Things, Jamie Mason (Three Graves Full) delivers a well-paced thriller, steadily building suspense while unfolding a complex web of relationships. But the novel's greatest strength lies with the characters. Carly's struggle with the spotlight displays a mixture of confidence and wariness; Owen, intimidating and unflappable, keeps everyone off balance; and John, who has successfully led more than one life, slowly loses his composure as worlds collide. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: Five lives are in danger when a viral video unwittingly reveals a stolen painting is sitting in a suburban foyer.

Gallery Books, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781501177316

The Last Good Guy

by T. Jefferson Parker

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In T. Jefferson Parker's third Roland Ford mystery, the Southern California private investigator is hired by Penelope Rideout to find her teenaged sister, Daley. The more Ford discovers about the Rideouts' elusive past, the more dangerous the case becomes. Soon a dead body is involved, and Ford has received a nasty beating for his efforts. With the help of his resourceful tenants, the last good guy of the title tries to track down Daley while dealing with evangelical preachers, violent private security firms and his growing feelings for Penelope, even though he mistrusts her.

Bringing to mind Ross Macdonald's detective tragedies, this is a sun-kissed noir with a deep melancholy underneath. Ford, Penelope and the other characters are haunted by their tragedies and losses and hope to make up for them in a world that has little room for good deeds. Parker is, in the spirit of crime writers, cynical about the evil men do, yet Ford and his friends try to do the right thing even when it takes a physical and mental toll. The prose is the right balance of terse and purple, giving Ford's narration a sense of moral clarity: "...part of me wanted to stay with the woman that she had become. Help beat back her demons. Be there for her. I could do just that. I wanted to."

The Last Good Guy is a rewarding thriller with political savvy and a wounded, compelling hero in Roland Ford. Newcomers should have no trouble entering Ford's world, and fans of Parker (Full Measure) will absolutely not want to miss this new story of a decent man tangled in a dark and insidious plot. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer.

Discover: Edgar-winner T. Jefferson Parker's new noir novel is a must-read for detective and mystery fans.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780525537649

Trust Me When I Lie

by Benjamin Stevenson

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Australian stand-up comic Benjamin Stevenson's debut mystery, Trust Me When I Lie, is no laughing matter. It's a tightly written nail biter with so many twists and turns that it successfully keeps readers riveted, yet slightly off-balance, until its genuinely surprising conclusion. Jack Quick is the producer of an Australian true crime docuseries that has been running a very popular multi-part account of the murder of Eliza Dacey, a backpacker who was working at a local winery picking grapes. Curtis Wade, an unpopular local restaurant owner, was convicted of her murder. Quick's docudrama has been casting doubts on his conviction.

Shortly before the final episode runs, Quick discovers a piece of evidence that makes him believe Wade is the true killer. But, rather than jeopardize the success of his show, Quick gets rid of the evidence. The show earns Wade a new trial and he is released. Wade's defense attorney soon turns up dead, and Quick wonders if Wade killed the attorney or if there's a copycat killer. He begins investigating the new murder, only to receive death threats.

This clever thriller complements its intricate plot by filling it with a number of fascinating, damaged characters who are keeping secrets. Quick is adept at falsifying facts to create a compelling story because he's done it all his life--not only is he hiding his bulimic eating disorder but also the facts behind an accident that left his brother in a vegetative state.

Stevenson's engaging and sure-footed whodunit (originally released in Australia in 2018 as Greenlight) is a twisty delight. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Benjamin Stevenson's debut mystery is a dark delight with flawed and damaged characters trying to solve a twisted cold case murder.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, paperback, 352p., 9781492691150

Biography & Memoir

And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?: A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks

by Lawrence Weschler

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When journalist Lawrence Weschler first met the unconventional neurologist Oliver Sacks in June 1981, he hoped their encounter might produce enough material for a profile that would boost his fledgling career with the New Yorker. The piece never materialized, halted by Sacks because of his concern that it inevitably would reveal his homosexuality, but their relationship burgeoned into a deep friendship that ended only with Sacks's death in August 2015. And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?: A Biographical Memoir is culled from 15 volumes of notebooks compiled over four years in the early 1980s. It is Wechsler's fascinating account of their attachment and focuses on a period of time when he was "serving as a sort of Boswell to his Johnson, a beanpole Sancho to his capacious Quixote."

