Tim has a long history with the bookstore. As a loving Schwartz Books customer and a complete author event geek, Tim has met many authors and had them sign his books. His first ever author event was with Mickey Mantle, back when Schwartz had a store on the corner of Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue. That event had a line all the way around an entire city block--and Mickey stayed until he met every last customer! Tim retired from the School District of Waukesha after teaching elementary school children for 30 years, and now he gets to work at those author events. His interests include all types of children's literature, nature, art, sports, and lots of favorite authors for adults such as Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, Nevada Barr, David Mitchell, and Sherman Alexie.
We know early on that the story is about a financial crime, a massive Ponzi scheme, but the book’s greatness is that the big money crime becomes a perfect vehicle for building extraordinary characters, settings, and themes. Vincent Smith begins and ends the novel as her life (yes, a girl named Vincent) shifts on a grand scale, at lightning speed, from 13-year-old vandal to... wow! St. John Mandel is so talented at revealing all of her characters that their personal trajectories become riveting. They somehow feel both unique and universal. In the process, we travel to the sharply contrasting and richly drawn landscapes of wealth and struggle, the spectacular hotel in a remote Canadian forest, the concrete indifference of New York City, Dubai, and desolate small towns. Yet in every mind and in every place the questions seem the same. Can we feel anchored anywhere to this world, or are we all adrift? Is anything certain or clearly real? In just 300 pages St. John Mandel has given us a penetrating, memorable look at our shared, and so often maddening, human experience.
There's a humanity to this novel that runs deeper than most, a gradual but constant movement through the earthy details of life and love. It's powerful, like the glaciers that form a vital part of the setting, and the longer I read the more it overtook me. We see the members of one family, several generations apart, and find the connections between a man who becomes a legendary survivor in 1890s Norway and a woman looking for the meaning of family and happiness in present-day Minnesota. Their struggles are timeless and universal. We know the descendants will continue, their blood crossing generations in defiance of personal isolation and beautiful but treacherous landscapes. I wondered at times how they did it. So did they, but their love is the greatest answer to how and why. I understand Geye's characters, and I think they would understand me. What greater compliment could I give a novelist?
Micah Mortimer's family says he's "finicky." He's a man of caution who doesn't like his routine disrupted, but he's got a girlfriend that he keeps at a safe distance by not moving in with her. Too much complication in that. He's also got loving sisters with raucous families, whose clutter he dutifully steps around, and a small Tech Hermit business that keeps him engaged with customers in various stages of techno-frustration. Nothing he can't handle. Still, he sometimes wonders if missing just one "Friday vacuuming" could send his world careening into chaos. Well, life has a way of messing with our best-laid plans, and messy human connections from his past and present life will team up to challenge him on what really matters. This novel is a quick read with sly humor. Tyler's natural writing style and clever take on the state of our day-to-day lives had me smiling to the end.
Virgil Wander’s name is ironic because he’s been in one place for a long time, a beautiful but rugged Lake Superior town that’s well past its best days. Then Rune arrives, a magnetic man with a talent for making and flying wonderfully unusual kites, a man closely tied to everyone’s past, and a sign of their future. As he meets Rune, Virgil is recovering from a concussive near-death crash into the lake. It’s changed him; he’s more direct, more openly emotional, a little irreverent. He’s told to “watch out.” Maybe his name is a calling. It’s easy to like Enger’s characters. Their intelligence and sincerity make a winter setting feel warm and open to unlikely renewal. And the story is engaging, expertly crafted for anticipation and suspense. If you want a great holiday read, and a welcome reprieve from negativity, Virgil Wander is perfect!
Marion Lafournier left his small Minnesota reservation town. He keeps going back, and he’s not sure why. Maybe walking away from his first boyfriend in Minneapolis at 18 years old could explain it, but it’s more than that. He’s with guys he meets through an app who are hiding in the shadows, but he’s comfortable being out and he wants a relationship. So why keep returning to a place where nothing happens? When he finds a Revenant, a spirit in the form of a dog with a bloody maw, being back starts to look like destiny. The kids always said the dog that died under that schoolyard merry-go-round was still around. Now it seems to be leading him back to the murder of a popular boy, and looking back might be a key to moving forward. Staples gives us a beautifully complex picture of family in its many forms. Ojibwe tradition is blended with modern America and universal humanity. The voices are strong. The stark honesty of Staples’ characters and the grace of his writing make this debut memorable.
Natalie Hunt drove down Route 66 to college in Arizona, away from her tainted Midwest childhood, and left her past self in the rearview mirror. She introduced herself as Finn, her middle name, tried on a few different ways of living, and by chance became the nanny to a U.S. Senator's four-year-old granddaughter. Amabel is precocious and lovable. As Senator Martin's son and daughter-in-law, Ammy's parents have successful and carefully managed lives with just the right public facade, but Finn isn't the only one with a hidden past. Ammy is convinced that a young woman is following her, and so begins the possibility that everyone's cover will unravel and expose the humanity behind the stainless persona. I was absorbed by this novel, by its quick start and strong pace, and I like the way Dimberg uses politics as the context for people's lives without letting political issues become a distraction. The characters are well developed, Finn having a bold determination to find the truth mixed with a lot of self doubt. Her mutual attraction with Amabel's father Philip is a subtle but important element of the story, never becoming a nanny stereotype. Above all, the tragedies and the suspense moved me. Deeply. I truly look forward to Dimberg's next work!
