A debut biography examines a groundbreaking rocket scientist.
It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the geopolitical significance of the intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon that could deliver a catastrophic payload from the other side of the globe. The U.S. military, considering the pursuit of the missile quixotic, had essentially given up, but its development became imperative in the 1950s once the Soviet Union achieved one of its own. Karel Jan “Charlie” Bossart, trained as an aeronautical engineer, became the principal architect of the pertinent technology, briefly winning him some scientific acclaim. Bossart was born in Belgium, and his early experiences were formed by the convulsion that was World War I, and the ensuing German occupation of his homeland. He attended college in Brussels, and at the behest of his father obtained a degree in mining engineering. But he took an extracurricular course in aeronautical science, inspiring him to chase a master’s in the subject at MIT in defiance of his father. His true education in plane technology came after, at the Service Technique de l’Aéronautique Belge, and he then turned down a comfortable teaching job at Ghent University for an adventure in the United States. There he scored a job at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, headed by one of the field’s greatest luminaries. Bossart would eventually work on a series of experimental planes during World War II, and would finally start to become acquainted with rocket technology, which had long been neglected in favor of heavy artillery as a tool of war. He ultimately headed Project Atlas, the scientific collaboration that produced America’s first ICBM. Mitchell’s historical research is impeccable, and his mastery of the relevant science is equally impressive. Especially considering the brevity of the work, it is remarkable in its scope; the author manages to provide brief histories of rocket technology, aeronautics, World War I and II, and the Cold War. Bossart emerges as a thoughtful innovator interested in much more than military supremacy: “Forget about the military applications of rockets for a minute, and think of all the peaceful applications: shooting mail from coast to coast by rocket, manned travel to Mars, interplanetary communications, better weather forecasting, detailed aerial maps.” Some of the science described is formidably difficult to comprehend, but Mitchell succeeds in making it as accessible as anyone could reasonably expect.
A meticulous portrait of an unjustly neglected figure in the history of American science.
A debut novel encapsulates American traditions, bringing New York and immigrant stories together in that often overlooked part of the metropolis, the Bronx.
How do you fit in as an uncertain young man in a country going through uncertain times? It’s a question that haunts many and lies at the core of this story. But it’s even more relevant to Joey, who begins his American experience living on the outside looking in. His first years after his family emigrates from Italy are lonely, but survival leads to new opportunities, and the clan moves to the Bronx in the 1960s, putting Joey among relatives, friends, and his own people in the United States for the first time. But while the support and leadership of his cousin Spike and the rest of the local gang open up the world to Joey, they’re not enough to keep him from feeling like an outsider. There are times when he acts like one of the gang, chasing girls, dodging the dangers of the city, and having the madcap adolescent adventures he’s dreamed of. But too often he’s overcome by a sense that he doesn’t quite belong and that some terrible upheaval is coming. Case in point: the enigma of Rudy Kazoody, a figure who seems to represent Joey’s hopes, his terrors, and the sense of cultural shift and shock that pervades the boys’ corner of the city simultaneously. But for all that, and the fact that Kazoody only comes up in times of anguish, the other boys won’t tell Joey a thing about him. While Freda’s novel takes some expected turns, weaving in the love and loss that accompany any coming-of-age yarn, there’s more to this work than just those tropes. The mystery of Kazoody gets at a unique piece of immigrant experiences: the confusion, isolation, and even despair that come with growing up between two worlds. This narrative is only furthered by the tumultuous backdrop of the ’60s, with war and cultural change informing the boys’ trajectories. Brought to life by Joey’s complex narrative voice, the story cuts to the heart of America.
With complexity, honesty, and, above all, a sense of home, this book delivers a striking tale of a young émigré in the turbulent ’60s.
In this thriller, a woman tries to track down her thieving husband after he leaves her on a snowshoeing expedition.
