From the Shelf
Christmas in May
Last fall, I received a copy of Fields Where They Lay (Soho Crime). I'd come across the author, Timothy Hallinan, often--he's been publishing crime novels since 1989, with three protagonists: Poke Rafferty, Simeon Grist and Junior Bender. But I had never read him, and don't know why I decided to read this Junior Bender--in May. Out of season. But I am so glad I did--Junior is quite the find. In this mystery, Junior's hired by a Russian mobster to solve a shoplifting problem in his sad, declining Los Angeles mall. The plot's twists are shadowed by Junior's dislike of the holiday. "My issues with Christmas go way back. In fact, the only seasonal present from my father that I've kept is an aversion to Christmas."
Hallinan's vivid prose amplifies the story. "The astringent December sunlight looked, as always at this time of year, like it had been ladled into the smog with a teaspoon, like vinegar." Characters are deftly sketched: the mobster had "dead-looking, oddly flossy blond hair, like an over-styled child's doll might have after her thirtieth perm"; a woman's taut expression "suggested that she had long ago stopped expecting moments of grace that didn't have a price attached to them."
Bender is assaulted by mobsters, seasonal regrets and relentless Christmas music. "The kid kept singing about his damn drum. Who the hell bangs a drum around a newborn baby?" In addition to some fascinating arcana--you'll learn where the word bric-a-brac came from, as well a get a short history of keys--a story from a Jewish Santa adds a fillip of wisdom. Junior Bender knows "the edge of sorrow is especially sharp in what's supposed to be a season of joy," and he learns how to live with both regret and hope. --Marilyn Dahl
In this Issue...
by Patricia Lockwood
An intense and often zany memoir about life with a Catholic priest for a father.
by David Clawson
A witty and modern retelling of Cinderella in which the prince finds a Ferragamo and the fairy godmother impersonates Diana Ross.
by Fredrik Backman
The definition of loyalty is challenged when a dark event threatens to steal the future of a small town hitching its dreams to a junior hockey team.
Review by Subjects:
Seeing Favorite Books on the Screen
"The 10 emotional stages of seeing your favorite book as a TV show or movie" were explored by Bustle.
Merriam-Webster looked up "10 Sherlock Holmes words worth investigating."
Quirk Books imagined "if beloved authors had a 2000s Goth phase."
Take a look: "an oral history of Reading Rainbow" was presented by Mental Floss.
Vogue offered tips on "how to make your bookshelves beautiful."
Rediscover: Band of Brothers
Military historian and biographer Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002) was inspired to write his most popular book, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, while attending a reunion of Easy Company veterans in 1988. During interviews conducted for the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans (now called the National WWII Museum), Ambrose was struck by the lasting bond still shared by these aging soldiers. In 1992, after incorporating more interviews and input from Easy Company survivors, Band of Brothers was released to rave reviews, becoming Ambrose's first bestseller. Its 2001 adaptation into a 10-part HBO miniseries (for which Ambrose was an executive producer) brought the story of Easy Company to an even wider audience.
Band of Brothers tracks the training and combat experiences of a parachute infantry company through the D-Day invasion, across France, Holland and Germany, all the way to Hitler's hideout in Berchtesgaden. Easy Company's parachute drops into Normandy and the Netherlands, their besiegement in Bastogne, among so many other perilous operations, shows what ordinary men were capable of when called upon to serve--an apt lesson for this upcoming Memorial Day. A miniseries tie-in edition, with a new foreword by Ambrose, was released by Simon & Schuster in 2001 ($17, 9780743224543). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Paula Hawkins: Drawn to Dark Subject Matter
|photo: Alisa Connan|
Paula Hawkins is best known for The Girl on the Train, her psychological thriller (turned major motion picture) about a despondent, down on her luck, voyeuristic commuter who gets swept up in a murder investigation. Hawkins's sophomore psychological suspense novel, Into the Water (just published by Riverhead; read our review below), delivers another dark, spellbinding story that explores the overt and subtle ways trauma, grief and long-buried secrets can affect minds, hearts and motivations.
Why do you think The Girl on the Train resonated so deeply with readers?
I think there are two main points of resonance: the voyeuristic impulse, which I believe is universal, and the character of Rachel (the main protagonist). Rachel is liked and loathed, but she rarely bores.
Has success altered how you write?
Success is both reassuring (people liked the book, so I must have done something right) and unnerving (I now have a huge readership with sky-high expectations). When I was writing Into the Water, I just had to shut out the noise, concentrate on the task at hand and write the best book that I could. That is how I approach every book: I want to improve, to stretch myself.