Ready or not, here it comes! Valentine will grab you, make your eyes stop in their tracks, and then push you until the pages run out. The 1970s West Texas town of Odessa is a hard world. The land is hard, so flat and long under an endless sky that distances don't make sense. It's covered with pumpjacks drawing oil from everywhere and filled with a pervasive, oily smell. People's words are hard too, piercing and often unforgiving. The novel opens with fourteen-year-old Gloria down on that hard ground at dawn after being viciously assaulted, looking up at the roughneck who did it, while he sleeps it off in the front seat of his pickup. She'll walk, badly injured, for three miles to the only house in sight, where Mary Rose Whitehead and her daughter Aimee Jo will open the door to her. Mary Rose will sometimes wish she'd left it closed, but she sure as hell wasn't gonna let this guy finish Gloria off. So begins the stories of several women and girls in the orbit of this crime, a time and place where they've all heard nasty comments about girls like Gloria Ramirez, and they've all been given cheerleader uniforms before they were out of diapers. They'll play the game of smiling sweetly for the men, to a point, but don't count them out. They're not giving in, and they'll keep moving on, and, yes, there are some good men involved, too. Wetmore's writing style fits them so perfectly it's stunning. An absolutely amazing debut. Get ready!
Two time Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner David McCullough delivers a story with fascinating details about the founding and settlement of the Northwest Territory, which eventually became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The earliest settlers were largely New Englanders rooted in the Massachusetts clergy and often Revolutionary War heroes who sought frontier property as compensation for their service. Many were officers who had fought with George Washington or worked with John Adams. They had a vision for the expansion of the U.S. and began negotiating The Northwest Ordinance with Congress before we had a Constitution or a President. Their strong beliefs in education for all, freedom of religion, prohibition of slavery, and fairness in dealing with "Indian" Nations were ideals which they held dear and sometimes attained. As the subtitle makes clear, McCullough focuses on the settlers "heroic" American experience, specifically with the beginnings of Ohio, but he's even-handed about the impact of expansion on the First Nations. He's also skilled at telling the compelling, sometimes surprising stories of real people, including a few well known historical figures. This book is a treat for anyone interested in the origins of the Midwest.
Sharon Robinson turned 13 in January of 1963. It was a world-changing, heartbreaking year for the civil rights movement, and she lived at its center. Her father, the baseball legend and lifelong activist Jackie Robinson, was deeply involved with raising money for the cause, working side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, so Sharon heard firsthand about the roller coaster ride of the movement. The Birmingham bombings and children's marches were dinner topics, and Sharon joined the March on Washington, hearing her father speak before Dr. King. This is an enlightening story of the pivotal year in American history, but it's equally a tender story about the loving family of an American hero and the story of a girl just becoming a young woman. Sharon needed to be involved with the social change happening all around her, and talking to classmates about segregation in her mostly white Connecticut town creates a tension that leads to real personal growth. The book is honest and clearly explains ideas of racial inequality in ways that children will understand. It's a gift to lovers of history and baseball, and it's a wonderful addition to coming of age stories for kids in their early teens.
Kevin Henkes is a star picture book author and illustrator. With Sweeping Up the Heart, he proves again that he's also a talented writer for older kids. Twelve-year-old Amelia's fantasy spring break is ruined when her father won't take her to Florida. She has no memory of a mother who died when she was just two years old, and her father doesn't seem able to connect with her life. Things are looking dismal, but Amelia's love for making clay animal figures at a local studio changes everything and leads her to new friendship, a renewed family, and confusing, unfamiliar feelings. I think middle grade readers will truly enjoy Henkes' characters. The kids and the adults are creative, positive people. They make perceptive observations about life and still sound so natural. This book is a quick read with a mature wisdom, and it's very easy to love!
Simon is a very normal 12-year-old boy with interests that don't quite match his Air Force father's love of nature and sports. He'd rather work on his video game character, a level-thirty High Elf Druid, or write his own fantasy story about a boy named Max who is being chased by something otherworldly and evil. Simon also seems a bit too focused on aliens. He's pretty sure that they exist, that they're very frightening, and that they've actually contacted him on a family camping trip, using owls as messengers. He's not alone in his beliefs. His brother's girlfriend lives in a house on the Air Force base where an alien believers group meets. They tell him that his contact with aliens is real, but his parents are treating him like he's losing his mind. Simon hates upsetting his mom, but he's sure that they just don't understand! I really liked the suspense of this middle grade novel. It's a little scary, and the ending isn't what I expected at all. Smith also does a great job with Simon's character, the perfect voice for a boy who's struggling to grow up in a strange and confusing situation. I'm looking forward to reading more of Smith's adventures.
Philbrick has the gift of being both a strong historian and a smooth storyteller. This is the story of how a complex and extraordinary set of circumstances came together during the pivotal year 1781, finally allowing Washington to defeat the British and establish a new nation. As the leader of the Continental Army, the local militias, and European allies, Washington faced incredibly difficult challenges such as slow communication, a loose confederation of states who refused to fully fund the war, and the varied interests of the groups under his command. He understood that until the French navy could protect coastal cities from the British fleet, he would never be able to win on the ground, but coordinating these efforts had failed for years. The detail in Philbrick's research is excellent, with effective maps and diagrams helping to clarify troop movements, battles, and naval tactics. Even more impressive is the way Philbrick uses a wealth of primary source materials to reveal the personalities of iconic leaders such as Washington, whose presence, dignity, affability, and remarkable focus under pressure made him the beloved "father of our country." American history fans will see Washington, Cornwallis, Lafayette, and many others with fresh eyes.
Stephen Carter has written a very compelling story of his grandmother's life. Eunice Hunton Carter was a woman who often made headlines during the first half of the 20th century. She was best known for being one of the first African American women lawyers in the country and the woman whose legal strategy convicted "Charley Lucky" Luciano in 1936, at a time when nobody believed the most famous mobster of his day would be sent to prison. But the story is so much more than that. Hunton Carter was in the center of the New York City African American society later known known as the Harlem Renaissance. She was a friend and ally of Mary McLeod Bethune and traveled in the same circles as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois; the social and political context is fascinating, with African Americans turning away from the Republican "Party of Lincoln" toward Democrats and FDR. Eunice's boss, the lead Luciano prosecutor, was Thomas Dewey, the man from the Chicago Daily Tribune's infamous headline "Dewey Defeats Truman." I admire how Stephen Carter draws well supported conclusions to give us a full picture of his grandmother, a highly intelligent, strong, ambitious woman with a complex human nature. Carter also helped me to understand the turmoil (and the terribly slow, hard-won progress) that came with being African American before the Civil Rights movement.
