Pegasus Books: Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors by Conn Iggulden

City Lights Bookstore Issue for Friday, December 15, 2017

From the Shelf

Books on Comics

In her book Why Comics: From Underground to Everywhere (Harper, $40), Hillary Chute surveys this "spatially site-specific form of literature," from early newspaper editorial comics and serialized funnies to the critical acclaim of tough topic graphic novels. Visual texture, storytelling, even line breaks and text arrangement, are investigated in this sweep across the comic canon. Chute investigates the origin stories and art of comics luminaries like Chris Ware, Matt Groening, Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel and the Hernandez brothers, among others, but looks also at the value of fan culture, which embodies the independent spirit at the root of comics.

Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden also study the structure of comics and the history of the art form in How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels (Fantagraphics, $29.95). From dropping out of high school to become a copy boy at the New York World newspaper to his rise in syndicated comic strip fame, artist Ernie Bushmiller is a comic success story, as is his character Nancy, who was introduced in 1933 and had spread to 880 newspapers and to international markets by 1971. The book digs into the Bushmiller equation of formulaic humor, economy and balance by analyzing a single Nancy comic that originally ran in 1959.

If your level of comic fandom doesn't demand a sociological history of the art's impact or a deep textual study, but you're still interested in a peek behind the curtain, try Michael Chabon's The Escapists by Michael Chabon and Brian K. Vaughan (Dark Horse, paperback, $19.95). This comic about making a comic celebrates a fan who makes his own, which Chute emphasized in Why Comics is a pivotal part of many comic success stories. After our hero Max buys rights to The Escapist he and his art team contemporize the masked man and his adventures, and are faced with villains and adventures of their own in the process. Part how-to superhero comic, part deep-diving human drama, The Escapists embodies much of the history and spirit of comics. --Kristianne Huntsberger, partnership marketing manager at Shelf Awareness

Liveright Publishing Corporation: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

Tarcherperigee: Holiday Must-Haves!

SFI Readerlink Dist: Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Bomber Command by Jason Fry, illustrated by Cyril Nouvel

In this Issue...

Reviews

Spring Garden

by Tomoka Shibasaki

Spring Garden is a brief, exquisitely crafted story of human connection in a contemporary, alienating society.

Read this review >>

Madonna in a Fur Coat

by Sabahattin Ali

This English translation of Sabahattin Ali's popular novel offers a compelling and tragic love story between a Turkish man and German woman.

Read this review >>

Top Elf

by Caleb Zane Huett

North Pole elves and humans compete to become the next Santa, building the fastest sleigh, downing the most cookies and milk, and designing the best Big Red Suit in this hilarious debut novel.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Food & Wine Biography & Memoir Business & Economics Nature & Environment Children's & Young Adult

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Wanted by Robert Crais

Book Candy

Christmas Pics Predict Potter Profile

"Choose some aesthetically pleasing Christmas pictures and we'll tell you which 'Harry Potter' character you are," Buzzfeed promised.

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The recently announced 2018 Golden Globe nominees "are chock-full of literary adaptations," Signature reported.

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Headline of the day (via Bustle): "This 4-year-old read 100 books in one day, and his parents streamed it all on Facebook Live."

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News you didn't know you could use: Quirk Books showcased "the literary roles of Bette Midler."

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Brightly considered "the very best things about reading aloud with kids, according to parents."

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Ronen Kadushin's Italic bookshelf "is derived from the italic typefaces that slightly slant."

Bonhomie Press: The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel by Erika Mallman

Great Reads

Rediscover: Wonder

The film adaptation of R.J. Palacio's children's book Wonder opened on November 17 to critical and commercial success; as of December 10, the movie had earned $129.6 million worldwide (with a budget of $20 million) and received a score of 86% from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson star as the parents of August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a fifth-grade boy with facial deformities who enrolls in private school after a lifetime of homeschooling. Auggie's first year at Beecher Prep is marked by bullying, which he overcomes thanks to a few new friends and supportive teachers.

