Blood is something we all know exists from infancy on, but few of us really examine that which carries oxygen to our various body parts and keeps us alive. Whether it is our inability to fully understand the intricacies of the substance flowing through our veins and arteries, or our collective squeamishness at the sight of it, blood remains largely a mystery to the masses. In The Book of Blood: from Legends to Leeches to Vampires and Veins, author HP Newquist examines this mystical fluid, our literal lifeblood.
Many hematological topics are covered and well-explained, such as the various blood cells, the makeup of plasma, and diseases involving blood, such as leukemia and hemophilia. Illustrated using digital imagery, photography and reproductions of blood-related ephemera, The Book of Blood could go for the jugular in terms of gore and unpleasantness, but instead uses appropriate restraint in portraying the substance. The various bloods of animals are discussed, too, whether it be the differences between warm- and cold-blooded beings, or those animals that have blood in colors other than red, such as blue blood of many mollusks.
Titles such as this, covering one commonly known subject, give readers the ability to focus on a topic and better understand the ways blood works and how it is an unspoken part of everyone’s life. The cultural meanings of blood are also touched upon, with references to mosquitoes, leeches, and bats, and of course, vampires. The book closes with a chapter that reminds us of the long way we still have to go in medicine. Blood donations remain critical because, despite so many other medical advances, we have not yet been able to create blood in a laboratory.
A forest aflame is what Dellarobia Turnbow sees as she pauses on her march up the mountain. She is on a mission to destroy her disappointing marriage by consummating a flirtation with the telephone man. In the smokeless silence, the ambivalently Christian Della knows she has been the recipient of a kind of grace and backtracks to return home. Barbara Kingsolver follows Dellarobia and the aftermath of her vision in her most recent entry on the New York Times bestsellers list, Flight Behavior.
Della and her husband Cub live with their two young children in the shadow of his domineering parents on the family farm situated in a rural Tennessee valley. Scarcely adequate high school educations and a severe dearth of employment opportunities mean the Turnbows, along with most folks in their community, are scrambling each month to survive. In danger of losing their land, Cub’s parents view Money Tree Logging Company’s bid to clear cut a portion of their property as an answer to their fiscal prayers. Silent about her vision and uncertain as to its import, Della convinces the family to hike the land, where they discover Della’s fire is actually an immense roost of Monarch butterflies.
As in earlier books such as Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver intertwines an environmental issue—in this instance, climate change—as in integral piece of the larger story. Along with the King Billies, as the butterflies are colloquially known, come scientists, tourists, and opportunists which include the local media, all with a different interest in the flock. Della and her family struggle to come to terms with the changes brought by the insects both to their community and individually. With a background in biology, Kingsolver marries the scientific tale of migratory butterflies to the human struggle for meaning and self-fulfillment in Flight Behavior.
You are cordially invited to attend Angelica Silverstein’s fairy tale wedding in Yona McDonough’s A Wedding in Great Neck. Angelica is set to marry Ohad, a former fighter pilot, but this event is more about Angelica’s family than the bride and groom. The whole Silverstein clan is gathering in Great Neck, including one ex-husband, two separated spouses, and one sullen teenager. Angelica’s sister, Gretchen, is dealing with a failed marriage and twin teenage daughters, including Justine who is exceptionally moody. Brother Teddy is a bit of a blowhard, while other brother Caleb is up in the air with his career and new romance. All three siblings are dealing with repressed jealousy of Angelica, the perceived favorite of both parents. And let’s meet those parents - Betsy and Lincoln. Betsy is on her second husband and he’s given her security and the dream lifestyle she’s always wanted. Lincoln (hubby number one) is a recovering alcoholic and something of a slouch when it comes to work and family. Rounding out the family circle is Betsy’s mother, Lenore, who usually limits her advice to foundation garments, but has decided her loved ones need help and they need it today.
When Justine’s actions threaten the wedding, all of the bottled-up family tensions bubble to the surface. Whether Angelica and Ohad become man and wife is at question, and before the day is over the lives of all the players are irrevocably changed. Written in three parts over the course of the wedding day, readers are treated to the inner workings of a wedding extravaganza while meeting unique, real characters with recognizable issues. Enjoy the delights of white tents and black ties, diamonds and designer dresses, but ultimately this is a story about the distinct characters which create a most remarkable family.