Is the town of Beckford, the setting of Into the Water, based on an actual place?
Beckford is entirely fictional, although the part of the world in which I have placed it--Northumberland, in the northeast of England--is real.
Why did you choose to structure the book via varying points of view, weaving in a complex and historical backstory and even including fictional book passages?
I had to devise all sorts of strategies in order to tell this twisted tale. There are many mysteries in the book, both current and historic--and the challenge was to allow the characters' secrets to reveal themselves at the right pace and in an interesting way. So I chose to tell my story from many different viewpoints, some first person and some third person; I chose to include flashbacks and a book-within-a-book.... I even chose to leave one or two mysteries unsolved.
A large cast of characters populates Into the Water and those characters are quite diverse in terms of age, life experience, status and background.
The characters developed slowly, over time, the way my characters always do. I have to live with them for a while, to get into their heads and under their skin. That was quite a task for this book, because it has a much wider cast of characters than The Girl on the Train did.
Any favorite characters--who and why?
I love Nickie Sage. Nickie claims to be a psychic--she says she's descended from witches and that she can talk to the dead. Everyone in the village thinks she's a nutter, or a fraud, so they ignore her. But--whether you believe her outlandish claims or not--the fact is, she's an observer. She's canny and astute, and she knows everybody's business.
When you sit down to write a new novel, do you conceptualize the book from start to finish, or does the story arise organically?
I usually know the bones of the story, its basic architecture. But the detail evolves during the writing. I think that many of my better ideas and more ingenious twists have come to me while I was immersed in the writing process.
Do you ever get blocked or stalled in your writing? If so, what do you do?
I don't tend to get blocked, but I do sometimes write myself into a corner from which I find it difficult to escape. When that happens, I usually go for a walk, take a long hot bath or, if neither of those things help, I turn to my agent, my plotting co-conspirator.
You were a journalist before writing novels. What was the impetus for you to branch out?
I was on staff at the Times for several years, but I also freelanced, working for a number of publications. I covered finance and property (real estate), which I really enjoyed, but I was never a great journalist. I'm much better at making up stories than I am at getting the truth out of a reluctant subject.
Using the pseudonym Amy Silver, you wrote "chick lit" novels. Did those influence the writing you're doing today?
Writing those books was wonderful training: I learned a great deal about developing character and about how to pace a novel in order to draw the reader into the story.
Would you ever return to writing romantic comedies?
No. I wouldn't--it really wasn't my forte (I'm not romantic, or particularly funny for that matter...).
How and why did you switch to writing such dark, psychological suspense?
Psychological suspense is much more my cup of tea--I'm drawn to dark subject matter. I'm fascinated by the behavior of people who are frightened, or grieving, or lonely, or damaged in some other way.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many favourites. To name just a few: Kate Atkinson, Pat Barker, Margaret Atwood, Sebastian Barry, Armistead Maupin, John Boyne, Cormac McCarthy. In terms of contemporary psych-suspense, I think Megan Abbott is wonderful.
Any plans for Into the Water to hit the big screen? And who do you think should play the key characters?
Dreamworks has optioned it, so hopefully we'll see it up on the big screen before too long. I'm not fantasy-casting just yet. Don't want to jinx anything....
--Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
by Fredrik Backman , trans. by Neil Smith
In his fourth novel, Fredrik Backman displays once again an almost omnipotent insight into human nature. This time around, the author of Britt-Marie Was Here spreads out his story among the citizens of a small town whose pride is wholly invested in their hockey team. From teenagers to the elderly, Backman chisels each in fantastic detail, illuminating the deepest recesses of their souls while touching the deepest recesses of the readers'.
Beartown has been slowly deteriorating due to unemployment, but the city's promising junior-level hockey team could be everyone's salvation. If the Bears can pull out a championship, there is talk of a hockey academy and a new arena, and that could translate into reasons for people to move to Beartown. The hopes of a whole city are riding on a team of teenage boys, until a fateful night changes everything.
Beartown carries a darker tone than Backman's previous novels, but still possesses his charming wit and delightfully colorful perspective on humanity. His dialogue flows with an authentic and natural rhythm that reflects a keenly perceptive ear--whether from a teenage girl with musical aspirations, a young man coming to terms with his identity or a seasoned coach facing the end of his career. Backman offers his audience a compassionate view of their lives through concise but powerful imagery.