R.J. Palacio followed up Wonder (first published by Knopf in 2012) with Auggie & Me (2015), three stories told from the perspectives of other characters in Wonder, and 365 Days of Wonder (2016), which collects daily precepts used by Auggie's teacher. We're All Wonders (2017) sends Auggie on a new illustrated adventure for very young readers. Auggie's bravery has also inspired the anti-bullying Choose Kind movement. On September 26, Knopf released a movie tie-in edition of Wonder ($16.99, 9781524720193). --Tobias Mutter

Holiday Reads

'Tis the season... for reading! Hallmark holiday movies may get all the press this time of year, but 2017 has produced many delightful new books to enjoy with a cup of cocoa or eggnog handy. Some of them may be a little too sugary for anyone but Buddy the Elf, but there are also slightly darker options for those with a less starry-eyed perspective.

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery (Morrow, paperback $14.99) by Jenny Colgan continues the lives of the characters from Little Beach Street Bakery, although it can also easily be read as a standalone. Polly, Huckle and the rest of the villagers are sure to gain new fans in this charming story that begins with a "terrible thing" in the spring that has repercussions for everyone as the holidays roll around. But Polly keeps baking, Huckle makes honey and their friends and family will both hinder and help them as they try to figure out how to keep affording their lighthouse home.

Connie Willis brings a touch of the fantastic to her collection A Lot Like Christmas (Del Rey, paperback $17). From a young "artificial" who longs to escape her robotic life for a chance on the stage, to the snowstorm to end all snowstorms, to the time-traveling appearance of the actual Joseph and Mary in search of an inn, A Lot Like Christmas is a delightful reworking of Willis's earlier Miracle, with five new stories and bonus lists of Willis's favorite Christmas movies and books.

Winter Solstice (Little, Brown, $26) is the fourth entry in Elin Hilderbrand's Winter series. The Quinn family saga continues as the youngest son, Bart, finally returns home from captivity in Afghanistan to join his boisterous family for a traditional New England Christmas; albeit a bittersweet one due to a central character's cancer battle. With her trademark humor and honesty, Hilderbrand deftly explores family drama and tragedy--two aspects of life that invariably end up heightened at the holidays.

Longtime fans of the late Georgette Heyer will be thrilled to discover a pretty new collection of her short stories. Snowdrift and Other Stories (Sourcebooks Casablanca, paperback $13.99) is a re-release of Pistols for Two, with the exciting addition of three "new" stories--which haven't been in publication for 70-odd years. Several of the stories are set at Christmastime, and all of them feature Heyer's trademark witty repartee in a Regency England setting.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe (St. Martin's Press, $18.99) is a sugary retelling of Austen's perennial favorite. Financial wunderkind Darcy Fitzwilliam, the youngest partner at a New York hedge fund, reluctantly returns home to Pemberley, Ohio, after her mother has a heart attack. There Darcy reunites with her childhood best friend, the flamboyant Bingley Charles, and handsome Luke Bennet--her high school debate nemesis. But is there more to Luke than Darcy ever thought?

Christmas with My Cowboy (Zebra, paperback $7.99) includes three romantic novellas by perennial favorites Diana Palmer, Lindsay McKenna and Margaret Way that are perfect for fans of finding love, cowboys and Christmas. From snowy Wyoming and Colorado to sunny Australia, three women will discover that a cowboy is what they really want for Christmas.

Lily Thomas's Christmas at Hope Cottage (Bookouture, paperback $7.99) is a sweet and charming story, a bit reminiscent of Sarah Addison's Allen whimsical style, but set in Yorkshire instead of the American South. Emma Halloway comes from a long line of talented cooks--and local rumor has it that the Halloway women's food can change lives. Emma has rejected her family's fantastical abilities, until an accident in London forces her home to convalesce and face her family's history.

