From the Shelf
Bookstore Literary Tours
Many of us in the cold, snowy parts of the country are daydreaming about travel to warm places. This year several independent bookstores are making booklovers enjoy the daydreaming even more than usual: they have plans to lead literary trips this spring and summer to France and Italy.
|BookPeople of Moscow's Tuscan villa.|
Last year, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., conducted an 11-day literary tour in England; this summer, June 22-July 5, the store will take a group to Italy, with stays in Venice, Tuscany and Rome. Led by Rainy Day owners Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren and travel specialist Lisa Ball, the trip includes author events; literary walking tours; visits to, among many other sites, St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, the Duomo in Florence and the Vatican; museum and gallery tours led by expert guides; excellent food and drink; and more.
For the third year in a row, Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., is offering a "Springtime in Paris" trip, running May 3-9 with an optional weekend extension until the 12th. The emphasis is on exploring and getting to know Paris "in a more intimate way." Travel veterans Sheila Campbell and Donna Morris "will lead small groups, via Metro or city buses, moving about the city like Parisians. You can spend as much, or as little, time with the group as you like." A bonus: author Cara Black and P&P senior book buyer Mark LaFramboise have selected books that participants might want to read beforehand.
BookPeople of Moscow, Moscow, Idaho, is leading a "literary and historical feast" July 23-30 to an estate in Tuscany that will include demonstrations of historical Tuscan cooking techniques and discussions of Tuscan history; cooking classes; a writing workshop led by bookstore co-manager Jamaica Ritcher; a book group with recommended reading focused on Italy organized by store owner Carol Spurling; a tour of local bookstores; excursions into the countryside and to the seaside; and beginning Italian lessons. Buon'idea! --John Mutter, editor-in-chief, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Lavie Tidhar
A stunning blend of superheroes and espionage in an alternate 20th century.
by Rose Tremain
This alluring collection of superbly written short stories will linger long after the book is closed.
by Tricia Springstubb
Brave 11-year-old Flor must find her bearings after her best friend and her mother both leave her beloved island home.
Review by Subjects:
Nine Books 'to Drop Everything and Read'
"If you're a passionate reader, you're always on the hunt for the next book that will totally engross you," Mental Floss noted in recommending "9 books to drop everything and read."
While everyone was "talking about the red carpet hits and misses" at Sunday's Academy Awards, Read It Forward was "more inspired by these clever gowns made entirely of books!"
"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." The Guardian featured "Jane Austen in quotes: 30 tips for a successful life."
Elisa Albert, author of After Birth, recommended "9 radical books about motherhood" for the Huffington Post.
Have you heard Zero Article's latest album? The Quirk Books blog featured "ten grammatical terms that totally sound like band names."
"Caution: Hot. And literate." Buzzfeed showcased "23 awesome mugs only book nerds will appreciate."
Rediscover: Time and Again
In Time and Again by Jack Finney, first published in 1970, advertising artist Simon Morley joins a covert government operation exploring time travel--and soon steps from the 20th century into New York City in January 1882. Besides wanting to see another era, Morley hopes to uncover the mystery of partly burned letter from the period that a friend has. Morley finds more than he could imagine, falls in love and must decide whether to stay in the past or return to his previous life. A bestseller when it appeared, the book was acclaimed both for its evocation of 19th-century New York City and the romance at its core.
Bookseller Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y., calls Time and Again "the original timeslip romance." She adds that "the backdrop of old New York is simply gorgeous. This is a must-read for anyone who loved The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger or Outlander by Diana Gabaldon." (In a nice twist, Scribner's paperback edition of Time and Again includes a foreword by Niffenegger.) Finney also wrote a sequel, From Time to Time, published in 1995, in which Morley travels to 1912 to try to prevent World War I--a trip that sets him down on the Titanic during its ill-fated voyage.
The Writer's Life
Chris Hoke: Building a New Underground Railroad
|photo: Luke Ekblad|
Chris Hoke a jail chaplain and pastor to gangs and violent offenders in Washington State's Skagit Valley. Through his work with the organization Tierra Nueva, he cofounded a coffee-roasting business, Underground Coffee, which employs men coming out of prison and addiction, and connects them to agricultural partners in Honduras. Hoke received a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from Seattle Pacific University. Hoke's work has been featured on NPR and in the Sun, Sojourners and Christian Century. Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders (HarperOne) is his first book; our review is below.