One needn't be a fan of hockey to appreciate Beartown. It's merely Backman's vehicle to themes of loyalty, love and community. He will drive the Beartown Bears into the hearts of all his readers, sports aficionados or not. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: The definition of loyalty is challenged when a dark event threatens to steal the future of a small town hitching its dreams to a junior hockey team.
The Jane Austen Project
by Kathleen A. Flynn
"What kind of maniac travels in time?" The answer is Dr. Rachel Katzman--a Jane Austen fan with a keen desire to retrieve the manuscript of the author's supposedly unfinished seventh novel, and to identify the mysterious disease that caused her death at age 41. Under the auspices of the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, Rachel and her colleague Liam Finucane travel to 1815, where they pose as a wealthy brother and sister newly arrived in England from Jamaica. From there, Kathleen Flynn spins an entertaining story of time travel, complicated romantic connections and Austenalia in her debut novel, The Jane Austen Project.
Rachel's wry, observant narrative voice teaches readers the delights and hardships of life in 1815 with rich historical detail. Flynn renders the whole Austen clan vividly: charming Henry, self-absorbed James, neurotic Mrs. Austen, disapproving Cassandra. Jane is as witty and wise a friend as Rachel could wish for, but the latter can never forget that she has a set return date and a task to complete. As Jane's health worsens and their time begins to run out, Rachel also must face the fact that her feelings for Liam are decidedly un-sisterly. Flynn's conclusion raises (and leaves lingering) a few unsettling questions: How much change is too much? Can anyone travel back in time without drastically affecting the future? And is a manuscript--even a completed version of The Watsons--worth a life?
Witty, well-researched and thought-provoking, Flynn's debut is a fun and unusual addition to the canon of Austen tributes and pastiche. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: In Kathleen Flynn's debut novel, two time travelers befriend Jane Austen and try to retrieve a lost manuscript.
The Distance Home
by Orly Konig
In Orly Konig's debut novel, it's been 16 years since protagonist Emma Metz has set foot in her Maryland hometown. A terrible accident at the local Jumping Frog Farm involving her two best friends--a girl named Jilli and a horse named Jack--drove her away and she's never looked back. Until now.
Her emotionally distant father, who'd never recovered from the death of Emma's mother, has just passed away. As she organizes his affairs and sorts through his belongings, Emma is reminded of her deep and surprisingly abiding love for the farm where she spent the happiest years of her childhood. She also discovers a series of letters and drawings that reveal a closer connection between her damaged family and the farm than she could have guessed. Can Emma let the pain of the last 16 years go in the hopes of a happier future?
Gently paced and introspective, The Distance Home is told in the present, with important points in Emma's past featured through a series of flashbacks. Emma matures from an eight-year-old riding for the first time to a 16-year-old winning competitions left and right, coming full circle through her rise toward horse-riding superiority, fall from grace and journey back to the Jumping Frog Farm. A moving story of homecoming, forgiveness and reconciliation, The Distance Home will appeal to readers of Kristin Harmel or Katherine Reay. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: In this quiet story, a woman returns to the equestrian world from which she's been estranged for years.
Mystery & Thriller
Into the Water
by Paula Hawkins
Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) delivers another dark, spellbinding suspense novel with Into the Water. This time, the search to unravel a mysterious death focuses on the river that cuts through Beckford, a small, northern British town. Nicknamed the "Drowning Pool," the river is where, over the centuries, local women--outsiders as well as misfits from within the community--have died under tragic, often suspicious, circumstances.
Danielle "Nel" Abbott--a single mother, successful photographer and lifetime Beckford resident who had been writing a book about the Drowning Pool, its history and its secrets--has become a suicide casualty at the very place of horror she had been researching. Her younger sister, Jules Abbott, gladly fled Beckford years before. An unmarried social worker in London whose bitterness and resentment kept her estranged from Nel for years, Jules returns to Beckford to sort out the "bloody mess" and care for Nel's outspoken and rebellious 15-year-old daughter, Lena. Neither believes that Nel killed herself, and Lena also has doubts about the suicide of her best friend, Katie Whittaker, at the Drowning Pool six months earlier. Katie's inconsolable parents are wracked with guilt. Were they so focused on their anxious, sensitive son that they didn't give proper attention to their confident, over-achieving--yet obviously vulnerable--daughter?
Hawkins keeps readers guessing while exploring the overt and subtle ways trauma, grief and long-buried secrets can affect minds, hearts and motivations. A growing undertow of suspense builds as some characters, consciously and subconsciously, cannot face who they are, so they reinvent themselves and their memories. This intricate story is filled with red herrings and surprising reversals that probe the tangled depths of family loyalty. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A close-knit British community grapples with mysterious deaths--past and present--that occurred at a notorious local riverbank.
