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Blue Willow Bookshop Issue for Friday, July 20, 2018

From the Shelf

Building Your Cookbook Shelf: The Basics

We're kicking off a series of columns of cookbook recommendations with a focus on the basics, because as fun as it is to dive into fancy cuisines and elaborate dishes, there's something to be said for knowing that you've got a trusted recipe for whatever dish you may dream up for dinner tonight.
 
First, a nod to The Joy of Cooking (Scribner, $35), which, one could argue, revolutionized the cookbook industry in the United States (and beyond). Irma Rombauer's original edition focused on recipes that simplified steps, equipment and ingredients for doable, affordable at-home cooking. Every volume of Joy is updated; the most recent 75th-anniversary edition intentionally restored much of the voice of the original authors.
 
Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) is exactly what it sounds like: a no-fuss, no-frills collection of recipes for, well, everything. Variations on this theme are available in his other books, including How to Cook Everything Fast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) and How to Grill Everything (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30).
 
America's Test Kitchen is known for its thorough vetting of everything kitchen-related, be it recipe or serving spoon. Their cookbooks compile the best of their advice, as determined by their editors. In 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials (America's Test Kitchen, $40), they serve up their take on the best possible variation of every essential dish you can imagine. If 100 recipes isn't enough for you, look for Cook's Illustrated Cookbook (Cook's Illustrated, $20), an American Test Kitchen brand that offers up 2,000 (yes, 2,000) recipes from the magazine's 20-year history, all blessed by Test Kitchen staff. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

St. Martin's Press: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage


Harper: The Other Woman (Gabriel Allon #18) by Daniel Silva


International Thriller Writers: Dutton Books: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

In this Issue...

Reviews

Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik follows Uprooted with a richly imagined fairy tale based loosely on Rumpelstiltskin.

Read this review >>

Novelist Leslie Schwartz writes about serving time in jail and finding solace and strength from fellow inmates and 21 books.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Biography & Memoir History Essays & Criticism Nature & Environment Children's & Young Adult

Houghton Mifflin: Grave Mercy (#1), Dark Triumph (#2), and Mortal Heart (#3) (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by Robin Lafevers

From Blue Willow Bookshop

Upcoming Events

Another Shade of Blue Book Club

07/21/2018 - 10:00AM

Another Shade of Blue is a monthly book club for middle school girls. This month, we'll discuss Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani.

Book Candy

Shel Silverstein Poetry

Bookstr shared 10 Shel Silverstein quotes, mostly poetry, for when you're at the sidewalk's end," including "It's amazing the difference/ A bit of sky can make."

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"Think you're an emoji expert? Let's see," Merriam-Webster challenged in daring readers to "test your emoji exceptionalism."

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Former President Obama shared his summer reading list in a Facebook post last week.

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The Guardian explored "how Minecraft is helping kids fall in love with books."

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Brightly featured "11 things I will never, ever admit to my local librarian."

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Rachel Proctor's Bookmark bookcase "stores a minimum of four books, holding them open at the current page."

Viz Media: My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, Vol. 1 by Hideyuki Furuhashi, illustrated by Betten Court, original concept by Kohei Horikoshi

Great Reads

Rediscover: Chariots of the Gods

Fifty years ago this week, a book by an unknown Swiss author theorizing that aliens had established contact with humans centuries and millennia earlier was published. The book was Chariots of the Gods, in which Erich von Däniken posited that many familiar structures--such as Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids and the statues on Easter Island--and antique artifacts and works of art with possible images of aliens, space ships and sophisticated technology proved his point that aliens had a wide influence in ancient times. He also saw the development of religions as humans' reaction to contacts with aliens, and perhaps most striking, he theorized that present-day humans are the descendants of alien pioneers.

Many scientists and historians ridiculed Chariots of the Gods, but the book became a popular phenomenon. It was translated into 28 languages and sold more than 16 million copies, with steady sales that continue today. Von Däniken wrote 32 sequels and companion novels on the similar subjects, and his works have led to many documentaries, films, video games, TV shows and, most notably, the Ancient Aliens series on the History Channel. Chariots of the Gods remains a kind of bible in the UFO community.

