Morrissey’s (Weeping with an Ancient God, 2014, etc.) novel in stories tells of the residents of a Midwestern town in the 1950s as they deal with a plague and personal issues.
The author states in an introduction that the 12 stories in this book may be read in any order, which will change how the reader views the overall narrative. Perhaps the story starts with the tale of Old Man Stevenson battling a crow, which he believes took his wife, Clara, away years ago. Or perhaps it starts with the disruption of the town’s Passion play by Rhonda Holcomb, whose dissatisfaction with her own marriage boils over after she puts a new resident, Mrs. Espejo, in charge of the production. Or it could begin with the very first story, which introduces the O’Brien family, who begin showing symptoms of a plague. When this happens, the town custom is to quarantine the home and carefully deliver supplies to the family; when there are no longer any signs of life, the house is burned down. Depending on where the reader starts, they may see a different character as the primary protagonist. But although the narrative is malleable, the vignettes all feature people weighed down by foreboding; there’s always a sense that something is coming for his characters, although Morrissey never defines it clearly. Indeed, they never seem to be able to truly define their own unease—even as the author makes readers feel it, too. References place the book in the mid-’50s, and the author describes the small, unnamed town in loving detail, but there’s also a feeling of detachment, as if all of this is happening in a place apart from our own. It also hints at the supernatural, especially when different characters encounter people in crowlike outfits, but it never presents events that couldn’t be ascribed to the natural world
A work that resists easy description; recommended for those looking for something strange and beautiful.
A wide-awake sheep echoes the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in this humorous British import from debut author Adams and veteran illustrator Wills (Annie’s Grannies in Decorating Disaster, 2017, etc.).
Tansy lamb can’t get to sleep. She asks her mum if it’s time to get up—but, of course, it’s not even close. Tansy asks first her mother, then her sister, Teasel, for sleeping advice, but nothing works. Finally, the barn owl tells Tansy she should count sheep, so Tansy does, but she finds only 19 sheep in her flock instead of the 20 that should be there. After a charming interlude of worried imaginings worthy of Frog and Toad or Elephant and Piggie, she wakes everyone to find the missing sheep. The sheep are in a tizzy until the sheepdog arrives to reveal that Tansy forgot to count herself. Now all the sheep are wide-awake—except Tansy, who finally falls asleep. Wills’ sheep are wonderfully fluffy, and the green moors and blue sky are cozy for bedtime storytelling. Tansy’s expressions, and her endearing attempts at falling asleep, will resonate with young readers who have had the problem themselves. Elementary readers are likely to realize Tansy’s mistake before the sheepdog and chuckle at being right.
Adams’ vocabulary is just right for lap reading, and the happy ending to the silly mistake—and Tansy’s subsequent bedtime success—will make this a nighttime favorite.
In Kostival’s debut novel, a man deals with the fact that his body is turning to bone.
Morris Proot was diagnosed at 29 with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a very rare but real and horrible condition in which the body’s bone-repair mechanism goes haywire. Any injury, however minor, encourages inappropriate, superfluous bone growth; eventually, sufferers’ bodies lock up. Ten years on, Morris is cobbling together a life for himself near Portland, Maine, as a school bus driver. He lives alone in an apartment with lots of books and scant furniture. He’s no friend of humanity at large; in fact, he’s understandably resentful and cynical. But he’s also friends with a crusty old man named Cap and in love with a woman named Joan. After Cap dies and Joan moves away, Morris begins to write long letters to a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania who’s the world’s leading expert on FOP. These letters, in fact, make up half of the novel, and Morris becomes frustrated that the doctor doesn’t answer them. Morris is relegated to a job as a crossing guard after fighting with a parent and unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Finally, he heads to Philadelphia to confront the doctor, and readers discover the truth about the letters. Kostival is a very strong writer, and Morris is a tour de force of a character—he’s bitter, yes, and spends most of his time railing against the human condition in general and his own condition in particular, as seen in his letters to the doctor. But he’s also shown to be capable of loving those who are lovable, and he’s immensely intelligent and well-read. One may open the book anywhere and encounter a striking line, such as “Proot’s revanchist anger was met blow-for-blow by [bus passenger] Fetal Hitler’s irredentist rage.”
A very impressive debut with a well-developed protagonist.
In this debut novel, a Colorado medical researcher must deal with a lab mystery, thorny secrets, and a boatload of personal conflicts.