Signal Loss (Soho Crime, $26.95) is an excellent thriller by Garry Disher set on Australia's Mornington Peninsula in the sultry weeks leading up to Christmas. Sergeant Ellen Destry and her team are hunting a serial rapist while her boyfriend, Hal Challis, alternates searching for a missing meth addict and investigating two burned corpses found in a Mercedes, while trying to decide what to buy Ellen for Christmas.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Minotaur, $24.99) by Rhys Bowen stars the indefatigable amateur detective Molly Murphy Sullivan. Molly and her police officer husband Daniel are staying at a Christmas house party hosted by friends of her mother-in-law, who have a fabulous mansion on the Hudson. When Molly learns that the couple had a daughter who disappeared just before Christmas a decade earlier, she can't help investigating, despite Daniel's disapproval. But when the long-lost daughter abruptly appears on the doorstep, Molly and Daniel, both skeptical, work together to solve the mystery of the girl's 10-year absence.
 --Jessica Howard, book reviewer

Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

Book Reviews

Fiction

Madonna in a Fur Coat

by Sabahattin Ali , trans. by Maureen Freely , Alexander Dawe

Sabahattin Ali's heartbreaking novel Madonna in a Fur Coat spins a beguiling love story. Between the first and second world wars, Raif, a young Turkish translator, travels to Berlin for work. There he falls in love with Maria Puder, a cabaret performer and art model depicted as Madonna in a city-famous painting. The two begin a tumultuous but genuine relationship that's interrupted when Raif is called back to Turkey.

The story is at first narrated by Raif's nameless clerk, then in the translator's own voice through a diary the clerk reads. With perceptiveness and compassion, Ali depicts the sexual politics of the time and the heady tension between his male and female characters. "Why is it that even in the way you beg, there is dominance, and pity in the way we refuse?" Maria asks Raif in what becomes a powerful monologue on female empowerment. In equal measure, Ali explores preconceptions of masculinity through Raif's vulnerability and his capacity for intimacy. Relationships are endangered, he shows, by misunderstanding and misjudgment more than malice.

Ali was a Turkish literary icon, imprisoned more than once for his writings. Madonna in a Fur Coat was first published in 1943, and this English translation conveys the author's emotional intelligence and crisp lyricism. Its sad tinge of fatalism belies its deeper, more dynamic aspects. Love both tortures and redeems the soul. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: This English translation of Sabahattin Ali's popular novel offers a compelling and tragic love story between a Turkish man and German woman.

Other Press, $15.95, paperback, 208p., 9781590518809

Indiana University Press: UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan

Spring Garden

by Tomoka Shibasaki , trans. by Polly Barton

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki looks at loneliness and loss with uncommon detail and understated force. Taro, a passive, divorced man who lives in a Tokyo apartment building slated to be torn down, becomes acquainted with Nishi, a young woman in the same building who is fascinated by a house in their neighborhood. This sky-blue house, larger than most and with a private garden, has been documented in an obscure book of photography titled Spring Garden. The ethereal photos of the house and its former celebrity inhabitants preoccupy Nishi and, soon, Taro. Although the current occupants are distressingly conventional, the house symbolizes a past when urban living was not as isolated and traditional values were carefully cultivated. Nishi says of Tokyo life, "things get better so quickly but then they deteriorate just as fast."

Shibasaki's characters stay at arm's length from each other, and their transactional relationships mean they never connect on more than a surface level. Numazu, Taro's coworker, is "just voicing the thoughts passing through his mind, and not looking for an answer." The perspective of an omniscient narrator abruptly changes toward the end, and Taro's disaffection is seen from a more compassionate vantage point.

Spring Garden won the 2014 Akutagawa Prize in Japan. Polly Barton, winner of the Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize, makes sure that Shibasaki's minimalist language comes across with poetic sensibility. Every word matters in this unflinching and quietly powerful novella. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Spring Garden is a brief, exquisitely crafted story of human connection in a contemporary, alienating society.

Pushkin Press, $13.95, paperback, 154p., 9781782272700

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance

by Bill McKibben

It's nice to imagine Bill McKibben (The End of Nature; Oil and Honey) enjoying some chuckles writing Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance, his first novel. After 13 books and decades of work on the environment and climate change, Radio Free Vermont is both a madcap story of Vermonters engaging in civil disobedience and "the beginning of a movement."