Deana Harris is a smart, resourceful woman. She created a software program that netted her a fortune and enabled her to retire at 35. She marries handsome outdoorsman Andy and agrees to a romantic snowshoeing expedition in Alberta, Canada, during the depths of winter. Andy plans to lure her to snowy isolation, leave her for dead, and become happily rich and single. After sabotaging Deana’s snowshoe, Andy begs off to go get help and never returns. Thanks to her considerable brains and determination, as well as a kindly forest ranger, Deana survives and sets out to bring Andy to justice and get her money back. She recruits a diverse array of allies that includes a widowed wildlife painter, a hardened private investigator, and a retired detective who runs a shooting range near her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. Turns out, Deana may not be the first young, rich woman whom Andy attempted to marry and murder. Several too-convenient plot twists occur in the rush of the drama. But debut author McKenna takes readers on an intense journey from the gorgeous but deadly wilderness of Alberta to Washington, D.C.’s famed Watergate apartments, small-town Indiana, and the ice fishing enclaves outside of Buffalo. Deana, a determined, snarky heroine who doesn’t lose her sense of humor even in the darkest moments, makes a good lead.
An enthralling, outdoorsy tale of one woman’s extended hunt for a would-be killer.
A tale for young readers draws on the enchantments of sea travel.
Inspired variously by the Odyssey, William Blake’s cosmologies, Rumi’s poems, and Charles Kingsley’s stories for youngsters, this novel embraces the magic of childhood imagining. Kate and Chris, along with Kate’s loyal dog, Holly, swim and frolic on a summer shore. A ship built from driftwood becomes their vessel: Kate’s the queen and Chris is the Man of Action, the one who saves them both from wind and water. At first, Kate’s fear of sailing the high seas causes her to abandon ship, but a terrible loneliness sets in, and she regrets leaving. The sudden appearance of a magician saves the day; she answers his riddles to regain her berth. In their boat, the Pearl of the Seas, Kate and Chris pilot through treacherous rocks and come ashore in a welcoming kingdom, where they learn a version of the Tower of Babel story, “the very disaster of our world.” In this hybrid book of narrative blended with verse and song, different ways of telling a story may appear on a single page. The King of Names instructs Kate that “for the deep things it is poetry.” Such wise lessons fortify the children, but even happy dreams must end. Their parting gifts include a magic pebble-pearl that rights the broken mast so they may return to the shore of reality and family. Though the Pearl of the Seas may not buoy them to distant lands again, they determine that Black Inked Pearl—the written record of their travels—shall be their legacy. As in the novel for adults, Finnegan’s (Black Inked Pearl, 2015) “fairytale prequel” for younger readers delights in the associative wordplay of sound and sense. A moment of canine joy provides a vivid illustration: “Still in gleeful flightful lightsome delighting delight. Barking, sparking, larking.” A handful of superb black-and-white drawings by Backshall complements the work’s whimsical vision.
Rollicking and wise, this sailing story mixes prose, poetry, and song, offering a special lyrical gift.
In Howard’s (It’s About Time, 2016, etc.) thriller, a longtime police investigator fights criminals by using hopeless cancer patients as suicide bombers.
In this book’s riveting opening chapter, a dying man fakes his way into a cocktail party for a recently exonerated criminal. He then ignites a vest full of explosives and blows himself and the entire hotel floor to smithereens. It turns out that August Bock, the CEO of freight company Worldwide Dispatch, is using desperate, penniless, terminally ill people to wreak revenge. After his company zeros in on an unjustly absolved lawbreaker, it strikes a deal with a dying patient, who must carry out a suicide-bombing mission in return for a $4 million payout. Hopeless and eager to leave a windfall for their families, the bombers are willing pawns in a “righteous war” of vigilante justice. Meanwhile, a tough, veteran Miami police detective and single father, Gabe Mitchell, and his feisty partner, Joanne Hansen, are busy fighting crime on their own turf, although Gabe’s health has seen much better days. When he’s diagnosed with a metastatic brain tumor, he falls into Bock’s cross hairs. The CEO swiftly offers him the aforementioned deadly deal. When Gabe refuses, Bock tries to blackmail him into it, which eventually leads to a breathless standoff on a yacht. The intriguing plotline elevates Howard’s sophomore crime thriller above genre expectations. The author’s talent for suspense and narrative momentum is on full display here. He recounts Gabe’s emotional journey as he comes to terms with his terminal diagnosis and his guilt over his surviving son’s welfare, and he cleverly follows it with the cop’s later crisis of conscience. The clock ticks down to Gabe’s forced act of vengeance—and the end of his life—while a few unexpected twists and turns make things even more interesting. There’s also an underlying theme of morality permeating the story; long after Howard’s exhilarating, skyscraper-set conclusion plays out, the question of the ethics of contracted retribution will linger in the readers’ minds. At more than 450 pages in length, Howard’s book could have used some pruning, but overall, this is an ambitious adventure—one that may seem preposterous to some and completely credible to others.
