A small gem, disturbing and haunting.

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EUPHORIA

King (Father of the Rain, 2010, etc.) changes the names (and the outcome) in this atmospheric romantic fiction set in New Guinea and clearly based on anthropologist Margaret Mead’s relationship with her second and third husbands, R.F. Fortune and Gregory Bateson—neither a slouch in his own right.

In the early 1930s, Nell and Fen are married anthropologists in New Guinea. American Nell has already published a controversial best-seller about Samoan child-rearing while Australian Fen has published only a monograph on Dobu island sorcery. Their marriage is in trouble: Nell holds Fen responsible for her recent miscarriage; he resents her fame and financial success. Shortly after leaving the Mumbanyo tribe they have been studying (and which Nell has grown to abhor), they run into British anthropologist Bankson, who is researching another tribal village, the Nengai, along the Sepik River. Deeply depressed—he's recently attempted suicide—Bankson is haunted by the deaths of his older brothers and his scientist father’s disappointment in him for practicing what is considered a soft science. Also deeply lonely, Bankson offers to find Nell and Fen an interesting tribe to study to keep them nearby. Soon the couple is happily ensconced with the Tam, whose women surprise Nell with their assertiveness. While the attraction, both physical and intellectual, between Bankson and Nell is obvious, Fen also offers Bankson tender care, which threatens to go beyond friendship, when Bankson falls ill. At first, the three-way connection is uniting and stimulating. But as Nell’s and Bankson’s feelings for each other develop, sexual tensions grow. So do the differences between Fen’s and Nell’s views on the anthropologist’s role. While Bankson increasingly shares Nell’s empathetic approach, Fen plots to retrieve an artifact from the Mumbanyo to cement his career. King does not shy from showing the uncomfortable relationship among all three anthropologists and those they study. Particularly upsetting is the portrait of a Tam who returns “civilized” after working in a copper mine.

A small gem, disturbing and haunting.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2255-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

Blazing indeed: not just with Harry’s fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.

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THE BLAZING WORLD

An embittered female artist plays a trick on critics that goes badly awry in Hustvedt’s latest (The Summer Without Men, 2011, etc.).

An “Editor’s Introduction” sets up the premise: After the 1995 death of her husband, art dealer Felix Lord, Harriet Burden embarked on a project she called Maskings, in which she engaged three male artists to exhibit her work as their own, to expose the art world’s sexism and to reveal “how unconscious ideas about gender, race, and celebrity influence a viewer’s understanding of a given work of art.” Readers of Hustvedt’s essay collections (Living, Thinking, Looking, 2012, etc.) will recognize the writer’s long-standing interest in questions of perception, and her searching intellect is also evident here. But as the story of Harry’s life coheres—assembled from her notebooks, various pieces of journalism, and interviews with her children, the three male artists and other art-world denizens—it’s the emotional content that seizes the reader. After a lifetime of being silenced by the powerful presences of her father and her husband, Harry seethes with rage, made no less consuming by the fact that she genuinely loved Felix; the nuanced depiction of their flawed marriage is one of the novel’s triumphs, fair to both parties and tremendously sad. As in her previous masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), Hustvedt paints a scathing portrait of the art world, obsessed with money and the latest trend, but superb descriptions of Harry’s work—installations expressing her turbulence and neediness—remind us that the beauty and power of art transcend such trivialities. If only art could heal Harry, who learns the risks of entrusting others with your own unfinished business when the third of her male “masks” refuses to play her endgame. She dies less than a year later (no spoiler; we learn this from the opening pages), and the book closes with a moving final vision of her art: “every one of those wild, nutty, sad things…alive with the spirit.”  

Blazing indeed: not just with Harry’s fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4723-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

Weighted with sorrow and gravitas, another superb story by Mengestu, who is among the best novelists now at work in America.

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ALL OUR NAMES

What’s in a name? Identity of a kind, perhaps, but nothing like stability, and perhaps nothing like truth. So Mengestu (How to Read the Air, 2010, etc.) ponders in this elegiac, moving novel, his third.