One of Tommy Orange's characters, Dene Oxendene, explains that Gertrude Stein once wrote about the place of her Oakland, California childhood, about going back there and seeing so much development that there was no there there anymore. Dene tells us that this is what happened to Native people across the Americas, ancestral land buried by "glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory." And yet Urban Indians have made cities their own. "Being Indian has never been about returning to the land." The novel has 12 characters who eventually come together at the Big Oakland Powwow, people so diverse and also deeply intertwined, sometimes in ways they don't even know; but Dene seems central. He's won a project grant to document long ignored stories from Oakland Indians on video, with no director's agenda, just letting the "content control the vision;" and that's exactly how I see this novel, as the characters' stories, told forcefully. They are often frightening and confusing, but with moments of revelation and clarity and power. They feel true, not crafted to turn out the way you or I would want. The people sometimes survive, sometimes don't, and for some we're not even sure at the end. This book is a brilliantly written, unflinching look at life as it is and the constant battle to find a sense of place.
Warlight is set in England, just after the end of World War II, with streets still in rubble and unused. A boy and his sister are left by their parents, supposedly for important work in Singapore, put in the hands of apparent strangers for protection in a disrupted and still dangerous post-war world. None of it makes sense to the teenagers. The narrator, Nathaniel, asks questions without clear answers about his fragmented history. He tries to, as he says, "order" his life by collecting pieces of a hidden past as he finds them, about who he is, who his family has been, and what family really means, which he understands can never be fully revealed. Ondaatje's prose isn't sparse but clean, detailed without the unnecessary, which nicely balances the novel's mysterious feel. He paces the book with a consistent movement, never hurried, building the story like an unsteady march through an ambiguous landscape. The result is a complicated wisdom about being human. I'm left thinking I was in the hands of a truly remarkable writer in full control of his craft.
Sedaris has a unique style, very bold and still unassuming and natural. He plainly talks about the most harrowing and awkward aspects of life as if they were absurd curiosities. He can write about the endless contradictions in his family and give me a group hug feeling - thank you for being at least as weird as us! He writes about insults from a judgmental world with a sly but biting sense of humor that often brings a growing smile rather than a lol guffaw. And his odd but beautiful attempts at relationships with wild animals are fascinating. A fox named Carol befriends him, and he fed WHAT to a snapping turtle with a giant tumor on its head!? Last year he was at Boswell for a 7:00 event and showed up by 4:30 to start signing books and having long conversations with the very first fans who arrived. How can you not love this guy?
This is American history at its best, a wealth of details from primary sources, yet written so smoothly and with such style that it becomes a captivating story. Joseph was respected, even admired, by everyone who met him - soldiers and army officers, traders and settlers, a wide public following and U.S. Presidents. Howard, a Civil War general, fought with Sherman and went on to direct the Freedmen's Bureau, becoming responsible for the progress of millions of former slaves during Reconstruction. He founded Howard University with the ideal of educating blacks and whites together, and then led the violent campaign to force Joseph to the reservation. Sharfstein's words draw portraits of fascinating individuals over decades of their lives, as well as the rugged and beautiful Northwest landscapes of Washington, Idaho, a new Yellowstone National Park, Montana, and Alaska. The book's scope of time, from the early 1800's to the mid 1900's, is impressive!
With Varina, Frazier returns to the south in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, also the setting for his National Book Award winning Cold Mountain, to tell a story of the strong, intelligent, and graceful wife of Confederate States President Jefferson Davis. It begins in 1906, with the elderly Varina receiving a visit from an African American teacher named James Blake, who has read a book about her and is sure that he's one of the children it describes. And so they are reunited, the First Lady of the Confederacy with the slave boy she rescued from a beating in the street and raised side by side with her own children. The heart of the story is Varina's attempted escape with some of Jeff's closest aides from Richmond, the Confederate Capitol, once it was clear that the war was lost; but it tells of her life from where she lived in childhood, overlooking the Mississippi River, to her places in Europe after the war. James wants to understand who he was to her, and the most fascinating elements of the novel are about these odd relationships: Jeff's close confidence with a man he owned, a man who served him and yet talks with him like a friend; Varina's apparent disappointment that a former slave doesn't think more of her than, "She was ok, nice enough." Yet Varina is cool, assertive, always humane under the most difficult circumstances and is herself something of a rebel to the south for her action in saving James and for her sadness and anger with the violent human loss caused by her husband refusing to accept that slavery was a dying institution. Frazier writes this dramatic story with style and deep empathy, an exciting, revealing tale of a complex and impressive woman.
I was only six years old when the Braves left Milwaukee, but I felt the anger, even from some of my young friends. Then the Brewers arrived, and I lived across the street from Dave Bristol, their first field manager, for three incredible summers. It was amazing, playing on the County Stadium field and in the dugout and bullpen with his children. I've always wondered why that terrible and wonderful transition happened; this book gave me everything I needed. It's the political and economic story of the joy and early success that surrounded the Braves' arrival in 1953, and the rage over their bitter departure in 1966. More than that, the book explains how the Braves' move was the beginning of great change in Major League Baseball, with shifting franchises and expansion extending the league coast to coast, and with frustrated fans in many cities seeing their teams move in large part due of broadcast revenues with the advent of television. Steele's research into the actions and reactions from the entire spectrum of Milwaukee's community, and nationwide, is excellent. A fascinating read!
