In this debut middle-grade fantasy novella, a young girl plays through an adventurous golf course that teaches her as much about herself as it does about the sport.
When 9-year-old Skyler accidentally falls into a puddle in her backyard, it transports her to an engaging fantasy world called “the Puddle Club.” The first beings that she encounters are an eager golf ball named Ralphie and an astute gopher named Par. The latter explains that the only way for Skyler to return home is to complete the local golf course, and he equips her with the necessary equipment and wisdom to do so. But despite Par’s advice to go ahead and start playing, Skyler feels the need to first stop by Practiceopolis. She’s excited by the energy in this busy “paradise golf park,” but after the workers there pressure her into buying top-notch golf equipment and practicing an absurd amount of time, she decides to go ahead and start the course. She and Ralphie make their way from hole to hole, facing obstacles such as distracting “Yip” trolls, the sandy Pit of Doom that has a mind of its own, and the dreaded Gustina, “the wind goddess of golf.” Skyler makes plenty of mistakes along the way but also learns valuable lessons, the most important of which is this: “When you’re in the game and things start to look impossible…you gotta jump right in and play through.” McGruther and Russell’s book is, in equal parts, entertaining, educational, and inspiring. They describe the scenery of the Puddle Club with delightful detail and creative wit, and the clear plot gives readers a constant sense of direction despite all of its thrilling diversions. The book is also full of vital insights for new golfers, including three simple questions to ask oneself before every hole. Many of its lessons reach far beyond the realm of golf, however, highlighting the importance of purposeful focus, the dangers of perfectionism, and the joy that can come from seeking improvement.
A fine teaching tool that offers advice for getting through a golf game—and through life.
A sweeping, accessible historical survey of artistic iconography.
Visual art has always been pervaded by symbolic imagery, much of which would have been recognizable to historically contemporary viewers. But the same embedded meaning is largely unfamiliar to today’s audience, which is a barricade to more meaningful appreciation, according to authors Angel Rafael Colón and Patricia Ann Colón (co-authors: Tincture of Time: A Concise History of Medicine, 2013): “Most iconographic symbols, however, now appear arcane, unfathomable, begging for explication.” Only in the 19th century did iconology emerge as a formal field of study, but in such a prohibitively academic form, it’s of little use to the layperson. The authors cover the span of visual artistic production up until the 19th century, prior to the emergence of more abstract, less representational efforts. The first chapter covers Christian iconography; the majority of art between the 10th and 15th centuries displayed devotional themes. Chapter 2 talks about Western art in the Renaissance period, when mythology and allegory began to replace (or enact in a new setting) Christian themes; much of this art was saved from destruction by Arab scholars. The authors continue the theme of gradual secularization by examining the Dutch golden age, a period liberated from the need to depict Christian images in the wake of the Reformation. A fascinatingly morbid chapter explores the iconography associated with death and includes a particularly grim but gripping look at funereal depictions of deceased children. Finally, the Colóns include a discussion of what they call “iconographic erratics,” those pieces of art that defy conventional classification, like Francisco Goya’s El Tres de Mayo and Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The flawlessly clear writing is often charmingly lighthearted though just as consistently characterized by scholarly scrupulousness. The scope is dazzlingly broad, yet the treatment of any particular motif or artistic product never feels unsatisfyingly abridged. Also, the work abounds with hundreds of gorgeous photographs of art, meticulously parsed into their symbolic components and then carefully decoded.
It’s difficult to imagine what the authors could have done to improve this marvelous guide.
A debut novel of young love, ’90s-style grunge, and teenage angst.
When Danny first sees Mary, she’s running away from her ex-boyfriend Tanner into the back room of the New Jersey grocery store where she works—screaming at the top of her lungs, imploring him to leave her alone. Mary’s loud outburst sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which follows the two teenagers’ eclectic, unusual relationship. The book is structured in acts, letting the momentum build, as it would in a play, until the final section. More specifically, the book is structured using alternating perspectives; as it oscillates between Danny’s and Mary’s points of view, it offers a complete, authentic, and objective narration. Danny is a fairly typical 17-year-old high schooler who loves music (though only music with lyrics, preferably from decades that preceded his birth), smells good, is a talented guitarist, and works at a car wash across the street from the grocery store where Mary works. When he meets her, he’s awestruck but a bit wary: “When my too dry lips peeled apart, I realized I had become that guy. Totally forgetting that this amazingly hot girl was just involved in a shouting match about ten seconds prior to my being captivated by her hotness.” Still, Danny musters the courage to ask her out—but it takes a little while. Mary, on the other hand, doesn’t come off as the most approachable girl for a boy like Danny. She’s an irritable 17-year-old who goes out to bars with her girlfriends, surrounds herself with people who call Danny a “faggot,” and struggles with a physically and verbally abusive father. The duo is an unlikely match—another case of opposites attracting.
