From the Shelf
In Praise of Engineering
National Engineering Week (February 17-23) calls attention to the remarkable societal contributions of engineers. It always falls on the day of George Washington's actual birthday, February 22, because Washington is widely considered to be the nation's first engineer. While in office, President Obama implored young people to enter careers in engineering, citing a dire shortage of technically trained Americans. It worked--the field has been growing steadily for some years which is good news for our nation's future.
For an inspiring glimpse into what even rudimentary technical skills can accomplish, engineers and non-engineers alike will enjoy The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope (Morrow, $15.99) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, about a young boy in Malawi, in Africa, who built a windmill by himself. The electricity generated by this homemade windmill powered his village's water pump, which in turn meant that his family and their neighbors could water their crops and grow food.
For those without a technical education, the field of engineering can be a mystery. That's where Applied Minds: How Engineers Think (Norton, $16.95) comes in. Author Guru Madhavan answers the question, "What do engineers actually do?" with examples of innovative achievements of the profession's best and brightest. Bonus: he shares his vision for deploying engineering methods to solve all sorts of global problems.
The world of fiction contains its fair share of engineers, too. The heroine of Colson Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionists (Anchor, $16), is an unusual type of elevator inspector. She focuses on the machine's psychic vibrations and her own gut feelings instead of traditional engineering analysis to diagnose system errors and is very successful at her job. It is a good reminder that engineers who acquire soft skills such as interpersonal communication and empathy are often more effective than those who rely on technical skills alone. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
In this Issue...
by Ronald L. Smith
In this riveting middle-grade novel, a sensitive, nervous boy is convinced aliens are tracking him with sinister intentions, but his family thinks he's overly imaginative and anxious.
by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an elegiac novel that beautifully depicts the Thai capital from the past into the near future.
by Ayelet Tsabari
An Israeli Canadian author explores her upbringing and the death of her father in this stark, beautiful memoir.
Review by Subjects:
Karl Lagerfeld's 300,000-Volume Library
Fine Books magazine paid tribute to the late "world-renowned fashion designer (and bibliophile)" Karl Lagerfeld and his 300,000-volume personal library.
Mental Floss found "15 animal names that can be used as verbs."
"Balzac drank 50 coffee cups a day." Bored Panda considered "20 unusual things that famous people did."
What do film characters read? Lit Hub screened "50 literary cameos in '90s movies."
The Guardian featured the 25 Book Illustration Competition finalists for the Folio Society's new edition of Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle.
Rediscover: W.E.B. Griffin
W.E.B. Griffin, the prolific and bestselling author of military novels, died February 12 at the age of 89. Born William E. Butterworth III, he enlisted in the Army just before his 17th birthday and later served in the Korean War. He eventually wrote more than 200 books as W.E.B. Griffin and under various other names.
Griffin's many popular series included The Corps, Brotherhood of War, Badge of Honor, Men at War, Honor Bound, Presidential Agent, and Clandestine Operations. More than 20 novels, including The Attack, which will be published August 27, were written with his son, William E. Butterworth IV. Under his own name, he wrote several sequels in the 1970s to Richard Hooker's book M*A*S*H, which had been adapted into the hit movie and TV series.
Observing that more than 50 million copies of Griffin's books are in print in many languages, including Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese and Hungarian, a spokesperson for Putnam, his publisher, said the author was "known for his historical accuracy, richly drawn characters, thrilling adventure, crackling wit and astute aptitude for the heart and mind of a military hero" and "delighted readers for decades with his electrifying novels about the military, police, spies and counterspies."
The Writer's Life
Marlon James: I Don't Feel the Need to Reinvent the Hyena
|photo: Mark Seliger|
Marlon James is the author of four novels, including the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings. His new novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Riverhead, $30; reviewed below), is the first in the Dark Star trilogy, an epic fantasy series set in an ancient Africa populated by gods and mythological creatures. James was born in Jamaica, and now lives in Minneapolis, where he teaches literature at Macalester College.
For a lot of people who read A Brief History of Seven Killings, the new novel might seem like a change of pace. Did Black Leopard, Red Wolf feel like that to you?
Well, I think there are two ways to answer that. One: Brief History was a change of pace from my previous novel. My previous novel was set almost 200 years before Brief History. Which in itself was different from my first. As a writer, I do sort of prefer to go all over the place instead of being known for a specific period or a specific style of writing. I write the way in which I read, and my reading tastes are pretty omnivorous. So, my writing subjects are pretty omnivorous as well.
