Colombian novelist and Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez passed away yesterday in Mexico City. He is considered the father of the “magical realism” subgenre of literary fiction, many authors having been influenced by his writing style. Born in a small Colombian town and raised by his grandparents, García Márquez was sent to a Jesuit school near Bogotá where he caught the writing bug. At first, he wanted to be a journalist, but soon after, in his late adolescence, he realized his true calling was as a novelist.
Best known for two mammoth international bestsellers, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, García Márquez wrote a total of six major novels, four novellas, five collections of short stories and a number of nonfiction works. Oprah Winfrey selected One Hundred Years of Solitude for her book club in 2004, and the novel is said to have sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Acclaimed Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes once referred to him as “the most popular and, perhaps, the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes.” Gabriel García Márquez is survived by his wife and two sons.
Three strong new picture books are sure to bring smiles to young readers and their caregivers. Debut author/illustrator Andrew Prahin brings us Brimsby’s Hats, wherein the title character owns and operates a small mail-order hat business out of his cozy home. Each day, his badger friend comes to help design and box the millinery, until one day when it is time for the striped one to set off on a new adventure. Lonely Brimsby must find new friends and a new purpose. Soft digital pastels and engaging characters lift this fine tale that covers the well-worn topic of adjusting to change.
In Sparky!, by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans, a young girl is desperate to have a pet. Her mother declines the pleas, citing the amount of work that is required. Undaunted, she has a sloth sent from Brazil, and instantly (and, as it turns out, ironically) calls him Sparky. The young girl attempts to teach him the sorts of tricks that she expects him to learn, to no avail. He prefers to be a sloth-like sloth! Cool watercolors, hand-drawn lettering and touches of humor for kids and adults are all present in this story of measured expectations.
Some Bugs, by Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan Wenzel, is a raucous introduction to many insects and related crawlers. In simple verse, countless attributes of some bugs are relayed. Each double-page spread brings much to look for, as the young reader may want to try to identify which bugs are depicted. Wenzel’s collage-like, mixed-media illustrations are entomologically accurate but with exaggerated bug eyes. At the end, all of the creatures are identified, including a cat that makes multiple appearances during the proceedings. This picture book is a bright, fun reminder of the insects that soon will again be upon our backyards.
How did it happen? How did humans, in about 30 years, entirely kill off a bird species that once numbered in the millions, if not billions? In A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, researcher Joel Greenberg covers the incredibly fast decline and disappearance of this iconic bird. One of the best-known examples of the end of a species, Greenberg delves deep into the various theories and causes of its extinction.
The mass slaughter of these birds in the years 1850-1880 has been well-documented, and Greenberg describes in great detail the methods (nets, guns, traps, etc.) that were used to capture or kill them. Due to the pigeons’ tendency to flock in the thousands or more, they made for easy targets no matter what method used. While the pigeons were initially found in large numbers from the Eastern seaboard west to the Rockies, their last huge flocks were found mostly in the area of the Great Lakes. Greenberg posits that the pigeons could live only as members of these large flocks; without the protection and community that this provided the birds, they were unable to survive.
After the decades of the late 1800s, only a few were found here and there over their once large range. Finally, in 1914, the last of the Passenger Pigeons, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Greenberg’s book is an elegy marking the centennial of her death and that of her entire species. The national conservation movement, spearheaded by Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others, came too late to save the Passenger Pigeon, but changed the mentality of the limits of human encroachment on nature. Though even with the scholarship and understanding that Greenberg and others have provided, we are left asking ourselves: how did it happen?
Blogger, mom and wife, and, in her own words, “recovering Jesus Freak,” Addie Zierman writes the story of her evangelical adolescence and young adulthood in When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. Raised by parents who belonged to an evangelical church, Addie caught “fire” in her sophomore year of high school when she and her friends became devout Christians, first joining and then creating their own Bible study group at their high school. These were the 1990s, the days of WWJD?, mission trips to save lost souls and contemporary Christian pop music.