Himself an immigrant, Mengestu is alert to the nuances of what transplantation and exile can do to the spirit. Certainly so, too, is his protagonist—or, better, one of two protagonists who just happen to share a name, for reasons that soon emerge. One narration is a sequence set in and around Uganda, perhaps in the late 1960s or early 1970s, in a post-independence Africa. (We can date it only by small clues: Rhodesia is still called that, for instance, and not Zimbabwe.) But, as in a V.S. Naipaul story, neither the country nor the time matter much in a tale about human universals, in this case the universal longing for justice and our seemingly universal inability to achieve it without becoming unjust ourselves. The narrator, riding into the place he calls “the capital,” sheds his old identity straightaway: “I gave up all the names my parents had given me.” Isaac, whom he meets on campus, is, like him, a would-be revolutionary, and in that career trajectory lies a sequence of tragedies, from ideological betrayals to acts of murder. The region splintering, their revolution disintegrating, Isaac follows the ever-shifting leader he reveres into the mouth of hell. Meanwhile, Isaac—the name now transferred, along with a passport—flees to the snowy Midwest, where he assumes the identity of an exchange student, marked by a curious proclivity for Victorian English: “I remember thinking after that first afternoon that I felt like I was talking with someone out of an old English novel,” says the caseworker, Helen, with whom he will fall in love. Neither Isaac can forget the crimes he has witnessed and committed, and the arc of justice that each seeks includes personal accountability. Redemption is another matter, but both continue the fight, whether in the scrub forest of Africa or at a greasy spoon somewhere along the Mississippi River.

Weighted with sorrow and gravitas, another superb story by Mengestu, who is among the best novelists now at work in America.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-34998-7

Page Count: 255

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

Always a pleasure to read for his well-drawn characters, quiet insight and dialogue that crackles with wit, Morton here...

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FLORENCE GORDON

Unexpected celebrity and long-absent family members distract a heroically cantankerous 1960s-era activist in the summer of 2009 as she reluctantly confronts the challenges of age.

Morton (Breakable You, 2006, etc.) returns to the world of writers with Florence Gordon, a feisty literary lioness of the U.S. feminist movement. At 75, she has a just-published book that’s languishing, and despite years away from the limelight, she's embarked on a memoir only to learn that her longtime editor is retiring. No matter: She treasures her solitude and “having fun trying to make the sentences come right.” Yet fame befalls her in the form of a top critic’s review of her book in the New York Times. Family matters also intrude. Her ex-husband, a vicious burned-out writer, demands that she use her contacts to get him a job. Her son and his wife are back in New York after years in Seattle. Their daughter, Emily, helps Florence with research and almost warms up the “gloriously difficult woman.” Then the matriarch’s health begins to nag her with strange symptoms. While Florence dominates the book, “each person is the center of a world,” as Emily thinks, and Morton brings each member of the small Gordon clan to life at a time when there is suddenly much to discover about their world. He’s also strewn the novel with references to books and writers and the craft itself, which is appropriate for the somewhat rarefied setting—Manhattan’s historically liberal, bookish Upper West Side, where Morton’s characters often dwell—and a treat for anyone keen on literary fiction.

Always a pleasure to read for his well-drawn characters, quiet insight and dialogue that crackles with wit, Morton here raises his own bar in all three areas. He also joins a sadly small club of male writers who have created memorable heroines.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-30986-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

Lyrical, reserved and sometimes unsettling—and those are the happier moments. Another expertly delivered portrait of the...

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THE REMEDY FOR LOVE

A closely observed meditation on isolation and loneliness “in a world in which no social problem was addressed till it was a disaster.”

Eric is a middle-aged “small-town lawyer with no cases,” struggling with separation and lost love, when he lays eyes on a young woman in the supermarket line who's just such a disaster. Danielle is a hot mess brimming with suspicion and hostility, to say nothing of being hobbled by a bad sprain and no immediate prospects. When Eric helps her with her groceries—and then, episode by episode, with bits of her torn-up life—young Danielle responds mostly with cagey bitterness, dismissing the train wreck that is her existence with tossed-off observations like “[p]eople are complicated.” Yes, they are, and Danielle—if that is her real name, for, as she tells him, it’s “Danielle, for now”—is more complicated than most. Set against the backdrop of a howling Maine blizzard (“Storm of the Century, that’s what I heard,” says Eric. “Of course that’s what they always say”), Roorbach’s story never takes an expected or easily anticipated turn. Eric makes a project of Danielle, a project that brings some glimmer of meaning into his life. Danielle, in turn, resents being made into said project. She’s an exceedingly strange bird, but strange is better than nothing—maybe, for Danielle is harboring enough secrets to keep a National Security Agency agent busy for years. “I’m sure I lied,” she tells Eric, simply, in one typical exchange. And so she has, though she has her reasons, which we learn as Roorbach’s superbly grown-up love story unfolds.