That said, for me it doesn't seem like as big a jump. There are always supernatural elements in all the stuff I've written, and I'm also ultimately writing these alternative versions of the past. I've been called a historical novelist, which is not a definition I refuse. But in a lot of ways, even though this is a fantasy novel, it's still recapturing and kind of inventing a past. So, for me, it doesn't seem like that big of a jump and I'm still interested in all the things I'm interested in in my other novels. I'm interested in voice; I'm interested in how humans behave with each other. I'm interested in society and violence and love, and all the other things that I think I've explored before I still explore in this one--even if there are monsters and supernatural creatures in it.
Do you think of this book as fitting in the fantasy genre? Are you comfortable with that label?
I'm very comfortable with that label, because I'm a huge fan of sci-fi/fantasy and a huge fan of crime and all these so-called genre books. I'm honored to be put in that genre. It's because my love for those genres, my love for those stories, is real, has always been real. And they still add up to some of my favorite stories and films. And even when I wasn't writing in that genre, there were things I learned from it. My third novel, Brief History, owes a huge, huge debt to crime fiction, so it's not something I shy away from; it's something I hope I'm lumped into.
This book is pretty complicated, and it's the first in a trilogy. I was wondering what your planning process was, how you keep track of everything.
The planning process--I guess it's the longest accident ever because it's not something I think about. But at the same time, I'm used to juggling many balls at once. My previous novel and the one before that are also novels with huge casts of characters. So I've always been interested in multiple views and multiple characters and multiple stories and making it all work, mostly because that's the type of novels that I've always been inspired by. You know, Bleak House or Middlemarch or Tolstoy's novels. Stories that are telling more than one story. Another big influence on this novel was Vikram Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which is a series of stories that explode on other stories.
That also meant that I had to have a chart, a notebook where I tried to keep track of everybody. Because I'm not going to remember all of that. And even if I remember, you know, the human mind is a strange thing. Left to my own devices, I would start playing favorites instead of being fair to everybody. So a lot of it I had to track with notes and sticky pads--just as a screenwriter would've. To make sure that everybody gets a three-dimensional representation. Hero, villain, it didn't matter.
But I didn't know it was a trilogy until I realized how I wanted to tell the story. So, it's not a Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Part Two is not going to pick up where Part One left off. Each novel is an eyewitness account. So, Part Two in a lot of ways is a different character basically telling the same story. It's sort of like if Rashomon were three movies instead of one movie.
Tell us how you handled how each character speaks, the different dialects.
Well, I mean, if I'm going to write characters, they have to become real and the easiest way--not the easiest, but the most indicative way that a character feels is how they speak. Dialogue is proof that your characters exist, otherwise it's just the writer's perception of the character. So, dialogue is already important to me, voice is important to me. This story is being told by a person who's speaking aloud, so even before we get to dialogue and accent, it has to be the type of novel that can be read aloud. Because even though you're reading it, technically you're hearing the story. And that's important.
Also, as a writer writing in English, I didn't want to use African languages as some sort of language spice. I'm not trying to give you a smattering of Swahili to feel, "oh it's real, it's authentic." And I also wasn't about to turn Wolof into Elvish, I didn't want to exoticize it. But what I did do was take a hard look at the English language and see how best it could work if it's under a different grammar system, if it's conjugated differently, if different words mean different things, and that's sort of what I took.
For example, in some African languages like Wolof, verbs are always present tense; regardless of when the action is happening, the verb stays present. Which is very much like Jamaican patois. If I'm going somewhere, I say "I go." If I'm going next week I say "I soon go." If I already went I say "I just go" or "I done go." The word "go" remains the same, the verb never stops being present. So, I did things like that, where for some characters in the book, the verbs are always present tense. For some characters, all gender is the same. For some characters, there is no counting system above the number ten, so they never say 11--it's 10 and one. So, that to me is how I kept those languages going, because I had to be true to the world of the story, even more so than the conventions of fantasy.
There are a lot of horrifying, strange creatures in the book. How many of them are from mythology, versus things you dreamt up yourself?
Well, nearly all of them are based on mythology, some of them quite directly, some with me putting some invention on it. But the African mythological universe is so rich, I almost didn't need to invent anything. I didn't really want to. You can write a perfectly thrilling story about werewolves or vampires, both of whom have been in our collective mythology for centuries now. So, I wasn't trying to invent, and I certainly wasn't trying to take credit for any creation. Most of them are based on actual mythical creatures. Just as how I didn't feel the need to reinvent the werewolf, I don't feel the need to reinvent the hyena. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Bangkok Wakes to Rain
by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Pitchaya Sudbanthad's Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a kaleidoscope of perspectives and stories: a flurry of lives that pass by each other, inhabit the same spaces and impact their city. Reminiscent of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, this is a novel comprised of many stories that crisscross and break apart, forming a fractured, buzzing depiction of one of the world's great metropolises.