You have said that you are not a person of great faith--many people might find this a bit of a paradox since you are a prison chaplain.
I'm definitely a person of faith. But there're degrees. I wrote the line you cite in the context of a memory about a freak accident and even freakier "healing" in the jail--and how I was slow to attribute it to God's hand. Unlike many believers who speak with certainty about the mysteries of faith, I am hesitant, all too aware of how unsure I am of anything I believe. But maybe that's why I go to the jail, why I pray with folks, why I try to put Jesus's teachings into practice: so I can see, with my eyes, in my own life, witness and experience, what some people might just take on faith.
What pulled you into helping some of society's greatest outcasts find God and their own faith?
Because that's what Jesus says to do. The old Christian phrase, "following Jesus"--I guess I've taken that as literally as I can. Not as a metaphor for pious belief, but as a chasing after, imitating. Like one does with any hero. His love for the outcast is where I see that beauty, and glory, most poignantly. When I tried to "find Jesus" in following his style among one subset of today's societal outcasts--inmates, criminals, gang members--I have found others who also like Jesus's style and want to join me. I don't want to do this alone. Also, I don't think Jesus's disciples totally understood what was going on or had great faith, either. They just kept tagging along, and got pulled deeper into the mystery that eventually demanded their entire lives.
Men in prison christened you "pastor." Why was that term so difficult for you to accept at first?
Since I was pretty overchurched growing up, I observed that a pastor was the CEO of a large religious social club who constantly had to prepare sermons, look and sound right all the time, be an example for others. And that looked like a lot of pressure. And kind of lonely, at the end of the day. What changed my understanding was a bunch of young "bad guys" who embraced me, accepted me as I was, didn't pick apart my theology but saw God's presence inside me somehow. When they called me their pastor, at first I thought they were teasing my goody-goodness. But they said no, it was a good thing. "We've never had one." That broke my heart.
Plus, pastor means shepherd. Shepherds are not the ranch managers. Shepherds accompany the sheep through dark, hidden, remote places. They spend a lot of time away from mainstream civilization. The more I reflected on pastors as shepherds, I got more excited about what I was already kind of doing.
Through your experiences you learned that touch plays an invaluable part in the lives of these criminals. When it was taken from them, they became more violent.
I can't back that up with evidence or numbers or anything--how the jail became a more violent place after the no-touch policy was implemented. It was my impression. I remembered there being a slew of fights that first month or two, more than normal. Just recently we have been in conversation with leadership at our jail about this issue. Some see eliminating touch as a security measure, but other staff have admitted that every human needs a hug, especially in tragic or stressful days of their lives. And if men locked up in a box have no one to embrace them, connect in the most basic and healthy of human ways, how do we expect them to not act out in unhealthy ways? I believe this policy is coming under question more, and hopefully good chaplains can earn the trust back to have healthy human touch with suffering inmates.
How did the loss of this contact affect you in your work and relationships with the men?
Men coming out of their cells and embracing us chaplains before a group Bible study became normal for years, as well as them gripping our hands in prayer during a one-on-one visit. It became suddenly awkward, sad, for me, to dodge their welcomes and visit individuals only through the thick glass. I still got to go home and hug my family and friends, hold hands in worship settings. So I was okay. It was just hard not to be able to share that with men who needed it more than anyone I'd see all week.
When the men are released from prison, they struggle getting jobs because of their histories. Tierra Nueva has an enterprise to try to combat this situation.
To be clear, many released men and women can and do get jobs, even with their tattoos and felony records. It's just much harder. Many give up. We started Underground Coffee not really to give employment where there was none, but rather a certain kind of employment: small, partial-time work for men who have so many court dates, recovery class requirements and personal/family healing work to do that it's not sustainable to hold a steady, full-time job. Resurrection can be a slow process, and guys need a few steps between the dark underground and full-time employment with all their financial debt burdens being paid off. We need what Michelle Alexander calls a "new underground railroad" for people getting out of today's crushing under-caste.
What is "Hugs for Thugs?"
That's just our first T-shirt, an idea my friend Neaners had when he was in solitary confinement. I think of it as spreading the most basic message, the gospel, in three words: God's response of total embrace and love for "sinners." But few people, outside of religion, say "sinners." We say things like "thugs," "hoodlums," "criminals," "f--kups." So, "hugs for thugs" is a nice summary statement. Those T-shirts are like our Girl Scout cookies--another small fund-raiser to sell locally to support our work.
