Woollacott’s debut novel, the first in a planned trilogy, takes a long view of family history, from the predominant clan culture in Scotland during English civil war to early Colonial life in Massachusetts to the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Having clashed with British troops at Concord, young Minuteman Reuben Law suffers the loss of his captain. Distraught over the loss and socially shunned for his Scottish heritage, Law reflects on the history of his great grandfather John Law, a Scot who was sent to the Colonies as one of Cromwell’s prisoners during the English civil war. Captured by the Covenanters and brought to the point of starvation, John was indentured to work in an ironworks near Concord, though he decided to continue his indenture as a public sheepherder for the community. Living on meager rations, he built a shelter and began planting on the land allotted to him, taking advice from a helpful native and fantasizing about the “New Scotland” he was creating for himself. As a victim of extreme anti-Scottish prejudice by the Puritan locals, John preferred to remain a recluse on the outskirts of town. Nevertheless, he fell for a young Puritan girl who brought her prize ewe for him to care for; eventually, the two (humans) married. As Woollacott deftly shows, the couple experienced some of the tremendous trials of Colonial life: infant mortality, ambivalent natives (King Philip’s War wrought havoc on natives and settlers alike), the threat of public disfavor, and the confusing and ever changing rules regarding landownership. Woollacott takes readers to war three times and on two continents, but his most impressive achievement is the gravity and majesty with which he depicts the everyday domestic realities faced by the Laws, from the romantic tension of sleeping on either side of a bundling board to the joy of a roaring fireside.
A gripping tale about the endurance and fortitude of an unlikely colonist.
Dying broke and enjoying it is the theme of this lively debut book by a physician with a penchant for investing.
Riggs, a physician and successful commercial real estate investor, begins his book with a sobering mea culpa: His mother wound up in a nursing home with too much money because “I advised my mother and father how to save, when I should have advised them how to spend.” As documented in his eloquently written book, this became the impetus for Riggs’ developing a plan to “spend down” his assets by the end of his life and to “die broke—insolvent but not illiquid or destitute.” Part 1 is fairly standard fare about assets and liabilities, economic cycles, and generational attitudes toward finances. In Part 2, Riggs issues a warning about retirement plans such as 401(k)s and IRAs, which, he writes, face “planned nationalization.” He also cautions investors to be wary of the real possibility of a U.S. default; still, he contends “it is only the [your name here] economy that really matters. You only need to concern yourself with…building your own wealth.” His prescription for building and keeping that wealth is to focus on “income-producing hard assets” and understand the country’s economic cycles. Part 3 is clearly the most intriguing; here, Riggs contrasts being rich (“earning and spending large sums of money without building net worth”) with being wealthy (“having enough passive income to enjoy the lifestyle you aspire to live and to still build your net worth”). He explains his philosophy of enjoying wealth during one’s lifetime through a fascinating “Dying Broke Converting Curve,” in which he visually depicts how to gradually convert net worth into “meaningful gifting and Fun Stuff.” His conclusion: “Before they take it away and before you die…spend it all.” The author’s prose is both informative and enlightening; throughout the book, he demonstrates his command of investment know-how. Not every reader will be comfortable with the unconventional notion of purposefully dying broke, but Riggs’ argument is certainly persuasive.
Contemporary, well-researched and smartly written; a fresh way of thinking about accumulating and spending money.
Two American middle school teachers offer an inside look at the Dominican Republic—one not revealed in travel brochures.
“Imagine being a cocoa picker but never getting to enjoy a chocolate bar,” teachers Santos and D’Amato write. “Picture yourself working for a posh hotel where staying for just one night costs more than two months’ salary.” In this behind-the-scenes account of their experiences leading students on “social justice”trips to the Dominican Republic, Santos and D’Amato present a travelogue of the developing Caribbean nation and its people, a starkly contrasting image of a country filled with natural beauty and plentiful resources as well as unseemly human struggles and extreme poverty. The book goes beyond the pristine beaches of a tourist guide to reveal life there as it really is. Difficult realities are exposed: the sex workers trade and the prevalence of HIV and other diseases; the scarcity of clean water and lack of access to public education; strong attitudes of discrimination against Haitians and women; and the prevalence of sweat shops in “free trade zones,”where earning a living wage is but a dream. With richly detailed descriptions, the writing is exceptionally crisp and likely to pull readers in as the students witness a voodoo ritual or spend a day working with garbage dump pickers. The authors’ method of teaching social studies through cultural immersion will undoubtedly help students become aware of, and engaged in, matters of social justice.