With no strict chronology, Bangkok Wakes to Rain follows inhabitants of a building in the middle of the city from the 19th century to the near future, when Bangkok has collapsed under the chaos from climate change. Characters meet for brief periods, connecting with one another incidentally or merely by calling the building home during some point of their lives. While not explicitly political, the tales focus on outsiders: those removed from typical Thai society because of ethnic background, personal history or simple geography. Each story resonates like part of a choir singing in harmony.
Juggling a dozen plotlines over an extended period of time is quite a feat. It takes a little while for Sudbanthad to get everything up and running, but once he does, reading Bangkok Wakes to Rain feels like watching a spinning top stay perfectly upright. The stories move together to create a potent, elegiac whole, expertly evoking the sorrow that can come with nostalgia and showing how loss in the past echoes on into the future.
This is an assured debut, a beautiful, wistful piece of place-making. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an elegiac novel that beautifully depicts the Thai capital from the past into the near future.
by Elsa Morante , trans. by Ann Goldstein
First published in 1957, Arturo's Island is the story of a young boy, more or less abandoned by the father he idolizes, in a remote and dilapidated home on the island of Procida, off the coast of Naples. Isolated and idealistic, Arturo lives through the books he reads--stories of adventure and heroes, in whose roles he imagines his father. Then, his father returns to Procida with a child bride, Nunziatella. At 16, she is only a few years older than Arturo, and the boy is plunged into a maelstrom of conflicting and passionate longing.
Arturo's Island won author Elsa Morante major Italian literary prizes when it was originally published, and it's no wonder. An intense coming-of-age story, this novel is complex and intricate and, at times, deeply painful. Morante's prose is blunt and curt, but also fanciful, revealing the romanticism that colors Arturo's understanding of the world. As his experiences force him into maturity, and his illusions about his father's virtue and nobility are shed, Arturo's struggle is poignant and violent. Morante is especially adept at communicating all the conflicting and deeply psychological meanings other people can hold for us. With deeply complicated characters and a surreal, ethereal setting, Arturo's Island is an incredibly compelling read. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: A new translation captures the beauty and brutality of this Italian coming-of-age classic.
by Lauren Wilkinson
In 1986, Marie, a young black woman, is irritated by the limits imposed on her at the FBI. Her career has hit a ceiling thanks to an unsympathetic boss and a work environment created and maintained by white men. Marie's status as a reluctant cold warrior chafes against her desire to rise in the ranks. She's finally given an opportunity to prove herself with an assignment concerning Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary president of the West African nation Burkina Faso. Sankara was a real-life figure, a charismatic pan-Africanist whose reform agenda had many admirers. However, his communist ideology puts him in conflict with the United States, and Marie is given a vague assignment to insinuate herself into his life and possibly undermine him.
American Spy is a busy thriller. Lauren Wilkinson's debut novel doubles as a family drama and offers potent critiques of the United States' Cold War policies in Africa. Marie grows up in the shadow of her sister, has a fraught relationship with her mother and family tension pushes them all apart. The espionage plot that eventually drives the action is only one component in this ambitious, multifaceted novel.
While Marie puts up a stony front, Wilkinson is adept at getting the reader to see her vulnerabilities. Marie's narration is directed to her children, and her tenderness toward them is a sharp contrast to her bitterness about the events that overtake her life. That is just one of many dualities and contradictions that make American Spy such a complex and powerful work. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: A young black FBI agent is assigned to undermine the communist president of Burkina Faso in a compelling debut set during the Cold War.
by Monique Schwitter , trans. by Tess Lewis
One Another is a story of love and regret by Swiss novelist Monique Schwitter, translated from the German by Tess Lewis. An unnamed narrator hears news that sparks memories of a "long-destroyed, shredded story whose scraps and tatters are banding together, piling up, towering over me--and forming hideous new aspects and grimaces."
The narrator, a writer, Googles the name of her first lover, Petrus, only to discover that he recently committed suicide. This shock upends her already shaky relationship with her husband, and sets in motion a decision to compose the story of all her lovers. "One after the other. Man for man." Twelve chapters in the book correspond to these men--one of whom, and not the last, is her husband. The story moves imperceptibly across time, just as each man's importance waxes and wanes in her memory. She attempts to understand her history with men through writing, asking herself, "Maybe I'll find a solution on the way, as I write? Perhaps enter higher spheres of love, free of corporeality, in Plato's pure realm?"