And former gang members are recruited to become chaplains.
This is the most exciting part of my work with guys like Neaners and Ramon and others at Tierra Nueva, and especially the characters Shorty and Donacio I wrote about in later chapters in the book: gang leaders know how to recruit the lost. They know the pain of kids out there, from the inside out of their own gut and history. These guys have attitude, charm, style, energy, bossiness in calling bored, abandoned kids out of the streets, like Pied Pipers, to follow them. Think about it: gangs grow, they thrive, without funding, grants, paid positions and leadership conferences. They have figured out how to multiply in the cracks of society, with a kind of instinctual grassroots organizing. Yes, the activities of gangs often wreak havoc through violence, drug dealing, misogyny, etc. But if that same grassroots outreach energy can be harnessed by a greater movement, a greater love--which Jesus embodied on the roads of Galilee at the very start--then the church has a wildly exciting future.
When you speak at churches and other venues, do you find openness or are you met with resistance?
Thankfully, most of the churches that invite me or fellow staff or homies to speak are very receptive. Most people simply have no connection to, or awareness of, the jail and prison worlds. When people hear not just a litany of the system's evils, but hear old scriptures read alongside real faces and hear stories of these tattooed guys--and these guys actually speaking in their pulpits, with timidness and tenderness and sometimes tears--well, then, hearts open. Both the guys' hearts and the hearts of those in the pews listening.
One of the individuals in Wanted is Richard Mejia, who has been in the news because the prison was sued for his death. Have any valuable changes come from the lawsuit?
Last year I attended, along with Richard's loved ones and lawyers, the hearing for the medical staff responsible for Richard's easily preventable death in prison. The hearing was a joke. The medical professional with a documented history of complaints from fellow staff smugly described the only area for self-improvement he found in his season of required self-examination: that he needs to speak less publicly, at work, about how proud he is of his successful children. The panel of other doctors all thanked him for his patience and good work and went home. He ended up getting promoted, with a raise. We watched how the system worked that day. Richard's mistake led to the death of an elderly woman, and he was punished for that, rotting to death in prison at age 26. The prison staff responsible for his death got a promotion and a raise. This is what it means to be thrown away, not a citizen or human being in America.
The book is written in a series of what you describe as "Wanted posters." Are there more posters to share?
Yes, I am developing ideas for two more books. One is about my ongoing relationship with another main character in Wanted, Neaners, and about alternative family, tentatively titled Thicker Than Blood. I am also sketching out a possible novel about meth dealers, naval bases, old hippies in the Northwest, Aztec sacrifice and blackberry wine! --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
The American Lover
by Rose Tremain
Sometimes fiction is more than simply entertaining or moving; in the skillful hands of Rose Tremain (Trespass) it is utterly exquisite. She deftly exposes both the absurdity and the melancholy that are synonymous with the human experience. The American Lover is a dark, candid and unforgettable collection of short stories.
Unusual situations and even odder characters make for intriguing bedfellows in Tremain's book. The titular story follows the ruin of a once-famous and gorgeous woman who cannot get over a past beau likely not worth the dirt on her shoe. Another portrays an upper-crust young lady who chooses money and misery over her passionate love for a poor construction worker. An adult daughter finally breaks ties with her cruel mother, while in another story a loving couple finds the strength to escape from a freeloading child of their own. Finally, seizing on rumors of a dead writer's sexuality, Tremain brings Daphne du Maurier back to life as a closet lesbian. This impressive collection of stories steeped in heartache and longing will leave readers wondering in admiration how Tremain can effortlessly bring to life so many varied characters.
The recurring themes of disappointing relationships, thwarted love affairs and unfulfilled expectations are expressed without sentimentalism, and the book is far more realistic than maudlin. These stories will resonate with anyone who enjoys Tremain's atypical take on the mundane. Her fantastic writing makes this read the perfect companion. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend
Discover: This alluring collection of superbly written short stories will linger long after the book is closed.
The Siege Winter
by Ariana Franklin , Samantha Norman
Ariana Franklin (aka Diana Norman), author of the acclaimed Mistress of the Art of Death series, died in 2011 before completing The Siege Winter. But her daughter Samantha Norman finished the novel, allowing readers to enjoy Franklin's exciting historical fiction once again.
