An ultracool Mars private eye works a case of robocide in this sci-fi prequel.
Destroying a robot, or botsie, on Mars is akin to murder and consequently a felony. When Jard Calder, a botstringer who runs botsies for prostitution, loses several of them to robocide, he hires Denver Moon. Someone has pulled only a part or two from each botsie and stolen its chip as well. With help from Smith, an artificial intelligence installed in Denver’s gun, the detective surmises the murder weapon is a mining tool. As Denver injected Smith with a copy of her grandfather’s memories, the AI often treats her like a beloved granddaughter and is protective of her. And she may need protection when her search for a murder suspect leads her to Blevin’s Mine, where someone from Denver’s past is invested in seeking revenge against her. Fighting to stay alive soon takes precedence over the case before she ultimately ends up in Mars City’s precarious lower levels. This is where Denver unravels the mystery, though the motive for robocide is not as straightforward as she may have anticipated. This graphic novel by the team of Hammond and Viola (Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars, 2018, etc.) is a collection of three comic-book issues. It’s an adaptation of the authors’ short story, which is included at the volume’s end, along with a gallery and concept art. Though the fast-paced narrative is brief, it proficiently displays Denver’s laudable qualities. She’s coolly apathetic, suggesting Jard find another investigator if he’s unhappy with her efforts, and composed even when certain she’s in danger. Smith is a stellar companion, convinced that, despite being an AI, it loves Denver. Furthermore, the classic Smith & Wesson revolver’s “cannon mode” transforms it into a more powerful weapon. The dialogue is often brief but witty. Denver, for example, promises to buy Smith a new battery if they survive men out for her blood. The short story’s descriptive prose is akin to the novel’s illustrations: A shot from Smith “sliced through” people, “scattering their lifeless bodies across the floor.” Lovett’s (Boomer and Friends!, 2017, etc.) exemplary artwork makes the white-haired Japanese heroine look both formidable and chic. Panels are likewise vibrant, from the shadowy, blue-tinged lower levels to Denver’s monochromatic perspective in sharp black and white.
The skilled, perpetually poised detective shines brightly in this series, be it a novel, comic book, or any other format.
Africans and Westerners wrestle with sickness, culture clash, and the turmoil of decolonization in these richly imagined stories.
Barnes (Jane Among Friends, 2017, etc.), who worked for the Peace Corps in Africa, sets his tales in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and other newly independent West African countries in the early 1960s as expatriates, villagers, bureaucrats, and beggars cope with the ferment of change. In “Getting to Bo,” an American builder has to choose between his efforts to keep his construction project on schedule and the pressing needs of a sick diamond miner. “The Legend of Death’s Staircase” follows an affluent expat couple, whose tidy marriage is shadowed by a tropical disease, as they’re drawn to the sinister remains of a slave market. Other tales feature a newly minted Nigerian official who takes over a government credit union from a British administrator, setting off a nerve-wracking turf battle among bureaucrats and politicians; a beggar afflicted with leprosy who struggles to get food in a world where every man’s hand is turned against him; and a villager that takes advantage of a missionary’s generosity by reselling malaria pills on the black market, leading to a crisis of betrayal and redemption. And in the title story, a beautiful young woman gets a mysterious illness, causing the Westerners around her—a priest, a doctor, a Canadian wanderer—to evaluate their relationships with her and their attitudes toward African culture. Barnes’ atmospheric yarns feel like a Graham Greene novel with aid workers instead of spies. He writes evocative descriptions of landscapes and village scenes peopled with a Shakespearean cast, from chiefs drenched in carefully calculated dignity to half-dead panhandlers to African and Western strivers tangled in bonds of mutual need and hostility, all illuminated by Barnes’ ability to fill a single sentence with a world of social and psychological nuance. (“Mrs. Flint wept harder; not the way his woman would weep, but as if she would rather burst than emit any sound,” an African man observes of a distraught white woman.) The result is a fine panorama of a complex, exotic yet startlingly familiar place.
A superb collection full of color and subtle explorations of character.
A young elephant deals with her feelings with the help of four tiny dragons who live in her closet in this debut picture book.
Ellie the elephant has four magic dragons: Naz, who assists her when she’s afraid; Nali, who consoles her when she’s sad; Tully, who helps her check her anger; and Hani, who shares her happiness. When Ellie is startled by sounds in her new home, Naz tells her it’s all right to be scared and offers tips on how to handle her fears. When Ellie is unhappy because her father goes to work, Nali encourages her to draw a picture to lift her spirits. When a new friend rips her picture, Tully suggests she take deep breaths to calm down. In Goodrich’s clever tale about coping, the dragons provide sound counsel (“We can always draw another picture,” Tully asserts). Each dragon is in a bold color, which Van Wagoner (Nelson Beats the Odds Activity Guide, 2019, etc.) uses to great effect in a paint-splatter style. The dragons leave trails of brilliant hues when they fly, but other colors in the beautiful illustrations, such as the purple of Ellie’s skin or the gray of her noisy radiator, extend beyond their characters or objects to enhance the pages.
The dragons’ acceptance of the heroine’s reactions, their solid advice, and a kid-friendly elephant children can identify with should resonate with young readers struggling to manage their emotions.
