From the Shelf
Hotel Reads to Check Out Anytime
Wes Anderson has made no secret regarding author Stefan Zweig's influence on his film The Grand Budapest Hotel, noting The World of Yesterday could have been the film's working title and that "elements... were sort of stolen" from both Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl. Since I love the movie, reading more Zweig seems to be the logical next step.
This is all to say that hotels are an irresistible lure for me, whether I'm traveling or reading. Maybe there's something about the suspension of "normal" time (until checkout, at least) or the brief gatherings of strangers under the same roof that I find compelling. Possibilities, fictional and otherwise, seem endless.
The book possibilities certainly are. My recent nonfiction favorites include the brilliant The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar J. Mazzeo, Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins and the delightfully snarky yet informative Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky.
The best hotel novels often leave me with specific impressions, like the vertiginous opening of Ali Smith's Hotel World ("what a fall what a soar what a plummet"); the drained Hotel Trianon swimming pool in Graham Greene's The Comedians; the desolate beauty of an isolated geisha house in Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country; the hushed conversations of mourners at an inn on the coast of Nova Scotia after a plane crash in Brad Kessler's Birds in Fall; the fearless girl who mails a copy of the new Civil Rights Act to anti-Semitic innkeepers in Elinor Lipman's The Inn at Lake Divine; and of course, the lethal ambience of the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining.
Where to next? I think I may be checking into Frei Betto's Hotel Brasil (translated by Jethro Soutar) soon. --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by James McMullan
James McMullan's lushly illustrated memoir takes readers through his peripatetic childhood and the war that tore apart his family.
"A man accustomed to weirdly underwhelming victories" proves to be a wonderfully accomplished storyteller in this do-it-yourself-foodie memoir.
by Teju Cole
The characters in Cole's second novel resist, ignore, employ and even worship the pervasive corruption of their city.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
07/07/2020 - 6:00PMTuesday, July 7th 6:00PM This event is free however an RSVP is required (no later than Noon CST on the day of the Event). If you would like to attend please RSVP to GDBSMorrison@aol.com Join us for this very special Zoom event with professor and culinary historian, Jessica B. Harris in conversation with Lolis Eric Elie as they discuss Jessica's new book, Vintage Postcards from the African World. For over forty years, Jessica B. Harris has collected postcards depicting Africans and their...
07/08/2020 - 6:00PMJoin us for the virtual discussion the second Wednesday of every month. New Members are always welcome. Purchase book in-store for a 20% discount. We will be sending out the link to attend this book club event to current members one week before the event. If you are a new member who would like to join this month's bookclub event please email GDRayna@aol.com to request the link.
07/09/2020 - 5:30PMThursday, July 9th 5:30-6:30PM It's Happy Hour! Grab a drink and your bookish questions and join us for Virtual Happy Hour featuring 3 bookstagrammers. Bookstagrammers share new releases, book reviews, and other bookish things on Instagram and now Ellen from @reading_theend, Toya from @thereadingchemist, and Brei from @sweethoneyandbrei are here to share their favorite reads with you. We will be live on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GardenDistrictBookShop/
Famous Characters Based on Real People; Underrated Books
" 'Write what you know,' they say. So it makes sense that many authors take a good look around at friends and family when creating characters for their books," Mental Floss observed in highlighting "10 famous literary characters based on real people."
Jonathan Wood, author of No Hero, recommended "9 essential detective novels for people who don't read detective novels" for the Huffington Post.
Entertainment Weekly suggested the "10 most criminally underrated books."
"A Song of Ice and Fire and Venn diagrams." Buzzfeed offered "12 charts only Game of Thrones fans will understand."
Noting that "a lot of the best TV shows are based on books," io9 suggested "10 book series that would make excellent TV shows."
"Read Me! Please!: Book Titles Rewritten to Get More Clicks" were featured on the Millions, which wondered "what if books were whorishly titled, optimizing our search engines rather than our imaginations." Example: William Golding's You Thought Millennials Were Bad? Watch These British Kids Totally Nail Chaos Theory.
