Tom Wolfe is back. Eighty-one years old, a controversial player on the literary scene since 1965, and still decked out in his hallmark white suit, Wolfe’s newest book proves he is ever a master of pointed social commentary as he skewers Miami and its denizens in his novel, Back to Blood.
Miami: it isn’t just for snowbirds anymore. Officer Nestor Camacho is a young and buff policeman out on patrol on the Biscayne Bay when he is pressed into service to bring down a man clinging to the apex of a 70 foot boat mast. Camacho, in a Herculean show of strength, “rescues” the man, according to accolades heaped upon him by the Miami Herald. Or rather, make that the “Yo No Creo El Miami Herald,” (“I don’t believe the Miami Herald”) as it’s known in the large and influential Cuban population. Camacho is now a pariah among his Cuban family and community for taking down a Cuban refugee before he reached dry land, destroying his chance for asylum.
Wolfe writes his cast of characters with a politically incorrect and sometimes sordid pen. A WASPy newspaper editor thinks he’s found relevance in his association with the Russian benefactor filling the city’s new art museum, who instead may be foisting forgeries into the collection. A gorgeous but naive Cuban nurse thinks she is movin’ on up by having an affair with her Americano employer, a publicity hungry sex-addiction doctor for whom the phrase “physician, heal thyself” seems to be tailor-made. A Haitian professor is ashamed of his heritage yet earns his living teaching Creole while obsessively hoping his sweet daughter can “pass” for white. Nestor is the hub around which these stories turn, presented in Wolfe’s trademark frenetically vivid style. In the same vein as Wolfe’s earlier take on New York in The Bonfire of the Vanities, fans of social satire should enjoy Back to Blood.
High school friends Avishag, Lea and Yael do what typical teen girls do—they gossip about friends, giggle over boys, and daydream about their adult lives to come. But in Israel, soldiers can come from anywhere, even the “caravan classrooms” of small villages, and the girls quickly find themselves serving in the Israeli Defense Force. Shani Boianjiu tells a unique coming-of-age story in her debut novel, The People of Forever are Not Afraid.
The girls are trained in different areas of military expertise-Lea in the military police at a checkpoint, Yael as a marksmen trainer and Avishag as a member of the only female combat unit. While it sounds dangerous and exciting, in reality the girls are bored most of the time as they watch foreigners and refugees sneak across the borders and steal everything not nailed down. They still talk, gossip, and occasionally flirt with other soldiers, but they also grow increasingly numb to the violence that surrounds them. At the novel’s center is the trio’s loss of innocence, but more profound and disturbing is the question-do they even remember that they once had it?
Shani Boianjiu, the youngest winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” earned rave reviews for People. Drawing on her own experiences in the IDF, she has created a novel that is literary yet accessible, and readers will quickly be drawn in by the early, fast action. Boianjiu’s writing is just like her characters-nuanced yet fragmented, disturbing but smart, violent and gritty. While this story is about teens, the strong language and violence make it more appropriate for mature teens and adults.
In his novel Outrage, Arnaldur Indridason deals with the serious subject of rape and its deadly consequences. With Inspector Erlunder on a leave of absence, his colleague Inspector Elinborg is able to take center stage as she is called upon to solve a rather unpleasant crime. A man is found in a Reykjavik apartment with his throat cut and his mouth stuffed full of the date rape drug Rohypnol. There were signs of sexual activity in the apartment that leave Elinborg to wonder if this man was a rapist and perhaps his victim regained consciousness and attacked the attacker. There are few clues to go on, but Elinborg finds a discarded shawl under the bed with a rather familiar scent. Elinborg is an accomplished cook and cookbook writer. She realized the scents are Indian cooking spices, and is able to discern that the victim may also be a lover of this type of cuisine. Following lead after lead, Elinborg tries to discover more about the man in the apartment as well as his possible victim. Delving into the past, she must come to terms with some unpleasant truths about the man whose murder she is trying to solve.
Outrage reads like a standard police procedural and fans of Icelandic mysteries will thoroughly enjoy it. It is nice for Indridason to let Elinborg take lead. She is an interesting character and much is revealed about her home life and her work style. The case is complex and there are many leads to follow, keeping the reader interested and involved. This is the seventh Indridason mystery set in Reykjavik. Readers interesting in knowing what had happened to Erlunder while on leave need only to pick up his previous novel, Hypothermia.