A taut suspense tale energized by a unique premise, dastardly criminals, and a resilient hero.
An imaginative fairy tale that also acts as a primer on cybersecurity.
In a world where cyberattacks are a very real and frightening threat to most businesses, Finney offers an authoritative instruction manual, tucked into a world of fantasy in which characters all work together to learn important life lessons. Harmony Evergreen is an elf whose father, Honest, is the CEO of a magic wand company that finds itself under attack from competitors who sell knockoff wands. After a security breach results in a leak of the company’s customer information, an angry witch turns Harmony’s father into a statue. Harmony decides to use the last remaining magic wand to go back in time and try to prevent the leak from happening. She learns through trial and error how to form a culture of security among her employees, and readers will learn along with her. She must figure out who to hire for her security team, how to train her employees to spot “phishing” emails, and how to create redundancies in duties that prevent a single employee from stealing money or data. The central lesson of the book is that all of a company’s employees must work in tandem to enable cybersecurity’s success—from elf CEOs to groundhog midlevel managers and beyond. The lessons are driven home in chapter summaries that translate Harmony’s fictional quest into real-world challenges. Finney is the chief security officer at Southern Methodist University in Texas and has worked in cybersecurity for more than 15 years, so his words ring true when he advises his target audience about the cultural changes that can protect a company against attacks. He’s also written screenplays and novels, so his manual is dotted with numerous plot and character details that have nothing to do with cybersecurity but simply make for a good read. For example, the cast not only includes elves, wizards, and gnomes—it also has talking pigs, groundhogs, and rabbits. At not quite 130 pages, it’s a short book as well—one that would make an ideal accompaniment to a cybersecurity seminar for people who are new to the subject.
A lively plot and brief chapters will evoke CEOs’ and business managers’ memories of bedtime stories—and make them want to learn more about preparing for cyberthreats.
In this Bay Area cozy, a body in the freezer and a friend in jail throw a professional organizer’s life into disarray.
In Feliz’s (Scheduled to Death, 2017, etc.) latest Maggie McDonald mystery, Maggie again must clean up a murder mess, this time before she assists friends Stephen Laird and Jason Mueller in organizing and storing the couple’s stuff prior to a home remodel. Police detective Jason is out of state with a rapid-response team of officers the morning Maggie and Stephen are to meet at the home to strategize a packing plan. But when Maggie arrives, the always-punctual retired Marine isn’t there, and his beloved mastiff, Munchkin (who’s Maggie’s golden retriever’s BFF), eventually limps home solo, bloodied but able to recover. Maggie learns Stephen is in jail, charged with the murder of Mr. Xiang, whose body was discovered in the freezer of his restaurant. Cops found Stephen at the scene, wiping down tables. In Jason’s absence, Stephen will only talk to Maggie. She realizes he’s protecting Xiang’s employee, Rafi Maldonado, an undocumented teenager who was home-birthed in the U.S. The night of the murder, Stephen and Munchkin intervened when assailants were beating Rafi, only to be pounded themselves by the thugs who’d killed Xiang. Because he didn’t want Rafi connected to the murder, Stephen gave him his car keys and erased the teen’s fingerprints from the scene. Now, instead of systemizing toss/donate/keep piles, Maggie must prove Stephen is innocent and Rafi is legal. Perhaps one of the homeless people Xiang and Rafi regularly fed behind the restaurant witnessed the beatings? After previously solving murders in the series, recent transplants Maggie and her family are now mainstays in the upscale community filled with diverse, colorful characters. But now, with concern and compassion, Feliz has Maggie delve into the problems of homeless, poor, and immigrant populations. Yet in spite of societal concerns and murder, the tone of this well-written book is hopeful, occasionally playful. Feliz writes confidently, having done her homework on such things as immigration legal issues and even how to breeze through jailhouse metal detectors (carry your passport, keys; don’t wear jewelry, zippers, or an underwire bra).