The year is 1141. England is in the grip of a civil war, as Empress Matilda and King Stephen battle for the throne after the death of Henry I. The chaos means that lawless men roam unhindered, and Emma, a young girl from the fens, is kidnapped by a depraved monk, brutally raped and left for dead. Gwyl, a kindhearted mercenary archer, finds Emma and nurses her back to health, disguising her as a boy and renaming her Penda. Little do Gwyl and Penda know that their paths will soon cross with the Empress herself.
Meanwhile, Maud of Kenniford has been forced into marriage with a loutish, much older man, because her castle and lands are considered vital to Stephen's cause. Defying her husband, Maud makes a treaty with Matilda's forces, triggering events that will lead to a long winter's siege.
Although the subject matter is grim, the jocular attitude of several of the main characters makes The Siege Winter surprisingly amusing. Penda's feistiness, Gwyl's determination and Maud's intransigence are all likable qualities, and the vividly depicted historical setting will keep the reader simultaneously engaged but sad at the knowledge that Franklin won't be writing any more books. Fans of British history and historical fiction are sure to love the intrigue and scope of The Siege Winter. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A thrilling historical novel set during England's tumultuous civil war of the 1140s.
Into the Savage Country
by Shannon Burke
Shannon Burke (Black Flies) sets Into the Savage Country at a pivotal moment in American history. In the late 1820s, American, Spanish and British trappers and adventurers are battling for supremacy in the western territories. These ragtag and fiercely loyal mountain men understand that their triumph or failure may affect the future for their respective nations.
Young William Wyeth, resolved to make his fortune in the West as a means to win the hand of the lovely widow Alene, sets out on a trapping expedition of breathtaking scope. The small brigade Wyeth joins is determined to trap in untouched Crow lands, but they are drawn into disputes between the Crow, Blackfoot and Gros Ventre tribes. With the British backing some tribes and the Spanish refusing southern passage, it will take all their wits to escape back to St. Louis, Mo., with their furs and their lives.
Told from Wyeth's point of view, Into the Savage Country pays homage to an often overlooked period in American history. There to witness the destruction of buffalo herds and the decimation of fur animals, Wyeth muses on the changes in both the burgeoning United States and himself. And as the months pass, Wyeth's bonds with his fellow brigade members cause him to rethink his ideas of friendship and bravery.
A quiet little novel, written in a spare style that belies the excitement between its covers, Into the Savage Country is a glimpse back to an almost forgotten lifestyle, and an era in which the wealth of a continent beckoned the adventurous. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A panoramic vision of the 1820s American West, as seen through the eyes of fur traders.
Mystery & Thriller
A Murder of Magpies
by Judith Flanders
The world of book publishing isn't known for its murderous intrigues--unless an author fails to submit a salable manuscript on time. After her most reliably lucrative women's fiction author turns in a pile of sludge, London editor Samantha Clair is seeing red. But when Sam's favorite client--Kit Lovell, a fashion biographer whose new book contains a slew of juicy secrets--goes missing along with his manuscript, Sam puts aside her red pen to hunt for clues. In her first novel, A Murder of Magpies, social historian Judith Flanders (The Invention of Murder) concocts a well-plotted whodunit with a side of whip-smart satire.
Flanders uses Sam, who describes herself as "a middle-aged, middlingly successful editor," to provide a sardonic insider's perspective on publishing: the endless meetings, the constant posturing by editors hungry to snap up the next bestseller, the complete impossibility of getting any reading done during the workday. As Kit's disappearance consumes her thoughts, Sam leaves her assistant to deal with the troublesome manuscript from their star client--and the sleight-of-hand solution to their problem will delight readers.
In her search for Kit, Sam gets a bit of help from her lawyer mother, Helena, and handsome police inspector Jake Field. The romance between Sam and Jake is not quite believable--chiefly because Sam refuses to admit to her feelings--but Jake provides a clear-headed, professional counterpoint to Sam's impulsive amateur sleuth. The solution to the mystery falls a bit flat, but Flanders's razor-sharp wit makes this a satisfying read. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: An intriguing whodunit set in the world of London publishing, narrated with biting wit.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Violent Century
by Lavie Tidhar
In 1932, a German scientist accidentally unleashes a worldwide quantum event, the Change, which randomly bestows superhuman abilities and agelessness on a few thousand humans. An alternate 20th century is defined by these changed people, or Übermenschen, as the Nazis come to call them.