Debut author Wakil fills the text with moments of pure teenage bliss in which readers will recognize their younger selves experiencing the excitement of love for the very first time. Similar to works like Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this book is a testament to the power of conviction, the results of perseverance, and a case study of small-town millennials from varying economic backgrounds. The author has a punchy, irreverent writing style: “So, as we drove through the swampy and winding road, where the crickets were louder than the music Danny played, my head fell back between the headrest and the door, and I let the wind blow back my hair.” With it, he effectively creates a narrative environment in which anything can happen, from stealing a boss’s Porsche to chasing down bullies on the freeway to helping friends cope with debilitating bouts of depression to navigating the changing functions of parent-child relationships. Danny and Mary are captivating, frustrating, and completely imperfect characters that are very much evocative of the current sociocultural climate. They also seem like products of the 1990s, and they drive into adulthood with familiar teenage uncertainties and doubts. Readers will willingly surrender themselves to this book and gain much from it.
Bender (Divided We Fall, 2014, etc.) offers a dystopian novel about an America ruled by gangs and gun manufacturers and about the brave few who are willing to fight them both.
In a near-future United States, Congress has overturned the National Firearms Act of 1934, which attempted to regulate the sale and distribution of automatic weapons. Since then, gun manufacturer Breck Ammunition has been selling its Yossarian assault rifle to all comers, including the Red Stripe Gang, primarily made up of angry, white men. Meanwhile, a Born-Again Patriots movement has swept through government, effectively neutering the presidency and federal courts and moving power to the states. Rosa Veras is a reporter for the Las Vegas newspaper Our Times, which is owned by Breck Ammunition. She’s disgusted by the results of her research, which connects Arizona gun deaths with Breck’s profits. Later, at a gun show, Rosa gets a demonstration of the brutal new Breck 100X rifle from CEO Gerard Breck himself. Meanwhile, in Liberty, Arizona, a vigilante called “the Wanderer” has shot and killed a man named Tom Jenkins during a service at the Church of Santa Maria. The Stetson-wearing loner murdered Jenkins in retaliation for shooting the now-hospitalized Sara Heller, as local sheriff Ben Martin’s neutered police department stands no chance of catching him. Rosa wants to interview the Wanderer for her substantial, investigative side-blog The New West. She must find him quickly, however, as tech-savvy bounty hunter Charlie Johnson is also on his trail.
The author’s new novel might be summed up by a line from Rosa’s editorial: “Sometimes it feels like America is spinning in an opposite direction from the planet Earth.” As real-life America spins out of alignment with other nations’ gun-control laws, he critiques its obsession with the Second Amendment and shows how it could threaten to shred the nation’s true founding principles. For example, a mayor replies to a sheriff’s complaints of lawlessness with “the government hasn’t made laws for years!” Ironically, Bender packages his message in a first-rate action narrative, filled with the sort of violence that has attracted gun lovers to pop-culture icons like Rambo and Dirty Harry for decades. In one cinematic scene, for instance, a gang member meets his end when “thunder cracked, and blood burst out the back of his skull.” Such indulgent moments of machismo are balanced by superior characterization, particularly of the Wanderer’s sidekick, Kid Hunter, and 12-year-old bandit Lindsay.The fact that the Wanderer still wears his wedding band and is haunted by the ghost of a woman named Helen connects to a complex, satisfying origin story that includes Breck Ammunition itself. Throughout, Bender proves to be an instructive novelist, challenging American readers with basic scenarios that could very well come to pass: “when you leave the house, you're checking for your wallet, your keys, your phone, and your gun. Like these are equally essential things for the day ahead.”
A tight, thoughtful work that has much to offer readers on both sides of the gun control debate.
Ever wonder where Arthur Conan Doyle got his Sherlock Holmes ideas? From his thrill-packed diaries, according to these takeoffs on the iconic detective series.