Lyrical, reserved and sometimes unsettling—and those are the happier moments. Another expertly delivered portrait of the world from Roorbach (Life Among Giants, 2012, etc.), that poet of hopeless tangles.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61620-331-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

Waters keeps getting better, if that’s even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.

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THE PAYING GUESTS

An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain—with really hot sex.

It’s 1922, and Frances Wray lives with her mother in a big house in a genteel South London neighborhood. Her two brothers were killed in the war and her father died soon after, leaving behind a shocking mess of debt. The solution: renting out rooms to Leonard and Lilian Barber, members of the newly emerging “clerk class,” the kind of people the Wrays would normally never mix with but who now share their home. Tension is high from the first paragraph, as Frances waits for the new lodgers to move in: “She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax.” The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lilian and teases at the question of whether she will declare her love; when she does, the tension grows even thicker, as the two bump into each other all over the house and try to find time alone for those vivid sex scenes. The second half, as in an Ian McEwan novel, explores the aftermath of a shocking act of violence. Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight; when Frances and Lilian go on a picnic, “the eggs [give] up their shells as if shrugging off cumbersome coats”—just like the women. As life-and-death questions are answered, new ones come up, and until the last page, the reader will have no idea what’s going to happen.

Waters keeps getting better, if that’s even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59463-311-9

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

A top-notch graphic memoir that adds a whole new dimension to readers’ appreciation of Chast and her work.

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CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT?

A MEMOIR

A revelatory and occasionally hilarious memoir by the New Yorker cartoonist on helping her parents through their old age.

Few graphic memoirs are as engaging and powerful as this or strike a more responsive chord. Chast (What I Hate, 2011, etc.) retains her signature style and wry tone throughout this long-form blend of text and drawings, but nothing she’s done previously hits home as hard as this account of her family life as the only child of parents who had never even dated anyone else and whose deep bond left little room for this intruder in their midst. Yet, “the reality was that at 95, their minds and bodies were falling apart,” and these two people who had only relied on each other were forced to rely on a host of caretakers, their daughter in particular, and to move from the Brooklyn apartment that had been home for half a century into a series of facilities that provided fewer and fewer amenities at escalating expense. Chast rarely lapses into sentimentality and can often be quite funny, as she depicts mortality as “The Moving Sidewalk of Life” (“Caution: Drop-Off Ahead”) or deals with dread and anxiety on the “Wheel of DOOM, surrounded by the ‘cautionary’ tales of my childhood.” The older her parents get, the more their health declines and the more expensive the care they require, the bleaker the story becomes—until, toward the end, a series of 12 largely wordless drawings of her mother’s final days represents the most intimate and emotionally devastating art that Chast has created. So many have faced (or will face) the situation that the author details, but no one could render it like she does.

A top-notch graphic memoir that adds a whole new dimension to readers’ appreciation of Chast and her work.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-806-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

A rich and rewarding portrait of an irreplaceable genius.

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JONATHAN SWIFT

HIS LIFE AND HIS WORLD

A feisty, first-class life of the sage and scourge of English Literature.

Besides being a great essayist, satirist, novelist and poet, Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was a very public man: a social-climbing Anglican minister, a friend to Alexander Pope, a competitor of Daniel Defoe and Laurence Sterne, a stalwart nationalist of Ireland—where he would be consigned to live—and a man whose shifting political allegiances forced him to publish his fiercest critiques anonymously (if only just barely). He masked himself in other ways, as well, leaving behind enough private contradictions and obscurities to keep biographers busy to this day. Damrosch (Literature/Harvard Univ.; Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, 2010, etc.) is bent on both correcting the record and adding to it, creating a fresh and vivid life even as he wrestles with previous biographers—namely Irvin Ehrenpreis—along the way. Damrosch explores the mystery of Swift’s parentage as well as his concealed Betty-and-Veronica relationships, one with the loving and devoted “Stella” (Hester Johnson)—whom he may have secretly married and who is buried next to him—and one with the temptress “Vanessa” (Esther Vanhomrigh). Damrosch also amply scrutinizes Swift’s inner life: Was this preacher who absolutely insisted on churchly tithes even a true believer? Was Gulliver’s Travels misanthropic or, as Methodist founder John Wesley suggested, an honest examination of mankind at its worst? Damrosch gets close to Swift as both a talented author and a man, detailing his frustrations, habits and multiple physical torments from deafness, vertigo and a variety of odd ailments. (“The spots increased every day and had little pimples, which are now grown white and full of corruption, though small…I cannot be sick like other people," he wrote, "but always something out of the common way.") This is the kind of biography where you come to feel you know the subject personally.