Food & Wine
So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours
by Richard Blais
Richard Blais, winner of Top Chef All-Stars and a regular on Food Network, professes to be "a little cr-a-zy in the kitchen," and So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours has an eclectic collection of recipes to match his persona. Although he's a successful restaurant chef, in this fun cookbook, Blais focuses on the dishes he loves to make at home for his family.
His curiosity in the kitchen has led Blais to experiment with many styles of cooking, and thus So Good contains a range of recipes. Many have an Asian influence--oysters with a kimchi cocktail sauce, Chinese chicken and rice porridge, a Hong Kong bowl with trotters and wontons. Others have a Southern flair, like fried chicken, cornbread and campfire baked beans. He also reimagines many old favorites, like vegetarian Horse Carrot Pot Roast, Spaghetti and Bone Marrownara Meatballs, and a delectable Brown Sugar Cheesecake in Oreo Crust with Honeyed Blueberries.
With fresh, unusual ingredients, cute pictures of his family and funny introductions to each recipe, Blais's personality and reputation for being a little unorthodox in the kitchen shine on each page. Sure to be popular with fans of Top Chef and home cooks looking for inspiration, So Good is a beautiful cookbook featuring 100 recipes from this delightfully quirky chef. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: This beautiful, creative cookbook offers a variety of recipes from a popular television chef.
Biography & Memoir
by Patricia Lockwood
Father Greg Lockwood is a Catholic priest with very conservative views. He plays guitar too loudly (and badly), makes thunderous pronouncements, lounges in boxers--and has a wife and five children (he was originally a Lutheran priest and then became a Catholic priest, and kept his wife and family through Vatican dispensation). Father Greg is Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, an often self-centered patriarch whose life, if his wife is away, descends into willful chaos. Lockwood (Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals) exploits this perfect set-up for absurdity with verve, while exploring life's conundrums: "Faith and my father taught me the same lesson: to live in the mystery, even to love it." A medical crisis causes Lockwood and her husband, Jason, to move into her parents' rectory for a while, providing a rich lode for mining the surrealism of her childhood and adulthood.
As a teenager, Lockwood had "grown timid in the face of my father's thunder." But she found herself in writing; she became a poet whose command of both lyricism and zaniness are beguiling: "the citric humor of high school girls--which is eternal, but which tasted new to us at the time. My friends and I were four full oranges of it, with a resilient shine on our leaves." At a Carmelite convent, "the darkness smelled of curled leaf tips and keys." In her mother's closet she can "still find hangers with pro-life messages printed on them. The Midwest, contrary to popular opinion, does not lack a sense of irony."
Priestdaddy is flamboyant, like Father Greg. At the same time, the graces of humor and familial love shine through. Patricia Lockwood writes with radiance and audacity: "On the page I am strong, because that is where I put my strength." --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: An intense and often zany memoir about life with a Catholic priest for a father.
A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life
by Lauren Marks
From our earliest moments, we accumulate memories through images, scents, sounds, etc., and as we accrue the vocabulary to describe those senses, the words become the links to those past moments. We use words in speaking, writing, reading and in our internal thinking. So what happens when the ability to form words--to access memories, to speak, write and read or to have an inner monologue--disappears?
When an aneurysm ruptured in Lauren Marks's brain at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she woke in a hospital and discovered she had lost much of her language abilities. In A Stitch of Time, her soul-searching debut, Marks recalls how she struggled to find the words that had seemingly always been there, but were now beyond her grasp. She ponders who she was and the interactions she had with long-time friends, experiences she could not readily remember. Her aphasia gradually improves as she enters speech therapy classes and learns new ways to process information, yet there is always a piece or two missing in her comprehension.
Feeling as though she'd become someone new in the flash of a second, Marks dives into research about aphasia and the way words play a vital role in human connections. She depicts the support she received and challenges she faced with her long-time boyfriend and with immediate family and close friends. Marks's story is humbling and hopeful, a demonstration of the mind's flexibility and resourcefulness to heal, morph and press on, even when met with potentially life-threatening circumstances. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: When a brain aneurysm ruptures, a young woman's life is dramatically changed.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
by Richard Rothstein
Richard Rothstein (Grading Education) is a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute and the author of numerous books and reports on race, ethnicity and education. In The Color of Law, he brings clarity and firm evidence to a topic that has often been glazed over with omissions and euphemisms.
