From the Shelf
Going, Going, Gone?
Here's a fact for you: half of all Earth's species could be extinct by the year 2100. Horrifying? Most certainly. Surprising? Sadly, less so, especially to Joel Sartore, author, photographer, teacher and 25-year contributor to National Geographic magazine. In his new book, National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man's Quest to Document the World's Animals (National Geographic, $35), Sartore sets about accomplishing his goals not only to photograph every animal in captivity across the globe, but also--and some would say more importantly--to inspire individuals to action.
Operating on the premise that to see these animals is to recognize the need to save them, Sartore's aim is to eventually document all 12,000 captive species. Six thousand of them appear here, ranging from the beloved and well-known to the rare and unusual--even some who are the last of their kind. The Bengal slow loris shares page space with the tiger-striped tree frog. The giant deep sea roach demonstrates its startling similarity in looks to the southern three-banded armadillo. A pair of common warthogs peer proudly from a double-page spread. With more 600 photographs, you will not find a collection of more accomplished and gorgeous wildlife images. And the accompanying text, with a foreword by actor Harrison Ford and commentary supplied by author and National Geographic magazine contributor Douglas Chadwick, manages to communicate the dire situation these animals face while remaining hopeful: "The hard truth is that nature writ large will continue regardless of the specific mix of animals on the planet. It doesn't need humans to prevail. But when we start looking at species one by one... we learn where we can make a difference."
Tomorrow is Earth Day. And Sartore wants you to know the animals of the planet are calling. What will your answer be? --Stefanie Hargeaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
In this Issue...
by Hannah Lillith Assadi
This startling coming-of-age story mixes childhood visions of Arizona with the postmodern anomie of New York City.
by Claudia Gray
A tour-de-force whirl of space opera, philosophy and budding affection.
by Teva Harrison
In-Between Days navigates Teva Harrison's brave, wry and unforgettable journey after her stage four cancer diagnosis.
Review by Subjects:
How to Start a Mother-Daughter Book Club
Bustle offered tips on "how to start a mother-daughter book club, even if it's just the two of you."
Buzzfeed shared "18 jokes you'll only get if you've read Shakespeare."
Mental Floss introduced "7 characters that didn't make it into the Harry Potter books.
Paste introduced "13 musicians influenced by author William S. Burroughs."
Salavat Fidai's pencil mini-sculptures "are popular all over the world. HBO even used them to announce the seventh season of Game of Thrones," Russia Beyond the Headlines reported.
Rediscover: The Guns of August
This month marks the centennial of the United States' entry into World War I. By the time President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, the conflict had been raging since August 1914, claiming millions of lives and toppling empires. What became a global catastrophe of industrialized warfare began with a spark to a long-packed powderkeg when Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
How this single act of violence begat a European apocalypse is the subject of Barbara W. Tuchman's 1962 book The Guns of August. Tuchman (1912-1989) won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with her narrative, layperson-friendly look at the onset of World War I. It begins in 1910, with the funeral of British King Edward VII, and the visiting European heads of state, many related to the departed monarch and each other, who would soon be at war. She outlines prewar military plans, some of which were a generation in the making, that came into terrible fruition in August 1914. Tuchman chronicles the whirlwind of geopolitical folly that lead to war and the conflict's opening moves, up through the First Battle of the Marne (also called the Miracle of the Marne), when Allied forces halted the German advance into France and created the first lines of static trenches. The Guns of August was last published by Presidio Press in 2004 ($8.99, 9780345476098). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Dr. Willie Parker: Living with Conviction and Purpose
|photo: Chad Griffith|
Dr. Willie Parker is chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He is a recipient of Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger Award, and the subject of Trapped, a documentary about the legal battle to keep abortion clinics in the South open. In Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice (just published by Atria), Dr. Parker passionately asserts being a true Christian means providing care and having compassion for all people in need.
Your work puts you in danger, but you face it down every day. What would you say to people who want to do the right thing but fear for their safety and/or that of their loved ones?