The Violent Century follows two Übermenschen, Oblivion and Fogg, agents in Britain's top secret Retirement Bureau. Their story winds through covert operations in World War II, Vietnam, Soviet-controlled Afghanistan and beyond, skipping among these past events and a present-era interrogation with their boss, the Old Man.
Fogg, who can create and control fog, and Oblivion, who can erase objects from existence, befriend each other at a boot camp for British people who've been changed. Together they face off against terrifying Nazi Übermenschen on the Eastern Front and in the ruins of postwar Berlin, where a secret drives them apart for the next 60 years. Oblivion continues his clandestine service while Fogg slinks off into obscurity, until the Old Man reunites them for a fateful debriefing.
Lavie Tidhar (Osama) blends the gritty superhero realism of Watchmen and the Cold War espionage of John le Carré with a dash of noir into something truly special in The Violent Century. His universe is stunningly constructed, at once realistic and fantastic in all the right ways. Tidhar's staccato prose is succinct and evocative, though it could possibly be jarring to some readers. Speculative fiction and fantasy fans of all tastes would do well not to miss this engrossing story. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A stunning blend of superheroes and espionage in an alternate 20th century.
100 Essential Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know About Math & the Arts
by John D. Barrow
Of course, it is possible to live without knowing every item in 100 Essential Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know About Math & the Arts. However, just dipping into this collection is likely to open up new perspectives for the reader on the beauties and underlying structures of our world.
No math education is necessary to understand many of these little two-to-three-page entries. The most mathematically demanding chapters require a basic grasp of algebra and geometry. John D. Barrow (Mathletics) is a Cambridge University mathematics professor and author of more than 19 books. He has a clear and pleasantly relaxed writing style that inspires confidence and curiosity.
There is no particular order to the entries, though many of them relate to each other. His definitions of "the arts" and "math" are generous, covering all kinds of beauty, patterns and designs alongside physics, engineering and technology. He discusses logical paradoxes, infinity in the forms of a wedding cake and a hotel, lace-up shoes and the identifying fractal structure of Jackson Pollock paintings. How does a dancer appear to pause midair in the middle of a grand jeté? What makes music appealing? Where should you stand to get the best view of one of those public statues on a tall pedestal? Why are qualities like beauty, truth or genius listable but not quantifiable? Not everyone will find all 100 topics fascinating, but anyone can find plenty of food for thought and wonder in the majority of them. --Sara Catterall
Discover: An entertaining collection of ideas that shed light on our beautiful and intensely patterned world.
Biography & Memoir
Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story
by Mac McClelland
In a heart-searing memoir, journalist Mac McClelland (For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question) recounts her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the love that inspired her to overcome it.
While covering the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, McClelland witnessed a rape. Although her past was anything but uneventful--not only had she covered other major international stories but she and her ex-husband were among the hundreds of thousands displaced by Hurricane Katrina--her reaction to the stress of this particular incident was unusual.
The one bright spot in her assignment was meeting Nico, a gorgeous French soldier dispatched as a peacekeeper in Haiti during the crisis. Once back in the United States, though, McClelland found her symptoms--physical numbness, night terrors, uncontrollable crying--had followed her home. The diagnosis of PTSD shocked her, since she wasn't even the victim. However, as she began to suffer hallucinations, crippling depression and suicidal thoughts, McClelland knew she had to take her condition seriously.
As McClelland learned firsthand, societal views of PTSD still reflect a victim-blaming mentality, and the rejection and ridicule she faced is painful to read. Readers should rest assured that her romance with Nico balances out the more dire aspects of her story: "I wanted to feel myself in the world so I could feel the best thing the world had to offer, and that was Nico's love." This no-holds-barred account of wading through the agony and debilitation of severe trauma to find deep love on the other side will leave readers shaken but hopeful. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: An American journalist's struggle to heal from post-traumatic stress disorder while romancing a handsome French soldier.