A rich and rewarding portrait of an irreplaceable genius.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-300-16499-2

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

A highly significant eye-opener rich in facts and enjoyment.

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THE SIXTH EXTINCTION

AN UNNATURAL HISTORY

New Yorker staff writer Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, 2006, etc.) returns with a deft examination of the startling losses of the sixth mass extinction occurring at this moment and the sobering, underlying cause: humans.

Although “background extinction” continuously occurs in varying slow rates among species, five major mass extinctions mark the past. Scientists theorize that all of these—from the extinction of the Ordovician period, which was caused by glaciation, to the end of the Cretaceous, caused by the impact of a celestial body on the Earth’s surface—were the results of natural phenomena. Today, however, countless species are being wiped out due to human impact. Global warming, ocean acidification and the introduction of invasive species to new continents are only a few ways that we are perpetrating harsh new realities for those organisms unable to withstand radical change. Kolbert documents her travels across the globe, tracing the endangerment or demise of such species as the Panamanian golden frog, the Sumatran rhino and many more. The author skillfully highlights the historical figures key to the understanding of the planet’s past and present turmoil, including Charles Darwin and Georges Cuvier, the first to theorize extinction as a concept. Throughout her extensive and passionately collected research, Kolbert offers a highly readable, enlightening report on the global and historical impact of humans, “one weedy species” that may offer valiant efforts to save endangered species but who are continually causing vast, severe change. Kolbert also weaves a relatable element into the at-times heavily scientific discussion, bringing the sites of past and present extinctions vividly to life with fascinating information that will linger with readers long after they close the book.

A highly significant eye-opener rich in facts and enjoyment.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9299-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

A wide-ranging, delightful tour de force.

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THE LAGOON

HOW ARISTOTLE INVENTED SCIENCE

Leroi (Evolutionary Development Biology/Imperial Coll. London; Mutants: On the Form, Variety and Errors of the Human Body, 2003) calls on his expertise and his experience as a BBC science presenter to explain why Aristotle's writings on science are still relevant today.

The author introduces readers to Aristotle's work in the field of biology and shows where it accords with modern understanding and where it is wildly off-base. Although best known as a philosopher, Leroi explains that the major body of Aristotle’s work (much of which has been lost) dealt with natural science. In his search for the causes of change, the philosopher embarked on an ambitious project. “By the time he was done,” writes the author, “matter, form, purpose and change were no longer the playthings of speculative philosophy but a research programme.” Aristotle based his groundbreaking efforts to discover the workings of nature on a wide variety of sources, including his own observations. In addition to humans, a whole host of animals came under his purview and led him to classify different species, thus anticipating Carl Linnaeus in the 17th century. Leroi shows how Aristotle pondered the common features of all living creatures, as well as their divergence, and attempted to account for their functional differences. According to the author, Aristotle’s line of thinking led him to attempt to understand the operation of “five interlocked biological systems”—the nutritional system, thermo-regulation, perception and cognition, and inheritance—and indirectly influenced Darwin's discovery of the theory of natural selection. He dismisses critics who fault Aristotle for being unscientific because he did not conduct experiments using controls. Many of his assumptions proved to be wrong, but this is to be expected in a new field. Leroi compares Aristotle's effort to assemble a huge volume of data to the practices of current scientists in the “age of Big Data.”

A wide-ranging, delightful tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0670026746

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Emotionally profound, necessary reading.

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JUST MERCY

A distinguished NYU law professor and MacArthur grant recipient offers the compelling story of the legal practice he founded to protect the rights of people on the margins of American society.