Feliz again delivers a well-written, immensely likable story that can stand alone, although readers will want to read previous books in the series.
A mother questions her relationships with family and friends after classmates accuse her autistic son of murdering a student.
Levin (California Street, 1992, etc.) produces a partnership between doubt and guilt in the story of Anna Kagen and her son, a fourth-grader who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. When the novel opens, Anna is accompanying her son’s class on a field trip to Minotaur Island, a preserve nestled in the San Francisco Bay. Her son, Jack, entertains his classmates with his many Aspy party tricks, like calculating days of the week on which friends’ birthdays will fall in the distant future. All is going well until Anna decides to let Jack visit the bathroom on his own. Her misjudgment sets in motion a series of events that wreaks havoc on her family’s lives. After Jack fails to return from the bathroom, Anna realizes that not only her son, but also three other boys are missing. When the boys are located, one is dead. The other children blame Jack, claiming he pushed the student into a ditch in anger. Anna is sure her son couldn’t be the culprit, but the other parents disagree, and a modern-day witch hunt ensues. Complicating matters further, Jack’s father, Alex Kagen, is the district attorney for San Francisco, and this is an election year. Suddenly, his opponents are using his son’s predicament as a campaign tactic. Alex’s rankings begin slipping, and his already strained relationship with his wife starts to crumble to bits. As Anna scrambles to clear her son’s name and questions whether she wants to save her marriage, the author provides intriguing and gut-wrenching information about hostilities toward children with disabilities. Through her fast-paced prose, engaging plot, and sharp insights, Levin underscores how intolerance and ignorance can cause difficult situations to spiral out of control (When a teacher on the field trip finds out the boys are missing, she squawks: “I told the principal last fall that it was a mistake to keep that Kagen boy on!”). In a friendly, nearly conversational style reminiscent of Liane Moriarty, Levin covers everything from social-climbing PTA moms in contemporary suburbia to a complex love affair and corrupt practices in the nation’s penal system.
A witty, modern voice delivers a captivating tale about a mysterious death that feels like a light read but soon submerges the reader deep into the throes of substance.
In this debut thriller, an engineer investigates a plane crash only to discover a global conspiracy to hack digital satellite television systems that may involve a woman from his past.
It’s 1993 in San Diego. Steve Barton is a semiretired engineer who left his job at Video Secure, a leader in digital satellite TV technology, upon growing frustrated that the company was at the mercy of a ruthless management team looking for a quick payout. A wealthy divorcé who spends his days driving his collection of vintage cars, writing angry letters to the editor, and occasionally piloting small planes, Steve’s quiet life is thrown upside down when he witnesses a plane crash into a mysterious compound in the remote area of Fernbrook, California. Upon investigating the mishap, Steve discovers evidence of a high-level—and illegal—operation to hack into digital satellite TV systems. He also discovers that Alice Chang, a former Video Secure colleague who disappeared abruptly, may have been involved. Steve longs to know what happened to Alice, an intriguing and sharply intelligent woman who, for him, remains the one who got away. He channels his energy into investigating the crash and the leads left behind at the scene, including an encrypted message that may or may not be from Alice. The more he uncovers about the scheme and Alice’s role in it, the more danger he finds himself in. Gilberg is fluent in early ’90s technobabble, though less tech-savvy readers may find it hard to understand. Fortunately, the action and romance that the author weaves around his complicated conspiracy is enjoyable enough that readers should be enthralled even if they don’t entirely comprehend what’s happening on the hacking side. It helps that Steve, Alice, and their scene-stealing friend, Jim Schmidt, a “not-so-reformed ex-hippy with a Ph.D. in computer science from UCSD,” are all incredibly distinct characters with enough personality quirks to be realistic without veering into caricature. They ground the more sensational side of the story in reality.