An intelligent, revealing look at uncharmed lives in the Dominican Republic.
A chronicle of mankind’s destructive urges through the ages, rendered in four epic poems spanning four wars and 1,500 years.
In his debut, Lyons offers a tetralogy—a group of four related plays written as epic poems in rhyming couplets, based on a style used in classical Athens, Greece, but unique for our age. He starts with an Indian conflict between the Gupta Empire and the invading Ephthalite Huns in the year 515, then moves on to the 1759 French and Indian War. Next he depicts a World War I battle at Amiens in 1918, followed by an undated global nuclear Armageddon, as viewed on computer screens in a Jerusalem bunker. Although widely disparate in time and place, some narratives share important threads: Brothers fight one another or participants see power, ambition and greed as the causes of conflict but stand by as the blood flows. Change is the only constant as empires rise and fall and one disaster foreshadows the next; for example, in the third poem, a priest blesses the body parts of British soldiers “blasted to atoms,” a prelude to the splitting of atoms in the fourth and final poem. In that nuclear disaster, a fictional U.S. secretary of state and his family fly into Israel to try to defuse the threats of a Middle Eastern leader, but even the leader’s brother can’t talk him out of starting a war. Lyons walks a high wire with this ambitious, difficult project—particularly with the rhyming couplets, which don’t always sing—but he successfully conveys a tragic picture of human depravity and ultimate self-destruction. Overall, it’s a work of great scholarship; not an easy read but not overly difficult, either, as ample footnotes and maps explain historical context when necessary.
A sometimes brilliant and often moving poetic exploration of humanity’s warlike ways.
The Center for Aesthetics in California hopes to introduce a drug that can cure post-surgical patients’ neuroses, but it’s a murder that sends doctors into a tailspin in Dafoe’s debut thriller.
Surgeon Dr. Duncan Gates believes his career is over before it has started when, on the way to his first job, he’s in a car accident that leaves him scarred and with double vision. But he’s given another chance thanks to Dr. Gunther Mendoza, whose new center just opened its doors. Dr. M, a plastic surgeon, is fed up with patients who can’t adjust psychologically after cosmetic surgery. He aspires to reverse this negative mental state with a not-quite–Food and Drug Administration–approved drug, Nepenthe, courtesy of neuropharmacologist Dr. Neelaka Oghob. Drs. M and Oghob secretly test Nepenthe, which wipes out bad memories, and bring in Willie Jefferson as a test subject. Willie’s a convicted serial killer who served only nine months of a life sentence, but if Nepenthe’s viable, it’ll turn him into a productive citizen. The drug has to succeed, especially because Sen. Helen Selkirk’s already beefing up her re-election campaign by teasing a “pharma-correction” program. But all plans for Nepenthe may go awry when a body turns up at the center. Sure, Willie’s the go-to suspect, but no one, including Duncan, has a solid alibi, and anyone could be capable of murder. The author guarantees intrigue in his soap-opera plot with an opening scene at the morgue. Readers learn that the victim’s female, but the story doesn’t reveal who she is until much later. Enthralling character relationships in the tale abound. Duncan, for one, romances free-spirited dance therapist Beni Romano, whose reserved identical twin, Anna, is a psychiatrist; a surgeon at the center, Dr. Darrell Jefferson, is Willie’s brother. The murderer, too, is not initially apparent, with varying opportunities and motives among numerous suspects. Dafoe’s narrative remains generally easygoing, in keeping with the animated plot; the sisters’ constant bickering is a highlight, at one point even resulting in a hair-pulling scuffle. But he shrewdly addresses serious issues, like whether rehabilitating a criminal is possible or whether the adverse reactions to a grim recollection can ever truly disappear.
Secret drug trials, back-stabbings, and unnatural death: fundamentals for an electrifying tale.
Sixteen-year-old Tuesday Greenwood is a teen rock star in Eadie’s young-adult debut.