In that spirit, Weschler (Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative) serves up a potpourri of conversations, diary entries, interviews, letters and reportage to paint a vibrant portrait of his friend's fully engaged, at times frenetic, life. Though it inevitably covers some of the same ground as Sacks's own 2015 memoir, On the Move, this blend of journalistic objectivity and subjective engagement in Sacks's daily life enlarges and complements the neurologist's self-portrait.

As Lawrence Weschler concedes, with obvious regret, someday a person who "will have to be a lot younger than I am now" is going to produce a full-length biography of Oliver Sacks. In doing so, that writer will be in Weschler's debt for the wealth of valuable source material his book provides. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: The story of a journalist's deep friendship with famed neurologist Oliver Sacks.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9780374236410

The Blessing

by Gregory Orr

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"Do I dare say my brother's death was a blessing?" Decorated poet Gregory Orr was 12 when he accidentally killed his younger brother while hunting. His memoir, The Blessing, begins with an uppercut that keeps stinging despite stunning language and insight. Ill-equipped to deal with the new reality he was trapped in forever, Orr was set adrift by his parents' emotional abandonment and an ingrained familial response of denial. 

Orr struggled with his destroyed understanding of the world: "Peter's death wiped out all the easy meanings I had lived by until that day, as if a giant hand swept the counters and dice of a child's game off the board."

Like Cain, Orr wandered in despair as a fugitive from society. The accident was one of a "flurry of catastrophes" that defined Orr's youth and marked a dark trajectory. Salvation began in a soda fountain shop where Orr discovered comics, cheap paperbacks and, ultimately, "POEMS!"

"Enthralled by the possibility of making my own paths out of language," writing became a way out of the labyrinth.  

Originally published in 2002, these essays feel fresh, as if the wound remains raw on the page. Orr became a poet and professor, spending much of his life compelled to probe "silence-shrouded events and their consequences"--torment, guilt and desire to survive. Orr sprinkles glorious bright spots through this haunting collection, like school buses pulling into a parking lot, "each its own distinctively faded shade of orange or yellow... gathered like old carp at the edge of an autumn pool." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Essays from poet Gregory Orr chronicle his journey after killing his younger brother in a hunting accident.

Milkweed Editions, $15, paperback, 256p., 9781571313867

Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention

by Donna Freitas

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Donna Freitas has her Ph.D., lectures at universities across the United States about her research and has written several books. She is also a survivor of stalking by a trusted grad school professor and priest, which forms the center of Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention.

Consent is, as its subtitle suggests, a memoir about Freitas's unsettling experiences and is not always an easy read. She documents with candor her own internal struggles, the many ways her stalker kept her suspended in a world of doubt, and her constant questioning about what she'd done to deserve this punishment. On top of that, she also explores the ways the system failed her--as a student, a woman, a Catholic and a professional--both during the stalking and her eventual reporting of it. As she does so, Freitas offers important commentary on consent and the large-scale changes required to counteract the far-reaching consequences of assault and unwanted attention.

"I haven't mastered this story yet," she writes. "The means to tell it with grace and confidence still eludes me." Consent is proof that this is not so. Freitas has mastered the telling of her story--despite repeated attempts by others to keep her from doing so--and has mastered it in such a way that its telling sheds light on a larger societal issue. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A difficult but important read about one woman's survival of stalking by her professor, and the role of consent in any relationship.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780316450522

Social Science

Everybody's Doin' It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917

by Dale Cockrell

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In Everybody's Doin' It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917, musicologist Dale Cockerell (Demons of Disorder) traces the connection between popular music and the disorderly world of New York City's brothels, bars, dance halls, concert saloons and "Raines Law hotels." He focuses on the period between the first blackface minstrel shows and the rise of jazz, a time when "dives" were literally located in below-sidewalk cellars. Cockerell demonstrates a symbiotic relationship between rowdy dancing inspired by equally rowdy music and the flourishing business of prostitution.