A fast-paced technology tale with enough international intrigue and luxurious details to rival a James Bond adventure.
A sequel sees a ragtag band of heroes seek forbidden treasure to thwart encroaching militants.
A prophecy spoken by the dead has sent 14-year-old Gabriella Carlyle away from her people on the island of Harkness. She must find the treasure of Nicomedes, which may help turn back a dangerous manipulator named Sade. He wants to purchase sacred Harkness land—next to the Tower of the Dead. Alongside Gabriella is her mentor, Omanuju; her withdrawn 11-year-old brother, Dameon; a village outcast and hunter, Mortimer Creedly; and an enchanted elk who can speak, Adamantus. They fly east on a haunted ship, Elawn, powered by a special magnetic stone. In their possession is a map that should help navigate the labyrinthine City of Dis, where the knowledge-obsessed Nicomedes stored his legacy. Along the way, the group faces wyverns, dehydration, and the mad Princess Sybil (whose own spell split her into two brats, the other named Libys). Alliances within the group, however, are fragile. Not everyone believes in the prophecy, and the promise of untold treasure can warp minds. Gabriella must also return to Harkness before the new moon, but her chances of success dwindle with each new adversary. The second volume of Neill’s (In the Darkness Visible, 2016, etc.) Elk Riders series is yet another blueprint for writing taut, exhilarating fantasy. Everything that can go wrong for the heroes does, and the author’s crafty twists seem to come from an endless supply. The characters’ emotional honesty is likewise riveting. Gabriella’s brother suffers from an ailment that enamors him more to numbers than people. She admits that, instead of saving him from drowning, “I wanted him to die.” Elsewhere, the prose is gorgeous, like a line about the moon being “a marble rolling in a puddle of ink.” Yet amid the fabulous ruins and creature battles is the imperishable wisdom that “if we treated others with the love and devotion we usually reserve for the gods...the world would be a much better place.” By the end, Gabriella, stripped of her companions, has learned this lesson well.
A fantasy built on divine, chaotic action and written with immense heart.
A cardiology professor–turned–academic consultant and clinical investigator for a pharmaceutical company reveals the way prescription drugs are developed.
In Mills’ (Practical Approaches to the Treatment of Heart Failure, 2001, etc.) part memoir, part scientific account of the way the Food and Drug Administration approves new medications—in this case, a treatment for heart failure called Nesiritide distributed by the “small biotech company” Scios—readers learn how medications are tested and sold. Mills tracks the rise of Scios and its eventual demise. The goal of this cautionary tale, or as Mills terms it, “tragic drama,” is to “instill fear in the audience, the fear of making the same mistake” that his company did. During his time at Scios, Mills engaged “deeply with questions of drug safety and efficacy.” Here, he concisely outlines how Scios went wrong in testing and marketing their now defunct product, from how they worked with the FDA to the press coverage of Scios that was “instrumental in shaping much of the company’s fall” to the Scios management that repeatedly stumbled along the way. Those who work in the pharmaceutical industry or have either an educational or professional interest in understanding how big pharma operates from the inside will glean the most from Mills’ book. He weaves a compelling narrative: he introduces dynamic players like his patient Eddy Buczynski, who suffered from heart failure and was one of the first people to get Mills interested in curing the disease, and later Kim Hillis, the national sales manager at Scios—a “compact blonde dynamo,” who could have been “the star shortstop on a championship softball team.” These descriptions and characters keep what could have been a dry narrative fresh and engaging.
A lively, well-told, thoroughly researched look at how drugs are brought to market.
Debut author Anderson offers a richly textured, coming-of-age novel based on true events.
