This week: the astounding new science of how animals find their way, plus a nail-biting, stay-up-all-night thriller.
Barrie (Sextant), a member of the Royal Institute of Navigation, masterfully conveys new discoveries about animal navigation in this impressive popular science work. In addition to the usual suspects, such as the Monarch butterfly, Barrie relates the achievements of more obscure creatures, including the desert ants of North Africa, which use the sun as a compass. He notes that insect brains, despite their tiny size, consistently “generate an impressively diverse repertoire of navigational behavior.” Even the lowly dung beetle is featured, as it is able to roll balls of dung in a straight line—backwards. Each chapter contains a surprise even for those familiar with the topic, such as the theory that homing pigeons make use of smell to navigate. Barrie cleverly stokes readers’ curiosity about the subject with short sections at the end of each chapter describing even more remarkable, still unexplained feats, such as two-inch-long dragonflies that fly at least 3,500 kilometers over the ocean without stopping. More generally, he expresses a wish that what’s been learned about the “neuroscience of navigation” in many species, including humans, might overcome anthropocentrism, driving home that “we are animals too.” This is a must-read for anyone fascinated with the wonders of nature.
Fleischmann (Syzygy Beauty: An Essay) weaves together art criticism, poetry, and memoir in this introspective and poignant book-length essay. It circles around the interactive art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, providing both an homage to the late artist and an exploration of such issues as power, desire, and activism. Fleischmann writes that Gonzalez-Torres’s “work does not simply endure, but rather replenishes itself, proliferating freedom, grace, and change.” Freedom, grace, and change are themes Fleischmann (who prefers they/them pronouns) examines in their own life as they transition through genders and traverse a range of landscapes, from rural Tennessee to Berlin, along the way reconnecting with lovers, making art with friends, and searching for a dynamic understanding of bodies and identity that transcends traditional labels. Fleischmann also writes about taking hormones and moving from gay culture into a more gender queer scene. Throughout the book, Fleischmann articulates the power in finally becoming visible in a world hostile to gender fluidity, recalling that previously, “I never knew people like me existed, so I never imagined myself next to someone or not.” Their remark that between “the epistolary or the journal, I try to have each at once” eloquently summarizes the form of a perceptive and compassionate narrative that beautifully breaks with the limits of genre and gender.
Bestseller Horowitz’s doppelganger, also named Anthony Horowitz, once again plays Dr. Watson to PI Daniel Hawthorne’s Sherlock Holmes in the British author’s superb sequel to 2018’s The Word Is Murder. This time the astute, if irritating, detective ropes Tony into helping him investigate the murder of high-powered London divorce lawyer Richard Pryce, who was struck on the head with a bottle of expensive wine in his home. The obvious suspect is prickly poet and novelist Akira Anno, who threatened to hit Pryce with a wine bottle in a restaurant where they ran into each other days before the murder. Pryce was representing Akira’s husband in a divorce settlement in which she felt she was getting a raw deal. Other suspects emerge in the complicated case, which may have its roots in a caving expedition that Pryce and two close friends took 10 years before in Yorkshire; one of those friends died while trapped in a cave during a rainstorm. Leavening the grim story line are deliciously comic scenes in which Tony typically makes a wrong deduction or suffers a personal slight (Akira disdains him because he writes popular fiction). Horowitz plays fair with the reader all the way to the surprise reveal of the killer’s identity. Fans of traditional puzzle mysteries will be enthralled.
Strong characters and relatable situations elevate Layne’s bighearted contemporary. When self-made woman Naomi Powell receives a message that she’s been approved for an interview for a fancy Park Avenue co-op, she isn’t sure what to think. She is looking for a place to live, but the building holds terrible memories from her childhood: her late mother was a housekeeper there until her employer, Mr. Cunningham, fired and blacklisted her. To complicate matters, Naomi’s mother is the one who sent in the application without Naomi’s knowledge. Naomi goes to the interview and comes face-to-face with Oliver Cunningham, the son of her mother’s ex-employer, who surprises them both by approving her purchase of the apartment. The sting of betrayal is fresh in Naomi’s mind, but Oliver doesn’t remember Naomi or her mother, and he’s quickly confused by both his new neighbor’s anger at him and their instant mutual attraction. When Oliver needs daytime help for his elderly father, who now has Alzheimer’s, Naomi’s snap decision to volunteer changes the nature of their relationship and sets these two strong personalities up for a collision course. This vivid enemies-to-lovers romance digs into class differences, emotional baggage, and the reality of dealing with aging parents.
Bestseller Lee’s riveting third Sam Dryden novel (after 2015’s Signal) reads like an amped-up version of TV’s Stranger Things. In the small town of Brookings, Ore., Danica Ellis is attacked in a store by a man and a woman who are intent on abducting her. She escapes. Dryden, a former Special Forces operative, lives in Malibu, Calif., where he fixes up old houses. A man with a pistol attacks him, but he also escapes. Using his assailant’s cell phone, Sam learns that there’s another intended victim, a woman, who is in danger. Sam links up with the woman, Danica, and together they try to figure out who wants them and why. Flash back to 1989: Sam is 12 years old and recently moved to Ashland, Iowa. Sam meets another 12-year-old, Dani Ellis, and thus begins the fascinating story of the mystery of Ashland, which is in reality a secret military site. In an intriguing twist, Sam and Danica, as adults, have no memory of having known each other in 1989. This is a compulsive, nail-biting, stay-up-all-night thriller.
Luetkenhaus and Weinstein, librarians at, respectively, Oklahoma State University and Brandeis, devote this scholarly yet playful study to ongoing endeavors to broaden the world of Jane Austen “from petticoats to hashtags.” They reveal that her enthusiastic fans, known as “Janeites,” have long sought to explore and expand on her relatively slight canon of six completed novels. Janeites began making “pilgrimages to various Austen-related sites as early as the 1850s,” while 1914 saw the publication of the first Austen fanfiction. The Internet has allowed easier communication between Austen fans, but has also increased tensions between academics and amateurs; as self-described “aca-fans,” Luetkenhaus and Weinstein attempt to bridge this divide by defining fandom as inclusive of everyone driven by enthusiasm to engage with Austen’s work. As such, fanfiction can include amateur efforts posted at such sites as Archive of Our Own and professionally published books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Thematically, fans have expanded Austen’s repertoire to feminism (in the YouTube adaptation, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and to sex, of both the straight and LGBTQ varieties. In showing the range and inventiveness of modern extensions of Austen’s timeless social commentaries, Luetkenhaus and Weinstein will delight old and new Austen fans.
Written in first-person free verse, this timely book traces the internal journey of a young Syrian refugee adjusting to a new home and culture in the U.S. When violence erupts near their seaside city, Jude and her pregnant mother flee to Cincinnati to stay with Jude’s uncle and his family while her shopkeeper father and activist brother (“He is always talking about change”) stay behind. In the U.S., Jude is warmly welcomed by her aunt and uncle but treated with cool indifference by her cousin, who abandons her at school, leaving Jude to navigate seventh grade in a new environment on her own. Jude struggles to fit in among students who “don’t look like me,” but she remembers her brother’s parting words—“Be brave”—and finds comfort with her new friend Layla, whose parents are from Lebanon. Rhythmic lines distill Jude’s deepest emotions—homesickness, fear when her brother enters a war zone, shock over prejudice in the U.S., and a sense of victory when she receives a speaking role in the school play. Warga (My Heart and Other Black Holes) effectively shows, as she writes in an author’s note, that “children who are fleeing from a war zone... want the same things all of us do—love, understanding, safety, a chance at happiness.” Ages 8–12.