Tom, just one of his many names, is different. As an alba, he does age, but at a rate much slower than most humans. An alba (short for albatross, a bird known to live longer than most) may well live a thousand years or more, and the implications are stunning, often heart wrenching, and always dangerous. The people he comes to know, including the actor and playwright William Shakespeare, are fascinating and well developed by Haig. Accusations of witchcraft are common in Tom's early years, during the 1500s and beyond, forcing him to continually move and change identities to avoid constant suspicion. He fears being used by people with complicated motivations. The revelations of Tom's life and the wisdom he gathers about time, loss, and the need to insulate himself from painful human connections are drawn beautifully in sequences and identities ranging from deep into the past to the future. Haig is not writing science fiction here, but rather making us believe that this could actually be happening. I don't typically compare authors, but I felt changed by this book in ways similar to reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, and Slade House. This is an excellent novel!
Combining beautiful color illustrations (Audubon Prints, Edward Curtis photos, George Catlin paintings, historic maps, and much more) with exceptionally deep research, Edmonds brings together 25 years of work to chronicle Midwestern birds and people. As a staff member at the Wisconsin Historical Society, he had access to high level expertise in the fields of archaeology, history, ornithology and American Indian spiritual practices; he also understands (and offers us) the latest avenues for electronic research, as well as good old fashioned digging into library collections and museums. Edmonds' discussions of the ways people have worshiped, thought about, studied, and used birds for food, profit, enlightenment, and healing over thousands of years explore our human perceptions of nature and our cultural tendencies. Fascinating stories about conflicting viewpoints, sometimes with real conflict, between conservationists and frontier hunters, Native American and Christian religions, university academics and folklore believers make this an engaging reading experience. Edmonds writes with the skill of a historian who loves a story; he's both a birder and an intellectual at heart.
Fish Girl is the creation of a powerhouse author/illustrator team, the first graphic novel for either of them; and it surely lives up to my expectations. David Wiesner is a three-time winner of the Caldecott Medal for the year's best illustrated children's book. His medal winners--Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam--are all unique in their ideas and beautifully designed. Napoli is a respected linguistics professor who has written dozens of children's books, including the middle grade novel Three Days, perhaps the most intense, suspenseful, and unique children's novel that I've ever read.
Fish Girl is the story of a developing friendship between a young mermaid and the human girl who becomes her friend. Fish Girl has been kept at a theme park named Ocean Wonders by Neptune himself, the god of the seas! He controls this building full of aquariums with sea creatures from around the world, and he shows his power to crowds of spectators, for money. As Fish Girl begins to struggle with her past and her hopes for the future, she starts to discover what it means to be a mermaid in the heart of a human world. Simply told and yet strongly emotional, this is a lovely graphic novel of innocence and wisdom for upper elementary age kids.
How in the world did this decades-long murderous conspiracy fall from American history's collective memory? The extended ‘Reign of Terror’ carried out in early 1900s Oklahoma has so many spectacular and infamous connections to pieces of our American identity that it doesn't seem possible to have missed hearing about it. When the Osage Nation acquired what seemed to be relatively useless Oklahoma land from the Cherokee, they just wanted a quiet place to live; but when large underground tracks of oil were discovered there, everything about their lives changed forever. The terrifying, sad story is expertly told by David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, whose ability to keep diverse characters fresh and create compelling suspense is truly impressive. Grann weaves together a story that includes very carefully researched history about: the West and U.S. expansion; the Texas Rangers, and how one former Ranger became the heroic lead investigator of these crimes during the earliest days of J Edgar Hoover's five decades in leading the FBI; the nation's first uses of careful evidence gathering and fingerprinting; and the ridiculous willingness of many white Americans to throw away lives considered less important than their own, for the sake of greed. Reading this book was like watching a train wreck - I couldn't have been at once more horrified and also transfixed.
Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train Girl, an adaptation of her NYT Bestselling adult novel Orphan Train, is a well researched portrayal of the sometimes agonizing situations endured by more than 150,000 "orphaned, abandoned, and homeless" children between 1854 and 1929, before the time of foster care programs, as they were taken by train from the American east coast to the Midwest in hope of finding new lives with new families. The story is told through the awkward, developing relationship between a struggling modern day foster child named Molly, who badly needs another chance, and a rich old woman named Vivian who seems to understand this girl in ways that nobody else can. Molly tries to survive with her current, frustrated foster parents after she's caught stealing a ragged library book, and her restitution is to complete a "service project" by helping Vivian clean out the attic of her large, beautiful home. The narrative moves between their story and the life of Niamh, a young Irish immigrant girl arriving at Ellis Island in 1929 who has felt more heartache from tragedy than any child ever should. She continues with such resilience, like Molly, having no other choice than to live on, and proving that as long as we're here humanity and love will find us, whether we want it to or not. This is a beautiful, deeply effecting book, so well tailored to children.
Kline opens the book with a brief prologue, including a statement from the novel's narrator Christina Olson that painter Andrew Wyeth was actually afraid to show her the finished painting Christina's World, which he'd created from inside her home. She explains that Wyeth's 1948 masterwork is not a portrait of her at all. It's wrong in nearly every way, except for the feeling that it captures of her relationship to this house, built by her ancestors, the home in Maine which was the focus of her entire life. An inserted print of the painting, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, closes the book.
This novel is Christina's story, told by her, imagined by Kline, of the tremendously brave and desperate life she led, and how it culminated in an iconic painting by a man I think of as the American art world's John Steinbeck. Like Steinbeck, Wyeth shows us both the pain and beauty of hope and survival, in unmatched detail. Kline's brilliance is that her words carry the intense sorrow and fierce pride which make humanity both terrifying and spectacular. Her book is noble, and so important to understanding American culture. This is a great piece of deeply researched historical fiction.