I think it's important that one does a risk assessment based on what feels both empowering and/or threatening to you personally. Someone said that you can use another person's knowledge, but you can't use another person's wisdom. Analogously, you can use another person's inspiration, but you can't use their courage. You have to find your own.
If you're in a situation where you have to take into account the wellbeing of others, then the risk assessment and degree of security one feels has to reflect those things for others. But if it's just you, you have to do what lets you sleep at night. You have to embrace something that allows you to strike the right balance between honoring your conviction and feeling safe in your choices.
You've said being an abortion provider is "kind of a rent that I pay for being on the planet. Our rent is our service." Have you ever felt the rent is getting too high?
The cost for [having] clarity, serenity, and purpose--reached by doing the work that I do--will always compute as a small price to pay when I look at the fact that the only real threat is one of bodily harm, and that is not the worst thing that could happen to me. I'm more afraid of living without conviction and purpose than I am that someone might try to harm me. So, to have the things I mentioned compared to any negatives associated with what I do, I feel like I get off fairly cheap and have struck a good deal.
You're a devout Christian but also use science and medical facts to argue against the "life begins at conception" notion. How does one persuade people who find science less credible or weighty than their religious beliefs?
I don't feel attempts at persuasion are a good use of my time, nor do I feel that it benefits me in any way to be more vested in truth on behalf of someone else than I am for myself. I think the integrity of the question... [lies] in whether or not there are those who are honestly ignorant and those who are willfully ignorant. I don't use ignorance as a form of slight for someone who disagrees with me, but rather, I subscribe to the saying that you cannot awaken someone who's pretending to be asleep.
I believe truth is bigger than me and so it has to have hold of me, I can't have hold of it, which is to say I don't have a need to defend the truth. I am more content to be defended by the truth. So I have ultimate confidence that facts matter, and science matters. If they didn't, there would be no need to create alternative facts or generate junk science.
One of the things you advocate is talking about abortion openly to remove its stigma. But it's a volatile topic. How does one talk about it while preventing the discussion from escalating to a shouting match?
Mahatma Gandhi said, "Honest disagreement is the beginning of progress." I find the best way to honestly disagree is to set ground rules for engagement before embarking upon a conversation about issues that people feel very strongly about. That means I insist on an agreement to mutually respect indisputable facts.
Additionally, I insist on creating an air of mutual respect such that the contention or question is always about the issue, and not about the humanity of the person with whom I'm engaging. If I don't feel I'm in a situation where mutual respect can be maintained even in the face of vigorous disagreement, then I elect not to participate in that conversation. Hence, it's not as much what the subject is as how you choose to engage it.
What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about your work and your patients?
I would say the biggest misconceptions are that there is something morbid about it, and that women who seek abortion services are cold, aloof, indecisive, irresponsible or not mentally stable. Those opposed to abortion have done a good job of creating horror stories about what abortion is, and they enhance the power of those stories with a parallel shaming strategy that leaves women and people who provide abortions unwilling to post stories of their experiences that would contradict those narratives.
I want people to know that healthcare providers who provide abortion are no different from any other healthcare providers, and that the women who have abortions are no different from all of our mothers, sisters, partners and other female kin. That is who women who have abortions are.
Last year you spoke in Copenhagen at Women Deliver, the largest global conference on women's health and rights. How would you compare global abortion rights and perceptions with those in the U.S.?
It was a real privilege to speak at Women Deliver last year. Being in community with people from all around the globe was a new experience for me and one I will never forget.
What I know about the abortion picture around the world compared to the [one in the] U.S. is that in most places around the world, abortion is illegal and therefore quite dangerous for women who have to seek them. It is beyond question that abortion is lifesaving for the women who need it both literally and circumstantially. While the risks associated with abortion are so different [in] the U.S. [compared to that in] the rest of the world, particularly in developing countries, these efforts to outlaw abortion and make it difficult to access means we are closing the gap in the wrong way.
