We’re still easing into the summer routine (more books than sweaters), but the publishing world is all “get your read on, already!” We should catch up. Okay, so let’s see what the stack of boxes brought us this week.
We’ll start off with Jay Kristoff’s LIFEL1K3, which is the story about a girl and her robot. But that’s not all! It also has radiation-soaked skies, deadly secrets, gangsters, gladiator action, mind powers, super cults, and the bestest of best friends named “Lemon Fresh.” There’s little Kristoff isn’t willing to throw at this book, and the resulting hyperkinetic Romeo & Juliet meets The Terminator storyline is, well, not the sort of book you’ll grab if you’re looking for something to help you sleep. This one starts past 11 on the dial.
And speaking of Romeo & Juliet, we also have Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson. Kirkus Reviews calls this “Fatal Attraction meets Big Little Lies,” which is a bit hyperbolic, we think, for a YA novel, but kids grow up so fast these days. We’ve got Gabe—recent transplant from Austin, TX, who is trying to separate himself from a domineering girlfriend, and Elyse—quite, shy, prone to starring in school plays—who finds herself thrust into the spotlight in the school’s new production of Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-cross’d lovers. Naturally, things get complicated.
And speaking of complicated, Legendary, the sequel to last year’s Caraval by Stephanie Garber, is out this week. Now, when we last saw Donatella Dragna, she had fallen into the magical world of Caraval. She’s survived this long, but the stakes are higher and the treachery is deeper. The only way Donatella can truly gain her freedom is to actually win the Caraval competition. It’s like Cirque du Soleil meets The Hunger Games in here, gentle readers, and the unfortunate consequence of Donatella’s victory may be the ultimate destruction of Caraval itself. Oh noes!
Let’s look at something less complicated, shall we? How about John Drury Clark’s timeless classic on the history of rocket fuel. Ignition!, written some time ago, has been re-issued in a nice and pleasing paperback format. It’s got an introduction by Isaac Asimov (which should date the material a bit for you), and a splendid blurb from Elon Musk, who knows a thing or two about rocket fuel. Clark, much like Richard Feynman, knows that deep science is deeply boring to the non-scientific, which is why Ignition! has the word “informal” in its title. Because sometimes you have to take a step back and acknowledge the big basket of crazy that you’ve brought to this picnic.
Clark gets right to it in his preface where he gives us a brief summary of how science got to his time. 1) We should be able to go to space, but 2) we need some sort of propellant to get us there. 3) Gunpowder is cool, but it’s not strong enough, but hey! 4) We could use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, right? [Some bright mind pointed out that, frankly, you could use “anything that burns, really,” and that’s when the party really got started.]
And speaking of wild dreamers, Patricia Hampl has written a lovely travelogue / memoir / biography about her adventures tracking down some of history’s most compelling slackers. While examining the whole concept of “doing nothing on purpose,” Hampl looks to notable exemplars like a pair of 18th century Irish ladies who ran off to “live in retirement,” along with Gregor Mendel, who had a lot of free time on his hands while he waited for his cross-bred plants to grow, as well as the grand slacker himself, Michel Montaigne, who managed to invent the personal essay by retiring from court life to go sit in his chateau and rail at the world from his writing desk. Leisure is hard work, Hampl might argue, but that’s only because we’ve made it so difficult to actually do it.
And speaking of great vacation plans gone awry, David Sedaris is back this week with Calypso, a book about beaches, middle age, and the occasional tumor joke. Sedaris has a knack for making the mundane extraordinary, and in Calypso, he discovers that the one person you can’t get away from on vacation is yourself.
And speaking of sardonic navel gazing, Michael Ruhlman’s last book isn’t a cookbook, but rather about the grocery store. In Grocery, Ruhlman takes a look at how we interact with food. Not at the table, but before it gets to the table. One of the great transformations of the last century has been the transition from the neighborhood grocery store to the major supermarket chains (and then sort of back again with the upscale neighborhood store). It’s social commentary! It’s a food rant! It’s socio-political reporting! There’s at least one mention of Twinkies!
And speaking of what’s for dinner, we have two books about the Donner Party to offer. The first is Michael Wallis’s historical examination of the ill effects of Manifest Destiny and bad planning in The Best Land Under Heaven. As history notes, George Donner and company planned to travel from Kansas to California, but they were tempted by a “shortcut,” which was a terrible idea (in hindsight, of course). Using hundreds of recently uncovered documents, Wallis cuts through a lot of the myth-making to tell what is probably the definitive account of the ill-fated journey.
Now, if that’s a little dry to your taste [Ed note: You do realize you’re going to use up your yearly quote of terrible cannibal references in one newsletter, right?], how about Alma Katsu’s The Hunger, which is the story of the Donner Party as if it were a spooky supernatural story. It’s like The Terror, but with covered wagons instead of ice-bound ships. What’s not to love there? Well, the bits about humanity pushed to the ragged edge and then doing horrible things in order to survive, we suppose. But other than those things . . .
And we have to admit that we totally kept a book from you a week or so ago. We have no excuse really, because it’s a lavishly illustrated story by the Fan brothers about a boy who goes to where the ocean meets the sky. There are cloud creatures, and whales and balloons, and whales being lifted aloft by balloons, and sharks pretending to be balloons, but we know they’re still sharks. There are dragons and tall-masted ships and even a submarine with lighted windows, and it all reminds of us of William Joyce’s work.
Which reminds us that we may also have neglected to mention Edward Brooke-Hitching’s The Phantom Atlas. Brooke-Hitching likes maps (who doesn’t, really?), but what he’s particularly delighted by is the blunders, mistakes, and the occasional cartographical oops!. Because all of these things came about because someone latched on to a rumor or a dream or a wild idea and liked it hard enough to try to figure out how to get there. There were dreamers back then, as it were, fanciful thinkers with pen and ruler, who weren’t quite content to let the world be as it was, and who wanted there to be more. Sometimes these irregularities led to new discoveries. Sometimes they led to despair and failure. But they always provided an opportunity for adventure.
And speaking of what makes our brains sing, Lisa Feldman Barrett is a psychologist and neuroscientist who is exploring the unmapped regions of the brain where emotions come from. Her book, How Emotions Are Made, posits that emotions are not hard-wired or universal, but are entirely a product of brain, body, and culture. You really are what you think, and how you react is totally a product of your environment (and possibly what you had for lunch).
Which brings us back to the two choices about the Donner Party, doesn’t it? Really, which book produces a more emotional reaction in you? Aha! Just learned something about yourself, didn’t you?
Anyway, let’s put aside that psychobabble and talk about cake. We’re going to have cake next week when we celebrate the release of Erica Sage’s debut novel, Jacked Up. It’s the story about a boy and a ghost and an odd summer camp, and how grief and loneliness create strange bedfellows, and that sometimes a donkey is what is needed to bring people together. Kirkus Reviews says Jacked Up is “an impressive debut novel,” and School Library Journal says the characters will “resonate with young adults.” Foreword Reviews calls it “snappy and clever,” and other witty reviewers say things like “hilariously funny” and “totally heartbreaking.”
Ms. Sage is a local author (she teaches at one of the middle schools in the area, in fact), and we’re delighted to be doing a release party for her. Next Tuesday. After school. Before dinner. We’ll have books and cake. And a completely un-cynical author, because we’re that sort of bookstore.