With books such as Newberry Award winner Maniac Magee, Wringer, Loser, Stargirl, and many others, Jerry Spinelli writes the voices of children who don't quite fit a social mold. He writes fluidly and with a talent for dialog which makes his characters' personal tension seem real. In The Warden's Daughter, twelve year old Cammie is one of these desperate characters. She is permanently linked with tragedy as a baby, and she becomes an angry girl who can't resolve what happened to her mother. Although she has a loving father, who happens to run a small prison where they live, and friends she's starting to believe are true, Cammie wants a mother; and her only candidates are both women inmates. The story is told by the adult Cammie, looking back from years in the future, and the turns her young life takes are sometimes shocking, and always profound. Another important book from Spinelli!
Having great respect and admiration for Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and others, I still don't believe there is a voice in American literature more powerful than E.L. Doctorow's. His historical fiction ranges in time from the crisis of the Civil War to the complexity of modern life in New York, with books such as Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, World's Fair and others receiving the highest awards given to a novelist.
I heard Doctorow speak, and even got a bit of help from him during the signing, at the Newberry Library in Chicago on his tour for The March. The book imagines General Sherman's raging assault through the heart of the Civil War South. Someone asked him if he'd read Sherman's personal memoir. He said that he had, but that he mostly studied photographs taken with the newly developed cameras of that era, suggesting that the truth in these pictures was the most essential guide to the details of any historical period. It made me realize that Doctorow's fiction has that same effect on me, giving me a highly detailed and moving picture of the people and places he interprets.
This collection of stories, all published previously in other collections, were placed in sequence for the book by the author himself, apparently as his last contribution to his work's publication before he died on July 21st, 2015. I had read most of these stories, but what a thrill to reread them in the order he chose! We lost one of the greatest when he died.
American Revolutions is a highly engaging, extremely well documented history of our nation's formative years. Taylor continues the brilliant work he began with American Colonies as he details the complex, sometimes shocking upheavals caused by shifting alliances among ‘American Indians,’ Europeans, and Africans. The struggle for control of North American land and people's lives was often brutal, and the Revolutionary War itself ‘embroiled everyone, including women and children,’ as loyalties changed and American families divided, Patriot vs. Loyalist. Taylor's clear, concise writing style allows him to quickly discuss overriding ideas, which he supports with uncommon details. As an example, Benjamin Franklin helped to lead the Patriot cause, all the while his brother remained the Royal Governor of New Jersey. Lovers of North American history rejoice!
Seventeen-year-old Justyce is a smart, strong, and also very confused young man attending a mostly white, elite high school Academy and working toward the Ivy League. He is disturbed and amazed that he's constantly judged by the color of his skin rather than the content of his character. It invades everything that happens in his world, even when his actions are genuinely heroic; and racial profiling quickly leads to personal trauma. Even the people closest to him, a very wise teacher and his best friends Manny and Sarah Jane, don't fully understand. So he begins writing letters to someone who would. Dr. King, of course, can't answer him, but it's the questions that matter. What would you do in my situation, Martin? How was it possible that you stayed so steady in your beliefs? How can I live the way you did? Justyce is in crisis, and maybe the letters to Martin just aren't enough. This is a very well written, quickly moving novel with dialog that felt so real I thought I was looking out the window at our troubled American life. An exceptionally important and highly recommended teen novel!
Yes, we can all use some truth, especially now. The teens in this novel live on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, where the author grew up, just outside of Niagara Falls, New York. They're looking for truth in a lot of ways, about family struggles, love, first relationships, and the sometimes hostile white world just outside their borders. The story is told in well-structured alternating chapters by Carson Mastic and Magpi (Maggi) Bokoni, teens who use the biting humor that Carson describes as a characteristic way of coping with Reservation life struggles. Carson's brother Derek pulls a dangerous stunt in protest of a diner called Custard's Last Stand that keeps a No Indians sign on the counter, and the response from both worlds is a true test for everyone involved. The characters are all looking for a future, and the teens form a band, trying to earn the battle of the bands grand prize of $1,000 and a trip to New York City. Carson's friend and bandmate, Lewis, loves The Beatles, who get wrapped into the art and music themes of the book, especially John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who stood for treaty rights and trigger the book's climax that happens in 1980. I liked this novel from the beginning, and loved it by the end.
Coates has become an essential voice on race in America. His non-fiction writing, such as We Were Eight Years in Power, and his public speaking, such as his testimony on reparations before Congress, have given him a reputation for true brilliance. My sense is that this first Coates novel, The Water Dancer, will immediately add "great American novelist" to his resume. The depth of this book is astounding, and its narrator, Hiram Walker, I believe will soon be considered one of American literature's most important characters. Walker is one of the "Tasked," a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation, whose mother is also Tasked and whose father is the plantation owner, a leader among Virginia's "Quality." Hiram Walker knows he's different from others. He has a capacity to remember all that he hears or sees, which amazes the "Quality," and a certain ability to "Conduct" himself, which he struggles to understand. It's a power derived from remembering the stories of so many people who are lost, sold away, taken down. Coates shows us with intricate and haunting detail the human cost of slavery to everyone involved, and his writing is rock steady but bold. Walker's voice is smart and strong, and Coates successfully makes the one they called Moses, Harriet Tubman, a pivotal character. At once magical and profoundly real, this novel has a rare feeling of both completeness and greatness.
Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers for kids and adults. His characters and plots are always funny, a little weird, and often environmentally charged. The main characters go after people who disregard and damage nature, using bold and sometime shady tactics. Hiaasen has been reporting on Florida development for decades, so the stories are usually set there. In this case, teenage Billy's mother loves eagles and moves the family to follow different nests. Meanwhile, his father left them for Montana and a new life with a wife and daughter from the Crow Nation. Dad is elusive, maybe has a secret government job, but Billy finds him. The rest is a race involving Billy's love of snakes, grizzly bears near Yellowstone, a Florida panther, and a rich guy trying to trophy hunt large endangered animals. Billy's family is brave and determined. Hiaasen's writing is smooth and natural, a fast, fun middle grade read!