Beth Armstrong, the story’s main character, has a lot on her plate and a lot slipping off it. Beth is a gifted researcher (currently working on a cure for multiple sclerosis) who discovers that some of her valuable mice have inexplicably died. Then there is the matter of files that disappear then reappear. Clearly someone is sabotaging her project and murdering the mice (although it is hard to convince her colleagues of this). At home, she copes with her aunt, the redoubtable Kathleen McPherson, who came to tend Beth’s mother in her final illness and now is in the busy researcher’s care. And there is Beth’s husband, Harold, a charming doofus who can’t stand his job as a CFO, preferring to start messy home renovation projects. Kathleen, a glamorous entertainer in her day (with a colorful history that includes speak-easies and mobsters in Chicago and Detroit), and Harold hit it off. Their Cuba Libre–fueled antics annoy Beth, who interrogates Harold about this alarming development (“So Kathleen’s bewitched you, has she?”). Soon Kathleen and Harold both become amateur sleuths. Early on, Beth’s beloved childhood home burns to the ground, and it sure looks like the fault of Kathleen, the doddering chain smoker, which further strains things. (To Beth’s amazement, her aunt firmly denies responsibility.) Eventually, the search for the lab saboteur and thief produces some extremely tense moments. The author can be forgiven a few loose ends—but most things are wrapped up nicely. And there is one real stunner at the conclusion. Dietz is a talented writer, delivering nuggets like “Beth dug a pleasant look out from somewhere,” and “She tossed her imagination in the wastebasket along with the card.” Readers will initially settle in for a standard mystery (who killed the mice?). But when the appealing Kathleen and Harold take over things, this story becomes much more complicated than a simple whodunit—it delightfully turns into serious literature. Readers should hope for more captivating novels from this promising author.
A marketing consultant shares his accumulated wisdom about developing and selling expertise.
Baker (Managing (Right) for the First Time, 2010, etc.) targets an audience inhabiting the “narrow overlap between entrepreneurship and expertise,” that is, individuals and firms providing insight and advice to others for pay. He opens with three “foundational” chapters that summarize how expertise flows from focus, how greater proficiency makes a consultant less interchangeable with others, and how precise positioning can achieve a “price premium.” Sixteen short but information-packed chapters follow, fleshing out these themes in detail. Baker explores many issues that confront advisers, from self-confidence and work fulfillment to managing client relationships and maintaining relevance over the long term. Each chapter advances his argument that proper positioning is the key to success. He draws relevant illustrations from his decades of experience and offers pointed questions and concrete metrics that readers can use to assess their situations. Throughout, he urges consultants to make “courageous” decisions to narrow and deepen their knowledge rather than holding themselves out as capable of tackling any assignment. He emphasizes the power of saying “no” and recommends keeping a “getting to ‘know’ ” list of subject matter gaps to research and master. Baker’s writing reflects the approach he counsels. His tone is confident and authoritative yet tempered with self-deprecating humor. He projects an insouciant command of numerous topics without sounding like a know-it-all. His deep thinking on the subject manifests in clear, succinct prose and measured wit that make the reading easy and enjoyable (“Charge your batteries so that you can do the hard work…and put a hard hat on because some of this work is painful”). Chapters move briskly, and he is particularly nimble with transitions that orient the reader and enhance orderly flow. Despite the book’s focus on consulting agencies, other professionals who provide expertise or whose livelihoods rely on it—physicians, scientists, writers, etc.—should find relevant and useful ideas. Since Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung appeared in 1964, numerous authors and designers have emulated its color and small format in hopes of becoming “the little red book” in their categories. This compact, illustrated volume makes a strong bid to become the standard-bearer on selling expertise.
A must-read for entrepreneurial experts that also will have a broad appeal for other professionals.
An exuberant little girl who fancies pots meets a new babysitter in this debut chapter book.
May adores a lot of things: karate, boxing, her stuffed blue bunny named Sunshine, and conversations with her mother. But one of her loves is a bit more surprising: playing with pots (“Her favorites were those that fit on her head”). While other toys get boring, May can embark on endless adventures with these versatile kitchen tools. When Miss Josephine, the new sitter, comes to watch May for the first time, the girl feels afraid. But between the woman’s purple bag—full of fun games and toys that “make you think”—and Miss Josephine’s comforting words and hug when the girl expects to get scolded, May finds a new friend and discovers that using her imagination can help her become smarter. Seay’s delightful computer illustrations frequently use neutral backgrounds, which cause the colorful pots and May’s bright clothes to stand out. The all-black cast is headed by May, a charming youngster (likely between the ages of 4 and 6) with curly dark hair, whose facial expressions communicate a wide range of emotions within the work’s artistic style. The approachable vocabulary and early-chapter-book format—with images on every page—make this an accessible and appealing story for young readers, especially those who have struggled with their own fears of being left with strangers.
A bracing celebration of creativity with a strong main character who deserves her own series.