Mixing facts about Conan Doyle’s life with fictional sleuthing, these mock journal entries span 1878 to 1883. The author, a medical student in Edinburgh, supposedly played Watson to the real-life Dr. Joseph Bell, a Holmes-ian professor complete with deerstalker cap, meerschaum pipe, and insufferable omniscience. This volume contains three novels on the duo’s exploits, each featuring quotidian murders linked to grand political conspiracies, cameos by historical figures, and encounters with real-life writers. The first yarn, Adventures in the Wild West, takes the bumbling Conan Doyle and imperious Bell to Chicago, where men are dropping dead and having their glands harvested. Conan Doyle’s shipboard meeting with Robert Louis Stevenson telegraphs the rambunctiousness of the tale, which includes a balloon ride to save President Rutherford B. Hayes and a hook-handed villain. Installment two, Adventures in Russia, sends the heroes to St. Petersburg to save the czar from several assassination plots involving torpedoes and nitroglycerin-filled eggs. The story introduces Penelope Walshingham, a British agent of dubious loyalties. An appearance by Dostoyevsky signals a darkish narrative polarized between brutal czarist police and murderous anarchists, with Bell bingeing on cocaine and Conan Doyle bedding a kitchen maid. Novel three, Adventures in America, ambles toward California when the murder of one Siamese twin (necessitating emergency separation surgery) alerts the protagonists to a grab for the Yukon’s molybdenum resources. Cameos by Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde highlight a droll frontier picaresque with turns by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and a poker showdown.
The team of medical historian Raffensperger and writing professor Krevolin (The Mystery of the Scarlet Homes of Sherlock, 2016) tweaks the Holmes tales to focus on forensics, with intriguing demonstrations of period surgical breakthroughs along with much procedural. (“Bell cut around the tumor until the gyri and sulci of the temporal lobe of the brain came into view.”) They adroitly pilfer tropes from their classic sources, reveling in Victorian trash talk—“You dare to lay hands on a nobleman!”—and contrivances: Mystery men are reliably killed before they can spill their information, and in one bad spot the heroes rely on crazed monkeys for rescue. The authors rack up the body count with awesome efficiency, but some of the mayhem, like an organ extraction from a conscious, paralyzed patient, conveys a chilling horror. Fans should find Bell a worthy epitome of Holmes, his deductions a higher form of know-it-all-ism—“Graceland Cemetery is well known for its fine stand of Hazelnut trees and there is a Hazelnut leaf stuck to the underside of your muddy left shoe”—and his right to rule serenely unchallengeable. Conan Doyle, a sad sack who misses the clues and loses the girls, bears Bell’s insults—“Laddie, sometimes I wonder if you have the cerebral facility for a future in the medical arts”—with quiet indignity but makes for an engaging observer of the hoopla. While it’s all a bit formulaic, the authors stage the proceedings with aplomb, regaling readers with energetic storytelling and colorful characters.
An entertaining, rollicking addition to the Holmes-verse, combining real-world lore with over-the-top melodrama.
In the first installment of Hammond (KOP Killer, 2016, etc.) and Viola’s (Blackstar, 2015, etc.) new sci-fi series, a detective on Mars searches for her grandfather, who she thought died 20 years ago.
Human Denver Moon, 31, is a first-generation Martian—born on the Mars colony that her late grandfather Tatsuo co-founded. Her current investigation involves an outbreak of red fever, a mysterious sickness that often turns the infected into raving, homicidal lunatics. In just the last two days, “the feve” has inexplicably targeted 11 of Mars’ original settlers. She works the case with her always-accommodating artificial-intelligence system, Smith, which Denver long ago gave Tatsuo’s memories. Smith discovers an encrypted message from her grandfather, declaring that Mars is in danger and urging his granddaughter to find him. His former partner, Cole Hennessey, the Founder and Peerless Leader of the Church of Mars, insists that he witnessed Tatsuo’s death personally. A skeptical Denver investigates, beginning by having Smith hack into Jericho, the local terraforming project, to scan the red planet for places where her grandfather may have hidden himself for two decades. She’s clearly making someone nervous, though, as she later narrowly avoids a murder attempt. As Denver digs deeper, she gradually exposes a conspiracy that could affect all of Mars’ inhabitants. This short novel boasts prime sci-fi tech ingredients; for example, Denver mentally converses with Smith, which she’s installed in her gun, and she also gets assistance from Nigel, a botsie (robot). The mystery is packed with sometimes-dubious characters. Denver is the most colorful, even if she is totally colorblind—a hereditary trait that makes her immune to red fever. Smith, however, is also engaging, particularly in its hints of human qualities, such as a preference for leather holsters. Sparkling prose animates the inanimate throughout: “One of the freezer chest’s hinges tore free, bolts shooting off like bullets.” The book ends with a prequel short story, “Denver Moon: Metamorphosis,” in which Denver works a case of “robocide” that ultimately ties into the novel’s main plot.
A searing mystery with a superlative gun-toting protagonist.