If someone told you they don't want to read your book, judging it by its cover, how would you convince the person to read it anyway?
If someone told me they would not read my book simply because of who I am and what I do or based on the title, it would indicate to me right away that person's mindset would not be easily swayed by any amount of lobbying I could do. Someone once said if you press against a closed door, that door only becomes more firmly closed. Minds are like parachutes--they function best when open.
I would say to anyone regarding my book--or any other piece of knowledge to which they might have access--reading or exposing yourself to a position different from your own doesn't change your position. It will either clarify your thinking on the issue so that you hold it more firmly, or it will make you question whether or not you should hold that position at all. We would all benefit if we would lose our fear of change, especially when it is for the better. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis
by Hannah Lillith Assadi
Hannah Lillith Assadi's Sonora is a beautiful desert wind of a novel--wild, plangent and revealing. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., and later in the bohemian subculture of New York City, Ahlam, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Palestinian father, narrates her struggle to belong in a postmodern U.S.
Fans of Denis Johnson will find in Assadi a similarly edgy and visionary writer. Her hallucinatory prose evokes Arizona's harsh beauty, its legends of ancient treasures and alien spaceships, and the way endless suburbia displaces both the landscape and history. Assadi's raw, poetic talent continues to dazzle in later passages set in New York, where Ahlam and her best friend, Laura, get caught in a destructive whirl of partying and drug abuse. "The dawn is so violent when you've stayed up all night," she reflects on the growing danger in her life. Rather than glorifying the city's counterculture, Sonora offers a lurid yet achingly authentic female perspective on the emotional costs of hipsterdom.
Assadi smartly connects the alienation of her young characters to that of her older characters. Her shrewd dialogue leaves a trail of barbed insights into society. "When you are rich, your past disappears," says Ahlam's immigrant father, who's haunted by ambivalence toward the U.S. and fear that he doesn't belong. Both disturbing and touching, Sonora is a brilliant debut novel. Assadi is an exciting talent, and a writer to watch. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
Discover: This startling coming-of-age story mixes childhood visions of Arizona with the postmodern anomie of New York City.
The Gargoyle Hunters
by John Freeman Gill
New York City is always reinventing itself: growing, pushing, regenerating, completely overhauling. Often that reinvention comes at the cost of preserving its past. As urban renewal projects multiply in 1970s New York, 13-year-old Griffin Watts gets swept up in his father's obsession with saving the city's ornate, often quirky architectural carvings from the wrecking ball. John Freeman Gill tells Griffin's story in his erudite, irreverent debut novel, The Gargoyle Hunters.
Gill (who writes the monthly "Edifice Complex" column for Avenue magazine) delves into the architectural history of Manhattan, as Griffin listens to his father wax eloquent about landmarks public and private: grand structures such as the Woolworth Building and humbler ones such as the Washington Market studio where Griffin's parents lived as newlyweds. "Every New Yorker," Gill notes, "has his own idiosyncratic system of cartography." With his parents' marriage crumbling as fast as the city around him, Griffin agrees to join his dad in "liberating"--i.e., stealing--and then selling scraps of the city, from limestone gargoyles to an entire set of exterior panels for a building. As he learns more about his dad's illicit work, Griffin starts to wonder if his father's obsession is an unhealthy one, but before long, both father and son may be in too deep to extricate themselves.
With a fresh, wry narrative voice, Gill presents a vividly imagined slice of New York history, a quirky portrait of the 1970s and a tender father-son story--with plenty of gargoyles on the side. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: John Freeman Gill's debut novel weaves together architecture, history and family drama against the backdrop of 1970s New York.
My Last Lament
by James William Brown
Aliki, one of the last lamenters in Greece, is dragging the weight of her life behind her in the opening pages of My Last Lament, James William Brown's brilliant work of historical fiction. "There is this about the dead: they're so light. They slip in and out of our world with no effort whatsoever. By contrast, we seem heavy, dragging our lives along behind us like an old sack of stones."
