WE, THE HOUSE

A NOVEL

An often pleasant, time-skipping read that will engross fans of U.S. history, art, and architecture.

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An offbeat novel that surveys American history from the 19th to 21st centuries through the unique perspective of an Italianate manor house and a garrulous portrait painting.

In this debut, architect Ashworth and composer Kander turn their artistic sensibilities to a narrative that explores ideas of progress, art, and the connections between humans and the places they live. Ambleside, a magnificent house built on a hill in Newton, Kansas, can see its surroundings but is unable to understand human language. A portrait of a woman named Mrs. Peale, hung within the house, can understand humans and communicate with the house but is only able to see things from its vantage point on the wall. The pair strike up a Socratic dialogue of sorts, combining their senses to piece together the story of the Hart family that inhabits Ambleside during its early years and to understand the sociocultural forces in the world around them. In this centurieslong conversation, Mrs. Peale acts as interlocutor for the endlessly curious house, taking up consideration of topics that range from household gossip to the substance of the soul. Readers also come to know Henry and Emmaline Hart, their three rambunctious daughters, and various other household staff members, friends, and descendants of the Hart family. The house and the painting share a charming fascination with etymology and classical antiquity, born out of the real Mrs. Peale’s time as an instructor of Greek and Latin at the Hartford Female Seminary, as well as a deep affection for the Harts that grows over decades. Throughout the narrative, the authors employ a light touch but also address weighty historical trends and events, including racial prejudice in the Jim Crow–era South, the women’s suffrage movement, the dire poverty of the Dust Bowl period, and two world wars. The detached perspective of the nonhuman protagonists offers a nuanced understanding of human nature, although the main characters’ moments of self-reflection are relatively few and fleeting, crowded out by quotidian meditations.

An often pleasant, time-skipping read that will engross fans of U.S. history, art, and architecture.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73691-125-9

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Blue Cedar Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2021

THE LOST SPELLS

Breathtakingly magical.

A powerful homage to the natural world, from England by way of Canada.

Combining poetic words (somewhat reminiscent of Mary Oliver’s poetry in their passion for the natural world) with truly stunning illustrations, this unusually beautiful book brings to readers the magic and wonder of nature. This is not a book about ecology or habitat; this is a book that encourages readers to revel in, and connect with, the natural world. Focusing on a particular subject, whether it be animal, insect, or plant, each poem (rendered in a variety of forms) delivers a “spell” that can be playful, poignant, or entreating. They are most effective when read aloud (as readers are encouraged to do in the introduction). Gorgeous illustrations accompany the words, both as stand-alone double-page spreads and as spot and full-page illustrations. Each remarkable image exhibits a perfect mastery of design, lively line, and watercolor technique while the sophisticated palette of warms and cools both soothes and surprises. This intense interweaving of words and pictures creates a sense of immersion and interaction—and a sense that the natural world is part of us. A glossary encourages readers to find each named species in the illustrations throughout the book­––and to go one step further and bring the book outside, to find the actual subjects in nature. Very much in the spirit of the duo’s magisterial The Lost Words (2018), this companion is significantly smaller than its sprawling companion; at just 6.5 by 4.5 inches when closed, it will easily fit into a backpack or generously sized pocket. “Wonder is needed now more than ever,” Macfarlane writes in the introduction, and this book delivers it.

 Breathtakingly magical. (Poetry. 6-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4870-0779-9

Page Count: 120

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

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LIES

BASED ON TRUE STORIES

A tantalizingly kaleidoscopic look at an event that altered its witnesses’ lives forever.

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Six witnesses relate their divergent interpretations of a violent incident that took place during the Civil War in this novel based on true stories.

Caroline Anderson lives in Greenbrier County, Virginia, at the Elmhurst house, a “magnificent place” before the Civil War erupted. President Martin Van Buren once picnicked there, but it has since decayed into ruins from neglect. Caroline’s husband, John, suddenly joins the Confederate Army, never to be seen or heard from again, leaving her to fend for herself and her two stepchildren, 8-year-old Sally and glum teenager Samuel. When bedraggled Union soldiers come marching through town, a group of them forcibly enters Caroline’s home, first looking for medical supplies and then for a reprieve from their nomadic discomfort. On May 22, 1863, while Elmhurst is occupied by “horrid Yankees,” a “dreadful incident” occurs, one that leaves two men, one of them a Union soldier, dead. Years later, the incident is investigated by Gen. George L. Scarborough, under the authority of the Department of State. This ingeniously inventive novel by Smith is largely composed of the records of the testimony culled by Scarborough, collected from interviews with six witnesses, including Caroline and two of the soldiers who were in her home that day. The plot is bewitching—the author slowly, with aching suspense, inches toward the incident in question. Meanwhile, a romantic tension and rivalry brews between Caroline and Capt. James Tobin, a “sweet talking” and “handsome” soldier who will be among those who witness the event. Smith cleverly juxtaposes the different accounts, illuminating the paradoxical nature of storytelling, which reveals and conceals simultaneously. As Caroline explains, “What I mean to say is: the information you are after cannot be told in one simple story since it is actually many tales stitched up with each other.”

A tantalizingly kaleidoscopic look at an event that altered its witnesses’ lives forever.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942294-09-2

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Quarrier Press

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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