Because his subjects often lived below what Cockerell calls "the horizon of record," many of his sources are middle-class observers who wrote about the music and its audience with disdain. (Some of the most explicit accounts come from undercover investigators hired by various reform societies to provide evidence of immoral activities.) These accounts refer to the "alleged music" produced by musicians and singers with no formal training. They describe erotically charged "tough dancing," from the imported cancan to "animal dances" like the turkey trot and the bunny hug. They detail sexual solicitation in graphic detail, as well as undercover agents' sting operations.

Never letting the reader forget the inherent bias of his middle-class, largely white, sources, Cockerell evokes a kaleidoscope of characters and institutions without ever losing track of the poverty on which his subject rests. He raises complicated issues of class, gender and race, issues that would shape the development of American popular music in the coming decades. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Long before sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, sex, alcohol and ragtime ruled the "dives" of New York City.

Norton, $27.95, hardcover, 288p., 9780393608946

Travel Literature

The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations on Time and a City

by Anna Sherman

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The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations on Time and a City is Anna Sherman's exploration of a city that is not originally her own, which perhaps makes her perspective all the more closely attentive, thoughtful and serious. Through Tokyo's Bells of Time, which rang out the hours for hundreds of years, Sherman examines many aspects of both city and time. Her prose is careful, contemplative, even solemn. The result is philosophy, travel writing, elegy and love letter.

"Tokyo is one vast timepiece," begins Sherman. "Time is counted out in incense sticks; in LEDs; and in atomic lattice clocks." Time is ignored, too, in this city where residents "have their eyes fixed on the future, and are impatient when a word is said of their past." Sherman never states the reasons for her preoccupation with time, clocks and Tokyo's past, but her book thrums with it. She views the first Bell of Time, at a former prison at Nihonbashi, and the smallest, in Akasaka; seeks the lost bell of Mejiro; meets the man who rings the bell at Ueno; and visits a widow surrounded by "an island of old clocks" in Nezu. She also consults with many sources, modern and ancient, and studies the Japanese language and its translations. This is a narrator deeply immersed and committed to her subject; Sherman's bibliography and notes are extensive for such a slim book.

The Bells of Old Tokyo is an elegant series of musings, a beautifully written evocation of a place and a philosophical inquiry into the nature of time itself. Sherman has given the world, and one city in particular, an astonishing gift. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: These lovely, understated ruminations on time and Tokyo will please those interested in Japanese culture, language or history--or lovers of any city, anywhere.

Picador, $28, hardcover, 352p., 9781250206404

Children's & Young Adult

Why?

by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

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Caldecott Medal-winner and Geisel Award-honoree Laura Vaccaro Seeger (the Dog and Bear series) tells a sweet and simple tale of friendship between a bear and an enthusiastically curious rabbit in Why?

As young readers turn the pages of this picture book, the seasons slowly change from summer to winter. The rabbit's question, however, remains the same: "Why?" When bear (shown guzzling honey) eats too much or rabbit falls out of the tree (tumbling head over fuzzy tail), rabbit wants to know "Why?" Bear always calmly responds to his friend: "Because it tastes so good" (while holding his belly); "Gravity" (delivered gently, to the windswept rabbit). But when rabbit wants to know why a bird has died, bear doesn't have an answer. " 'I don't know why," bear says sadly, "Sometimes I just don't know why!' " Why? climaxes with the roles of the forest animal friends reversed, leading to a satisfying, touching conclusion.