One Another may be autobiographical, or it may not, and the narrator's acute self-awareness leaves the reader pleasurably undecided. She says, "My introverted, unhappy delivery may be hardening the audience's inclination to believe the narrator is me into the certainty that... only one person is standing before them: the narrator, unhappy in love." This is a sophisticated love story perfect for fans of Lauren Groff and Kate Atkinson. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: A writer, shocked at the death of her first lover, recalls other past affairs and struggles to understand their impact on her life as a wife and mother.
by Margaret Verble
Margaret Verble's sophomore novel is set 50 years prior to the events in her debut, Maud's Line, finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Cherokee America follows one family's tumultuous spring in an 1875 Cherokee Nation West community.
A series of unpleasant surprises plagues Cherokee "Check" America Singer as she attempts to juggle running a farm, mothering five boys and nursing her dying husband. Puny, her African American hired hand, has fathered a baby out of wedlock, much to the dismay of his wife, Ezell, the Singers' cook. Check's 19-year-old son, Hugh, shames the family with his involvement in a bawdy house disagreement that leaves two dead.
Then, rumors of a hidden gold stash ignite schemes that lead to murder. A tribal member herself, Check knows the U.S. government would love an excuse to interfere in the Cherokee Nation. So when two U.S. marshals show up to investigate the killing, Check and her neighbors must think quickly to protect their nation's sovereignty and keep one of their own from being arrested and hanged for the crime.
An enrolled Cherokee citizen, Verble based her story on real people and events. Her slice-of-life, episodic style deftly captures the harshness of life in the land that will become Oklahoma, and highlights the strength and close bonds it forged. Check's practicality and confidence rarely waver. Moreover, the friendship formed between Ezell and the 14-year-old mother of Puny's baby provides a counterpoint to the grimmer moments. Cherokee America is a powerful portrait of a vibrant community fighting to keep its independence. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In the Cherokee Nation, a fierce matriarch named Cherokee America Singer struggles to hold her family and community together.
by Sharma Shields
In The Cassandra, the eccentric Mildred Groves goes to work as a secretary at the Hanford research center. Situated by the Columbia River in a remote corner of Washington State, the top-secret Hanford site is host to hundreds of scientists and workers building a "product" to put an end to World War II. Mildred is thrilled at the opportunity to leave her unhealthy relationship with her mother behind and apply herself to meaningful, patriotic work with a "gallant dutifulness," but the longer she spends at Hanford, the more she begins to see its darker side. Wracked with visions and night terrors that tell of the product's violent, cruel future, Mildred is caught in an unkind world that seems determined to ignore her no matter the costs.
Sharma Shields (The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac) has re-created the Hanford research site--a part of the 1940s' Manhattan Project--with a great eye for historical detail. More than just the place, however, Shields's well-crafted novel succeeds in capturing the feel of Hanford and the moment in history it occupied. A sense of pervasive patriarchy seeps across every page, in many ways as damaging to the characters at Hanford as the product on which they are working. This historical detail, combined with Mildred's surreal, dream-like visions of the future, gives The Cassandra an edge of magical realism. The result is a compelling reimagining of a particular period in United States history, itself a testament to the many ways "humans have only ever been at the mercy of one another." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: An historical novel about a woman working on the Manhattan Project takes on a surreal edge when her visions of a violent future start to come true.
by Stacey Halls
For her debut novel, journalist Stacey Halls has crafted an engaging and atmospheric tale out of a dark chapter from English history. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old and pregnant for the fourth time when the story opens in the spring of 1612. Weak and sick after three previous miscarriages, Fleetwood discovers among her husband's papers a letter from her physician that says she will not survive another pregnancy. While reeling from the knowledge that her husband is willing to sacrifice her life in pursuit of an heir, she encounters Alice Gray in the woods, and the strange young woman promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby. But when accusations of witchcraft start sweeping the area, Fleetwood and Alice find themselves caught up in the furor and must fight to save each other.
The Pendle witch trials of 1612 are among the most famous in English history, and Halls takes historic people and events to form the bones of her story. Alice and Fleetwood both were actual people, and by conjuring this link between them, Halls has reimagined this bit of history into a compelling story of women grasping for a power and agency that society denied them. Alice remains something of a mystery, but Fleetwood is drawn with bold and gritty details, and her setting is equally evocative. The Familiars is a fascinating and intricate piece of historical fiction. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: The Pendle witch trials of 1612 are the setting for this magical debut novel.