In Widdicks’ debut psychological thriller, a sleep-deprived therapist becomes obsessed with a curious woman who seems to have restored her ability to dream.
Dr. Cressida Dunhill hasn’t dreamed since she had a car accident a decade earlier. She has no memories of the incident, but she survived it and someone named Max didn’t. One day, Viola “Vee” Marquis walks into Cressida’s office in Silverside, Oregon, at a psychiatric facility known locally as “The Mermaid Asylum.” Although Vee claims that she’s there because she’s upset that her boyfriend, Rex, is cheating on her, she seems indifferent about the visit. Cressida is unsettled and mesmerized by the woman as she casually strolls around the office. The doctor has a dream soon afterward in which she recalls some of the accident, and she associates this apparent breakthrough with Vee. The therapist wants to continue seeing her, even if that means pursuing a relationship outside the office. One potential obstacle is Rex, who Cressida believes is responsible for the bruises that she sees on Vee’s body. Protecting Vee from Rex may be the only way that Cressida can overcome her troubled, sometimes-sleepless nights. Before long, however, her concern for her patient turns into a fixation—one that could be dangerous for everybody involved. Widdicks’ deceptively simple tale has very few characters and a plot that burns slowly, gradually offering up its revelations about who Max is and particulars of the accident. There are a couple of plot twists along the way, but the novel’s most unpredictable element is the protagonist herself; she begins as a therapist who unquestionably cares about her patients, but surprising details about her past will cause readers to see her in a new light. The author’s prose is acute and self-assured, with pithy descriptions shaded with black humor: “Her hair was the topic of several discussions that day, including one twenty-minute negotiation with a paranoid patient who refused to even enter the room.”
A dark, delightfully bizarre story that dives deep into the psyches of unbalanced characters.
Appel’s (The Cynic in Extremis: Poems, 2018, etc.) short story collection offers portraits of people experiencing new revelations.
In these eight poignant, insightful tales, award-winning author Appel—a physician, attorney, and bioethicist—continues to address many preoccupations that he’s explored in earlier works. One of his most prominent themes is the human tendency to alter the truth—often less to gain an advantage than to experience the sheer joy of invention. In the title story, Carlo, a VA hospital nurse, notes that he’s long been “fascinated by schemes and hoaxes”; when a patient goes missing (“We were short one lunatic”), he hatches a coverup plan, which he embroiders beyond necessity: “fabricating Dunham’s data—and pulling it off so effortlessly—was about as much fun as anything I’d done in years.” Several characters in other stories come to understand that human connection, like creativity, is a mysterious thing that can lead to unlikely attachments. In “Grappling,” Oriana Bingham, a wealthy young woman, insists on marrying Jeb Moran, a “gator grappler”who risked his life to save hers when she was 11; “A girl dreams that a man will put his life on the line for her,” she explains. Oriana stays loyal to Jeb, even though he’s crude, abusive, and drinks, but rejects Arthur Dobbins, a much more suitable man. Other stories similarly describe a loved one’s mystifying preference for someone unworthy. Illness, criminality, and broken lives or dreams appear in “Dyads,” “Embers,” and “Live Shells.” The hope of rescue, or at least comfort, underlies these tales, but the author shows how hope can only go so far in the face of sorrow, death, and bad decisions. Still, the stories are never morbid, as the author effectively balances them with humor and sharp observations about characters and settings. Some pieces have a surreal tinge, but generally, they hew closer to realism than Appel’s previous work.
Mordant, humorous stories that display a fine understanding of the human condition.
A fascinating cornucopia of methods to reduce water use through organic propagation and preparation.
In exploring efforts toward reducing global consumption of the Earth’s most precious commodity, writer, blogger, and public policy researcher Ramirez has developed a bountiful, delectable road map of farming innovation and conservationist food preparation. The Earth is two-thirds water, mostly saline, and by 2030, it’s estimated that half the world will experience freshwater scarcity. Preservation is a key conservation concern, writes the author, who regularly attends Earth Day events and promotes water-saving items like shower timers. After focusing on water-waste prevention in bathrooms, Ramirez, recognizing that “seven out of every ten gallons of water is used for food production,” redirected her efforts to the kitchen, where much more could be saved. In a text bolstered by documentation and suffused with a true creative passion for resource preservation, the author presents a series of chapters on the interaction and integration of water with a variety of foods, liquids, production processes, and “on-the-edge farming.” Ramirez fully immerses herself in her subject with eye-opening field trips to resourceful water-sustainable croplands across America. Among them, a California dry biodynamic wheat farm thriving through the advent of cover cropping, a trailblazing rice farm, an aquaponic ranch in the Texas Plain, a “green” egg farming operation, and a Hawaiian organic shade-grown coffee plantation. Concerned conservationists, environmental and agricultural activists, and everyday farmers and consumers alike will be enticed by Ramirez’s passionately delivered and convincing combination of charming narrative, strategic resource preservation techniques, and pages of recipes ideas from crustless cheesecake to spinach quiche and chicken tortilla soup. “Be part of a change that will make a difference in creeks, rivers, groundwater, and oceans across the planet,” she encourages. “Start tonight at your kitchen table.”
Impeccable writing and practical, relevant, planet-friendly alternatives to reducing water consumption in cooking and agricultural production.