Grab a coffee and croissant and settle in with The Bookseller, Mark Pryor’s debut novel and the first book in a promising new series. Pryor has written a fascinating story featuring intelligence officer Hugo Marston. Marston works for the United States Embassy and is lucky enough to live in Paris, where he seems to thrive in the “City of Lights.” Although American, he clearly relishes in the daily habits of the French. He enjoys coffee or wine in outdoor cafes and buys his books from the sidewalk bouqinistes (or booksellers).
Marston’s idyllic life in Paris is suspended when he witnesses Max, his favorite bookseller, being kidnapped at gunpoint. Marston sets off on a hunt to find Max. Through his investigation, he discovers that Max is much more than a humble bookseller. Max is a Holocaust survivor who went on to become a Nazi hunter and has tracked down some of the war’s most notorious criminals. Max’s background is just one of many surprises that Hugo encounters. As he gets further into his search, he uncovers corruption and dark secrets from France’s past.
Pryor clearly has a passion for Paris. He brings the city to life, giving readers a tangible sense of daily life in the city. His atmospheric prose transports the reader directly to the streets of the city. The Bookseller is highly recommended fans of John le Carré or Alan Furst.
Home by Matthew Costello follows a mother and her two children as they make their way back to New York City in a hostile post-apocalyptic environment. Tragic events preceding this novel have forced Christie Murphy and her two children to flee a family vacation camp and head out into the unknown. Creatures known as Can Heads are roaming in mobs, killing and eating anything or anyone that gets in their way. Christie needs to usher her children past several small towns that could possibly have a mob mentality and try to make it to the safety of a fenced and protected highway. They must face check points for entry, and their lack of any identification could hinder their progress. Without any active radio broadcasts, they cannot be sure that things are still the same in New York. Their home and neighborhood could have been overrun with horrible, hungry, feral cannibals. Will their home still be safe and protected or will they need to formulate a plan that could take them to another destination?
Readers who love a chilling, horror tale will really enjoy Costello’s writing style. He is good at terse suspense, and his use of shorter chapters and many action sequences keep the novel fresh and exciting. He creates an interesting zombie-like villain without trying to recreate actual zombie lore, and this makes Home a thrilling read. The novel Home picks up after the events in his earlier novel, Vacation. Fans of The Walking Dead will really devour this novel.
Good things come in small packages this time of year, as this delightful trio of recently published stocking stuffer-sized books demonstrates. From pondering the idiosyncrasies of domestic life with man's best friend (dog or cat) to a quirky collection of curious tidbits about our world, here are some lighthearted, quick reads to enjoy or give.
Feline lovers will cheer for Toby Jug, the enterprising black and white kitten in Denis O'Connor's Paw Prints in the Moonlight: the Heartwarming True Story of One Man and His Cat. Set in rural Northumberland, O'Connor rescues the badly injured kitten one snowy night and brings it back to his 18th century cottage, where he keeps the kitten in a large cotton ball-cushioned pitcher. The kindhearted nature lover and his Maine Coon form an inseparable bond through many of Toby Jug's escapades. Lovely descriptions of the English countryside and delicate color illustrations enrich this poignant and charming tale for young and old.
Unfortunately, it’s not all domestic bliss for Richard Cohen when the family pet gets in the way. His new book, I Want to Kill the Dog, chronicles in jest the master-versus-canine tug of war. The author is married to television journalist Meredith Vieira, definitely the animal lover of this long married couple. Jasper is the “dog of many flavors," whose many annoying habits (ear splitting bark, for one) threaten marital harmony. Pet peeves aside, Cohen’s story belies what is really important: marriage and family come with good and bad and even the dog.
A potpourri of trivia awaits readers of Alex Palmer's Weird-o-pedia: the Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about (Supposedly) Ordinary Things. For instance, did you know that mosquitoes prefer people with Type O blood, or that humming is good for your sinuses? In 12 humorous chapters, each containing alphabetized entries, Palmer focuses on food and drink, friends and family, work, play, and so forth. A useful list of sources is also included. Parents beware, though; some mature topics are presented.
Audiences continue to be fascinated by the life and work of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. He is the subject of the new theatrical film based on Stephen Rebello’s Hitchcock!: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Rebello begins with the story of Ed Gein, whose grisly crimes inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel Psycho. Hitchcock’s selection of Bloch’s gruesome novel was an abrupt departure from the expected, eliciting doubt from everyone including the studio. When Paramount made it clear that they wouldn’t back Psycho, Hitchcock offered to finance the movie himself if Paramount would distribute the finished product. Rebello pulls together details about the production of the film and explores the public reaction after its record-breaking openings in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago in June 1960. Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren, brings to life Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma and their collaboration during the production of Psycho.