Stevenson began law school at Harvard knowing only that the life path he would follow would have something to do with [improving] the lives of the poor.” An internship at the Atlanta-based Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in 1983 not only put him into contact with death row prisoners, but also defined his professional trajectory. In 1989, the author opened a nonprofit legal center, the Equal Justice Initiative, in Alabama, a state with some of the harshest, most rigid capital punishment laws in the country. Underfunded and chronically overloaded by requests for help, his organization worked tirelessly on behalf of men, women and children who, for reasons of race, mental illness, lack of money and/or family support, had been victimized by the American justice system. One of Stevenson’s first and most significant cases involved a black man named Walter McMillian. Wrongly accused of the murder of a white woman, McMillian found himself on death row before a sentence had even been determined. Though EJI secured his release six years later, McMillian “received no money, no assistance [and] no counseling” for the imprisonment that would eventually contribute to a tragic personal decline. In the meantime, Stevenson would also experience his own personal crisis. “You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it,” he writes. Yet he would emerge from despair, believing that it was only by acknowledging brokenness that individuals could begin to understand the importance of tempering imperfect justice with mercy and compassion.

Emotionally profound, necessary reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9452-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

In a word: marvelous! (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

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THE RIGHT WORD

ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS

After award-winning collaborations about poet William Carlos Williams and artist Horace Pippin, Bryant and Sweet return to investigate the life of Peter Mark Roget.

Born in London in 1779, Roget was plagued by lifelong setbacks. His father died early; his mother was unstable. Frequent moves and pronounced shyness engendered solace in books. Partial to classifying his knowledge and experiences, Peter composed his first book of lists by age 8. Inspired by the taxonomy of Swedish physician and botanist Linnaeus, teenage Peter studied medicine in Scotland, eventually establishing a practice in London, and he worked on a book of word classifications, completing it in 1805 for his own reference. Roget lectured, invented (the slide rule and the pocket chess set) and, inspired by the publication of several contemporary, inferior books of lists, returned to his own. His Thesaurus, published in 1852 and nurtured by his descendants, has never gone out of print. Bryant’s prose is bright and well-tuned for young readers. She goes gently, omitting Roget’s darkest traumas, such as witnessing his uncle’s suicide. Sweet tops herself—again!—visually reflecting Roget’s wide range as a thinker and product of the Enlightenment. Injecting her watercolor palette with shots of teal, scarlet and fuchsia, Sweet embeds vintage bits (ledger paper, type drawers, botanical illustrations and more), creating a teeming, contemplative, playfully celebratory opus. Exemplary backmatter includes a chronology, author’s and illustrator’s notes, selected bibliography, suggested reading, quotation sources, and a photograph of one of Roget's manuscript pages.

In a word: marvelous! (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5385-1

Page Count: 42

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

For children and their bird-watching parents, who will appreciate the clever premise and the message of admiration.

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AVIARY WONDERS INC.

SPRING CATALOG AND INSTRUCTION MANUAL

A catalog of bird parts and instructions for making your own in a sadly possible future in which living birds have nearly disappeared.

Feathers, beaks, legs and feet, bodies, tails and even flight styles can be ordered from this enterprising company, whose motto is “Renewing the World’s Bird Supply Since 2031.” Written and illustrated (in oil, ink, graphite and colored pencil) in the style of traditional mail-order inventories, this weaves in a surprising amount of genuine bird information while displaying the variety of interchangeable parts. Body and wing shapes fit different purposes. Legs and feet are adjusted for habitat, and beaks must match potential food. There are decorative streamers, collars and crests. The illustrations reflect actual birds; in spite of decorative coloration, beaks and wings are recognizable as identified. If a model is based on a bird now critically endangered or extinct (such as the slender-billed curlew, great auk and passenger pigeon), the label points it out. The author also enumerates actual bird threats: insecticides, habitat loss, the exotic pet trade and cats. Finally, careful instructions for assembly and training are included. Don’t teach your bird a song you don’t want to hear over and over!

For children and their bird-watching parents, who will appreciate the clever premise and the message of admiration. (Picture book. 10 & up)

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-97899-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Worthy of a superhero.

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EL DEAFO

A humorous and touching graphic memoir about finding friendship and growing up deaf.

When Cece is 4 years old, she becomes “severely to profoundly” deaf after contracting meningitis. Though she is fitted with a hearing aid and learns to read lips, it’s a challenging adjustment for her. After her family moves to a new town, Cece begins first grade at a school that doesn’t have separate classes for the deaf. Her nifty new hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, allows her to hear her teacher clearly, even when her teacher is in another part of the school. Cece’s new ability makes her feel like a superhero—just call her “El Deafo”—but the Phonic Ear is still hard to hide and uncomfortable to wear. Cece thinks, “Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different. And being different feels a lot like being alone.” Bell (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, 2012) shares her childhood experiences of being hearing impaired with warmth and sensitivity, exploiting the graphic format to amplify such details as misheard speech. Her whimsical color illustrations (all the human characters have rabbit ears and faces), clear explanations and Cece’s often funny adventures help make the memoir accessible and entertaining. Readers will empathize with Cece as she tries to find friends who aren’t bossy or inconsiderate, and they’ll rejoice with her when she finally does. An author's note fleshes out Bell's story, including a discussion of the many facets of deafness and Deaf culture.