To celebrate the publication of this surprise bestseller, Berkley has just published a deluxe hardcover 50th-anniversary edition of the book, with a new foreword and afterword by the author ($24).

The Writer's Life

Ben Goldfarb: Coexisting with a Large Rodent

photo: Terray Sylvester
An environmental journalist, Ben Goldfarb has written for Science, Mother Jones, the Guardian, Orion, World Wildlife magazine, Scientific America and Yale Environment 360. In his first book, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter (Chelsea Green, $24.95), Goldfarb crosses North America to talk with scientists and activists about why the beaver matters--and what we can do to protect it. It's an amusing and insightful book that shows how key the beaver has been to the survival of not only other animals, but to humans as well.
 
Why are beavers so essential to North American ecosystems?
 
If you know nothing else about beavers, you're probably aware that they chew down trees, build dams and create ponds. Those ponds spread out water, fill up side channels, create marshy fringes and saturate the soil. If you were a trout, or a moose, or a wood frog, or a mallard, where would you rather live: alongside a straight, boring, featureless stream, or in a complex maze of deep pools, wet meadows, slow-water sloughs and woody islands? I'm taking that messy, diverse ecosystem every time! Water is life, and no animal captures and saves water like a beaver.
 
Of course, we humans rely on water, too, which means we need beavers. In Nevada, beavers are irrigating rangelands and helping ranchers feed cattle. In Washington, they're storing water to compensate for declining snowpack. In Maryland, their ponds are filtering out pollution before it can reach the sea. Beavers can even help address the opposite problem, the presence of too much water: In England and Scotland, where they've been extinct for hundreds of years, landowners are bringing them back because their ponds slow down floods. Beavers are sort of like landscape Swiss army knives--capable, in the right circumstances, of helping to tackle just about any ecological problem you can name.
 
What has been the biggest threat to their survival in North America?
 
It definitely hasn't been a great half-millennium to be a beaver! Historically, the biggest threat was the fur trade. Beavers have incredibly dense fur; they have as many individual hairs on a stamp-sized patch of skin as we have on our heads, which unfortunately means their pelts make very good hats. Beginning in the early 1600s, fur trappers wiped out untold millions of beavers for the sake of fashionable European headgear. Trapping was one of the colonies' most important industries, and the fur trade helped motivate historical events like the War of 1812 and the Louisiana Purchase. (It was also a catastrophe for Native people: white pelt traders were the source of the 19th century's worst smallpox epidemics.) For better and worse, American history would look a whole lot different without the beaver industry.
 
These days, the biggest threat is human conflict. Beavers, as anyone who lives near a wetland knows, can be a pain in the butt: they cut down valuable trees, flood roads and clog irrigation ditches. When beavers cause trouble, property owners usually call their local trapper to address the problem. Such "nuisance" trapping certainly isn't an existential threat like the fur trade was, but in many places it's kept beaver populations from fully recovering.
 
You met a number of colorful characters while writing this book. What is it about beavers that attract such interesting people?
 
You probably have to be a little eccentric to devote your time and energy to a rodent. Beavers tend to draw lots of laypeople into their orbit: some of the most dedicated "Beaver Believers" in the country are child psychologists, physicians' assistants and real estate agents. Part of the reason beavers fascinate people, I think, is that they're visible in a way that few other animals are. The average citizen will never see, say, a mink or a bobcat, but just about anyone can drive down to their local wetland and check out a colony of beavers, or at least see the animals' handiwork. Curious, passionate people make the best characters, and there's nothing like these hyperactive, social, industrious mammals to inspire passion and curiosity.
 
What is the status of the beaver in North America today?
 
Well, it depends how long your memory is. When you consider how close beavers came to extinction, they're doing spectacularly well. At the dawn of the 20th century, there were perhaps 100,000 beavers left in North America, and today there are probably something like 15 million. From that perspective, they're one of our greatest conservation success stories!
 
The really long view, however, is less rosy. When Europeans arrived on this continent, it contained as many as 400 million beavers; as one historian put it, "every river, brook, and rill" was chock-full of them. While beavers have returned like gangbusters to plenty of watersheds, they're still absent from many historic haunts. Beavers will never be as abundant as they once were, but we can do a lot more to welcome them back.
 