Tuesday is a beautiful, talented and obedient child star, ordered around by her bipolar stage mother, Constance, and her agent, Uncle Monty. The two adults are Tuesday’s entire, lonely, rule-filled world until the singer meets Zelda—the daughter of Tuesday’s housekeeper and a fellow teenager—who plots to show Tuesday a good time. Horrified by Tuesday’s sheltered and puritanical life, Zelda compels her to re-examine the way her mother pushes her around, spending her daughter’s money and not allowing her any freedom. The two grow close as Tuesday recognizes how isolated she has become, having only her song lyrics for solace. Under Zelda’s influence, Tuesday begins to fight back, demanding to change her image from a clean-cut role model for tweens to an edgy rocker who sings about harsh, personal conflicts. As Constance plans for Tuesday to sing a new, wholesome song at a prom, Zelda becomes even more important as a supportive friend who encourages the young star to think for herself. The singer then meets Brady Paul, a good-looking boy at the high school where she will be performing, and she realizes that, with Zelda by her side, she can discover all kinds of new ways to get what she wants. Written in a light, easy style, Tuesday’s story of emotional emancipation is one that any teenager can appreciate. Eadie’s work stands out from the usual teen novel: It doesn’t glamorize Tuesday’s celebrity life but highlights the loneliness it brings. The protagonist is a well-drawn, likable heroine whose impossible home life makes her sympathetic.
An insightful but also fun tale about a young celebrity taking charge of her life.
A 12-year-old working with his uncle, a historian, unearths clues to an old, macabre unsolved mystery while searching for a deceased millionaire’s missing artifacts in this middle-grade novel.
Mike Hilliard works alongside his uncle Robert “Otto” Hilliard, an employee of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. Otto’s research into the life and death of the ruthless Titus Morley attracts the attention of Lawrence Piddle, a professor of religion at Dartmouth College, but Mike begins to suspect Piddle’s interest in the case is more than educational, especially after one of Morley’s journals under the society’s care suddenly goes missing. A priceless collection of masks and books disappeared following Morley’s demise in 1872, when his oil refinery exploded. Cryptic drawings, maps and symbols in Morley’s voluminous journals lead Mike to the location of Morley’s mausoleum. Secretly teaming up with his uncle’s colleague Billy Hayworth, Mike pays a late-night visit to the tomb, where he uncovers a secret room in which literally soul-stirring horror awaits. Dedicated to author John Bellairs, Hayes’ debut novel offers age-appropriate chills, including death masks, rotted corpses and the walking dead, as well as flashes of mildly queasy terror (“A sickening sound filled Jeremiah’s ears: the sound of cracking sticks and crushed hen eggs”). Hayes writes ably about the architecture of the story’s pivotal locations, but his main character is inconsistently drawn. Mike is said to like ghost stories, and he perks up at the thought of an adventure, but his reactions suggest he wouldn’t be especially eager for thrill-chasing. At one point, when his uncle casually mentions body hopping, Mike “choked on his soda and nearly spit it out.” And while a tauter pace and more humor would liven things up, a solid foundation has been laid for a series of further adventures with Mike and Otto; Otto proclaims, “The Western Reserve Historical Society will get to the bottom of it….Rest assured. We’ll get to the bottom of it all.”
For young readers who, like Mike, are “always up for a good story, especially an historical one.”
Athriller/romance that intertwines a story of a young anthropologist in modern-day Cairo with that of a few crucial years in the life of Jesus Christ’s family.
Justine returns to Cairo for the first time since her childhood, when she lived with her Egyptian mother and her American father, who pursued an archaeological dig. Now an adult and a cultural anthropologist, Justine has come to observe the area’s fledgling community schools for girls, but her memories of her previous time in Egypt, when her parents were still together and life was full of mystery and opportunity, have her in thrall. During a close encounter with an earthquake, she literally stumbles upon a little book, a codex, in an ancient crypt where she’s nearly buried alive. It turns out to be a rather remarkable diary—one with profound implications for religious communities already roiling with discontent. The setup allows Lambert to tell all manner of stories, addressing the prospects for Egyptian women—“Am I heir of Isis or of today’s Islamic women cloaked in hijabs?”—to the ancient desire, still with us, of established religions to destroy pagan documents. The prose can be uneven, and sometimes a bit overwritten: “Sunlight skims across the water beneath a pale lavender mist as I watch the Great River Nile come to life around me, warm sand rising between my toes.” For the most part, however, the novel delivers a tautly suspenseful historical tale. In particular, Lambert sharply ties together early Christian beliefs with the plight of females in traditional societies, and effectively depicts the fears unleashed when entrenched beliefs are challenged. She also keeps a sure hand on the romance plotline, letting it percolate and flare within manageable boundaries.