Woodson was recently named our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and she's a perfect choice! I was extremely impressed with her last adult novel, Another Brooklyn, and I'm reminded now of how amazed I was then at the power of her simple, direct, graceful style. Her characters have experiences and conversations that suddenly trigger in me the deep emotions which they feel. In this case a small group of 6th grade "special" students in New York are left by their teacher for a single hour a week in a room by themselves, just to talk about anything they choose. Gradually, almost unwilling, they become one group, true friends, who trust each other with their stories. The book's narrator, Haley, has been raised by a loving uncle since she was three years old, when her mother died and her father went to prison. Now dad is coming home. Esteban's father has been taken away by immigration authorities. I think you'll quickly admire these six children as much as I did; they'll tell you, straight out, about the beauty of multiple languages, and exactly what America should really look and sound like. This novel was a profound experience for me. Woodson tore my heart out and then gave me most of it back.
Did a 58-year-old man (me) really just read a novel written by a vlogger and internet science teacher whose company's videos have over two billion YouTube views? Did he really read a novel about twenty-something art school graduates and scientists who understand social media? Wouldn't happen, right? It almost didn't, but this book is cool from page one, a gripping mystery about smart, funny, honest, and very confused young people trying to understand a world-changing event! Twenty-three-year-old April May is walking home on a New York City sidewalk at 3:00 am when she looks up to suddenly find a huge, impressive, armored robot sculpture standing directly in her path. April's a bit jaded by seeing so much in New York that's remarkable, but this is different, strange enough to make her immediately call her irritated friend Andy out to film her with the statue, which she affectionately names Carl. Within hours of launching their video, it's clear that Carl's impact will be extraordinary, and April was the first to see him. I love Green's sharp, natural dialog, his clever but nonthreatening use of math and science and music, and how April talks to us directly about her steep, deeply human learning curve. She's openly confused about the allure and cost of instant fame, and about hateful divisions growing from fear. She's equally clear about the ultimate beauty of people who unite against ugliness. This will be a fast, fun, thought provoking read for adults of any age.
Why would a totally unknown and exceedingly proper English butler suddenly appear at a very American family's front door? That's simple enough. His service was given to the family by a relative who died, and his service is much needed. When Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick arrives, speaking a formal Queen's English, insisting on gentlemanly behavior, and teaching about the nobility of playing the game cricket, Carter Jones and his mother and three sisters are struggling with the first day of a new school year. Carter's life is not at all simple. His little brother Currier has died, his Army father is deployed overseas, and sixth grade is about to begin! Carter has a few good reasons to be angry, and his sharp, amusing exchanges with the demanding butler make that clear. He also needs to take a big new step in life, and the butler may be just the gentleman to help him do that. Gary Schmidt has a way of writing about loss and redemption that touched me. By the end of this uncommon novel, I felt a warm sense of connection with its characters.
Will Daughtry is painfully aware that his size is a problem. He’s 16 years old, 4’ 11” tall, and his parents have stopped making pencil lines on the door frame to measure his growth because the lines just kept overlapping. He’s got some great friends though, a basketball star stepbrother who understands loss as much as he does, and a tough, smart survivor of life’s monsters named Monica, who finds them on a cliff overlooking the San Diego beach after one of her high risk surfing moments. Will is clever, witty, a little bitter, sarcastic, and smart. Advanced Placement Biology smart, and he’s ready to use it in lots of ways, including in his zoo job working with endangered lowland gorillas, and as a foundation for his world view. He thinks evolution knows what it’s doing by discarding mistakes like him and giving taller guys a chance with girls, like Monica, who he’s loved since the moment they met and who may never know it. But Will’s world is about to change. Big time! In fantastic and scary ways. He tells us not to think that we'll ever be an "all done, fully formed organism." We're just like him, "a phase, forever and always a phase," and boy what a phase he's going through! This book was a real pleasure. Scott Brown's exceptional writing style makes it a genuine look at complicated teen life, and still I understood most of what they said! It’s intelligent, with true to the world suspense. I enjoyed every minute!
Even though I'm still haunted by certain scenes from his novel, The Underground Railroad, I needed more Colson Whitehead, and man did I get more! The Nickel Boys tells the story of Elwood Curtis, who was a good kid. Always. He loved to learn, did the right things under his grandmother's protection, and felt the urgent need for change that he heard on his record album of Martin Luther King's speeches. It was the best gift he ever got. He was on his way to take college classes as a high school student in the early 60s when he stumbled into trouble and was sent to Nickel Academy, a fictional Florida reform school based on a real-life version of hell. Whitehead learned a lot about Marianna, Florida's Dozier School for Boys from the Dozier survivors' website and from the University of South Florida archaeologists who excavated the secret graveyard where so many boys' bodies were dumped after their "discipline." Elwood held on tight to Dr. King's ideals during his time there. I needed more Colson Whitehead because he's such a great writer. In his steady hands, with his understated style, I can feel that the book, and the life it represents, will continue through the horror. And I feel inoculated by Whitehead against any tiny temptation to believe reactionary white voices. Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization?! Please do not claim to understand terror until you've read one of Colson Whitehead's portraits of how it was inflicted on African Americans.
Faust is on a mission to learn about and teach us about the American health care system, how it's financed and how it works. Or actually how it doesn't work, because it's badly broken, and we all know it. He's traveled to all 50 states and listened to countless stories of terrible suffering from people who can't maintain insurance, or who have it and can't afford what it costs to use it. These are hardworking people who've played by all the rules and been cast aside for many reasons, mostly because covering them isn't seen as profitable. Yes, Faust is furious about it. He tells us that in very raw terms, but he's also done exhaustive homework and explains why the current system cannot be repaired with little tweaks. To him, it's a "basic principal of fairness" that every American has equal access to health care and, beyond that, justice resulting from healthy food and a healthy place to live. A Single Payer system is the only way to begin getting this justice, and he believes it will cost much less than we pay for all the tricks we now endure. A moral imperative, and an essential book in building the groundswell required to get it done.