Divided into four sections, Zierman provides the reader with a glimpse into the mind of a young evangelical woman who believes she knows the path that her God has put forth. Pressing her along this journey is Chris, a young man three years older, who seems to Addie to have it all figured out. But as she eventually realizes, nothing she does is holy enough for Chris while he is in his own state of “fire,” and they part on bad terms. This breakup points Zierman toward her disillusionment with her beliefs; nonetheless, she enrolls in a conservative Christian college in the Twin Cities. She meets the love of her life, Andrew, who shares Addie’s propensity for standing out from the rest of their classmates. After their marriage, failed attempts to find a church that has everything they’re looking for results in her rebellion against everything. This includes forays into alcohol abuse, a minor infidelity and previously undiagnosed depression. Ultimately, she finds redemption in creating a spiritual center that is right for herself and her family.
Conversationally composed, with very little religious jargon that might bother the casual reader, When We Were on Fire is an exceptional memoir. Relatable to anyone who has ever become fixated on a topic, whether it involves matters of faith, a romantic interest or otherwise, Addie Zierman’s work makes her a writer to watch.
Harrowing and piercingly realistic, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a tour de force of contemporary teen fiction. Nominated for a 2014 William C. Morris Award for best debut of a book for young adults, this is the story of Evan, a disaffected 17-year-old who has been raised solely by his workaholic father since his mother’s death years earlier. Though clever and handsome, Evan and his father have moved so often that his connection to peers is limited. Evan uses his perpetual new-guy status to bed “left-of-normal” girls, including Collette, a teen who used to date one of Evan’s classmates at the boarding school they attend. When their relationship is discovered, Evan and Collette are brutally assaulted, and his father (at last realizing the seriousness of the situation) moves them to a cottage on a lake in Minnesota, near where Evan’s parents grew up.
After a long physical recuperation, Evan works to pick up the pieces of his shattered psyche. Through a therapist’s help, he slowly confronts the PTSD that he has been experiencing. He meets a group of teens, many of whom are spending their last summer at the lake before heading off to college, and they quickly add him to their group. The summer brings romance, friendship and unexpected turns for Evan, growing into a person his pre-assault version never knew had been inside him. Mesrobian deftly handles a number of themes, among them, the uneasy manner in which Evan approaches sex, the eventual fallout between Evan and his father, the highs and lows of casual drug use and how delicately trust can be won and lost. She weaves these into a concise package that is dark, with no easy answers, but is also not hopeless.
The author does a phenomenal job getting the voices right, most remarkably that of Evan. The teens, all of whom are well-drawn, are written with pitch-perfect dialogue, and there are few wasted words. Mesrobian’s well-crafted debut novel is a brutally honest work for older teens from an author with loads of potential.
Never hesitant to state his strong opinion and create controversy, Morrissey has been a lightning rod since he burst onto the scene as The Smiths’ frontman in the 1980s. Now, with Autobiography, he sets his record straight on the many phases of his life and recording career. Whether or not you find him a hopelessly depressing poseur or are a longtime fan and follower (there really is little middle ground!), this stream-of-consciousness memoir will be of interest to most anyone who listened to the music of the era.
Starting with his Manchester childhood and school days, the singer outlines his life through memories that are by turns gauzy and pointed. He shows a surprisingly tight relationship with his family, and includes the tragic deaths of relatives and friends, many of which have seemingly affected his songwriting and have haunted him to this day. Much of the book, naturally, focuses on the many people who Morrissey feels have wronged him. The much-heralded rift between him and his Smiths writing partner Johnny Marr is fairly minor compared to the vitriol Morrissey retains for Mike Joyce, former Smiths drummer, and the British judge that ruled in Joyce’s favor when it came to recording royalties. The usual suspects such as the English music press, the monarchy, Margaret Thatcher, radio DJs, etc. are also the recipients of his bitterness.
While there are no chapters or other breaks in his memoir, it reads quickly. Regarding his personal life, he doesn’t directly address his ambiguous sexuality, and the encounters he has with various celebrities are more interesting than mere name-dropping. He places a focus on the constant touring and the fans more than on his songwriting and records produced. By turns heartbreaking, intriguing, frustrating and peppered with Morrissey’s well-known wit, there is no doubt that Autobiography is a product solely his own – no ghostwriters here.