Essays & Criticism
Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London
by Mohsin Hamid
Perspective can be a challenging quality to maintain in the rapidly shifting sociopolitics of the Internet Age. How does one cultivate a habit of seeing issues from many sides? For critically acclaimed novelist Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), the habit formed when trading one continent for the next. Living in Pakistan, the United States and England for significant periods of his life has afforded him a sharp perspective on an array of cultural forces. The short, crisp essays in Discontent and Its Civilizations are empathic yet critical reflections on family, nationalism, sex, economics, Islamophobia, literature, violence and other expressions of humanity.
In more personal essays, Hamid offers glimpses into his relationships and writing life. From a young age he has been attuned to the phenomenon of globalization. In the essay "Once Upon a Life" he describes how, at nine years old, he returned to Pakistan for the first time after spending his early boyhood in California, where he had forgotten Urdu for English. "It is a funny thing," he observes with the kind of wary wonderment threaded throughout the missives in this collection, "to lose your first language." To hear him tell it, the world is full of dazzling sights and lush experiences to those who seek them, but he never overlooks their consequences, either.
Affable and concise, Hamid also proves he is a journalist capable of distilling politically charged conflict into a compelling, measured form. Whether discussing Pakistani independence or the harrowing nature of U.S. drone strikes, Hamid pares his viewpoints to give readers not oversimplifications but, rather, perspective. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Novelist Mohsin Hamid's insightful collection of essays on global issues and personal experiences.
Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders
by Chris Hoke
In the introduction to his humbly powerful debut work, Chris Hoke says he is trying to "paint God" through a series of wanted posters. These posters share the vulnerable and human side of individuals written off by society--cast off to prisons, deportations or even locked Dumpsters. The character sketches also illustrate Hoke's own spiritual awakening.
Drawn to prayer early in life--but not in a way that was easy to define and pursue--Hoke tried formal college studies and informal conversations with church leaders, but it wasn't until he undertook a volunteer position with Tierra Nueva, a Christian ministry in Washington State, that he found the fulfillment he sought.
At Tierra Nueva, Hoke helped migrant workers navigate the legal system and served as chaplain in a men's correctional institution. He met with hardened criminals in Bible study groups and one-on-one prayer sessions, learning more about them than what was apparent from their tattoos and rap sheets. As that young man, dubbed "pastor" by his flock, grew in the role, he experienced amazing connections--both emotionally and mystically--that drive and devastate him.
Wanted is Chris Hoke's story of self-discovery as defined by the people he has encountered. It is a beacon of faith and hope, but it's also a compelling commentary on the U.S penal system and the callous disregard for the bodies and souls crushed by it. Hoke notes a parallel between his life and that of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of safe travels, but readers are likely to identify a parallel with another famous shepherd--and wanted man--in Christianity. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A young, white, middle-class man finds his spiritual light in the dark lives of gangsters and convicts.
Know It All: 132 Head-Scratching Questions About the Science All Around Us
by New Scientist , Mick O'Hare, editor
How did the Romans express fractions? Why do some shellfish turn red when cooked? Why have humans developed different blood types and is there an evolutionary advantage? Why does freshly fallen snow squeak and creak when you step on it? When will Mount Everest cease to be the tallest mountain on the planet? Why do we sometimes get a tune or refrain stuck in our heads, and play it over and over again, even though it's driving us crazy?
Amateur experts have spent years answering just these sorts of intriguing questions in the pages of the weekly U.K.-based popular science magazine New Scientist. Their Last Word q&a column prints readers' (usually somewhat offbeat) questions and invites other readers to answer. Readers, some scientists, some not, write in with their own explanations and anecdotes, or respond to other answers they found lacking. Know It All: 132 Head-Scratching Questions About the Science All Around Us follows, among others, Does Anything Eat Wasps? and Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? as another "best of" Last Word collection.
Know It All is an entertaining and intellectually stimulating read, probably most enjoyable in short bursts or opened to a random page. The book has two major conflicting downsides: the "authors" often lack any credentials beyond their own apparent scientific knowledge, and the answers occasionally become esoteric quagmires, making Know It All at once too rudimentary for some audiences and too advanced for others. Still, it should appeal to a middle ground of readers with general science interest. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A collection of intriguing questions and answers from the pages of New Scientist magazine.
Children's & Young Adult
by Tricia Springstubb
In Trisha Springstubb's (What Happened on Fox Street) poignant novel of leaving childhood, Flor's best friend moves away from Moonpenny Island, and she begins to see the world differently, and to open others' eyes, too.