Mystery & Thriller
by Lisa Gardner
Thankfully, Lisa Gardner chucked her career in food service after catching her hair on fire too many times, freeing her to become the author of 20-plus thrillers. Gardner's writing is ever-evolving as she adds new forms and actors to the mix. In the 10th installment of her Detective D.D. Warren series, Never Tell, Gardner gives equal time to a newly recurring character, survivor advocate and confidential informant Flora Dane, and to the suspect in the murder at hand, Evie Carter.
Evie is found standing over her husband with the smoking gun in hand. D.D. recognizes Evie as the grown version of the girl she investigated for shooting her father to death years earlier. When the new case hits the media, Flora shows up with shocking news--she recognizes the victim, Conrad Carter, from when she was kidnapped and held captive several years earlier (Find Her).
From the alternating and varied perspectives of these three fascinating and complex women, Gardner delves into marriage and family dynamics, power, perception and the lengths people will go to hide and protect their secrets. Her character work is beautifully done, and she deftly handles multiple narrators, timelines and plot arcs. Gardner strikes what feels like a perfect tone with 10 books of background to contend with, keeping the present fresh while providing necessary history. Never Tell is an excellent addition to the D.D. Warren series and proof it's never too late to draw in new fans. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review.
Discover: A homicide detective, a survivor advocate and an accused murderer work to solve a shooting death that has sinister connections to previous violent and noteworthy crimes.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Black Leopard, Red Wolf
by Marlon James
Marlon James's fourth novel channels his interests in history and the supernatural into a full-blown fantasy epic. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is his follow-up to the Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, and the first entry in the Dark Star trilogy. The novel takes place in an ancient Africa where gods and mythical creatures walk among humans; the protagonist, appropriately named Tracker, earns a living tracking down lost people with his extraordinary sense of smell. Tracker is hired into a motley band assembled to find a missing boy, but the quest is not as simple as it seems, taking Tracker on a series of journeys across James's inventive, magnificently realized world.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf is preoccupied with storytelling. The entire novel is essentially a story being told by Tracker to a mysterious Inquisitor, but it also contains tales within tales in which Tracker's companions share their own histories. In each, James experiments with language, inventing numerous dialects that follow their own grammatical rules. This is a book with dozens of characters and just as many distinct voices. Its pleasures are not only linguistic, however, as James more than delivers the epic fantasy goods. Fights are frequent and bloody, with Tracker employing his dual axes to deadly effect.
The experience of reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf might be best compared with listening to stories around a fire in the late, dreamlike part of the night. James's book is something fresh and new and completely unforgettable. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: Marlon James offers up something entirely fresh and new in this full-blown fantasy epic.
Biography & Memoir
The Art of Leaving
by Ayelet Tsabari
Ayelet Tsabari (The Best Place on Earth) grew up in Israel, part of a large Yemeni Jewish family. When Ayelet was only nine years old, her beloved father passed away, leaving her rootless and restless for many decades to come, as her mother struggled to provide for her and her siblings. Tsabari's uncertainty about her place in the world was caused partly by her fatherless status, and partly by being Yemeni in Israel in a time when Ashkenazi (European) Jews looked down on the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern).
Tsabari struggled in school, failed miserably during her compulsory service in the Israeli army and went through a string of bad relationships. She worked a series of menial jobs, spending all her money on drugs or airplane tickets. She also spent months traveling the United States, India and Asia.
Finally settling in Canada, Tsabari remembered that as a child she'd longed to be a writer like her father, a published poet. She set about to express herself in a language that was not her mother tongue. Slowly, as The Art of Leaving unfolds, Tsabari finds her way back to herself and back to her craft.
Told in a series of fierce, unflinching essays, Tsabari confronts what it means to be a Yemeni Jew, and how she finally came to find her place in the world. With grace and wonder, she ponders motherhood and marriage, and reconciles her happy adulthood with the sadness of her childhood. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: An Israeli Canadian author explores her upbringing and the death of her father in this stark, beautiful memoir.
Children's & Young Adult
The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away
by Ronald L. Smith
Twelve-year-old Simon is picked on by other kids. He lives on an Air Force base with his white father and black mother and is obsessed with aliens. One kind of alien in particular freaks him out: Grays. "It's such a simple word. A color.... Something unknowable. Something that makes [him] not want to sleep."
