This week, Michael Pollan's latest, Mo Willems's latest, and a white-knuckle WWII true story. Plus: why time is "the heart of nature."
Snapper by Brian Kimberling (Pantheon) - Kimberling, formerly a professional birdwatcher, grew up in southern Indiana, the setting of his catchy, well-written debut novel. Nathan Lochmueller, a recent philosophy graduate, takes a low-paying job as a songbird researcher at his alma mater, Indiana University, during the mid-1990s. An accomplished, ironic Midwest coming-of-age novel.
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick) - Marchetta triumphantly concludes the trilogy that began with Finnikin of the Rock, as the kingdoms of Lumatere and Charyn attempt to bridge past atrocities through a new generation of leaders. Although tragedies arise, unity and healing are core themes, compared to the horrors of the previous books.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (Penguin) - Divided into four chapters based on the four elements, Pollan eloquently explains how grilling with fire, braising (water), baking bread (air), and fermented foods (earth) have impacted our health and culture. Engrossing, enlightening reading.
Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin (HMH) - Contrary to Plato and Einstein, theoretical physicist Smolin (The Trouble with Physics) asserts that “not only is time real, but nothing we know or experience gets closer to the heart of nature than the reality of time.” Smolin makes an energetic case for a paradigm shift that could produce mind-boggling changes in the way we experience our world.
The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard (Picador) - In Stothard's gritty but elegant U.S. debut, an English teenager travels alone to Los Angeles after the death of her estranged mother, Lily. Expelled from school and struggling with her father and stepmother, the unnamed girl sets off to learn more about the enchanting woman she barely knew. Stothard's vivid descriptions of L.A.'s seedy underbelly make for an engaging read.
Vietnam: A View from the Front Lines by Andrew Wiest (Osprey) – A creditable oral history of soldiers and marines who saw combat in Vietnam. Wiest arranges the oral testimonies in chronological chapters, beginning with a concise contextualization before segueing into the men’s individual experiences.
That Is Not a Good Idea! By Mo Willems (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray) - Willems, whose Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs also operated on a balance of threat and humor, models this suspenseful picture book after a silent movie. The sequence concerns a dastardly villain, played by a smirking fox in a top hat, and an ingenue, played by a coy duck in a blue headscarf.
Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (Harper) - In this harrowing true-life adventure, journalist Zuckoff (Lost in Shangri-La) follows the crew of an American B-17 bomber that crash-landed in 1942—while searching for another downed plane—on a vast glacier in the Greenland ice cap, one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on earth. A gripping, white-knuckle narrative.