The Writer's Life
Cristina Mittermeier: Images That Matter
Cristina Mittermeier believes that the range of her experiences--growing up in Mexico, working as a marine biologist and biochemical engineer, raising children, writing, traveling the world, a career in conservation--all serve to enrich her photography. She says her path to the craft was "a happy accident" that has allowed her better to communicate all her "concerns, passions and hope for a better planet."
In Sublime Nature: Photographs That Awe and Inspire (see our review below), Mittermeier has collected photographs from around the world, images captured by a diverse selection of renowned nature and wildlife photographers. As founder and former president of the International League of Conservation Photographers and one of Sony's Artisans of Imagery (2008), she believes that photography can cross barriers, cultures and languages. She ardently advocates for its use as a means to encourage others to protect and preserve the beauty and natural resources of our planet.
You've spent the past 20 years focused on earthly conservation. Where does that passion come from?
I suppose it is self-preservation. Our planet's natural resources are the foundation of our livelihoods and conserving them is the only way to ensure a continued quality of life for all. Setting aside areas for protection and building boundaries that protect species and landscapes is the best tool we have. Photography informs and encourages both.
What inspired the four themes/sections of Sublime Nature: Awe, Grace, Joy, Peace?
For me, there is nothing more sublime than nature. The themes of the book evolved as I read the writings of the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, who, in 1764, made an attempt to record his thoughts on the mental state of an observer of nature in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime. He held that the sublime was of three kinds: the noble, the splendid and the terrifying. These aspects gave base to the themes as the National Geographic team and I collaborated. We selected four great emotions of the human spirit as elicited by nature: hope, awe, joy and peace. We assigned a color to each emotion and then we set out to find images that fell into our themes and our color scheme in order to create a visual journey.
How did you choose which photographs to showcase in the book? What do you feel constitutes a truly great photograph?
When I look at an image, I always pose a question to myself: What happens to the character in the picture, be it a person or a bear, when nature and humanity collide? I want images to leave a door open for the viewer to articulate an answer. In the search for images for Sublime Nature, I further wondered: If I could visit that world (the image in a photograph) and be held there in its arms, could this image help me invite others inside, so that maybe they, too, could be held there? I wanted the photographs included in this book to beckon and inspire others the same way they have affected me.
In conservation photography, a great image is one that can tell a story. I am interested in images that better capture the full, complex reality of human beings and our surrounding universe.
In the end, the best images are a marriage of beautiful art, conservation substance and science. They often become iconic, and they always become a part of our collective psyche informing society about our natural world. The best images are a two-way street between me, the viewer and the rest of the world.
A late afternoon bath turns into a joyful water fight in the waters of the Iriri River, Brazil. (photo: Cristina Mittermeier)
Have innovations in photography changed your craft?
Innovations (like better sensors, faster frame rates, smarter cameras) can only help photographers become more effective. But the hard work of understanding our universe and aiming our cameras at subjects that really matter will not change with technology.
Which is your photographic medium of choice--digital or film?
I love digital. I did my time on film, and I cannot think of a single reason to ever shoot it again. It is the photographer, not the camera, not the film, that makes the picture.
How do you think images such as those in Sublime Nature can save the environment, animals and landscapes?
I hope that, at the end of my career, people know I made and presented images that mattered. Photographs, especially when they are iconic, make us pause, reflect and internalize information in a way like no other medium. Images require no translation, and photography has the power to inform, encourage and inspire the protection of our planet's natural and cultural treasures. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Every Day Is for the Thief
by Teju Cole
Writing in his deeply meditative and personal voice, Teju Cole suspends Every Day Is for the Thief, his second novel, between infatuation and contempt. Many years after his emigration to the United States, the narrator returns to Lagos, Nigeria. What he discovers there shatters any remaining nostalgic ache he has held for that place, transforming his relationship to the notion of home.
Much like Open City, Cole's debut, Every Day Is for the Thief meanders through streets, erecting a labyrinthine overlay to the city, mapping out its history, culture, secrets and assets. But if his first novel was a profound meditation on cities as cultural structures, Every Day expertly considers money as a social construct, how corruption breeds corruption until all that remains is complacency. Financial prosperity is on every mind and behind every pulpit, while extortion greases the all-too-ubiquitous conniving palm. Surety transfers as unexpectedly, and often with as much threat of violence, as a bout with malaria.