Audiences looking for more Hitchcock will also want to see HBO’s The Girl. The film focuses largely on Hitchcock’s dark and often abusive relationship with Tippi Hedren, leading lady in his iconic films The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock and Hedren, played by Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, create unforgettable films together but at a steep price to Hedren’s well-being.
One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World, written and impressively illustrated by Joe McKendry, is the history of one building and the surrounding neighborhood situated at one of the planet’s most well-known intersections. The “bow tie” confluence of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in New York City has attracted millions to gaze at its lights, and one night a year, the dropping of an illuminated ball that marks the end of one year and the beginning of another.
Given the varied phases that Times Square has gone through in just the past fifty or so years, it can be hard to imagine that in the 19th century the area was a rural pasture. Later in the 1800s it became a manufacturing center, particularly for carriage builders. Only in the end of that century did the first theatres move into the area. The name “Times Square” first came into being in 1904 when the New York Times constructed the building whose address would become One Times Square. Although the newspaper quickly outgrew the tall, thin, ornate structure, and moved to a nearby street off the square, the name for the area stuck.
McKendry does an amazing job with vivid watercolors that match the hustle and bustle of Times Square. Pages are filled with signs, lights, and advertisements that place the reader into the pages’ chronology. Line drawings and illustrations in sepia hues mark earlier eras. Even the cover imagery is chosen smartly, with a depiction of the intersection closely resembling the stage lights of Broadway theatres. Fascinating details about the history and engineering of the lights, marquées, and the “zipper” news bulletin that wraps around buildings is included. For those who are preparing for their first visit to the heart of Manhattan, or for those who have walked through the area on countless occasions, One Times Square is a visual and historical treat.
Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis honors seventeen civil rights heroes in the beautifully illustrated collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. While Lewis’ poems celebrate well-known leaders such as Coretta Scott King and Mohandas Gandhi, he also uses this as an opportunity to present lesser known heroes to today’s children. These include Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy activist. and Dennis James Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement and Anishinabe political activist. The verses bring to life the spirit of these men and women who impacted the world at large and each is accompanied by a beautiful artwork from four of today’s most celebrated illustrators.
Activism is at the heart of Crow, by adult author Barbara Wright, her first novel for children. It’s the summer of 1898, and Moses Thomas of Wilmington, North Carolina is looking forward to a fabulous summer vacation. But things don’t go as planned when his best friend finds a new pal, his father and grandmother intensify their squabbling, and his mother works long days as a maid for a rich white family. He also grows increasingly aware of the escalating tension between the African American and white communities. Moses’ dad is an alderman in town and works for the African American newspaper. The African American middle class in Wilmington is growing, but not everyone is pleased with the power wielded by this population, and a White Declaration of Independence is issued. Leading African American figures, including Moses’ father, are told to leave town. The resulting riots bring devastation to the community and directly impact Moses’ family and future. Told from the realistic point of view of a courageous young boy, this story combines historic details of the disenfranchisement of the African American community in one town with a moving coming of age story.
In Kate Locke’s God Save the Queen, the Plague has infected the Aristocracy with something called the Prometheus Protein, which led to vampirism in England and lycanthropy in Scotland. Queen Victoria, a vampire, is about to celebrate 175 years on the throne. British society is now a strange blend of Victorian and modern, and the social ranks are comprised of the infected Aristocracy, Halvies (the half-blood offspring of the Aristocracy), and humans. They all coexist, but animosity between humans and the infected is high.
Xandra Vardan, a member of the Royal Guard, is a halvie; her mother was a human courtesan, and her father is an Aristo vampire. Shortly after Xandra’s half-sister Dede disappeared, her family was told that Dede committed suicide, but Xandra has good reason to believe that the corpse provided for her family to identify is not her sister. Xandra’s search for Dede leads her to the goblins’ underground kingdom and to Bedlam where she learns about dark secrets that someone would kill to keep hidden. She soon realizes that everyone she trusts may be part of a conspiracy, and her blood could be key to it all. With the help of Vex MacLaughlin, the sexy Alpha of the UK wolves, and an unlikely cast of outsiders, Xandra must navigate the secrets and lies that could bring down the British Empire.
Locke’s unique blend of alternate history, urban fantasy, romance, and steampunk will appeal to readers who enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. Xandra is a tough, smart heroine, and the story reads like the script of an action movie. The Queen is Dead, the next book in Locke’s Immortal Empire series, will be published in February 2013.