Reminiscent of Edward Abbey's 1975 Monkey Wrench Gang, McKibben's novel brings comedy to the chaos of the post-November 2016 United States with the laugh-out-loud antics of a group of quirky Green Mountain patriots. Vern is a wanted man following a tiff with his former radio station employer and a debacle involving a Walmart opening and a sewer line. He broadcasts his Vermont secession message from his hideout in the woods, the house of an activist named Sylvia, with the help of his enthusiastic assistant, young computer whiz Perry. Olympic biathlon medalist Trance's skiing and sharpshooting complete the ornery group's skills. Arrests, a house fire, high-speed ski chases and ongoing broadcasts climax in a hilarious scene and the cocky governor's comeuppance--a battle won, but the war goes on.

McKibben's message is clear in his epilogue: "When confronted by small men doing big and stupid things, we need to resist with all the creativity and wit we can muster, and if we can do so without losing the civility that makes life enjoyable, then so much the better." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: This madcap fable of resistance in the U.S. after the 2016 election is a call for civil response.

Blue Rider Press, $22, hardcover, 240p., 9780735219861

The Brazilian

by Rosie Millard

In the second book of Rosie Millard's the Square series, well-to-do couple Jane and Patrick pack for an Ibiza vacation with their eight-year-old son, George, and his nanny, Belle. Coinciding with their holiday is the filming of a reality TV show, Ibiza (or Bust). Two of Jane and Patrick's London neighbors--TV financial adviser Alan Makin and artist Phillip Burrell--are starring in the production alongside a cast of eccentric small-time stars, and Jane is desperate to weasel her way onto the show.

As Ibiza (or Bust) director Simon puts the show's actors through a series of humiliating, reckless and well-scripted challenges, Jane keeps busy on the island. All the childcare responsibilities are left to Belle, who's been sneaking out every night to meet up with her boyfriend. So when she falls asleep on the job and George turns up missing, the Ibiza (or Bust) troupe teams up with the child's parents to scour the island.

This zany representation of feigned reality and privileged disconnect from normal existence makes for satirical fun on a Mediterranean island. Mix in a donkey, a professional soccer star and a lesbian encounter, and things can't get much more exciting. But in the realm of reality TV, it's every man or woman for him- or herself, so the contestants will stop at almost nothing to earn their fame--and cash prize.

A humorous, lighthearted read, The Brazilian will likely charm fans of Bridget Jones or provide a welcome escape for anyone needing an entertaining diversion. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: A madcap reality show takes over the island vacation hotspot of Ibiza for a raucous, risqué fortnight.

Legends Press, $12.95, paperback, 288p., 9781787199873

Mystery & Thriller

The Midnight Line

by Lee Child

Lee Child's The Midnight Line, number 22 in the Jack Reacher series, picks up exactly where number 20, Make Me, left off (number 21 was set in 1996). Reacher's female companion, Michelle Chang, just left Milwaukee, and he's also on his way out of Wisconsin when he sees a tiny West Point ring in a pawn shop's window. The size indicates the original owner was a woman, and the engraving says 2005, meaning the cadet enrolled at the military academy the year 9/11 happened. Reacher doesn't believe the hard-earned ring was given up easily.

Feeling a sense of obligation that he can't explain, Reacher decides to find the owner and return the ring to her. He encounters resistance from nefarious characters as he backtracks the ring's journey to that pawnshop. Sometimes he must use his full 6'5", 250-lb. bulk to plow through to the truth. He also discovers he's not the only one looking for the woman.

Reacher Creatures will be satisfied by tight pacing and action scenes in which their hero shows bad guys who's boss, but Midnight Line is also moving and timely. Along with touching on an epidemic the U.S. is battling, Child sheds light on the quality of life of veterans who return after wartime service, showing that some wounds are visible and others not, but all are deep and devastating. The dedication reads: "So far in our history, nearly two million Purple Hearts have been awarded. This book is respectfully dedicated to each and every recipient." It's a fitting tribute. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Jack Reacher tracks down the owner of a West Point ring he finds in a pawnshop.

Delacorte, $28.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780399593482

Food & Wine

How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach: The Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits

by Melanie Mühl , Diana Von Kopp , trans. by Carolin Sommer

Journalist Melanie Mühl and psychologist Diana Von Kopp team up to examine universal themes concerning food choices in How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach: The Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits. In our modern age, according to Mühl and Von Kopp, people have lost the carefree attitude toward food that was once enjoyed by past generations. Anxiety over diets, manipulation by supermarkets and the food industry, and an overabundance of choices have led to a relinquishment of joy and ease in our relationship to food.