An often engaging thriller/romance, and a smart evocation of modern Egypt.
Lori Weinberg contends with her husband’s alcoholism, her daughter’s illness and her aloof mother’s Holocaust past in this piece of women’s fiction.
Lori’s husband, Jerry, falls off the wagon at their son’s wedding and is hauled off to a police station. “Can you believe the hell I’ve gone through with this man for the last thirty years?” she cries to her longtime best friend, Adele. The novel then shifts from 2001 to 1970, when Jerry takes Lori, raised in a posh North Shore suburb, into a lower-class Chicago neighborhood to meet his family. The Brills are more boisterous and strictly observant Jews than Lori’s family, which consists only of a “mom who is always sick, and a dad who is always gone.” Lori soon marries Jerry and becomes mother to Julie and Barry. Jerry works as a salesman for the dental equipment business that is only one source of incomefor Adele’s more successful husband, Jim. It then becomes increasingly apparent that Jerry is an alcoholic; plus, one of his brothers is always hatching financial schemes. When 14-year-old Julie is diagnosed with leukemia, Lori puts all other concerns on hold to deal with the brave girl’s journey, which includes a desire to visit Israel. As several deaths unfold, Lori forces Jerry to go into rehab in Arizona, where she meets Rain, a free-spirited woman with surprising connections to Chicago. The novel concludes in 2003, with Lori now able to stand on her own, empowered by a trip to Germany that unlocked the secrets of her now-dead mother’ssorrow. Author Wexler wrote several murder mysteries prior to penning this tale of a sheltered yet relatable woman facing a significant array of life challenges. Wexler’s scenes featuring Julie’s illness are particularly strong, being both heartfelt and heartbreaking. Lori’s attitude toward her husband is more puzzling; she often seems unsympathetic, even when his own childhood issues are exposed. Lori’s dynamics with female friends, her mother and her Jewish heritage are all intriguing but feel a bit rushed and underdeveloped within this expansive novel.
Engaging, sweeping saga of a contemporary wife and mother.
Ferraro’s lean and expertly plotted debut novel tells the story of several people—families as well as priests—caught in a tangle of violence and corruption that stretches from Massachusetts to the Vatican.
In 1965 in Tyre, Massachusetts, a confused, violent 12-year-old boy named Joey Fredette impulsively murders his friend Robbie Daigle and is sentenced to a boys’ psychiatric hospital. He exhibits shy, good behavior until he falls under the sway of charismatic pederast priest Father Bertrand Dascomb, who gives the boy comic books, works out with him in the reformatory gym, and eventually gains his trust. Father Dascomb has also taken on 12-year-old Kevin Hearn as an altar boy at his church. The Hearn boy is only a distraction for the priest, who’s obsessed with Joey and wants to control him once he’s released from the reformatory. It isn’t long after Joey’s release that Kevin Hearn is found murdered, his body dumped under a bridge, and a sharp Massachusetts cop begins to suspect Father Dascomb—and maybe Joey—had something to do with the crime. Ferraro skillfully jump-cuts scenes among his dozen or so main characters, including Kevin’s mother, Ronnie; a closeted gay psychiatry student named Will MacFarlane; and Father Luchino Montefiore at the Vatican, who starts to see the institutional pattern of child molestation and cover-ups with the church. “Scandal is anathema,” one powerful prelate tells Father Montefiore. “It is to be prevented at all costs.” Ferraro confidently knits together his various plotlines, and the queasiness of the story is only heightened by the fact that even though Father Dascomb is a monster, he’s also the book’s most fully realized and compelling character. Readers won’t be able to look away from the rising drama, and Ferraro doles out the plot reveals in carefully spaced intervals.
A vivid, cinematic dramatization of the ripple effects that crime and secrets can have on a small community and a larger faith.
A grandmother navigates the route from the suburbs to the big city in this book about travel, kindness, and love by Mackavey (The Artist and the Lava Beast, 2013), with illustrations from Johnson.