If there was one thing you'd want someone to take away from this book, what would it be, and why?
 
I hope readers come away from Eager feeling a bit more humble about humans' place in the world. We often get wrapped up in what the writer Derrick Jensen calls "the myth of human supremacy"--the certainty that no other species can possibly match our intellect, our sentience, our power to shape the world. Yet in many ways, we're not too different from beavers: we're both creative tool-users, we both prefer to settle in river valleys, and we both modify our environment to maximize food and shelter. Aquatic rodents: they're just like us. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Book Reviews

Fiction

All That Is Left Is All That Matters: Stories

by Mark Slouka

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In the space of a decade, Mark Slouka has produced an essay collection, two novels, a memoir and a book of short stories. With the publication of another collection of short fiction, All That Is Left Is All That Matters, Slouka (Nobody's Son) showcases not merely his productivity and versatility, but his gift for creating consistently engaging and emotionally resonant stories in whatever literary form he chooses.
 
Though there is no overarching unity to the collection, a recurring theme is the relationship between fathers and sons. That's explored most powerfully in the terrifying concluding story, "Crossing," in which a "weekend dad" heedlessly risks his own life and that of his young son in an effort to ford a fast-moving river. The narrator of "The Hare's Mask," who possesses a self-proclaimed "precocious ear for loss," recounts the heartbreaking story of how his father evaded capture in World War II-era Czechoslovakia; he could not, however, escape the "long needle of association, of memory, for years" after losing the remaining members of his family to the Nazis.
 
While Slouka's stories generally adhere to a more traditional style, they don't lack for the occasional narrative surprise. "Dog" is the chilling story of a cherished pet whose skin begins to sprout razor blades, but even with that bizarre premise, the tale's devastating ending reveals that it's as much about the power of love as any of Slouka's more conventional stories.
 
Despite their austere sensibility, stories as tender and beautiful as these are among those things that might, paradoxically, serve to persuade thoughtful readers that life is worth living. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Mark Slouka's melancholy short stories explore some of the darker aspects of our lives.

W.W. Norton, $24.95, hardcover, 192p., 9780393292282

The Secrets Between Us

by Thrity Umrigar

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After nearly 20 years working as a maid for a wealthy Mumbai family, Bhima has been abruptly dismissed. Though she did the right thing in speaking out about a shameful situation, she is left with no income to support herself and her college-age granddaughter, Maya. As Bhima struggles to adjust to her new reality, she finds an unexpected business partner in Parvati, a sharp-tongued elderly woman who ekes out a living selling cauliflower at the nearby market. Both women have spent their lives on the knife edge of poverty. Their bitter experiences, professional and personal, and their fierce pride make them wary of trusting others, but they set up a vegetable stand together and gradually come to rely on one another. Thrity Umrigar's eighth novel, The Secrets Between Us, traces the intertwined journeys of Bhima, Parvati and their loved ones in acutely observed prose.
 
Readers of Umrigar's 2006 novel, The Space Between Us, will recognize Bhima and Maya, as well as Bhima's longtime employer, Sera, and the circumstances of Bhima's dismissal. But The Secrets Between Us stands alone: its focus is squarely on Bhima, who must confront not only her financial worries but her long-held prejudices related to class and other social divisions.
 
Umrigar takes readers inside the Mumbai slums, vividly evoking both the cramped living conditions and Bhima's deep shame at having to live there. She draws her characters with a keen and compassionate hand--not only her protagonists but her supporting characters as well. Packed with sensory details and tart dialogue, this novel deftly evokes the complicated realities of poverty, love, hard work, guilt, grief and friendship in modern-day Mumbai. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Two women living in the slums of Mumbai form a tentative business partnership and friendship.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062442208

The Possible World

by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

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In her engrossing second novel, The Possible World, Liese O'Halloran Schwarz (Near Canaan) gradually brings together the stories of three disparate characters in Providence, R.I.
 