In the 1960s, Lunda Rose wants more than anything to escape her family and the narrow, suffocating backwater Tennessee mountain town of Maynard Bald in which they live. Her home life is claustrophobic and full of violence; she watches her father, a neon sign maker, knock a screen door off its hinges, put his foot through the TV, and break furniture at various points. Worse, she witnesses him disfiguring her mother’s face: “There we saw Daddy holding a piece of broken neon glass to her right temple.” Daddy exerts a powerful malevolence in this narrative, even when he mysteriously disappears from the home for months at a time. At other times, he repeatedly moves the family to different houses and different states, often in the middle of the night, abandoning furniture, pots and pans, and other personal belongings along the way. Anderson lays bare the secret, dark world that Lunda Rose and her siblings, Elda Kate and Robert Joseph, inhabit, and she perfectly captures the voice of the insightful, spunky young narrator. Lunda Rose’s reflections on her Cherokee grandmother, Lillie, further deepen the narrative: Lillie delighted in what she called her “dithyrambs,” prophetic songs that she hummed through toothless gums. Grandmother’s taste in literature—James Joyce, Henrik Ibsen, Tennessee Williams—also provides context for Anderson to explore deeper themes and ideas by evoking past masters, as Lunda Rose attempts to attain personal wisdom through reading. After Lunda Rose discovers Daddy’s awful secret—one that deeply and negatively affects everyone around him—the story loses some dramatic force. However, it continues to explore more subtle territory as the protagonist tests her ability to leave a place to which she finds herself tethered.
A compelling Southern narrative that effectively develops its engaging characters.
A law professor explores the real-life events behind old American murder ballads.
Underwood (co-author: Kentucky Evidence Courtroom Manual, 2016, etc.) delves into court records, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources to find the facts underlying popular songs about grisly murders and crimes in the South in the 1800s and early 1900s. Most readers will be unfamiliar with many of these ballads, although a few, such as “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Tom Dula” (aka “Tom Dooley”), are still well-known due to having inspired later musicians such as Bob Dylan and the Kingston Trio. Underwood explores several genres, including the “ ‘murdered girl’ ballad”—often about a man drowning his female lover—as well as songs in which women kill men for revenge, whole families are slaughtered, or bystanders lose their lives. In addition to tracing the history behind each song, Underwood comments on the actual cases’ legal aspects, such as hearsay, circumstantial evidence, or the “ ‘SODI’ defense”—short for “some other dude did it.” In all, he draws a macabre historical portrait of America, its sensationalist press, and its frequent miscarriages of justice, suggesting that things haven’t changed all that much in the modern era. The book includes each of the songs’ original lyrics along with a rich lode of grainy images and references to further readings and recordings. Overall, Underwood has written a delightful book about a gruesome subject. Even when he delves into the cases and their legal issues, he employs a light touch, sprinkling his accounts with humor: “Oh hell, don’t bother with him; he ain’t nothing but a lawyer,” one defendant advises. Besides providing a revealing look at the quirky history of U.S. criminal law, the book also serves as a testament to the sheer weirdness of American culture; in one ballad, for instance, the murder of a family in Missouri is set to the sweet, sentimental tune of “Home Sweet Home.” Underwood does have an unfortunate tendency to assert that certain topics are “interesting”—a judgment best left to readers—but such lapses are rare.
A sometimes-sad, sometimes-humorous look at ballads that have preserved a part of America’s crazed, violent history.
A book delivers a scathing indictment of the American criminal justice system.