Cole's fiction is a magnificent vehicle, employed to examine systemic corrosion as well as subtle relational shifts. His narrator negotiates gratuities with the same contemplative reserve he offers the friends and family he left in Lagos. In this worthy second novel, it's complicated to be an expatriate. Home, after all, carries with it a peculiar exchange rate. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness.
Discover: The characters in Cole's second novel resist, ignore, employ and even worship the pervasive corruption of their city.
Minister Without Portfolio
by Michael Winter
Michael Winter's Minister Without Portfolio is a heart-tugging novel about one man's attempt to reinvent himself and reconnect with a community after a tragedy in which he is complicit. Henry Hayward is called the minister without portfolio by his good friend Tender Morris because he's "not committed to anything but he's got his hand in everything." When Tender dies in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan trying to protect Henry, the nickname haunts him into action. Returning to Newfoundland, Henry begins a tentative courtship with Tender's pregnant girlfriend, Martha Groves, and attempts to establish himself as a giving and needed member of the community.
Winter captures the icy and vast beauty of Newfoundland and the effort needed to make lasting human connections amid its isolation. He delineates the fumbling vulnerability of Martha and Henry as they try to build a relationship out of the ashes. In Henry, Hayward has created that rare literary figure, a genuinely decent man whose mistakes are rooted in a reluctance to hurt others rather than overt ill will. While every scene sings and the characters and settings are evocative and easy to disappear into, Winter also has an understated wisdom to his worldview.
Minister Without Portfolio is an effortless read, enjoyable for pure pleasure but also a lasting statement of how we build relationships in this world, of the small, brave gestures of the heart that bring healing after time. --Donald Powell, freelance writer
Discover: A novel with heart and emotional range, set in the natural beauty of Newfoundland.
Biography & Memoir
Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food
by Max Watman
"I called my steer Bubbles," begins Max Watman's memoir, Harvest, as he recounts his attempt to "live as if I were on a farm but without the farm," producing his own food from spring to Thanksgiving. He ends with this observation: "Throughout my attempts at deep foodie DIY production, I have at times overdone it, gone too far, and ended up in the wilds or the weeds... slightly lost or overcome." What occurs in between is usually hilarious, often thoughtful and strangely compelling.
Each chapter follows a lovely narrative arc, whether Watman (Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine; Race Day) is writing about the purchase of a steer that must be housed and fed before it is eventually turned into food, the vulnerabilities of chickens ("Insects can beat a chicken in a fair fight if they get themselves organized") or the excitement of smuggling raw milk cheese out of France. Watman's writing is intimate--with entertaining asides to his wife and his readers throughout--making the reader feel like a close friend roped into another of Max's crazy culinary adventures. He shares his unfounded insecurities along with his dubious successes, expertly weaving his culinary influences from childhood to the present into the narrative. In the closing scenes at the Thanksgiving table, brimming with the bounty of his yearlong culinary experiment, the reader is a part of the scene, relishing the "braised short rib of Bubbles" and other delectable delights from the harvest, sad the journey must end. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: "A man accustomed to weirdly underwhelming victories" proves to be a wonderfully accomplished storyteller in this do-it-yourself-foodie memoir.
They Called Me God: The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived
by Peter Golenbock , Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey knew from age six that he was going to follow in his father's footsteps and become a baseball umpire. In They Called Me God, Harvey tells the story of how determination and hard work made that dream a reality. Harvey is unabashed in articulating his strengths--and his weaknesses. Challenges marked his ascent as he faced a failed first marriage and messy divorce, trouble paying the bills, naysayers and the often lonely, barren existence of umpiring on the road. By studying and memorizing the rule book to understand the game inside and out, Harvey--and serendipity--ultimately launched his career to the National League in just four years... without ever going to umpire school.
A later-in-life throat cancer diagnosis (from chewing tobacco) provided the impetus to share this no-holds-barred, straightforwardly told story, co-written with veteran sports author Peter Golenbock (Bums; Presumed Guilty). Harvey gets and gives a lot of advice and bares all about life behind the plate--tricks of the trade, his experiences with cheaters, pranks, controversial calls and rude fans. He also shares short, memorable anecdotes about working alongside some of the "greatest players ever," among them Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Nolan Ryan, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Gaylord Perry and Pete Rose.