Rothstein systematically refutes the popular idea that segregated neighborhoods are the de facto result of personal choices. He makes a sound argument that they are a de jure ghetto system built by 20th-century government policies that violated the 13th Amendment. He demonstrates how city ordinances and housing projects, many promoted by the New Deal and the Federal Housing Administration, enforced existing segregation and expanded it to previously integrated areas. These initiatives were often supported by liberal progressives who argued that they would promote racial harmony. He also examines wage suppression for African Americans, industrial rezoning, the segregation efforts of white homeowners, churches and colleges, and the roles of corrupt landlords, realtors, lenders and regulators. All these factors twisted together into a choking net that could trap even the most resourceful and hardworking individuals.
This is everyone's problem, says Rothstein. "As a nation, we have paid an enormous price for avoiding an obligation to remedy the unconstitutional segregation we have allowed to fester." He is not optimistic about the political will for change, but he makes both radical and moderate recommendations, and identifies the many obstacles to reform. The first step is to learn and accept the historical truth. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A U.S. race and education expert examines the government policies that built the segregated cities of today.
Essays & Criticism
Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish
by Tom McCarthy
Perhaps only in a Tom McCarthy essay would profound philosophical insight be pulled from both William Faulkner and M.C. Hammer. Such is the brainy, playful and always subversive power of McCarthy's first collection, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish.
McCarthy (Remainder) is a novelist and ardent defender of the avant-garde. This collection includes 15 of his most provocative essays, many of which have appeared in publications like the Believer and London Review of Books. Almost every essay involves the interpretation of art and literature--classics, pop music and movies sucked into the grind of his intellect. Blended with an encyclopedic knowledge of modern science, especially physics, McCarthy's writing branches out and electrifies new conceptions of reality, much like the tentacles of a jellyfish.
A recurrent theme in the collection is that of the "recessional," or what McCarthy describes as a perceptual space between normal measures of time, between life's inevitable pretenses, where the art of fiction finds raw experience. This is the heart of artistic modernity, McCarthy concludes: a private space always incomplete in its becoming, resisting categorization. If McCarthy relies too much on postmodern skepticism at times--that is, a reflexive aversion to logical positivism--he makes up for it with the sheer, careening energy of his prose, at once wordy and incisive. He's an adept stylist, in the vein of Nabokov, and never fails to deliver dazzling twists of language and meaning. Each essay impresses with the author's preternatural intelligence. Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish will entice lovers of art and literature. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
Discover: This collection of essays by novelist Tom McCarthy offers a brilliant panoply of art and literary criticism.
Children's & Young Adult
My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen
by David Clawson
Who wouldn't be stunned clean out of their cheap Payless shoes if their fairy godmother appeared in drag, bearing a striking resemblance to Diana Ross? Chris Bellows is certainly caught off guard.
Chris, a 17-year-old living with his stepmother, stepsister and stepbrother after his father's death, is quietly and innocuously making his way through high school. His family, however, intends to regain the wealth and social status they lost in the recession. His stepmother's plan involves a very public courtship and marriage between her daughter and New York's most eligible bachelor, J.J. Kennerly. That plan is threatened, however, when J.J. falls for Chris.
David Clawson breaks the glass slipper with his hilarious, heartwarming debut, a modern retelling of Cinderella. The vibrant characters in My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen won't hesitate to steal readers' hearts even as they leave them laughing out loud. Chris's friend Duane, aka Coco Chanel Jones, radiates outrageousness--physically in his drag, but also through his intelligence, intuition, compassion, creativity and humor: "Baby, we've got to get you cleaned up and pretty. I'm going to be your fairy godmother, ya hear?... And when Coco says fairy, honey, she means fairy!" Clawson's dialogue is tack sharp, but be forewarned that it is not always wholesome.
The political element of the novel--the Kennerlys parallel the Kennedy clan--provides a strong conflict for Clawson's star-crossed lovers, putting their love in an all-too-real predicament and creating a perfect scenario to explore the theme of identity.
Ingeniously plotted with a spectacular cast, My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen is magical excellence. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A witty and modern retelling of Cinderella in which the prince finds a Ferragamo and the fairy godmother impersonates Diana Ross.
by Gordon Korman
When 13-year-old Chase Ambrose wakes up in a hospital after four days in a coma, there's a woman weeping at his side. "Where am I?" he asks. "Who are these people?" Turns out the woman is his mother, and Chase has developed amnesia after falling off his roof. Once he's recovered from his more acute injuries, he's free to return to most of his normal activities. The trouble is, he has absolutely no idea what those activities were, or with whom he did them. He's told he was a football star. He knows who his best friends are because he finds a picture of them on his phone. But why do so many people cower and cringe when he walks by? Why does a girl dump frozen yogurt on his head? And why do his supposed buddies now seem like "the worst people [he] know[s]?"