Worthy of a superhero. (Graphic memoir. 8 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1020-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Dark, funny and pawzzz-i-tively brilliant.

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THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 5

Joey takes on his toughest set of challenges yet in this heart-rending, triumphant series finale.

Challenge one: His manic depressive mom has hidden his meds. Challenge two: She’s abruptly checked herself into the hospital, leaving him in charge of a cluttered, roach-infested house and his baby brother, Carter Junior. Challenge three: His no-account dad (still with a Frankenstein face from the previous episode’s botched plastic surgery) is lurking about the neighborhood looking for a chance to snatch Carter Junior and run. Moreover, Joey’s brave efforts to stay “pawzzz-i-tive,” to be “the mature Joey, the think-before-you-speak Joey, the better-than-Dad Joey, the hold-the-fort-for-Mom Joey, the keep-the-baby-safe Joey” are both aided and complicated by the return of Olivia—as he puts it, “the meanest cute blind girl I have ever loved.” Tucking enough real and metaphorical keys into Joey’s adrenalized narrative to create a motif, Gantos also trots out other significant figures from his protagonist’s past on the way to a fragile, hard-won but nonetheless real reunion. The conclusion invites readers to stop by: “There is always an extra slice waiting for you at the House-of-Pigza”—with delectable toppings aplenty.

Dark, funny and pawzzz-i-tively brilliant. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-30083-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

It may “[take] a village to train a dragon slayer,” but it takes an exceptional dragon slayer to deserve a village—and a...

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THE STORY OF OWEN

DRAGON SLAYER OF TRONDHEIM

From the Story of Owen series , Vol. 1

In an alternate world where humans and dragons battle over fossil fuels, the tale of one slayer and his bard becomes a celebration of friendship, family, community and calling.

Once, every village had its own dragon slayer, but those days are long gone; now, slayers are drafted by governments or sponsored by corporations. Sixteen-year-old Owen Thorskard, scion of a renowned line, wants to help reverse that—starting with the rural Canadian town of Trondheim. While Owen is brave, dedicated and likable, this story really belongs to Siobhan McQuaid, dauntless bard-in-training. In her witty account, Siobhan learns alongside Owen from his heroic aunt and her blacksmith wife, schemes with classmates to create local Dragon Guards and enlists the entire county in a daring scheme to attack the dragons’ own turf. Humor, pathos and wry social commentary unite in a cleverly drawn, marvelously diverse world. Refreshingly, the focus is on the pair as friends and partners, not on potential romance; Siobhan places as much emphasis on supporting her allies as extolling Owen’s deeds. Smart enough to both avoid unnecessary danger and be scared when appropriate, they prove all the more valiant when tragic sacrifices have to be made.

It may “[take] a village to train a dragon slayer,” but it takes an exceptional dragon slayer to deserve a village—and a storyteller—like this one. (Fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4677-1066-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Essential. (Nonfiction. 12-16)

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THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS

A 50th-anniversary examination of the Mississippi murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and their aftermath.

An introduction describes the legally entrenched racism of Mississippi and the inception of the Freedom Summer campaign. Following this, Mitchell drops readers right in with the events that led up to the murder of the three young men, evoking the hostility and fear that covered Neshoba County like a blanket. He pulls back to sketch the victims’ biographies in separate chapters, then takes readers through the investigation and the steps toward the 1967 trial that infamously failed to deliver justice. That account alone, illustrated with ample archival photographs and memorabilia, makes riveting reading. He clearly states the legal intricacies and thoroughly incorporates the players’ own voices, with often breathtaking effect: “They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved,” said the presiding judge later. Mitchell takes the story into the present day, describing how the families of the victims continue to fight for civil rights and how both locals and state officials kept the case alive, simultaneously working toward legal and emotional resolution. He leaves open the question whether now “the killing of a black mother’s son is as important as the killing of a white mother’s son”—but the country is getting closer to that goal. The book includes a map, endnotes, bibliographic essay, bibliography and index.

Essential. (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-47725-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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