To lessen this burden, Aliki begins to tell the story of her life, speaking into a tape recorder left by a sociologist studying the art of Greek laments. As her memories unfold and unpack themselves, her recounting evolves into a lament itself, for all that she has loved and lost in her long life.
By framing the story as a kind of oral memoir, Brown (Blood Dance) has crafted a novel that is at once epic in its scope and yet remains grounded in the confines of one woman's life. Aliki shines through every page of My Last Lament, a strong and consistent voice that proves a near-perfect vessel for Brown's lyrical prose and centers a story that moves backward and forward through time to recount both Aliki's past and her present.
Brown's ability thoughtfully to address meaningful reflections while examining the very essence of what it means to be alive--in any time, any place--is what makes My Last Lament exemplary of the historical fiction genre. "How does any story end? It just turns into the beginning of another one, the one about us all." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: This ambitious novel about grief and tragedy is dense but never dull, complex but never confusing.
The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson
by Brian Doyle
In a novel with layers of authors, Brian Doyle (The Mighty Currawongs) honors the art of storytelling. The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World is firmly based in fact: Robert Louis Stevenson boarded for some months at the home of Mrs. Carson in San Francisco while waiting to marry his love, Fanny. He conceived of a novel based on the tales of his landlady's husband, but never wrote it.
In Doyle's imagination, Stevenson sits by the fire with Mr. Carson as the latter recounts his voyages around the world as a seaman and his experience as a Union solider in the Civil War. This talented storyteller takes Stevenson (and Doyle's reader) through the jungles of Borneo, over the rocky hills of Irish islands, from coast to coast of Canada in winter, to Australia's Sydney Harbor and to the battlefield at Gettysburg. Mrs. Carson turns out to be as fine a narrator as her husband, and both have a knack for ending on a cliffhanger just as dinner is ready.
Doyle's characteristic prose style is effusive, wry, highly descriptive and always passionate about his subjects. Throughout this story of stories runs a thread of commentary on the value and nuances of the storytelling art. Readers hungry for more stories-upon-stories will delight in Doyle's "Afterword" and "Thanks & Notes," which are filled with recommendations for further reading (what he calls "homework").
Stevenson's rollicking zest for adventure blends happily and seamlessly with Doyle's unrestrained love of words and life. Adventures offers daring exploits, romance and emotional highs and lows, and Doyle's signature style expresses it all perfectly. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: With enthusiasm and verve, in the style his fans love, Brian Doyle re-creates a novel Robert Louis Stevenson intended to write.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Sylvain Neuvel
Nine years have passed since the end of Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants, but the appearance of a new robot causes Canadian linguist Vincent Couture, former army pilot Kara Resnik and the nameless Interviewer to spring back into action. Unlike Themis (whose ancient parts were excavated and reassembled into a towering turquoise-veined female robot in the first story), this robot, male in appearance, appears in Trafalgar Square assembled and fully operational. The people of Earth assume the robot, quickly nicknamed Kronos, shares the same origin point as Themis, its concealed pilots almost certainly the same species as her builders. However, when the authorities decide to send Themis to meet Kronos on a mission of peace, her pilots, Kara and Vincent, worry they may be marching to their own deaths. The newer Kronos robot will have more advanced weapons, and since no one has ever unlocked the secrets of Themis's propulsion system, they can retreat only by literally running away.
This sci-fi thriller's assemblage of transcripts from interviews and radio conversations, memos and letters delivers the same over-the-top action quotient as the first installment, with a dash more soul-searching. Readers new to the series should catch on quickly, and fans will delight in the reunion with their favorite characters, though the body count is not limited to bystanders. Despite a few teary moments, little can beat the sheer escapist fun of giant robot fights, and Waking Gods' cliffhanger finale promises more answers to come in the third book. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Nearly a decade after the events in Sleeping Giants, the pilots of giant alien robot Themis spring back into action when a new alien-piloted robot lands in London.