Eager to re-create that carefree attitude, Mühl and Von Kopp ask why we make certain food choices and how we can liberate ourselves from external influences that work against our best interests. The answer, they write, lies in understanding why we eat with our eyes, how we savor with our ears, think with our stomachs, feast with our feelings and choose with our tongues. People are conditioned to respond to food in different ways according to their environment, the color of the plate, the music playing in the background during meals and the artistry of a dish's presentation. We are particularly susceptible to celebrity endorsements of new food products, even if the celebrity in question has no expertise in the product they are endorsing.

Mühl and Von Kopp bring a refreshing perspective to the field of food psychology with a well-curated selection of research studies. Easy to read and entertaining throughout, How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach provides welcome clarity for those seeking to understand and change long-ingrained food habits. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A journalist and psychologist deliver a well-researched book on the psychology of food choices.

The Experiment, $16.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781615194056

Biography & Memoir

The Wine Lover's Daughter: A Memoir

by Anne Fadiman

Before Anne Fadiman was known for The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and At Large and at Small, she was an "oakling," withering (according to an adage she quotes) in the shadow of an oak. Her father, Clifton Fadiman, enjoyed a long, successful career as a reader, book reviewer and wordsmith. Most of all, however, he loved wine.

Fadiman's The Wine Lover's Daughter is a beautifully composed memoir of her father's life, viewed through the lens of his oenophilia. She recalls discovering his essay "Brief History of a Love Affair" at age 10, and being disappointed that it did not describe love for a woman. She should not have been surprised, as even at that age she knew the names of the Premier Cru Bordeaux and which were the Great Years (capitalized as such). Clifton's passion for wine was prodigious, and it was his daughter's shame and consternation that her palate never came to appreciate any of its forms. This memoir is in part the story of that struggle--her repeated attempts to love wine, and all the fine bottles wasted on her.

Fadiman's prose is clear and precise, and while not overtly poetic, perfectly composed as to rhythm and sound. As in her past work, she writes with equal skill of her own memories, family history, science and the finer points of wine appreciation (which she knows by heart and inheritance, if not by personal experience). The Wine Lover's Daughter is a beautiful remembrance and a loving and well-deserved tribute to a literary figure--and to the joy of imbibing. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A loving daughter's memoir of her father portrays the literary mind of Clifton Fadiman through his passionate oenophilia.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9780374228088

First Time Ever

by Peggy Seeger

"Love, unions, ecology, poll tax, abortion, Thatcher, Iraq, you name it and I made a song for it." Now singer-songwriter Peggy Seeger has written a book about it.

She was raised in Maryland by progressive parents who hosted the likes of Lead Belly and Jackson Pollock. Adept at guitar and banjo, Seeger recorded her first album in 1954, while a student at Radcliffe. Two years later, the legendary American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax summoned her to London: he wanted her for an English version of the Weavers--an obvious recruit, given that her much-older half brother was Pete Seeger. The gig fizzled, but she met "my next thirty-three years"--the English singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl, two decades her senior. MacColl was married when Seeger conceived their first child, and he fathered another with his wife shortly thereafter. While Seeger's judgment throughout her book can irk, readers will root for her, including when she starts life over with a female partner after MacColl's 1989 death.

First Time Ever offers a catbird seat overlooking a long marriage of wandering minstrels who were catalysts for the British folk revival. When MacColl first heard Roberta Flack's 1972 Grammy-winning version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which he had written years earlier for Seeger to sing, he was stunned. "Ewan said he wrote it as an hors d'oeuvre," writes Seeger, "and it had been turned into the main course." Bursting with lyrics, footnotes, photos and fine turns of phrase, First Time Ever is a feast. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author

Discover: Musicians are often good storytellers; First Time Ever shows that Peggy Seeger is also a good writer.