For the 31 years and 4,673 games of Harvey's umpiring career, he never compromised his integrity, earning him a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the respect of peers and fans. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A man with a single-minded focus overcomes innumerable challenges to become a renowned major league baseball umpire.
How About Never--Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons
by Bob Mankoff
You may be familiar with the New Yorker cartoon caption from which Bob Mankoff's memoir, How About Never? Is Never Good for You?, gets its title. Mankoff, the magazine's cartoon editor since 1997, delivers a witty behind-the-scenes look at contemporary American media's most prominent home for great cartooning.
Mankoff's current post didn't exactly fall into his lap. It took him 2,000 submissions until he landed his first acceptance in 1977, and it was another three years before then-editor Lee Lorenz recognized the "original and distinctive style" in Mankoff's painstakingly stippled drawings and suggested he be offered a contract. (He's published 900 cartoons since that first.)
The real fun of this book lies in the way Mankoff lifts the curtain to reveal the inner workings of the process that winnows some 1,000 cartoons submitted each week down to the roughly 17 that appear in each issue. In one chapter, Mankof claims proudly that getting a cartoon into the New Yorker "is the equivalent of getting signed by the Yankees as a baseball player." The magazine's popular caption contest is the subject of another chapter, with helpful tips for aspiring contestants: "verbalize, conceptualize, topicalize, socialize and fantasize."
Mankoff observes that New Yorker cartoons specialize in "benign humor, intended to intrigue or amuse but not to offend." He presides over a group of talented artists and humorists who have mastered the tricky art of amusing the magazine's readers week in and week out and, if Mankoff has anything to say about it, will do so for years to come. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: The cartoon editor of the New Yorker gives a behind-the-scenes look at one of the magazine's most popular and enduring features.
Welcome to Mars: Politics, Pop Culture, and Weird Science in 1950s America
by Ken Hollings
In Welcome to Mars, Ken Hollings details how Cold War politics, altered states of consciousness, extraterrestrial beings, postwar optimism and imagination came together in a strange maelstrom during the 1950s, foreshadowing many of the technological advances that would feed future research and innovation.
Hollings begins his examination in the late '40s with the introduction of the suburbs, as the U.S. government's investment in cheap prefab materials helped extend population centers beyond city limits. The United States Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission, two entities charged with protecting the country's burgeoning nuclear weapons stockpile, propagated "weird" science with their clandestine experiments (behavior modification, nuclear testing, psychedelic drug research). Stealth aircraft and secret weapons testing provoked stories of UFO sightings and alien contact. As science progressed, so did the American public's imagination and interest in the otherworldly. Meanwhile, pop culture--via Hollywood, television and the idyllic Main Street USA of Disney--incorporated these same themes to build a reality that reflected public concerns about current events, like fear of Martian invaders or the atom bomb.
Hollings approaches each year of the decade like a midcentury radio broadcaster, stitching together the various myths, facts and events into a brilliant cultural and scientific history. Only in the United States--with a strong adherence to Manifest Destiny and faith in e pluribus unum ("out of many, one")--could suburbia and nuclear wasteland coexist amicably in a strange, recurring feedback loop. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: A highly entertaining examination of the postwar decade's obsession with the weird and otherworldly, which shaped both science and culture.
The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim
by Nicholas Kulish , Souad Mekhennet
Part biography, part engrossing true crime story, The Eternal Nazi is a fascinating look at the hunt for Nazi war criminals after World War II, focusing on Aribert Heim, a concentration camp doctor who was never brought to justice for his war crimes. Nicholas Kulish and Souad Mekhennet have written a detailed, methodical history that explains many of the motivations of those who helped to hide Heim for nearly 50 years--and of those who pursued him.
Aribert Heim was known to have murdered many Jews at Mauthausen by injecting gasoline straight into their hearts, but was released from U.S. custody in the chaos immediately following the war's end. He married a German woman and set up a successful gynecological practice in Baden Baden. For nearly 15 years, he lived a quiet life, until rising interest in finding war criminals led to the establishment of a new police bureau dedicated to Nazi hunting. Heim fled Germany, eventually landing in Cairo, and it wasn't until 2010 that the full story of Dr. Aribert Heim's life, and how he was able to evade capture for so long, became known to the world.