Food & Wine
Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
by Bianca Bosker
Bianca Bosker (Original Copies) believes that the reason an average wine drinker can't tell a Merlot from a Meursault is because of Plato. The philosopher argued that the experiences of the nose and mouth were intellectually bankrupt, and generations of thinkers have continued in this tradition, shaping cultural attitudes. But the fanatical sommeliers whom Bosker chronicles in Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste have turned Plato's philosophies on their head. Eschewing toothpaste, deodorant and any warm drinks that could possibly alter their palates, these obsessive wine servers are determined to be able to identify any wine, right down to the vintage year, after a mere sniff or sip.
When Bosker, at the time a tech reporter, first heard about the world of elite sommeliers, she was fascinated, and eventually quit her job to chronicle her entry into their world. Starting as a "cellar rat" earning $10 an hour in a top New York restaurant, Bosker slowly immerses herself into the wine subculture.
Reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, the larger-than-life characters that Bianca encounters in Cork Dork are funny, profane and experts in their chosen field. Along the way, her "original obsession with making sense of their obsessive ways... morphed into an obsession with the things they obsessed over," and Bosker decides to try to pass the Certified Sommelier Exam herself. With a quick wit and keen attention to detail, Bosker will draw readers into her challenge--even those who don't like wine! --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A former tech reporter explores the fascinating wine-obsessed world of elite sommeliers.
Biography & Memoir
In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer
by Teva Harrison
In 2013, 37-year-old Canadian artist Teva Harrison was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer that had also spread to her lymph nodes and bones. Her eloquent, moving and inspiring graphic memoir, In-Between Days, offers her space to sort through her past and come to grips with the realities of her present and future. "Living with metastatic cancer is like a game of Whac-a-Mole," Harrison writes. "There's no point trying to cut it out, because it will just keep popping up somewhere else."
Harrison finds it hard to be optimistic when her doctor's diagnosis ends with, "We are no longer looking for a cure." But she understands that without hope she would not be able to go on. "I need to be careful," she writes. "Hope is delicious, heady stuff, but reality has a way of upsetting the applecart." A simple but expressive full-page illustration precedes each short (one or two pages) chapter/essay. Harrison deals with chemo-induced menopause, the genetic heritage of her disease in other family members, learning to put herself first and trying to find the "sweet spot" in her pain medication.
Harrison captivates with her charming illustrations as she navigates her disease and her uncertain but hopeful life with wry humor and refreshing candor. The journey to sad and dark places is a little less scary with her leading the way. "I understand now, though, the fear of being forgotten, of being erased," she writes. No one reading this gripping and inspiring memoir will forget Teva Harrison. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: In-Between Days navigates Teva Harrison's brave, wry and unforgettable journey after her stage four cancer diagnosis.
Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci
by Mike Lankford
Many books have been written on the life of Leonardo da Vinci, the great 15th century painter and inventor. But no one has probed his soul and speculated so profoundly about his actions quite the way Mike Lankford does in Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci.
Using copious research, Lankford dives into Leonardo's life, beginning with his birth, which was the result of a possible rape that a notary named Ser Piero committed against Caterina, a house slave. Lankford pushes the envelope of what is known about the man and ponders the true nature of the artist. He was left-handed, but was he also dyslexic, and did this cause him to write backwards? Did he have Asperger syndrome, and would that explain his fascination with new and intriguing ideas, as well as his inability to finish a project? Was he a homosexual, and is that why he was thrown into prison for an unspecified amount of time?
The list of conjectures is long, but Lankford backs his ideas with sound observations and keen analysis. He paints a thorough picture of the man who continually searched for new ways to express himself through his art, using innovative techniques that often failed and stopping long before a project was anywhere near completion. During his lifetime, Leonardo failed far more often than he succeeded but, as Lankford surmises, it was only failure in the eyes of those around him. Leonardo led the life he wanted, full of observation and exploration. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: This exciting new slant on the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci strips away the polish and shows the man with all his peculiarities.