Yiayia is prepared to visit her granddaughter. After her dogsitter arrives, she gets into her small blue car and drives away from her rural home and off toward the city. She’s soon surrounded by other vehicles, with her car crouched between a yellow school bus and a green-and-red truck, both vibrantly portrayed. Yiayia arrives at the train station, where people crowd the escalators; she hurries aboard the train and finally has a moment to relax. Through Yiayia’s looking at photos on her smartphone, the story reveals that her granddaughter and daughter-in-law are of Korean heritage and that the family is a happy, loving one. When Yiayia reaches Penn Station in New York City, she finds herself surrounded again, and it isn’t until she hails a taxi that she realizes she’s lost her baggage. At the lost-luggage claim, a worker helps her pick out the right blue bag. Observant readers will notice the right bag right away, but they’ll enjoy Yiayia’s fun refrain (“That’s much too round….That’s much too big!”). After recovering her bag, she grabs a taxi and finally makes her way to Amalia’s apartment, where her granddaughter greets her with a warm hug. The story here is slight, but Johnson’s pitch-perfect illustrations bring it to life. It’s exceptional in its diversity, as it clearly indicates that Amalia’s parents are from two different cultures. Children who are interested in modes of transportation will happily pick out several that Yiayia uses, and emergent readers will notice the bold text of “taxi” and “PENN STATION,” which they may sound out as adults read to them.
A wonderful, well-illustrated look at the relationship between a grandparent and granddaughter who live miles apart.
An elderly crime novelist’s last work and a shady crook’s errand overlap in Winner’s (The Cannibal of Guadalajara, 2010) fictional nod to Patricia Highsmith.
Tyler Wilson is eking out a living in Europe as a small-time player in a crime syndicate when a mysterious phone call brings up demons from the past. The caller says he is Cal Thornton, a man who Tyler thought was long dead. In fact, Tyler killed Cal in Stromboli in the 1960s, then promptly posed as Cal to get the Thorntons to send him money. Tyler is rattled by the call from the impostor, but a new errand from his crime boss sends him to New York. He decides to become an impostor himself and change his identity, go to Connecticut, and try to convince the Thorntons that he is in fact the long-lost Cal. Meanwhile, an old woman in France suffering from Parkinson’s disease gets an email from a former lover, Tab, a Dutch performance artist. The woman is frail, incontinent, and impulsive and decides she can't finish her novel unless she goes to the Netherlands to seek out the elusive Tab. Hiring an Ecuadorean driver, the woman and her trusty cahier hit the road, at which time it becomes clear that her fiction is steering the events in Tyler’s life, and he and Cal may be creations of hers altogether. Winner’s characters are drawn in the style of Highsmith novels, with Tyler taking the Tom Ripley role. Born in Queens to a washerwoman mother, Tyler finds himself decades later in a Spanish villa overlooking the Mediterranean, where he “sips more white Rioja and chews spicy grilled squid at his favorite chiringuito.” Like Ripley, he knows the local vernacular wherever he goes, and his not-gay lifestyle involves the obsessive and destructive pursuit of men. The spitfire old woman, as Highsmith herself, weaves a sordid tale on two different, almost delirious levels. Winner’s writing is intense, provocative, slightly perverse, and satisfyingly comic (Tyler “wants to explain to the false Cal Thornton that the real Cal Thornton had absolutely been burned away—blazing petrol from their motorboat plus several bottles of burning booze”). The competing plots and the novel-within-a-novel format are propelled by an earthy and sexual literary voice whose wily sophistication is both coarse and unique.
A brash literary thriller that plunges deep into the mind of a criminal and his creator.
Defying his shogun’s ban on contact with the Western world, a young Japanese in 1852 uses smuggled blueprints and technology to create a hyperindustrial movement to thrust the nation forward into the modern age.