Three of today’s most celebrated designers offer unique books reflecting personal style and sharing ideas for frustrated DIYers. Friend of Oprah and nationally known designer Nate Berkus offers a twist on the traditional decorating book in The Things that Matter. This beautifully illustrated title combines his life story with a diverse tour of homes, including his family and some celebrity friends. His message regarding the value of the things we cherish is clear since these objects reflect our personalities. This will appeal to collectors and those who keep it simple, since it’s all about how the things we love and choose to surround ourselves with fill us with comfort and joy.
Carter Oosterhouse, the popular host of several of HGTV shows, is known for his simple design style. In Carter’s Way, he offers homeowners an inside look at his successful home design process. Each chapter covers a different room or area of the house and highlights the diversity of layouts in homes today. He recognizes the intimidation experienced by homeowners when tackling design projects, but his laid-back attitude provides encouragement. Oosterhouse focuses on environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and readily-found materials, and the specific examples and striking photos illustrate his philosophy.
Thom Filicia is a respected professional designer and former star of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. American Beauty is homage to his two year renovation of a vacation home in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Filicia fell in love with the Lakes as a vacationing child, and the beauty of the area and the Skaneateles Lake is showcased here. Readers are treated to information about the history of his home and also given smart tips on making the right design choices. After two long years, Filicia created the house of his dreams and the 300 stunning photographs will appeal to anyone dreaming of the perfect retreat.
Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, chronicles the life of one of the world’s most important stylemakers. Born into a wealthy family, Diana was designed for greater things. Her younger sister Alexandra was the beauty of the family, a fact that was revealed to Diana constantly by their mother, Emily. Often Diana felt unloved and unappreciated at home, and used creativity and imagination to escape her dull, drab world. She discovered an ability to surround herself with beautiful things, wonderful clothes and interesting people. In 1936, Vreeland joined the staff at Harper’s Bazaar as a fashion editor. While the editor-in-chief was concentrating on Paris couture, Vreeland concentrated on American fashion and design, often spotting new and fresh designers and photographers and pairing them together to create magic. She was able to keep the pages fresh and inviting throughout the WWII era and well into the Fifties. Times changed drastically again with the arrival of the Sixties, and Diana soon found herself at editor-in-chief of the American edition of Vogue. Here she was able to deal with rising hemlines and a youth movement that would change the world of fashion. By 1971 she was fired from Vogue, but Vreeland never stopped. She joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Special Consultant to the Costume Institute, and was able to create exhibits featuring the fashion that she loved.
Vreeland is a fascinating character with an unusual yet powerful voice. Readers who would love to learn about fashion will find much to like in this book. Vreeland's life is captivating, as are the many stories of the designers, photographers and models of that period. It is fascinating to read how world events and the economy shape the ways people look at fashion and determine what is worn. Empress of Fashion is sure to please readers, even with the most discerning tastes.
Real life doesn’t always have a happily ever after. Kids may want to try these two well–written books for stories of real life with real endings. After a violent episode of abuse by her mother and stepfather, twelve-year-old Carley Connors is sent to her first foster home where she is welcomed by Mrs. Murphy, herself a first-timer. In One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Carley tries to survive in a strange new environment while being haunted by broken pieces of memory from that horrible night. New clothes, home-cooked meals and a return to school is a lot of adjustment for this tough, neglected girl from Las Vegas. A less-than-warm welcome from her foster brother and foster father adds to her anxiety. Hunt displays a deft touch with serious issues, showing Carley’s discomfort and distrust of the kindness shown to her without hitting the reader over the head with her angst. Her characters feel genuine with real emotions and concerns. Carley learns a lot about herself and about love while staying with the Murphys.
First published in 1978, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson is another foster child story with similar themes of finding family and finding yourself. Gilly Hopkins is an eleven year old girl bouncing from foster home to foster home until her beautiful mother, Courtney, can come claim her. The book tells the tale of her stay with Maime Trotter, her foster son William Ernest and family friend, blind Mr. Randolph. Gilly is independent, strong-willed and blunt with her opinions, particularly about the “freaks” she has been stuck with. Gilly’s crude language and bad behavior makes her particularly unlikable at first. The reader begins to cheer for this unhappy creature as the details of her life emerge and as she grows to care for her foster family. The winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, The Great Gilly Hopkins still resonates with children today.