Six-year-old Ben winds up in the emergency room when his best friend's birthday party ends in a horrific, violent way--with the other children, his friend's mother and Ben's mom all dead. When he finally speaks, he seems disoriented and insists his name is Leo. Lucy, unsettled from a recent separation from her husband, is the resident in charge of the ER when Ben comes in, and she is drawn to this small, scared, confused boy. She continues to visit him even after he is moved to Psych, where he remains for weeks. Across town, Clare is nearing 100 years old and finally decides, when she meets a new friend, that it is time to tell her life story with all its long-held secrets.
 
An emergency medicine doctor, Schwarz creates a realistic and compelling story of these three characters' intertwined lives that completely immerses the reader in their worlds. From Clare's earliest years as a child of the Depression to Ben and Lucy's current struggles to adjust to their new situations in life, this novel spans decades and holds many surprises. Tension builds as the threads slowly come together in a captivating and moving story of grief and loss and the power of love. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: The lives of a traumatized young boy, the ER doctor who first cares for him and an almost 100-year old woman gradually come together in this gripping story of love and loss.

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9781501166143

Mystery & Thriller

Those Other Women

by Nicola Moriarty

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Nicola Moriarty (The Fifth Letter) has perfectly blended humor and pathos in Those Other Women. The story begins with Poppy, who has never wanted children, and thought she and her husband, Garret, were on the same page about it. That is, until Garret reveals that he's been sleeping with her best friend, whose biological clock is ticking.
 
Spinning in the wake of her divorce, and annoyed to be excluded from "MOP" ("Mums Online--Parramatta," a group that thousands of mums from their Sydney suburb have joined), Poppy and her coworker Annalise start "NOP," for non-mums. Happily sharing tips on yoga studios that exclude children and restaurants whose ambiance discourages families, NOP is Poppy's safe space. But then she goes on a drunken rant, encouraging members to "get back" at MOP members who make them feel bad for not having children.
 
Suddenly half of Sydney is at war, as MOP and NOP members lash out at each other, both online and in person, and Poppy is left reeling. Can she undo what she's begun?
 
Funny, sharp and surprising, Those Other Women is a clearsighted look at the backstabbing and jealousy that every stay-at-home mother, working mother and childfree woman has encountered. Moriarty has created believably flawed characters who struggle to balance family and work, and who inescapably compare themselves to each other--something to which all readers will relate. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: Poppy accidentally starts a war between mums and non-mums in this funny, thoughtful Australian novel.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062657176

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik

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This standalone fantasy from Naomi Novik (Uprooted, the Temeraire series) spins the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, along with sundry Russian and German folkloric fibers, into a solid gold yarn.
 
Miryem learns kind men make terrible moneylenders when her father's inability to convince their neighbors to make good on their debts leaves her family destitute and hungry and her mother ill. Iron-willed, the girl sets out to collect on accounts herself, saving her family and becoming a formidable businesswoman in the process. With an ill-considered boast about turning copper and silver into gold, Miryem intrigues the king of the Staryk (cruel frost elves whose magic makes winter longer and harsher), who catches her in a terrible bargain. She must change the disdainful king's magic silver into gold pieces three times. If she fails, he will freeze her to death, but if she succeeds, he will make her his unwilling queen. Caught up in Miryem's plight are Wanda, an honest farm girl working off her drunken, abusive father's debt in Miryem's employ, and Irina, a clever, plain-faced noblewoman whose father would gladly marry her to the monstrous young tsar if it meant his own political advancement.
 
Though loosely inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, Novik weaves her own rich spell of filial loyalty, political intrigue and fairyland logic. Her three heroines each have their own brand of toughness and intelligence, surviving primarily by their wits with occasional help from each other. Spinning Silver delivers the lush, smart escapism yearned for by any fantasy fan. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Naomi Novik follows Uprooted with a richly imagined fairy tale based loosely on Rumpelstiltskin.

Del Rey, $28, hardcover, 480p., 9780399180989

Biography & Memoir

The Lost Chapters: Finding Recovery & Renewal One Book at a Time

by Leslie Schwartz

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In 2014, novelist and writing teacher Leslie Schwartz (Angels Crest) was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 90 days in the overcrowded Los Angeles County jail. She'd been sober for at least a decade when she relapsed into drug and alcohol addiction for more than a year. By the time she accepted a plea bargain to serve six weeks, she was six months sober. "The experience of being caged was soul crushing," she writes. "Living through this experience exposed me to new levels of human cruelty." During her incarceration, she was allowed to read 21 books. "Each taught me what I needed to learn at the moment," she writes.
 