Business & Economics
A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System
by T.R. Reid
Who better than Washington Post journalist T.R. Reid to bring to life and then systematically carve up the particularly byzantine United States tax system? With decades in Washington and assignments as bureau chief in London, Tokyo and Denver, Reid (The Healing of America) has seen enough to explain tax structures in lucid, jargon-free prose that at times seems as amused as it is outraged. A Fine Mess covers the primary categories of federal taxes detailed in the 73,000 pages of IRS regulations, and even includes thoughtful chapters about recent events like the fascinating story of the Panama Papers exposé and Thomas Piketty's surprise bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, with the reminder, "Piketty is French, and France is the world champion at soaking the rich through taxes."
Everybody knows the United States tax structure is in need of reform--even Congress (though Reid advises, "When Congress takes up tax reform, the 'reform' generally makes things worse"). But he argues that to confront myriad vested interest groups--including tax preparers ("Today, barely 10% of Americans do their own tax returns"), lobbyists, realtors, nonprofits, huge international corporations, tax lawyers, M&A consultants and even the 90,000 IRS employees--takes backbone. Methodically, Reid illustrates how dozens of countries collect taxes much more fairly and efficiently--and have happier taxpayers to boot. After his lively discussion of what exists today in the tax world, his concluding multi-point recommendations to fix the mess make eminent sense. But who's going to step up and do it? --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Veteran journalist T.R. Reid takes a lucid, entertaining journey through the labyrinth of the U.S. tax structure and convincingly suggests how to fix it.
Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil
by Susan Ewing
Long before nature writer Susan Ewing (Going Wild in Washington and Oregon) mentions Indiana Jones in Resurrecting the Shark, readers are ensnared in a quest for a 270 million-year-old fish fossil that feels like riding shotgun with Indy. Paleozoic shark Helicoprion ("spiral saw") is the stuff of movie legend. If the thought of a great white doesn't get the blood pumping, imagine a shark with a two-foot-tall whorl of teeth--like a circular saw--sitting midline in its lower jaw.
Meticulously researched and spanning numerous disciplines, along with a "rockin' lot" of evolution, Resurrecting the Shark is the compelling saga of how an ancient ocean oddity became a global passion project. First stumbled upon by an Australian looking for gold under blackbutt trees in the 1880s, Helicoprion fossils were later discovered in Russia and the United States--each find sparking new fervor, doubt and debate.
An astonishing amount of information is shared, but just the right sense of cheeky humor and an enthusiastic writing style keep the facts from becoming overwhelming. By fleshing out theories and arguments spanning more than a century, Ewing treats readers to the culmination of the Helicoprion adventure: what it looked like, where it ranged, and how and what it ate.
From unknown specimen to gallery and museum exhibit, Helicoprion's journey was a labor of love. Geology enthusiasts, taxonomy nerds, paleontology buffs, shark devotees and artisans alike will rejoice in this recounting of how a multitude of people brought the mystery to life. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A diverse group of scientists and artists undertake a fascinating investigation into a bizarre, ancient shark fossil.
Children's & Young Adult
Defy the Stars
by Claudia Gray
Seventeen-year-old Noemi is a fighter pilot for the planet Genesis in its war against the Earth. When she stumbles on Abel, the most sophisticated mech (robot) ever built, she realizes that she can use him in a suicide mission that will keep Genesis safe for decades. Abel has been alone since he was abandoned in battle 30 years ago. His sophisticated programming allows him to dream, want and develop complex emotions. But Abel's hard-wiring forces him to obey Noemi even though he knows she will end the life he's only begun to taste.