First-time author Sorensen launches her Sakura Steam series with a well-told what-if story that brings a steampunk aesthetic to real-life 1800s Japan. Tōru Himasaki, illegitimate son of a noble lord, arrives on the shores of southeastern Japan in 1852, having completed the first phase of a dangerous mission for which he was raised. Masquerading as a fisherman, Tōru pretended to be lost at sea and allowed himself to be rescued by passing Americans and taken on a grand tour of their country. Now, with two years of careful notes, books, factory blueprints, gadgets, and intel, Tōru comes home—facing execution as a traitor for violating Japan’s centuries-old policy of sokoku, or isolation, that has time-frozen the island nation into a feudal condition. Fortunately, Tōru manages to convince a few local lords of the desperate need to drive Japan forward into industrialization before the inevitable invasion by America and other foreign imperialists. In just a few seasons, Japanese facsimiles of guns, telegraphs, railways, early computers (Charles Babbage’s “difference engine”), submarines, and airships are under feverish construction—but with as much secrecy as possible due to the iron rule of the myopic, dictatorial Tokugawa Shogun, who may view such progress as a threat to his own power. Sorenson cunningly blends far-out fiction with actual historical personages (many of whom may be unfamiliar to round-eyed barbarian readers) and a Meiji Restoration–era mindset. If there seem to be a few stereotypes reinforced here (math-crazed, sword-swinging Asians, as industrious as ants as they vastly overhaul their whole culture nearly overnight), the urgency and echoes of real-life drama can still resonate. It’s no accident that the author name-checks Hiroshima and Nagasaki as historically vital port cities of old. Young adults as well as older readers can partake of the delicious genre-blending bento.
Cool alternative-history yarn of yester-century Nippon, a promising steampunk-energized start.
London coppers investigate multiple murders, all seemingly linked to a posh hotel in Mayfair, in this thriller.
Ex–DI Arthur Botley, night security officer at St. Clements Hotel, typically doesn’t handle problems in the laundry. But this time the chute’s blocked—by a man’s body. Police suspect the victim, dead from gunshots, was a guard because he’s wearing a holster (no gun) and the hotel has numerous VIPs, including a senator. Botley’s discovery of a torn gold watch leads him to speculate that a woman either is likewise dead or has run away, evidence and intuition he inexplicably keeps to himself. DS Ann Taylor, meanwhile, spots a female cadaver in her garden. She calls fellow coppers, but by the time she gets outside, the body’s gone. Ann rightly surmises that the two murders are connected, both originating from the hotel. But further examination reveals the man and woman were on a stakeout in their room and may be dead due to something they’ve witnessed. And it’s likely they were spies, both having been in the British army. Things only get more complex: hotel employee Russell Merrick’s dark past comes to light, while a known criminal, whom Botley had sought for information about the case, becomes another murder victim. Ann and Botley work together to get a killer (or killers) off the streets. Riley (Reading the Streets, 2015) packs the plot with twists, additional murders, and potential killers, complicating the story. It’s fortunately never convoluted, thanks to the author’s focus on the investigation: Ann meticulously peruses theories, such as a political conspiracy, and occasionally summarizes the ongoing case. Subplots, too, stay connected to the main plot. There’s a bit of romance between Merrick and copper Donna Strachen, for example, but his workplace/criminal past and her assisting pal Botley put them squarely in the middle of everything. Riley’s red herrings aren’t easy to write off, while the ending wraps up the dizzying narrative comprehensively—and entertainingly. It’s the prose, however, that’ll leave imprints in readers’ minds: “Hotels at night are strange planets where rare creatures, unfamiliar either with sunlight or moonlight, live undisturbed in luxuriant undergrowth.”
Fervent and alluring; another champion in the Botley series.
A woman’s Paris trip is an opportunity to learn all she can about her wealthy, reticent father, whose sudden death may reveal more secrets in Cooke’s (A Tale of Two Hotels, 2015, etc.) dramatic thriller.
Twenty-three-year-old New Yorker Sara Mammon knows very little about her dad, Saul, a zealous businessman currently living in France. So when he invites her for a Christmas visit in 1979, she takes a three-month leave of absence from her job. Hoping to better understand her father, Sara realizes that Saul’s ruthless in his business dealings, unconcerned with inciting people’s wrath. He, for one, promises the exclusive on his Moscow hotel’s imminent opening to the Russians but readily hands the scoop to someone else. Sara has a lot to contend with in Paris, starting with Saul’s uncivil, materialistic German girlfriend, Renata. There’s also Sara’s dalliance with French journalist Denys Déols, whose articles on Saul don’t paint her father in the brightest colors. But things take an appalling turn when Sara discovers Saul’s body; he’s dead of an apparent heart attack. She believes it’s murder and is determined to find the killer, but the suspect list isn’t brief. Saul, who made frequent excursions to Russia, may have been on the CIA’s payroll or a double agent for the KGB. There’s murder and mystery in Cooke’s tale, but it’s not truly a murder mystery. Saul himself is the enigma, more so than the peculiar circumstances surrounding his death. A complex character, he seems to reject all intimacy, likely due to being an outcast in his youth for uneven legs and an ear bandaged from surgery. The murder, meanwhile, hardly changes Sara’s purpose: she’s still learning about Saul; like meeting his (possible) CIA contact. Cooke’s narrative reads like poetry, but it’s neither verbose nor dismissive of the plot. For example, as an irate Sara waits on Déols’ doorstep: “The edge of stone beneath her buttocks was pointed, but not nearly so sharp as her thoughts of the journalist.” Sara may or may not identify the murderer(s), but it’s beside the point. Her riveting journey involves understanding Saul, in both life and death.