Reading brings Schwartz hope and transforms her thinking about her fortitude, self-worth and bravery. When she and some of the other prisoners read their books aloud to each other, friendships are forged. "A new knowledge took shape," she writes, "a deeper peeling back of my complacency, ushered in on the spines of our books." Among the books that give her insight about her life and choices are Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome and especially Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being--"Quite literally I knew after having read it I was a different person."
 
Schwartz's razor-sharp observations on life behind bars, the prison system and the women caught in an endless cycle of abuse, addiction and incarceration is captivating and tremendously moving. Her sobering tale is beautifully told. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Novelist Leslie Schwartz writes about serving time in jail and finding solace and strength from fellow inmates and 21 books.

Blue Rider Press, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780525534631

The Widower's Notebook

by Jonathan Santlofer

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In The Widower's Notebook, New York artist and author Jonathan Santlofer chronicles in brutally candid detail his unraveling after the sudden death of his life partner. Santlofer and his late wife, Joy, were together for more than 40 years, their lives entwined in every imaginable way. Healthy and vibrant, Joy underwent knee surgery and, less than 48 hours later, she died.
 
For Santlofer, the anguish and shock of the loss, the mysterious cause of her death and a lifelong habit of concealing his pain meant that the face he showed to the world was a mask, his debilitating grief an almost guilty indulgence. Staying strong for his daughter, Doria, was his main focus, all the while writing and drawing in his notebook as a therapeutic way to acknowledge his heartache and despair.
 
Society has certain prescribed ways of dealing with widows, the expectation being that a woman's display of emotion and sadness at her loss is acceptable. Widowers are expected to bounce back quickly. Santlofer writes with measured indignation about friends who lose sight of his bereavement and try to distract him, in one case by offering call girls from an online catalogue. As he begins to adjust himself to the role of widower, he pushes back against these expectations, establishing for himself a new order.
 
The Widower's Notebook is surprisingly funny in places, and Santlofer's graceful illustrations are sweet and poignant in the details they emphasize: Joy as a young mother; her beloved cat, Lily; their daughter's resemblance to her mother; and the author's own serious expression contrasted with his wife's happy and carefree smile. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A widower shares the profound grief of losing his wife of 40 years in this candid, engaging memoir.

Penguin, $17, paperback, 272p., 9780143132493

History

1968: Radical Protest and Its Enemies

by Richard Vinen

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In 1968: Radical Protest and Its Enemies, Richard Vinen provides a fresh synthesis of a historically turbulent year. He focuses on the Western world, particularly the United States, Great Britain, France and West Germany, where universities became hotbeds of radicalism and discontent that fueled spectacular demonstrations and sometimes violence. Vinen references the "long '68"--"the variety of movements that became associated with, and sometimes reached their climax in, 1968 but that cannot be understood with exclusive reference to that year"--as he also traces the counterrevolutions it fostered.
 
A number of social and political pressures boiled over into radical protest that year. Opposition to the Vietnam War proved a crucial catalyst in the United States and Europe, as did the civil rights movement, dissatisfaction with consumerism and distrust of mainstream political parties. The relatively affluent baby boomer generation attended college in record numbers, sometimes joining radical groups. Students' interests coincided to some degree with the concerns of trade unions and the working class, but there was enough daylight between students and workers, regarding social issues, ideology and methods of protest, for shrewd politicians to exploit. The remarkable outbursts of 1968 were, after all, bookended in many countries by impressive displays of support for the status quo, typified in the U.S. by the election of Richard Nixon as president in November 1968.
 
Vinen does not provide a definitive answer to what 1968 "meant," but he does provide an exceptionally clear-eyed overview of a pivotal year. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: This synthesis of histories, memoirs and other accounts of 1968 provides a well-researched analysis of the year's remarkable outburst of student protest and labor unrest.