Faber & Faber, $29.95, hardcover, 416p., 9780571336791

Business & Economics

Beeronomics: How Beer Explains the World

by Johan Swinnen , Devin Briski

Despite its somewhat corny title, Beeronomics is a well-researched history and economic analysis of the world's favorite alcoholic beverage and its role in turning mankind from hungry hunter-gatherers to frolicking, leisure-loving adults. A joint effort between the scholarly Johan Swinnen (professor of economics at the University of Leuven) and marketing maven Devin Briski (Vox Media and Stanford Social Innovation Review), it has enough tables and charts to please the dedicated economist, leavened with ample colloquial asides to entertain the rest of us. It even sports a telling chapter epigraph by Frank Zappa: "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least, you need a beer."

Briski and Swinnen trace the first mention of beer to The Epic of Gilgamesh chiseled into stone around 2000 BC, although Mesopotamian beer recipes from 6000 BC have also been authenticated. From there, it has been one breakthrough after another (e.g., using hops for preservation, bottom fermenting for clarity and lightness, mass production of glass bottles, steel and aluminum cans with pull-tops, TV advertising, etc.) that shifted the beer business from isolated monasteries to global corporate behemoths (led by Swinnen's hometown Belgium giant AB InBev). With its long history of mass consumption, government regulation and taxation and technical innovation, beer has been at the center of every major economic trend--an argument the authors make convincingly, even if you can't "find your beach" or "climb on... whatever your mountain." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A thoroughly researched study of the social and economic impact of beer, Beeronomics is also an entertaining history of the world's favorite alcoholic beverage.

Oxford University Press, $24.95, hardcover, 192p., 9780198808305

Nature & Environment

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

by Juli Berwald

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone puts the spotlight on an understudied and generally underappreciated marine animal, showing how its fate may be tied to manmade changes in the natural world. Spineless is also the story of Juli Berwald, an ocean science Ph.D., reigniting her passion for science and nature through her immersion in the world of jellyfish. Berwald puts herself in the narrative, bringing the reader along as she prepares and cooks jellyfish, raises specimens in her dining room, swims near an enormous bloom off an Israeli beach and much more. Berwald excels at depicting the wonder and appreciation she has gained for the strange, gelatinous creatures and the ocean that sustains them.

Her interest in jellyfish was prompted by the appearance across the world of massive aggregations known as blooms. In some cases, the jellyfish were so numerous that they dominated the ecosystem and transformed productive fisheries into "a sea of goo." Jellyfish and people are increasingly getting in each other's way. Masses of the aquatic animal have clogged power plants, desalination plants and even a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Jellyfish can also ruin a trip to the beach: the National Science Foundation estimates that there are 150 million stings each year. The creatures are fascinating in part because there's so much more to find out about them. In Spineless, Berwald demonstrates that our oceans represent a scientific frontier at least as exciting and promising as space, and posits jellyfish as a prime candidate for study and appreciation. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: An ocean scientist follows her passion for jellyfish across the globe, sharing anecdotes and evidence for how these strange, ethereal creatures are crucial to understanding our oceans.

Riverhead Books, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780735211261

Children's & Young Adult

Top Elf

by Caleb Zane Huett

Ollie Gnome, an 11-year-old elf, loves Christmas more than anything in the world. In Santa's Workshop, near his North Pole home, he studies "mapomatics, toyology, list-erature and Santa Studies," and he creates new toys in the Games & Puzzles (G&P) department. His best friend, Celia Pixie, is a genius inventor at G&P. Every July 2, all the elves gather for Santa's traditional kick-off speech. But this year, Santa has a shocking surprise: Mr. and Mrs. Claus have decided that there will be a competition to determine the next Santa. This person--whether human like the Claus family or elf like everyone else--will inherit the mysterious Quantum Kringle, a small globe containing the magic that allows Santa to deliver presents to children around the world in just one night.

Ollie and Celia decide to enter, if only to keep their nemesis, Buzz Brownie, from winning. Thus begins six months of insane challenges, packed as full as Santa's sleigh with family rivalries, strokes of technological brilliance, masterful strategizing, colossal failures and a strange old guy masquerading as a child competitor.