In telling Heim's story, The Eternal Nazi raises the question of why so many Nazi war criminals escaped justice, and even rise to power in the postwar West German government. Despite decades-long efforts to find Heim and others, detectives were underfunded and often unsuccessful. Heim's escape story is all too representative of the postwar stories of many former Nazis. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: Part biography, part engrossing true crime story, The Eternal Nazi is a fascinating tale of the hunt for a Nazi war criminal.
The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself
by Andrew Pettegree
At a time when digital media is transforming the way news is delivered, Andrew Pettegree offers a reminder that newspapers, too, were once a revolutionary form of delivering information. In The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself, Pettegree looks at the changing definition, use, control and distribution of the news, from the medieval world to the age of revolution.
Building on his groundbreaking The Book in the Renaissance, Pettegree demonstrates that access to news became increasingly widespread, moving from private networks of information run by medieval elites, through 16th-century pamphlets and news singers, to the newspapers of the 18th century. He looks at the development of postal systems, private couriers and the printing press. He considers the importance of the introduction of paper, the rise of coffee shops and the growth of a literate middle class. He discusses the roles played by news pamphlets in the Reformation and by newspapers in the American and French Revolutions.
Some of the most interesting sections of The Invention of News deal not with the development of new media, but the creation of new audiences. Technology often outpaced demand. Early printers, finding the traditional market for large books would not keep them solvent, created new markets for more ephemeral products. The first newspapers were bewildering to audiences accustomed to news pamphlets that told a single story from beginning to end. Perhaps, at some level, the medium is the message. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: A historian of the printed word reveals how information was transformed into news.
Essays & Criticism
Unchopping a Tree
by W.S. Merwin , illust. by Liz Ward
W.S. Merwin, the Pulitzer-winning former U.S. poet laureate, captures the essence of treeness in the delightful and insightful Unchopping a Tree. As he writes, "Even in the best of circumstances it is a labor that will make you wish often that you had won the favor of the universe of ants, the empire of mice or at least a local tribe of squirrels, and could enlist their labors and their talents. But no, they leave you to it. They have learned, with time. This is men's work."
From the delicate process of sorting out fallen leaves and tiny twigs, to the chips and sawdust scattered on the ground, to the scaffolding required to steady the broken trunk as the tree is uprighted, Merwin's words linger, causing the reader to pause and reflect on the majesty embedded in a tree and the nature that surrounds it. As Merwin suggests, although one might be able to reconstruct the tree, down to the tiny bits of moss that grow on its limbs and the spider webs woven in its branches, "it does not set the sap flowing again." This perspective embraces the spiritual qualities of nature, provoking a more thorough examination of humanity's rampant destruction of the environment. Lyrical drawings of the cellular structure of a tree by Liz Ward complement and enhance the humble beauty of Merwin's descriptions. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Merwin's lovely prose poem taps into the root of nature.
Art & Photography
Sublime Nature: Photographs That Awe and Inspire
by Cristina Mittermeier
Sublime Nature is the first volume in a National Geographic Society series of books that confirm a commitment to "the conservation of our extraordinary planet's natural resources." Cristina Mittermeier, a marine biologist turned photographer, has assembled a collection of stunning images from an array of wildlife and environmental photographers who capture the beauty of nature in a way she hopes will "awaken broad-based social consciousness."
The book is divided into four sections: Awe, Grace, Joy and Peace. Each begins with a brief, poetic personal introduction by Mittermeier. Along the way, inspirational quotes from renowned writers, naturalists, scientists and artists serve the four themes. The accompanying scenic images range from a dramatic shot of penguins atop Antarctic icebergs to striking photos of waves of sand on arid Moroccan dunes, from a fisherman casting his line into a coral inlet in Indonesia to a graceful ballet of bottlenose dolphins in Peru and dusky gloom trapped amid rocky chambers in Arizona.
Mittermeier is committed and passionate in her belief that photography can influence the fate of nature. The images she has selected are lively and thought provoking--brilliant compositions bursting with vivid color and light. The impact of the photographs paired with profound words is bound to encourage others to find meaning, appreciation and a greater respect for a planet facing continued wildlife extinction, climate change and diminishing natural resources. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A collection of inspirational photographs that pay homage to the vulnerable beauty of our ever-changing planet.