A surprisingly tender story of a daughter devoted to knowing her father, even posthumously.
Jingwei offers a new translation and analysis of an ancient Chinese text.
Serving as an archivist for the imperial court of the Zhou Dynasty (circa sixth century B.C.E.), Laozi postulated that the universe was formed by Dao, the benevolent spirit of the bellows, who creates and asks nothing in return. Laozi compiled his thoughts in the Dao De Jing, encouraging readers to model their actions after the nurturing Dao: “He suggests reconciliation in response to grievance suffered, and to embrace the gentle, feminine way in life.” Jingwei gives readers all 81 chapters of the Dao De Jing, in both the original Chinese and in English translation. These are followed by sections labeled “Laozi’s thinking,” which breaks down the text further, and “Comments,” which delivers a more modern interpretation of the text. Following the 81 chapters are supplementary sections that analyze the text by theme—“On Fears and Crises”; “On Femininity Appreciated”; “On Freedom”—as well as some thoughts on the composition of the text and the intentions of Laozi. Jingwei has used a very small font for his debut book so that each chapter fits on one page. The volume’s 200-page length belies the amount of material found therein. Jingwei’s translation remains clear and easy to follow, and the notes further clarify the text. Chapter 61, for example, begins: “Whatever big nation, be low flowing (humble) / Be the world’s female.” “Laozi’s thinking” reads: “For big nation, be humble; be like the mother of the world.” The “Comment” reads: “Here Laozi simply urges nations to behave with humility to avoid conflicts with each other.” The reiteration of each concept (in verse, then ancient note, then modern note) has an almost meditative effect on the reader, and the frequent use of metaphors from nature allows discussions of conflict and strife to be removed from any emotion-laden, real-world context. Jingwei occasionally falters in his English, though never in a way that makes his intention unclear. He states that his purpose in this translation is to bring the text to a wider audience, and in this he has succeeded.
An accessible and informative presentation of the Dao De Jing.
Ogilvie’s (You: Selected Poems andKnot: A Life, 2008) new collection of poems and paintings delights the eye and the mind.
Searching for what she describes in an author’s note as “language and meanings not discovered in my previous work,” the poet experiments in this book with several aspects of her medium: sound, syntax, and rhythm. Long-lined couplets surge forward with jetlike propulsion, and casual observations reveal surprising emotional depths. The first images of “Counter Top,” for example, are easy to grasp: “what to do with ten crystals on the shelf what to do / with three helicopters chopping overhead what to do with three hundred pieces of beach glass.” Where they lead, however, is harder to fathom: “we could generate books which meant nothing but words or without / words a thing between two covers meant to keep you guessing / meant to keep you at bay not meant to go to bed with you who does that anymore.” The poems, organized alphabetically by title, frequently comment on the business of living life and making art in language. “All Do Not All Things Well,” which begins the book, explores the problem of putting experience into words: “it was new unsyllabled unsayable illiterate babbled at.” The concluding piece, “Writing,” acknowledges the rare, hard-won result: “We wake up holding one gold nugget from the night’s mining.” The colorful paintings in this beautifully produced volume, on several full-page color plates, combine solid, talismanic forms with repeated shapes, including crosses and opaque circles. A striking pair of portraits looks out at readers with clear, watchful faces. Some paintings have a Mark Rothko air about them, with bands of quiet color in differing widths and placement. The openness of the images—partly due to the abstract, geometric compositions and partly due to their simplicity—allows for the busier, sometimes-breathless effect of the poems to hum with auditory energy.
Verses that offer glimpses into rarely mapped reaches of consciousness.