God Is A Tornado. With those desperate words, painted on the water tower for all to see, twelve-year-old Odie and three other children run from the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota, which trains children to give up their culture. Odie and his older brother are the only white kids there, little Emmy Frost is the daughter of a beloved teacher, and Moses is a Sioux boy who lost both his mother and his tongue to an attacker at a very young age. They've seen cruel school leaders preach about a protective God who’s done nothing but deliver them loss. They all have reasons to flee. This is not a children's book, but rather a classic American novel of the Great Depression (1932) and a riveting story of kids trying to find their place in the world. They escape along the rivers in a canoe, headed for a possible home with an aunt in St. Louis, and along the way they meet a fascinating group of characters: the leader of a Healing Crusade, a kidnapper who forces them to work and sees God in "this beautiful, tender land," an adult Sioux who understands Moses, a stranded family among many without jobs, and Odie's first love. The beauty of this novel is in the deeply developed children characters, who got into my heart and have stayed there. Kent Krueger is the type of writer who reaches for wisdom and truth. In this book, he often finds them.
Bud Selig loves the game of baseball. That's very clear throughout the book, and nobody seems more qualified to tell an insider's story about how the game has changed over the last 50 years. From his childhood ballpark excursions across the country with his mother to his time after leaving the Commissioner's job and entering the Hall of Fame, Selig has seen it all. He's effusive in praising the people he loves, both inside and outside the game, but the most compelling aspect of this memoir is how honest he's willing to be about his frustrations and the people who caused them. One perfect example of this is Selig's expression of deep friendship with Henry Aaron and the irritation he felt with representing baseball as Commissioner to witness Aaron's iconic home run record being broken by Barry Bonds, a man he obviously does not like. This book is genuine and fast moving, and I was fascinated by it. I admit to a bias. I was lucky to have lived across the street from the first field manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Dave Bristol, for the three summers his family stayed in Milwaukee. I went to lots of games with his kids and played in the County Stadium clubhouse and bullpen. They even let us kids shag batting practice in those days. That all happened because of Bud Selig! He brought us baseball again after the Braves left. With a warm forward by baseball fan and master historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this book is a one of a kind look at America's Pastime from a proud man who has always called Milwaukee his home.
In this sequel to Shaffer's first mystery novel featuring former President Obama and Vice President Biden, old "Uncle Joe" Biden himself tells us the story, and once he sets out to get justice, he just can't stop himself. "I was on a roll like honey drizzle." He says things like that a lot, dated puns and snarky political references. He's been invited to Chicago for a day by the Obamas to meet an activist rapper who could help if Biden ever decides to make his run for President. When Barack's Blackberry disappears from the Tribune Tower meeting site, and it seems connected to the shooting of a young community leader who works with the Obamas, Uncle Joe is off and running! There are serious elements to the mystery, of political corruption and gun violence, but this book is really about the fun: Chicago with a green river over the St. Paddy's Day weekend, the reluctant friendship between the Bidens and Obamas that feels a lot like family, Biden's homespun humor and sincere do-gooder flair. Go ahead and take a few days off from our political insanity. Get a nostalgic chuckle with one or both of Shaffer's books.
Lawrence is worried. The young fox is the only animal who doesn't have any type of collection to share for show-and-tell at school, but Papa fox has a solution. A beautiful, mysterious, and just a little bit frightening trip through the forest will give Lawrence the perfect collection for a special fox like him, and sharing it will start a new adventure with his classmates. Farina and Salati have created a warm combination of story and pictures about the important theme of growing personally in the face of fear. With details highlighting the love of family, the natural world, exploration, and classroom friends, this picture book is a true delight!
Piper Milly doesn't know exactly what it means to shine, and it doesn't help that her mother died when she was very young. Mom was a star musician with a shining personality, and Piper's father has just earned a job as music director at the prep school where mom's awards are still displayed. Now Piper will be going to that very same school herself. She doesn't expect her love of astronomy to impress any of the wealthy, talented, and sometimes cruel kids at Chumley Prep, where she'll have to live in her mother's shadow. But Piper has heart, and some people at Chumley may actually notice. This is the first children's book written together by the wife and husband team of J.J. and Chris Grabenstein (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, and so much more!). I truly enjoyed it for the fun, and I also loved the characters, who defy stereotypes. The important message about being rewarded for kindness make this a wonderfully uplifting story!
Taylor has done America a great service by documenting the history of The Green Book and what remains today of the locations it listed. The Green Book, published from 1936 to 1967, was a guide for black travelers, showing businesses that welcomed African Americans. It allowed them a degree of the safety and support they needed to enjoy travel despite the constant potential for being targeted with racial hatred and violence. In its later days, it also became a voice for demanding civil rights. Taylor’s details about the development and use of the book are fascinating, but her work entails so much more. She's created an impressive history of the African American economic progress which grew from having and working with automobiles, and from the increasing mobility and business opportunities they afforded. It's also personal for her, inspired by her stepfather Ron, a decorated Vietnam marine whose stories amazed her and moved her to travel across the country while searching for Green Book businesses and photographing them herself. Taylor is adept at using the past as a context to understand race in America today and what we can do to fight for equal treatment. Most importantly, this book is a smart and deeply affecting look at black people's long and agonizing struggle to get basic respect and justice. More than any book I've read, Overground Railroad made me understand the endless, malicious obstacles put in the way of basic living, solely because of skin color. It's a powerful book. I'm already eager to read it again.
It started with me just wanting to read a story by the guy who wrote the Monk and Diagnosis Murder books and TV shows. It ended with me thoroughly enjoying this intense and entertaining police procedural. Goldberg is really good at writing characters like Monk. In this case it's Eve Ronin, a very young LA Sheriff's Department homicide detective who didn't move up through the ranks. Nobody in the department is thrilled about her being promoted. It seems she made it because of a viral video showing her busting a famous bully. Everyone assumes she's out to ultimately make it in the movies, but Eve is smart, methodical, and cares only about one thing. Solving the crime. This crime is ugly, with lots of blood and a missing family. The motive seems simple enough at first, but the ride will get wild. I'm looking forward to seeing Eve Ronin again. She's complicated, and she's bound to get even better with age!