It’s cookie-baking season again and there are a number of places to look for new recipes to add to your repertoire. A new book from Krisztina Maksai, European Cookies for Every Occasion, takes on old-world favorites with a contemporary twist. Focused specifically on the sweet treats of Central Europe, Maksai’s conversational introductions to each recipe are a good counterpoint to the clear, all-business side of the techniques used as she creates each of the morsels. Clearly coming from a 21st century perspective, she indicates the value of using organic ingredients (such as lemon zest) and her concern over artificial dyes.
This is a gorgeous cookbook full of excellent step-by-step photographs explaining the process of making each cookie. The book is broken into four main sections, starting with Quick and Easy, then Moderately Easy, Moderately Difficult and, finally, Challenging Cookies. Also included is a short list of essential baking tools and an introduction of how Maksai became the baker she is today. In it, she explains the importance of tasting various dark chocolates to select the right one for the application, and also describes why using a double-boiler may not be the best choice for melting chocolate.
Cookie ingredients that are particularly popular in Europe make numerous appearances in the book, such as various jams, marzipan and poppy seeds. Maksai was born in Romania, moved to Germany as a child but grew up in Hungary. Since then, she has lived in Austria, the United States and Hungary once again. This blend of cultures is evident in the cookies she highlights within this elegant cookbook. Krisztina Maksai’s YouTube channel even includes a video of her constructing a stained glass gingerbread house which includes a smoking chimney!
Three new books take on the perennial favorite topic of dinosaurs, but with new information being discovered all the time, adults as well as kids will find themselves learning – or relearning – about these fascinating creatures from the past.
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh focuses on the new developments in paleontology with regard to the outward appearance of dinosaurs. She teams with a group of six acclaimed paleoartists who have worked with museums, movie studios and magazines to properly depict dinosaurs based on the latest research. This includes the discoveries made in the past two decades of the existence of feathers on many dinosaurs. The author, a Sibert medalist, explains in kid-friendly terminology how scientists have come to current conclusions, and how each future discovery could change their minds.
In Tracking Tyrannosaurs: Meet T. rex’s Fascinating Family, from Tiny Terrors to Feathered Giants, Christopher Sloan discusses the many other tyrannosaurs that lived in the Mesozoic Era among their more well-known cousin Tyrannosaurus rex. This National Geographic production features the publisher’s usual excellent art. Graphs and timelines help explain when each of these tyrannosaurs lived, and sidebars discuss the theories that paleontologists have regarding their close relationship to the birds of today. Particularly clear is the explanation of the simultaneous eras of the dinosaurs and the breakup of supercontinent Pangaea resulting in the continents that now exist.
For younger readers deciding on a favorite, The Greatest Dinosaur Ever by Brenda Z. Guiberson contains many options. Gennady Spirin’s double-page oil paint on paper illustrations are in soft but clear colors. Each dinosaur explains the reasons (huge claws, best parent, club-like tail, etc.) as to why it is the greatest dinosaur ever. Sure to spark debate among dino-loving youngsters, there is really no right or wrong selection. The author also focuses on a number of bird-like dinosaurs, again showing the relationship between the “terrible lizards” of long ago and the feathered creatures of today.
Barbara Park, bestselling author of the beloved Junie B. Jones series, among other children’s books, passed away on Friday at the age of 66 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. The series Park was best known for followed the irrepressible Junie B. and her kindergarten (and later first grade) classmates as they encountered everyday situations that vex the average 5- or 6-year-old. Starting with Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, these books have entertained countless first-time readers. Aside from activity books and other related Junie B. material, Park published 28 Junie B. Jones titles.
Beyond Junie B., Park also excelled at writing other children’s books. Two of her best-known have been contemporary classics since their publication. Skinnybones follows the smallest kid on his baseball team who unfortunately also has the biggest mouth. For older kids, the tragic story Mick Harte Was Here covers the aftermath of a sister coping with the biking death of her brother. Acclaimed author Judy Blume was among the many who, over the weekend, spoke about Park’s enduring legacy, stating that some of Junie B.’s admirers confused the two: "I'd always say, 'I didn't write them, but I wish I had."