It’s clear that a social issue has reached critical mass when folks all across the political spectrum publicly recognize it as a fundamental problem. Such is the case with mass incarceration in the United States. As Woltz (The Path, 2014, etc.) points out in this ambitious work, the Department of Justice estimated in 2010 that 25 percent of American adults carry the burden of a criminal record. The author presents similarly alarming statistics throughout the text, but he also explains how things got to this point by means of concise historical analysis. Topics range from parole and plea bargains to jury rights and conspiracy statutes. In each chapter, Woltz examines the issue at hand, offers “action items,” and presents a case (often maddening and Kafkaesque in nature) to exemplify his argument. (On several occasions, he mentions his own bizarre encounters with the criminal justice system, but he recounts them in depth elsewhere.) Even the most politically astute readers may be surprised to learn that the much-criticized Citizens United Supreme Court decision “is actually the culmination of 130 years of misinterpretation by that same Court, ostensibly beginning with an offhand comment that was made by a Supreme Court justice in 1886 before the case [Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company] was even heard, but was left on the record.” Woltz paints such a bleak picture that some may wonder if the situation is essentially intractable due to the deep-seated financial and political interests at play. Others may question the viability of his recommendations, such as the abolishment of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Woltz seems aware of this potential hesitation, as he writes: “However, the nation has become so accustomed to these organizations being in power that it sounds foreign—almost insane—to talk about putting them back in the unconstitutional hole from which they sprang.” Thus, he concludes the book with what is perhaps a more achievable goal: “limit any donation to any politician to those living, breathing human beings who reside in their district of election.” This seemingly simple act, which would necessarily entail the overturning of Citizens United, would have far-reaching implications throughout the entire political landscape.
This impressively cogent work about mass incarceration provides concrete actions to curb the excesses of a government apparatus spinning out of control.
A blogger becomes inspired by a friend’s troubled marriage in this relationship guide.
While working in Arizona, La-Paz (Why Do Married Men Cheat with Unattractive Women? 2011, etc.), “a five-foot- seven-inch black woman who had to watch my weight continuously to fit the bill as a print model,” met blonde, “regal” Judie on a photo shoot. Although Judie “had graced the cover of numerous high-end magazines,” she was desperately unhappy, having recently discovered that her photographer husband was cheating on her with an unattractive fast-food worker. Judie’s angry pal Jessie encouraged La-Paz to write a book about this phenomenon—men having affairs with women less attractive than their wives—which led to La-Paz meeting Judie’s soon-to-be ex and his girlfriend. She also gathered together a focus group of “seasoned women who have overcome every aspect of a challenging marriage” and created a blog in which other people could sound off about infidelity. In this book, La-Paz shares highlights of these meetings and submissions; she also weaves in the relationship challenges of her own girlfriends and of the women in her Bible study group. She wraps up by sharing Judie’s 40-day journal, revealing the model’s post-divorce journey to greater self-love and a new, happier relationship; she also reveals the testimony of one of the “seasoned women” who got over her rage and bitterness—and saved her marriage—by turning to God. The author brings a lively, wry tone to this book, which includes many of her own entertaining opinions (“There was a new queen in his life, Ms. Burger Queen. Judie was now an outcast vegetarian, tossed to the side like a bag of soggy lettuce”). Overall, this is a compendium of raging, amusing, and ultimately balanced perspectives, including those of many men and their girlfriends. La-Paz’s advocacy of Bible study is admirable; however, it sits a bit oddly at times in this book’s worldly, “jaded” mix.
Pleasurable venting with a positive, uplifting ending.
A professor, genealogist, and author explores his royal female ancestors.
Researching the family tree of his maternal grandfather, William Henry Powers, Chylinski (Saints, Sinners, Scoundrels, and Some Ordinary People, 2015, etc.) takes the novel approach of tracing the matrilineal line, reasoning that humans are products of both their male and female ancestors. Of course, the author has traced his ancestry back far enough that the women he focuses on are all prominent—the eponymous medieval queens—and thus, researchable (unlike Great Aunt Millie Smith). Chylinski provides biographical sketches of 26 women associated with the Powers family line, many of them recognizable even to the nonhistorian—for example, St. Margaret of Scotland, Brunhilda of Austrasia, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. These biographies are followed by a lengthy list of references, a family chart for Powers, and a number of appendices providing additional information of interest to both genealogists and general readers. The 28 appendices cover varied topics, such as surname history, feudalism, saints and sainthood, the Crusades, and an explication of the Middle Ages. Perhaps most relevant to this work, in Appendix 3 (“The Founding Mothers of the Seven European Haplogroups”), Chylinski explains how the entire world population is descended from seven original women. Finally, he provides a surname index for his research. The appendices are intriguing but more suitable to the general reader than an academic researcher. As with the biographies, they provide a brief overview of various topics. The text is enriched immeasurably by the addition of photographs and images—primarily showing portraits, sculptures, and other artworks of the subjects or time period. There are also some reproductions of original texts. All of this material is helpfully listed in the table of contents. The biographies are prefaced by amusing quotes about women from such diverse sources as author Dave Barry (“You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she is pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment”) and Friedrich Nietzsche (“In revenge and in love, woman is more barbaric than man is”). Chylinski’s work is a vibrant introduction to world history and genealogy for both general readers and family-tree enthusiasts.