New Kid is the first graphic novel ever to win the Newbery Award for best children's book of the year, and it's a heartfelt pleasure to read. Seventh grader Jordan Banks wants to go to art school, but mom says he's smart and needs the real world experience of Riverdale Academy Day School, where most of the kids are white and wealthy and won't understand his neighborhood. One of the teachers even mixes up the names of the few black kids in his grade, and she doesn't have it straight by the end of the year! Still, Jordan is making friends, he's sincerely confronting the people who slight him, and he's learning that anyone can make judgments that turn out to be wrong, even him. He's got an art teacher who's pushing his talents, too, so maybe all the struggle will be worth it. This graphic novel has a lot of great qualities - a lovable, artistic main character who shows us drawings from his own sketchbook, a collection of other characters with depth and charm, and plenty of humor mixed in with the wisdom. I expect, and hope, that we'll see more of Jordan Banks again soon!
With Prairie Lotus, Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park has written a gem of American historical fiction for middle grade readers. In her author's note, Park says it's a story she's been writing nearly all her life. "It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings." To reconcile the attitudes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's characters toward people of color while honoring the books, Park gives us 14-year-old Hanna, the half Asian daughter of a white father and a mother who was both Chinese and Korean. After her mother's tragic illness and death, Hanna and her father leave California in 1880 for the Dakota Territory, where four Little House books were also set. Hanna will need all the loving wisdom Mama gave her in order to be strong in the face of challenges and injustices from people who have never lived around a Chinese person and react very badly. The things Hanna and Mama wanted for her - going to school, designing beautiful dresses, even walking safely in town - can seem impossible, but it's the details of meeting these problems on a frontier that make the book so textured and meaningful. Hanna is a strong, determined girl who will search for ways to treat everyone justly, and to find just treatment for herself. This is richly developed Americana, and I am deeply grateful!
Justyce McAllister is back in this sequel to Dear Martin, which is flat out the best and most important teen novel I've ever read. This time he's not the main character. In Dear Martin, Justyce wrote private letters to the late Martin Luther King, asking how he stayed strong under the constant judgement (and trauma) that comes solely because of skin color. In Dear Justyce, he's receiving the letters, from a childhood friend named Quan, who is not headed to the Ivy League like Justyce. Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr. is just trying to survive juvenile detention after working so hard to be a good kid, while everyone around him seemed to want him to fail. His family was a mess, a frightening mess. Then he found people who understood him well, in the wrong place, and he's in serious trouble. He's not one to make excuses for his decisions, but really what could he have done differently? He hasn't completely give up though, and Justyce isn't ready to quit on him either. Stone didn't intend to write this book, until she got texts from two kids she met because of Dear Martin. They wanted her to write their story, about "like black kids, you know... Not like Justyce. Cuz Justyce had hope." I think Stone wrote their story like nobody else could. The voices are urgent and real. Masterful writing, compelling, suspenseful, and vital reading for the urgency of now!
Derrick Barnes, the award-winning author of the picture books Crown and The King of Kindergarten, has given kids who love baseball a reason to get excited during a time when the game is on hold. These stories are each brief but dramatic, and clearly laid out for understanding. It makes this a nice book to share with early readers, and it will also interest kids up to 12 years old. Barnes has a storyteller's flair and energy, as he talks directly to his young audience, and he teaches some baseball basics along the way, making this a good starting place for new fans. Tidbits of information are inset at just the right spots to add interest. These stories are often not about the usual big names but rather about the underdogs who succeeded, the great comebacks, the courage of people who were pushed aside but made it into baseball anyway, and of course the strange statistics that baseball lovers talk about endlessly. It's funny, and fascinating, and this baseball fan loved it at 60 years old. Barnes belts it out of the park!
Bob is a tough dog with a strong independent streak and a soft heart. He was once a stray after being thrown from a truck window with his siblings, but he and his sister survived. Now he has a home with a family. Bob made his first appearance in the Newbery Award-winning book that I loved reading aloud to my 5th graders, called The One and Only Ivan. He still has times when he can see both Ivan and his outgoing, determined young elephant friend Ruby. He also has lots of neighborhood animal connections with very interesting personalities, and they all come together in the face of a storm brewing on the horizon. The best aspect of both these books is that the animals talk to you in human voices with their own viewpoints. Applegate has a wonderful knack for showing us animal expressions that seem very familiar, and their perspectives on the confusing humans and the other animals in their world are cheeky and insightful. It has the effect of being both fun and meaningful. A worthy sequel to a great original!
At 11 years old, Michael is forced to move in with his aunt after his mother goes to prison. It’s there that he sees his next door neighbor, Bunny, for the first time, and he’s immediately fascinated. It’s not sexual attraction. Michael has known he’s gay since about the time he got there, and the two are so different in so many ways. But once they become friends it’s clear that neither one has ever felt so understood. For the first time, another person sees the fear and pain they’ve suffered. The Knockout Queen is a glaring look at the mess life can become, for kids and their families, for lovers and friends of all kinds. It’s an unblinking view of the fickle and sometimes inhuman realities that come from being human. Still, I loved it. Michael is the most riveting retrospective character I’ve met, as he looks back to a time when he was just beginning to see that love and people are deeply flawed and unexpectedly violent. The sincere way he throws out his stark, super-smart observations of everything, without hesitation, is endearing and magnetic. Best of all, he’s so damn funny! And he never accepts that what he sees is all that’s possible, giving him a resilience which easily carried me through to the end. Thorpe is a gifted writer, showing us with rare clarity how our complicated emotional world operates. She has a very special voice, and one that I want to hear again!