Eleven-year-old Flor O'Dell and Sylvie Pinch are "each other's perfect friend." It doesn't matter that Sylvie's father is the wealthy mayor and Flor's father is the island's only police officer. But then Sylvie's family sends her to the mainland to a private school. Now, after all the summer people leave the island, Flor will be the only student in sixth grade. Worse yet, she'll have Mrs. Defoe, who doubles as the principal and wears only brown. Sylvie made Flor promise to look after her brother, who drives too fast and has now dropped out of school. Will Sylvie blame Flor? And Flor's mother goes to take care of Flor's sick grandmother and doesn't come back.
Finally a new girl arrives: Jasper, whose geologist father tells Flor, "Your island is a tectonic treasure trove." They help her see the island anew, and to fill the gaping hole that first Sylvie, then Flor's mother, burrowed inside Flor when they left.
Springstubb beautifully mines the possibilities of how experience changes a child's view of her surroundings. As Flor tries to keep her family together, she also reintroduces Mrs. Defoe to passages in Anne of Green Gables that inspire the teacher to wear yellow and pink. Readers come to realize that, whether or not Flor's mother returns home, Flor will be okay. "Maybe the real trick of seeing," she thinks, "is the kind that lets you see through someone else's eyes." --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Brave 11-year-old Flor must find her bearings after her best friend and her mother both leave her beloved island home.
I Don't Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty , illust. by Mike Boldt
First-time author Dev Petty's funny dialogue between a small unsatisfied frog and a bespectacled adult frog comes delightfully to life with Mike Boldt's minimalist illustrations.
"I want to be a cat," says the seated small frog's speech bubble, with "cat" in red all-capital letters. "You can't be a cat," answers the adult, standing in an authoritative position. "Why not?" asks the small frog from the opposite page, with only his head visible from the lower right-hand corner. "Because you're a frog," the reasonable adult replies. "I don't like being a Frog. It's too wet," says the small frog, waist-deep in a pond. This exchange repeats as the small frog cites other animals he'd prefer (a rabbit, a pig, an owl), and frog characteristics he dislikes (too slimy, too much bug eating). He even tells the adult frog he'd be okay eating garbage as a pig ("Everyone says that until they eat garbage. Sorry, you can't be a Pig," the adult responds). But a big furry creature enters the picture that helps the frog feel grateful to be who he is.
Color-coded speech balloons help guide youngest readers through the action, and a variety of compositions increase the humor (as when the older frog walks the younger one through a chart of owl attributes). Petty and Boldt provide just enough predictability to hook youngest readers, then deliver a delightful twist or two to create surprise and satisfaction--for both the green hero and the many fans he'll make with this book. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A comical frog hero wants to be something else--until he really thinks it through, with a little help.
When the Wind Blows
by Linda Booth Sweeney , illust. by Jana Christy
Linda Booth Sweeney (The Systems Thinking Playbook), making her children's book debut, and Jana Christy (How to Hug) pay homage to the changing of seasons in this picture book tale of a warmhearted family and their cozy seaside home.
Laundry wafts on the line as a child and dog peer out of an upstairs window in a blue-roofed cape house. "When the wind blows..." reads the opening line in a hand-lettered purple that matches the home's exterior. "Windows rattle./ Doors creeaaak./ Chimes sing./ We peek," the text continues in white type that pops against cornflower blue skies. Grandma takes the boy and dog out to fly a yellow kite, while his mother, clad in a blue coat, pushes a baby in a red stroller. A lighthouse hints at a nearby body of water, and cows complete the pastoral scene. "Trees dance./ Spiders curl./ Mice shiver./ Leaves swirl." The beach grasses in Christy's multimedia art mimic the swirl of the leaves, where children can spy a spider's web and two mice taking refuge. The repetition of "When the wind blows..." gives the story its structure, and Christy adds a visual storyline. As the child loses hold of the kite and impatiently pursues it (his mother recovers the kite), Grandma waves at a sailor and a top hat blows off the groom departing the church. "Skies darken./ Thunder booms," driving everyone inside.
Sweeney pens rhyming couplets that softly mimic spring breezes, while Christy balances bird's eye-view perspectives with intimate portraits of this closely knit family. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A poetic tribute to the changing seasons in a seaside town and to a closely knit family.