Two of last year’s most critically acclaimed picture books happen to be titles featuring headwear. Naoko Stoop’s Red Knit Cap Girl is a gentle, imaginative tale of a young girl who wants to get close enough to the moon to have a conversation. Following the sage advice of Mr. Owl, she enlists the help of her woodland animal friends to send a signal. Bunny, bear, squirrel and hedgehog assist in the hanging of Red Knit Cap Girl’s paper lanterns, made for a special full moon celebration. They sing together, but Moon is absent from the party. Then Red Knit Cap Girl has an epiphany—a quiet, dark forest is most inviting. Stoop’s charmingly old-fashioned illustrations are rendered in pencil, ink and acrylic on plywood. The wood grain adds an appropriately naturalistic element, each page’s background carefully selected to enhance the overall effect. Stoop is also a master at conveying darkness and light, and the subtle shades between.
The minnow protagonist of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat introduces himself to the reader by boldly announcing that his newly acquired chapeau is stolen property. In fact, he himself is the one who snatched it. Rich digital illustrations enhanced by Chinese ink portray a deep black ocean, rife with various hues of brown sea plants. The pictures here tell a story that contradicts the text, leaving observant readers to delight in the thought of what might come next when the hat’s owner, an enormous, no-nonsense fish, discovers it missing. Much like Klassen’s enormously popular I Want my Hat Back, this picture book is driven by wry humor and the power of inference.
The world which Kat Zhang creates in her dystopian debut, What’s Left of Me, is in many ways similar to our own. The biggest difference is when a person is born, two souls exist within each body. After years of war, the government decided to put a stop to this, and created programs to force the souls to settle -- in other words, to get rid of the weaker soul. Children are taught that this is normal, and that having two souls is not. Adults reinforce that hybrids, those with two souls in one body, are evil and create problems in the world, and therefore should be turned over to authorities so they can be fixed.
What’s Left of Me is told from the perspective of Eva, a non-dominant soul, who has refused to settle. Her dominant counterpart, Addie, is afraid of being discovered as a hybrid, but Eva wants to maintain her sense of power. Eva and Addie end up meeting others like them, which only leads to more trouble. After being sent away with their new friends to be “fixed” by the government, Eva and Addie learn what the government has really been doing with hybrids and they join the movement against it.
Kat Zhang’s first novel is a smart, well-told story that leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next novel in the Hybrid Chronicles. The sibling relationship between Eva and Addie and the friendships that they form with other hybrids like them make their experience seem not so far-fetched. Fans of dystopias will surely enjoy this unique new novel.
Children are getting sick in Alexandra Bracken’s new title The Darkest Minds. They are leaving school and never coming back, victims of a mysterious illness. Adults are afraid of the ones who are not sick, the ones who have developed special "abilities". These survivors are rounded up and sent to rehabilitation camps where they are tested, sorted, and imprisoned. Sorted into groups by color (corresponding to ability), the children are forced to work, fed little, and often tortured. Ruby learns right away that orange is a bad color to be, so she pretends to be green. Human touch awakens her ability—at best she can erase people’s memories, at worst she can force thoughts into their heads. At long last she is given the chance to escape, but is life on the run any better than life inside the camp?
Bracken does an especially good job of giving her characters unique and believable voices. Under different circumstances, these kids would be superheroes. Instead, Bracken shows us a society that is afraid of differences as various power-hungry groups vie for control of the children and the power they possess. Fans of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series or Kathy Reichs’ Virals books will be thrilled to find this new science-based adventure, the first in a series.
Fans of the gripping BBC drama Luther will welcome the opportunity to meet an early incarnation of tormented Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther in Luther: The Calling. Readers meeting Luther for the first time will be quickly intrigued by this dedicated detective and head to the DVD shelves to grab copies of the first two seasons. Neil Cross, author of this prequel, is also the show’s creator and sole writer. Fans of the show know that the television series begins with the end of a ghastly case. The novel opens at that case’s inception which involves the savage murders of a young husband and his eight months pregnant wife, as well as the removal of the baby who may still be alive. This investigation and other horrific events lead Luther to an ethical cliff as the novel moves at a rapid pace toward a conclusion that coincides with the opening of episode one of the show.
At the heart of both the compelling series and this gripping, psychological thriller is Luther, a tormented investigator struggling with demons, including rage against the violent perpetrators he encounters. Luther is dedicated to his job to the point of self-annihilation, and his single-mindedness threatens his health and his marriage. His wife, Zoe, has always managed to keep Luther balanced. But lately, their relationship has been off kilter and Luther refuses to take time off to rest and repair. Zoe looks elsewhere for intimacy, while Luther continues in his blind quest to destroy evildoers.
As readers travel through some of the seamier sides of London, there is plenty of action, including graphic violence not for the squeamish. John Luther’s unique character will continue to develop as Cross is hard at work on a new Luther novel and filming of season three of the series starring the delectable and dashing Idris Elba is underway.