Children's & Young Adult
Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood
by James McMullan
The voice that threads together these moving snapshots of a boy's life, from age two to 11, emanates from an author and artist who has pieced together a memoir that deepens with each rereading. Jim McMullan (I Stink!; I'm Dirty!, both written by his wife, Kate McMullan) places each vignette into a mosaic of a family torn apart by war.
With a father and husband in the military during World War II, young Jimmie and his mother must make up the rules as they go along. But that was also true for Jimmie's grandparents, who arrived in Cheefoo in Northern China in 1888 as missionaries. McMullan makes visual and lyrical connections throughout the book, linking the images in surprising and wonderful ways. Luminous watercolors, so lightly applied that they seem lit from within, capture the milestone moments of McMullan's childhood: fleeing China due to the Japanese occupation, entering boarding school, the airless living room in which Jimmie overhears a conversation between his mother and a lover, and a quiet epiphany when he happens upon an artist painting a canvas in the woods, a "simple process that seemed strangely magical." The landscapes transport readers to foreign lands and convey young Jimmie's sense of the ground shifting beneath him with each transition, dictated by his father's wartime service and his mother's rudderless steering.
Each watercolor and its accompanying meaty text carry readers along on McMullan's journey. We watch an artist in the making, shaped by the strange, wonder-filled and sometimes terrifying experiences he's felt and seen. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: James McMullan's lushly illustrated memoir takes readers through his peripatetic childhood and the war that tore apart his family.
by Kit Chase
This charming tale of friendship will have children and parents eager for more from first-time author and artist Kit Chase.
Oliver the elephant, Lulu the bird and Charlie the rabbit love to play outside. But when they play hide and seek and Oliver is "it," he can't reach the branch where Lulu hides. He pronounces, "Trees are out of bounds." But Charlie points out, "Not all trees are the same.... We'll find a tree you can play in, too." That turns out to be more challenging than Charlie realized. One tree's too small, another too tall, and another "was just right. Until... Crash!" The author-artist uses the page turn to build suspense, and the expressions on her characters' faces register disappointment and alarm. "Elephants just don't belong in trees!" Oliver says, as the pachyderm pouts and marches off. Exhausted after a long walk, Oliver falls asleep; even youngest children will recognize his napping spot as a sequoia-size tree trunk. When Lulu and Charlie discover their pal napping, they hatch a plan to cheer him up.
This gentle tale stars cherubic animal characters that resemble preschoolers and model kindness and inclusion. Rather than rule out a hiding place that's fun for some and excludes a few, these friends find a way to include everyone. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A tale of friendship just right for preschoolers learning to get along together.
Ava and Pip
by Carol Weston
Carol Weston's (The Diary of Melanie Martin) tale of two siblings offers some twists: the younger sister feels that her parents favor the older sister and, as a budding writer, gregarious Ava breaks the stereotype of reclusive author.
The story unfolds through fifth-grader Ava's journal entries, often signed humorously, such as "Ava, Average" (after she loses the special pen her father the playwright gave her) or "Ava the Ambivalent" (under an entry asking, "Question: Do I even want to be a real writer?"). Wordplay reigns in the family, particularly palindromes. As seventh-grader Pip dominates their parents' attention, Ava tries harder to come up with clever palindromes, and no one notices. When a new girl, Bea, schedules the first boy-girl party on the same night as the sleepover Pip has planned for her 13th birthday, Pip's peers start bailing. Ava fights back with an entry for a writing contest called "Sting of the Queen Bee." Bea, a writer herself, discovers Ava's story, and as they sort things out, Ava discovers Bea is not the villain of her story, but rather a kindred spirit with a similarly shy sibling. The two hatch a plan to help Pip get over her social handicap--and Bea helps Ava with her parents.
Weston discusses challenges for aspiring writers--such as writers block, a dearth of ideas and the fear that can arise with the threat of the subject of your writing discovering what you've written. Weston deals with family dynamics and creative challenges in realistic, emotionally honest ways. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Ava learns some important life lessons when she uses her writing contest entry to get back at a classmate.