Harper, $29.99, hardcover, 464p., 9780062458742

Essays & Criticism

The Oxford Companion to the Brontës: Anniversary Edition

by Christine Alexander , Margaret Smith

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This special edition of The Oxford Companion to the Brontës commemorates the 200-year anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë, author of Wuthering Heights. It "aims to evoke the milieu in which the Brontës lived and wrote, to disseminate new reliable research, and to provide detailed information about their lives, works, and reputation." Authors and editors Christine Alexander (Love and Friendship: And Other Youthful Writings) and Margaret Smith (Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë) and seven additional contributors have created an authoritative and enjoyable reference work.
 
This well-structured book offers a web of connected concepts, events and people that allows readers to begin anywhere, whatever their initial interests. The bulk of it is in the form of an encyclopedia, with alphabetized entries, illustrations and several long features on topics such as individual family members, their childhood fiction, letters, mature work and biographies written about them. Other sections include a bibliography, a glossary of dialect and obsolete words, and a chronology that begins and ends with Patrick Brontë, since he outlived all his children. There are three timelines, side by side, of biographical, literary and artistic, and historical events. In the year 1842, the reader can see at a glance, among other things, that Charlotte and Emily moved to Brussels and the French novelist George Sand published her novel Consuelo. Flip to the entry on George Sand, and there is a comment on what Charlotte thought of that novel. This is an indispensable reference for anyone with a deep interest in this brilliant literary family, their times and their work. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A thorough, well-structured and enjoyable reference work on the Brontë family.

Oxford University Press, $39.95, hardcover, 640p., 9780198819950

Nature & Environment

Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter

by Ben Goldfarb

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"Like most people who enjoy mucking about in streams," writes environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb in his smart and delightful Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, "I've had my share of beaver encounters. I was always impressed by their underwater grace, their ingenuity, and their familial devotion."
 
Eager takes a deep backstream dive into the life and mind of the beaver to show why this fascinating rodent is essential to our ecosystem. Goldfarb begins his tale approximately 500 years ago, when fur traders nearly caused the beaver's extinction. He then skips forward in time to the present day. Across the United States, writes Goldfarb, the beaver wreaks havoc on streams and carefully manicured lawns. If it weren't for the "Beaver Believers," a coalition of scientists and activists working to restore the North American beaver to its natural habitat, the animal would once again be an endangered species. Among the most amusing people that Goldfarb meets is Kent Woodruff, a biologist in the state of Washington who built a beaver "love shack" to encourage mating.
 
Throughout the book, Goldfarb makes clear that the beaver is a keystone species on which other animals greatly depend for survival, and why it's important to stop trapping the animal and learn how to protect it. "Eager is about the mightiest theme I know," he writes. "[How] we can learn to coexist and thrive alongside our fellow travelers on this planet." --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This amusing and insightful book makes a convincing case for why beavers are among the most important wild animals in North America.

Chelsea Green, $24.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781603587396

Children's & Young Adult

When the Cousins Came

by Katie Yamasaki

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"The night before the cousins came, [Lila] couldn't sleep," anticipating the fun she'd have with fellow "big kids" Rosie and Takeo. As soon as they arrive, Lila notices differences: unlike her own "two flat braids," Rosie has "two puffy balls on top of her head" while Takeo sports "a little shark fin"-Mohawk. Happy to share their stylish ways, the cousins readily give Lila "a little shark fin too."
 
Groomed to match, the threesome venture outdoors--Rosie on her bike, while the cousins, who " 'brought [their] own wheels,' " ride skateboards. Dinner is noodles, which means chopsticks for the cousins, with Lila eager to learn. At Lila’s suggestion of an after-meal stroll, Rosie hesitates--"Night is scary"--but with Lila's gentle assurance, they're rewarded with a firefly glow show. As their visit continues, Lila notices that "[e]verything the cousins did was a little bit extra special." Their final night together--a camping adventure forced indoors by rain--morphs into a memorable evening of familial bonding.
 