Seeger's prose is sparse, but the story's impact is vast. Her beautifully detailed watercolor illustrations feature expertly blended soft colors, creating an inviting trek through woodlands--the lush textures of grass, wonderfully puffy clouds and snow make the feel of nature almost palpable. And bear and rabbit each exhibit extensive emotions through subtle, soulful facial expressions. While Seeger's animals may not always know the answer to the age-old question, readers are sure to find plenty of reasons to adore this charming picture book. An excellent option for story time, Seeger's Why? invites audiences of any age to interact with bear and rabbit as well as their rich habitat. Why? It's delightful. "That's why." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In this delightful picture book, an unlikely friendship between a bear and a rabbit grows through a year of seasons and a slew of questions.

Neal Porter Books/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780823441730

The Silence Between Us

by Alison Gervais

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When Maya begins her senior year, she's not optimistic about attending a hearing school. The students and teachers don't speak her language so she's "the weird new girl with the interpreter following her," and she's fearful it will be tough to prove she has the smarts to get into the medical field. "Genuinely nice" Beau learns ASL to talk to her, but Maya thinks the two of them "belong... in two different solar systems," which makes her suspect the over-achiever sees her as "a good line for his resume."

Maya manages in class, but when her lab partner's spoken instruction doesn't catch her attention and a beaker overflows, Maya fears what could happen in the future when she's working in a hospital. Compounding her concerns, a communication gap with nurses during an emergency with her brother leaves Maya panicked: "I was comfortable being Deaf... now it felt like it was the one thing standing in the way." But when Maya's mom takes her to meet cochlear implant recipients who don't sign or consider themselves Deaf, and Beau gives her brochures about implants, Maya can't believe anyone would want her to be hearing.

Alison Gervais (In 27 Days), herself Hard of Hearing (HoH), portrays Maya as frustrated by setbacks yet exuberant in her pride as a member of the Deaf community. The everyday discrimination Maya faces doesn't weigh her down--"Discrimination? Welcome to my world." Gervais depicts signed dialogue in the "choppy English" characteristic of ASL, immersing the reader in Maya's life. The Silence Between Us is a boon to young adult literature, helping to remedy the shortage of Deaf protagonists with the spitfire Maya and her momentous self-confidence. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: An #ownvoices novel about a high school senior who embraces and enjoys her Deafness and doesn't let it stop her from pursuing her dreams.

Blink/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780310766162

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

by Mike Unwin , illust. by Jenni Desmond

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In Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys, British naturalist Mike Unwin (The Atlas of Birds) describes in lively language the migratory and breeding habits of 20 mammals, fishes, birds and insects from around the world. Each double-page spread includes a fact-filled explanation of the route, the problems each animal faces along the way, the time it takes to travel and the eating habits that usually play a critical role in the reasons for the migrations. Some of these descriptions place the reader directly in the action: "Imagine: You're relaxing on a tropical island when a dragonfly lands on your flip-flop." Other times, humans are nowhere in sight:  "On East Africa's Serengeti plains a distant storm is brewing. The wildebeests stop grazing and lift their heads."

Child readers (or listeners) who are animal enthusiasts should quickly soak up the knowledge put forth in Unwin's lucid writing, and are likely to return again and again to Jenni Desmond's stunningly handsome mixed media illustrations. Each spread uses a different layout--some with more detailed backgrounds than others--and incorporates a caption. One such example, "Traveling Dancers," featuring a pair of whooping cranes on a spare, beige background, is reminiscent of traditional Chinese landscape painting. Another is "Forests of Flutter," in which the orange wings of monarch butterflies shine out through the deep green of the trees. A map showing all the outlines of the routes, a few fun facts and a note on improving conservation programs for migrating animals round out this excellent volume. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Migration is an engagingly illustrated picture book account of the reasons why animals make long journeys at specific times of year.

Bloomsbury, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 6-11, 9781547600977

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