Caleb Zane Huett's debut novel is fun and exciting, perfect for readers who will not be shocked at the idea of a Santa named Matthew or technology-fueled sleighs. The cast of characters is broad, and includes a reindeer punk rock band; a perpetually grease-stained Mrs. Claus, who's in charge of Wish Generator maintenance and repairs; and cameos by a bickering Heatmiser and Snowmiser. And, of course, Ollie. Ollie is charmingly reminiscent of Keats in Christian Burch's The Manny Files, swooning over fabulous Big Red Suit designs and always believing the best in everyone, even as they are taking advantage of him. Top Elf is an exhilarating Christmas read, any time of the year. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: North Pole elves and humans compete to become the next Santa, building the fastest sleigh, downing the most cookies and milk, and designing the best Big Red Suit in this hilarious debut novel.

Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 8-12, 9781338052121

This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer

by Joan Holub , illust. by Daniel Roode

"Paving the way/ to a future that's bright./ Helping the world with their/ skills, smarts, and might./ Little trailblazers cause great big changes."

With This Little Trailblazer in hand, the smallest tots won't have to go far to discover the amazing feats of almost two dozen women all over the world, all through time. Each two-page spread in this chunky little board book features one remarkable woman and a succinct description of what makes her special. On the left is a cartoonish illustration by Daniel Roode, each woman with huge round eyes and simply drawn features. Joan Holub's rhyming text tells about the subject in broad terms: "This little trailblazer/ had the courage and skill/ to organize hospitals/ and care for the ill." The page opposite goes into a bit more detail, but still minimal enough for the youngest readers to absorb: "Florence Nightingale began the first professional school for nurses." The beauty of this book is that adults reading aloud can elaborate as much or as little as they--or their charges--want.

This Little Trailblazer is a smart companion to Holub and Roode's This Little President and This Little Explorer, celebrating some of the not-so-little giants in American and world history. Young readers will learn about civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph, nurse Florence Nightingale, fashion designer Coco Chanel and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. The final spread asks, "Computers, lawmaking, designing, ballet--/ how will you change the world someday?" and includes a dozen additional trailblazers mini-portraits, plus a final blank spot for... "YOU!" --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: With 22 mini-bios, this little board book introduces the youngest readers to women who have blazed historic trails in science, technology, art, sports, civil rights and more.

Little Simon/S&S, $7.99, board books, 26p., ages 3-5, 9781534401068

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas

by Pamela Ehrenberg , illust. by Anjan Sarkar

Being part of a Jewish and South Asian Indian family has delicious perks: "Making Indian food that my mom ate as a kid for a Jewish holiday that my dad grew up with--that was a lucky combination." For the first-night-of-Hanukkah meal, a boy looks forward to making dosas--a crispy-on-the-edges, paper-thin South Asian-style crepe--with his mother and his Amma-Amma (maternal grandmother). His one concern is his mischievous toddler sister, Sadie, who climbs up just about anything.

When the family heads to Little India Market for ingredients, the boy knows Sadie will require a careful eye. Her first scaling attempt is "a pyramid of coconut milk," which sends cans rolling. When she refuses to descend, the boy remembers a favorite Hanukkah song which he cleverly personalizes: "I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal," he sings to the tune of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel." With a "big grin" of recognition, Sadie "amazingly... climbed down." Three more times, the boy serenades Sadie before the celebrations commence.

As the family goes to greet their guests, they manage to get locked out. The boy realizes that Sadie's climbing prowess might save the day--but only if he can finish his song and convince Sadie to open the door.

In her back-flap bio, author Pamela Ehrenberg confesses to locking her own family out of the house as a toddler. Ehrenberg enhances her toddler-tale by adding delicious diversity, substituting delectable dosas (recipe included at the book's end) and sambar for traditional latkes and applesauce for this multicultural crew. British artist Anjan Sarkar's bright illustrations add a celebratory feel; he's also careful to include visual reminders of the family's blended cultures throughout. Parents, educators and readers seeking opportunities to expand awareness across multiple cultures will appreciate this tasty start. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Pamela Ehrenberg blends religion and culture to create a toothsome treat about how one diverse family celebrates Hanukkah with southern Indian food.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780374304447

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