International muralist Katie Yamasaki (Fish for Jimmy) deftly enhances When the Cousins Came with cultural, social and emotional layers for lasting beyond-the-words effect. Her characters' names and detailed illustrations suggest the cousins are mixed-race with a shared Japanese heritage. Lila's comfortable country home contrasts sharply with her cousins' apartment, where they don't go out in darkness because "[s]omething might get you." The giraffe height ruler reveals the cousins' visit is a first, or at least the first in four years, when the initial height tick marked Lila's wall. Even as Lila acknowledges brief moments of wishful envy as the non-sibling among the trio, all her thoughtful planning ultimately connects the cousins with lasting love. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: When Lila's two city cousins come to visit her home in the country, the trio share unexpected adventures both inside and outside.

Holiday House, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780823434572

The Letting Go

by Deborah Markus

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When a dead body shows up at Hawthorn Academy for Independent Young Women, a secluded California school for sensitive, artistic, mostly Ivy League-bound types, Emily doesn't know what to think. She's changed her last name. She's cut ties to almost everybody she ever knew. And she keeps her fellow students away by being "aggressively unpleasant." But Emily fears that this dead body (a murder victim, shot in the back of the head) might be her fault, that the mysterious killing of everybody she's ever loved--parents, friends, even pets--is "starting again."
 
In an effort to create distance between herself and others, Emily immerses herself in Emily Dickinson's poems, using Dickinson's words as her own. She relentlessly quotes Dickinson on death and dying in her independent study project and believes she'd feel at home in the poet's time, when "death was more ordinary." And now, even though she's played by "the rules" and "everyone [at Hawthorne] was willing to leave [her] the hell alone," the uproar surrounding the dead body has somehow made her appear approachable to new student M. Mischievous and very much alive, M decides she's not going to let Emily's bad behavior chase her away. Much as she wants to, Emily can't let herself forget the danger M is courting by pursuing this friendship.
 
In The Letting Go, her debut novel, Deborah Markus has created a perfectly tortured main character whose horrible past has forced her to become an "unusually restless shadow." As the mystery of the new murder eats at her, she becomes ever more confused about what is real. Events hurtle toward a terrible and satisfying conclusion in this fascinating literary thriller. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Emily thought she was safe after changing her identity, but when a corpse appears at the front door of her new school, she fears the murders may be starting again.

Sky Pony Press, $16.99, hardcover, 360p., ages 12-up, 9781510734050

Stumpkin

by Lucy Ruth Cummins

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In Stumpkin, Lucy Ruth Cummins's sophomore effort as an author/illustrator, she presents a perfectly good pumpkin protagonist not chosen to be a jack-o-lantern on Halloween. But why is the pumpkin not selected to decorate a window in one of the buildings surrounding the New York City bodega where it is for sale?
 
Because Stumpkin is the only pumpkin without a lovely green stem. As the other pumpkins get sold around him, he begins to worry: "He was a handsome pumpkin--as orange as a traffic cone. He was as big as a basketball--and twice as round! Stem-schmem! Who knows? Some people might even prefer a stemless pumpkin." But conforming consumers (even children) prefer the usual, and all the stemmed pumpkins get purchased--even the yellow gourd.
 
When Stumpkin is left all alone, the shopkeeper takes action. Over the course of several dramatic pages, Stumpkin is transformed. Starting with an all-black double page spread, the page turn introduces the first triangle (a nose); the next page turn reveals two triangular eyes.... After interjecting a nighttime urban scene with jack-o-lanterns shining out of grey building windows, Cummins continues to celebrate Halloween in the city with her Stumpkin reveal. Silhouetted trick-or-treaters gather round the shop's new display, a smiling jack-o-lantern Stumpkin placed front and center, in between the shop's black cat and a bowl of treats. Cummins's evocative illustrations were created with gouache, pencil, ink and brush marker. The oranges and greens of the pumpkins, with that little bit of yellow for the lone gourd, sharply punctuate the dominant grays and blacks. (And knowing viewers will even spot the L train stop in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn.)
 
Stumpkin is a gentle story about differences, set within a popular holiday's traditions, with striking urban-based illustrations. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: A New York City pumpkin is repeatedly passed over as jack-o-lantern material because he lacks a sturdy stem.

Atheneum, $17.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 4-7, 9781534413627

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