An engrossing work about a related group of medieval queens.
In this debut novel, a boy moves with his family from Chicago to the quaint little town of Greenfort, where he begins a journey into a larger and stranger world.
Rafe Rebellius is the son of intrepid parents who’ve moved with him from state to state, but it’s in Greenfort that his destiny starts to truly bloom. He immediately meets a bushy-browed Druid and an attractive, age-appropriate, mechanical-seeming girl named Fem. He runs afoul of bullies, peruses Jack London, and notices that the things he reads truly envelop his life: if it’s snowy cold in his book, he breathes out a frosty fog himself. When Rafe’s mom and dad rush off on one of their escapades, leaving him alone in Greenfort, he makes new friends, learns more about his own connection to the worlds inside stories, and decides he must help combat the machinations of the gray witch and save his new home (“One part of him wanted to run up and hide in his room. But another part—a big part—couldn’t stand the thought of staying out of the fight”). The story brings together characters from fantasy, sci-fi, Westerns, hard-boiled detective tales, and other genres. Without wasting too much verbiage, the volume lets young readers (and mature ones) see the differences between all the styles of popular storytelling and the ways they can clash and harmonize. The book is short, smart, charmingly illustrated, fast-paced, and packed with a great deal of fun. The text is generally clean and polished, with the occasional part that cries out for an editor (“ ‘Mertz Glacier is going to calve!’ his father said, his eyes dancing in his head”). The work doesn’t shy away from the harder edges of the various genres but softens them up a little for a YA audience (“ ‘No way!’ said Rafe. ‘You were a cop who went to prison for a crime you didn’t commit?’…‘Not exactly’ ”). Lowery inserts a bit of rough violence that darkens the narrative, but he gives the episode gravity, and it helps clarify that genuine adventure means real danger. The result is a light confection that celebrates reading, writing, and the daydreaming that comes from books.
A well-written and entertaining fantasy tale about a heroic bookworm.
A sober consideration of the decline of American democracy.
After a hotly disputed presidential election, there’s been much discussion about the fundamental health of the democratic process in the United States. Neff (Vision for America, 2014), an economist, argues that its legitimacy has been thoroughly compromised. The reason: economic inequality. He begins with an analysis of poverty, and he contends that the lack of a living minimum wage forces a considerable number of people into poverty and drives up taxes by compelling a vast number of government programs. He asserts that higher wages, combined with mandatory health insurance, a government-run pension plan, and some other innovations could alleviate these problems. Neff also criticizes the tax code, saying that the richest people and corporations don’t contribute nearly enough in taxes. He then assesses the United States’ malfunctioning political structures, concluding that a two-party system and the gerrymandering of congressional districts has all but ensured divisive partisanship. The result of such rigged political and economic systems, he says, is substantive oligarchy, thinly disguised as democratic opportunity: “For some, freedom means manipulating the system and creating opportunities in their favor, as a way to achieve success for themselves,” he notes. “The result will be an unbalanced society that is destroying the democratic system.” Neff’s prose is crystal-clear, even-tempered, and free of the ad hominem attacks that typically infect political tracts. That said, this is certainly a partisan book, although the author does candidly state his liberal point of view. It’s also a short book—less than 150 pages long—and Neff simply tries to pack too much into it, resulting in overly condensed arguments that flirt with oversimplification. For example, a section on private prisons seems possibly unnecessary, and another on the philosophical roots of libertarianism is, at best, a threadbare account. However, Neff does provide lucid, reasonable solutions to real problems, and that alone makes this book a worthwhile contribution.
A sensible and refreshingly restrained discussion of the nation’s deficiencies.