As he navigates life post-accident, Chase is horrified to learn that he used to spend his days terrorizing less popular kids. But he also begins finding happiness and satisfaction in things his old self never would have considered: the video club, for instance, and his volunteer work at the assisted living facility. As he learns more about the kinds of things he used to do--blowing up pianos and worse--Chase wonders about the person he was--and the person he is now. Meanwhile, those around him also struggle to understand who the "real" Chase is.
Told in the alternating viewpoints of Chase and his classmates, Restart, by master middle-grade storyteller Gordon Korman (Schooled; Ungifted; The Hypnotist #1), explores what happens when a boy who doesn't even know he needs a second chance gets one. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: As a 13-year-old football star with amnesia restarts his life, he discovers that the bullying and arrogance he used to engage in no longer appeals in the slightest.
Colette's Lost Pet
by Isabelle Arsenault
"For the last time, NO PET!" Colette is told. But for this creative new-kid-in-town, an empty moving box quickly becomes the perfect device for introducing her titular "lost pet" to the neighborhood gang. "It's... a parakeet," Colette initially tells Albert and Tom, who appear outside her backyard. The boys propose seeking out Lily, because she has "huge binoculars" to help locate Colette's avian ally who, Colette next declares, is blue "[w]ith a bit of yellow on its neck." Colette continues to divulge delightful details during each encounter with a new friend, until the missing Marie-Antoinette is revealed to speak mostly French, have flown all over the world and last ate a rattlesnake in the jungle. Suddenly, Colette has an entourage ready to revel in all her "truly amazing" adventures--at least until she gets called home for dinner.
Isabelle Arsenault, who lives in Montreal and is a three-time Governor General's Literary Award winner, makes her charming debut as both writer and illustrator (her previous solo title, Alpha, was an ABC book). Her whimsical artistry sparkles here, as she uses just two colors--Marie-Antoinette's blue and yellow--to emphasize the enchanting power of a child's creativity. Colette's yellow hoodie stands out on every page, as the children fall in line to follow her creative lead. Arsenault emphasizes the growing elaborateness of Colette's fowl descriptions by adding color to what could be Marie-Antoinette's domain--the bird feeder, a tree's leaves, water fountain droplets; the more outrageous Colette's avian adventures become, the more colorfully spectacular Marie-Antoinette grows. For picture book readers of all ages, Arsenault's imagination celebration will prove irresistible. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: When new-kid-on-the-block Colette invents a lost pet, she quickly learns that all the neighborhood kids are willing to help fuel her indomitable imagination.
Art & Photography
Hokusai X Manga: Japanese Pop Culture Since 1680
by Sabine Schulze , Nora von Achenbach , Simon Klingler, editors
Serving much the same function that manga and comic books do today, ukiyo-e (meaning "the floating, transient world"--the art of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings) arose in 17th-century Japan to satisfy public appetites for escapism from the rigidity of everyday life. Ukiyo-e offered safe ways to explore fears and experience the sensual pleasures of taboo subjects; they also served as advertisements for kabuki productions and as ringing endorsements for travel to the Edo capital. Hokusai X Manga developed from a permanent exhibit of ukiyo-e at Germany's Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. It captures the many facets of this art form: the haunting religious imagery in yōkai ("hybrid spirits"); the quiet spirituality of geometrically layered, Prussian-blue landscapes; erotica, forbidden love and heroic battles.
The anthology does a wonderful job of exploring the art form's origins and providing cultural context behind its mass appeal. The editors also analyze the visual techniques used in creating woodblock art, particularly in the development of the first comics, kibyōshi, which were cheaply assembled booklets of sequential pictures. Kibyōshi would become the precursors to the modern manga movement and influence anime greats such as Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and Shigeru Mizuki (Kitaro). Though Hokusai X Manga fails to address the more widespread influence of these 17th-century Japanese artists on the West, this collection and its colorful commentary should serve as a valuable reference tool for manga enthusiasts and art collectors, with a good sampling of the best ukiyo-e prints. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: The visually mesmerizing collection of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings from the Museum für Kunst and Gewerbe in Hamburg provides historical context for popular manga.