At first glance, it seems that Defy the Stars will hit the marks of a standard action-buddy story: Hostile combatants forced to work together develop a grudging respect that blossoms into friendship. But author Claudia Gray (A Thousand Pieces of You; Evernight) has a far more interesting and entertaining book up her sleeve. As the two race through the galaxy to carry out Noemi's plan, every slam-bang plot twist brings up a knotty philosophical issue. When Abel realizes that a pursuing mech has been given a mind as advanced as his own, he feels the new danger--but also the pull of not being alone anymore. Noemi, in turn, realizes that trusting Abel "doesn't feel like trusting a bridge to hold you over a river, or an oven to bake your bread. It feels like... trusting a person." Every explosion is balanced with a meditation on what it means to have a soul. Defy the Stars is a marvelous blend of thought, heart and pure adventure. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright
Discover: A tour-de-force whirl of space opera, philosophy and budding affection.
Grendel's Guide to Love and War: A Tale of Rivalry, Romance, and Existential Angst
by A.E. Kaplan
Tom Grendel can divide his 17-year-old life in "exactly three phases: before Mom, after Mom but before Dad/Iraq, and my current post-Dad/Iraq period." Tom's mother died suddenly when he was nine. His father deployed to Iraq, leaving Tom and his sister, Zipora, with their grandmother. Dad returned as the sole limbs-intact survivor of an IED explosion, Zip left for college, father and son moved "to our quiet house by the lake, and all was well... enough, anyway."
Besides doing lawncare for the neighborhood's mostly elderly women, summer vacation was supposed to be spent hanging out with best buddy Ed Park. Then TV journalist Ellen and her two teenagers--intractable Rex and enticing Willow--move in next door, and Ellen promptly disappears to cover an out-of-state story--leaving the house party-ready. The unrelenting thumping music into the wee hours is enough to trigger Tom's father's PTSD, exiling him to a Florida business trip. His absence gives Tom two weeks to stop the madness before Dad can come home. Complications grow--inept, bribable police, Willow's kisses, the enabling appearance of Rex and Willow's cousin Wolf, and the return of prodigal sister Zip.
A.E. Kaplan's debut novel proves raucous and entertaining, but it's also got centuries-old history attached: literary aficionados might recognize enough of the characters' unique names and plot lines as an homage to Beowulf, albeit epically reimagined and reclaimed from Grendel's point of view. Old English lesson aside, Kaplan's witty writing--enhanced with attack dogs, high pigs, long-lost love letters and a (really awful) painting--should do just fine as boisterous, contemporary fun. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Tom Grendel could never have predicted that his summer vacation might involve loud parties, pranks-gone-wrong, missing parents, needy elderly and (of course) the girl next door.
by Agnese Baruzzi
"Small or big?" "Empty or full?" "Straight or curvy?" Appearances can be deceiving in this sturdy square board book about one of the more fun early learning concepts: opposites! Open the book to any page and see, for instance, a bright yellow sun, the heat blazing out its rays. The bold text across from the picture reads simply, "Hot or cold?" Hot, of course, right? But open the gatefold and--surprise!--that wasn't a sun, it was the tops of two icy popsicles! Then, "Thin or wide?" It sure looks like a thin pencil... but no, unfold the page and discover what you were looking at was in fact the edges of a wide bridge. "One or many?" One sweet sheep stands alone... until the double-creased page opens to reveal many sheep--what looked like just one was the front of one and the back of another.
The youngest readers will delight in the unexpected in Italian illustrator Agnese Baruzzi's charming, interactive Opposite Surprise. Baruzzi, who clearly enjoys inspiring readers to shake up their assumptions and explore different perspectives, as evidenced in Look, Look Again and Topsy-Turvy Monsters, knows better than to clutter up the pages of a book designed for children who are just starting to play with words. Minimal but thickly drawn text on brightly colored solid backdrops contrasts appealingly with clean, colorful illustrations on the bright white opposing pages. Tots will not only begin to grasp the concept of opposites; they will have a glimpse into a (friendly) world where what you see might not be what you get. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This bright, cheerful board book will surprise young readers with fold-out illustrations that are the opposite of what they first seemed.