When Simon's dad tells him the family is going camping that coming weekend, Simon is not happy. But his dad is a man's man, always talking up "the great outdoors" and dragging his family along on camping and fishing trips. Savvy readers will not be surprised when something terrifying happens on the trip: walking in the woods at night, Simon encounters strange lights, an owl looking directly at him and a commanding voice in his head saying, "QUIET. REMAIN STILL." Everything goes black.
Simon becomes convinced he has been abducted by aliens who have implanted a monitor under his skin. His parents send him to a psychiatrist who loads him up on anti-anxiety medications. Then, Simon finds a group of people who do believe him, and he begins to wonder if they and he are, in his words, "nuts." He's not the only one. Through most of The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, the reader can't be sure if Simon really did have an alien encounter or if his "uncontrolled thoughts" and impressively creative imagination are getting the better of him. Ronald L. Smith, the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award-winning author of Hoodoo, infuses every page of this book with a dash of menace. Simon's desperate longing for someone--anyone--to take him seriously will resonate with many young readers, whether aliens are stalking them or not. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this riveting middle-grade novel, a sensitive, nervous boy is convinced aliens are tracking him with sinister intentions, but his family thinks he's overly imaginative and anxious.
by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Ever since the accident left Maman unable to work, 16-year-old Nathalie Baudin has been earning money penning "the daily morgue report" for Le Petit Journal. Nathalie and other Parisians stand in long lines to cluster eventually at "the viewing pane," where they can see the latest murder victim. Two weeks into her tenure, Nathalie accidentally touches the glass and is transported to "another place" where she sees the murder occur, "silent[ly] and in reverse." Her reaction to this experience is witnessed by "the fetching young morgue worker" Monsieur Gagnon, but she's too shaken to respond honestly to his inquiries.
Nathalie's friend Simone urges her to go to the police, but Nathalie is scared they'll think she's "unhinged." Nathalie's parents and her Aunt Brigitte were subjects in a series of experiments by now-disgraced Dr. Henard in which patients were given blood transfusions to grant them "magical powers." The procedure, once seen as "a promising new discovery," is now considered dangerous. Nathalie's Aunt Brigitte is proof of this: she is in an asylum, unable to tell the difference between dreams and reality. As the gruesome body count rises, the "Dark Artist" killer gets up close and personal, and Nathalie must decide whether to run from her visions or allow them to lead her to the murderer.
Jodie Lynn Zdrok has created an eminently readable, unapologetically macabre period piece that evokes the dark mystery of Jack the Ripper-era serial murders. Featuring a strong and likable heroine in Nathalie--who's proud to be the first woman "of any age" to write for Le Petit Journal--the power of Spectacle "is real, beautiful, and devastating," and should be especially welcome to fans of Libba Bray's Diviners novels. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: In 1880s Paris, 16-year-old Nathalie grapples with her job as morgue reporter as well as her rather macabre "gift."
A Friend for Henry
by Jenn Bailey , illust. by Mika Song
A child on the autism spectrum navigates the challenge of finding a good friend in this sweet, understated classroom adventure written by newcomer Jenn Bailey with diaphanous illustrations by Mika Song (Picnic with Oliver, Harry and Clare's Amazing Staycation).
Henry, a rosy-cheeked boy with sweeps of dark hair, wants to make a friend who isn't his teacher or Gilly the classroom fish. But he can't find the right fit: "tangle of colors" Vivianne loves her rainbow nail polish, but not the rainbows Henry thoughtfully paints on her shoes; energetic Samuel carelessly wrecks Henry's perfect pattern of carpet squares. Henry also finds other students' experiments off-putting--earthworms should not use the swing set. How can Henry find a friend when every other child seems too loud, too heedless, too much?
Though Henry's concerns reflect his autism, his quandary has universal appeal. Based on Bailey's observations as the parent of an autistic child, this emotional journey illustrates both the difficulties all humans face in finding connection, as well as the confidence fostered by friendship. Song's almost translucent ink-and-watercolor scenes balance sweetness with emotion, subtly conveying Henry's differences and feelings through still, tense body language that contrasts with the ebullient motions of his peers. Her sunny palette of pastels comforts the reader even when Henry has a frustrated outburst and slumps in dejection afterward. A Friend for Henry will speak not only to children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers but will also resonate with any four- to six-year-old child who feels anxious and out of place in their peer group. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A young child on the autism spectrum struggles to find a friend among his loud, disorganized classmates, but ultimately triumphs.