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The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life

David Brooks. Random House, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9326-4

In this ardent follow-up to The Road to Character, New York Times columnist Brooks explores his thinking about factors that form a moral life. He confesses that he wishes to “in part compensate for the limitations of” his previous book, as he no longer believes that character formation is based entirely on individual achievements. Instead, Brooks now professes that one builds character by giving oneself away to a community—or to a cause out of love—a premise that manifests itself in his theory of “the two mountains.” For Brooks, the summit of the first mountain is traditional success based on one’s achievements. Along the way, one can expect failure or setbacks. Through the ensuing stage of suffering (the valley), one gets the strength and life experience to commit to climbing the second mountain, where Brooks believes true joy can be found. Enjoying one’s work, getting married, studying philosophy or religion, and establishing community helps to form the path between the mountains, Brooks writes. As he teases apart his metaphor, Brooks relates his own experiences: a newfound love after divorce and a religious awakening that has brought him to the cusp of Christianity from Judaism. While some readers will find his revelations obvious, Brooks’s melding of personal responsibility with respect for community will have broad appeal. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Sweet on You

Becky Wade. Bethany House, $13.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1938-2

Wade’s pleasing finale to the Bradford Sister Series (after Falling for You) follows Britt, the youngest sister, as she faces the truth about how her longtime best friend Zander Ford has really felt about her. Zander, a renowned author, returns to Merryweather, Wash., from an 18-month world tour to mourn the death of his uncle. From the moment he’s back, he realizes that his unrequited love for Britt, his exuberant childhood friend, hasn’t changed at all. Britt, a successful chocolatier with a thriving business, ignores the twinges of attraction she feels for Zander and is unwilling to explore a romance with the guy everyone else thinks is perfect for her. But when it’s discovered Zander’s uncle might have had a second identity, Britt volunteers to help investigate his past, uncovering a dangerous mystery. In the process, headstrong Britt must face appearing needy and weak—even in front of God—and Zander must confront his greatest fear: losing Britt. Britt’s sisters return as strong support characters. Wade will delight readers with mouthwatering descriptions of chocolate and cozy scenes of friendship. Series fans will find this a fitting conclusion. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Rock, Paper, Scissors

Maxim Osipov, trans. from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk, Alexandra Fleming, and Anne Marie Jackson. New York Review Books, $17.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-68137-332-4

Osipov makes his English-language debut with this masterful and sublime collection, largely set in rural Russian villages. In “Moscow-Petrozavodsk” a young doctor is taking the 14-hour trip from Moscow to Petrozavodsk for a medical conference. When Tolya, a fellow traveler, goes into alcohol withdrawal, the doctor, trying to be helpful, alerts the train crew that Tolya needs medical treatment. Instead, he unwittingly causes Tolya to be thrown off the train and beaten by police at the next stop. Indignant, the doctor pays a visit to Colonel Schatz, a local arbitrator of law and order, who promptly turns the doctor’s simple narrative of justice and injustice upside down. In “On the Banks of the Spree,” Betty is flying to Berlin from her home in Moscow to meet a half-sister for the first time, whose existence is one of several secrets her father, a retired KGB spy, has recently revealed. The title story, the stand-out of the collection, begins as a simple, pastoral tale as Ksenia Nikolayevna Knysh, head of the region’s legislative assembly, plans to build a new chapel in memory of her deceased daughter. At first, the story seems a simple sketch of a mid-level bureaucrat, but when an ethnic Tajik seasonal worker is accused of murder, themes of religious tension and gender injustice break the surface. This collection showcases Osipov’s talent in creating subtle, sophisticated character portraits that carry a good dose of suspense. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Crossing

Pajtim Statovci, trans. from the Finnish by David Hackston. Pantheon, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4749-7

Two young Albanian men yearn to escape their fractured country in this disorienting but affecting novel from Statovci (My Cat Yugoslavia). Fourteen-year-old Bujar struggles to cope with his father’s death in 1990, just as Albania lurches toward capitalism in the aftermath of communist leader Enver Hoxha’s death. With his mother incapacitated by grief, Bujar and his best friend Agim, who is tentatively exploring his gender identity, decide to earn money any way possible in order to fund their dream of seeking asylum in Western Europe. They sell stolen cigarettes in the capital, Tirana, and then tourist trinkets in the port of Durrës. Their story of escape blends with the Albanian myths Bujar’s father told and appears in between stories about the dizzyingly fabricated identities one of them takes on during a series of moves to Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United States. A final move to Finland in 2003 sets the stage for the deep betrayal of a new love interest and the shocking conclusion that explains why the two boys are no longer together. The matter-of-fact depiction of numerous traumas intensifies the impact. Statovci memorably portrays the struggles and dislocations of his complicated characters. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Key to Happily Ever After

Tif Marcelo. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9758-1

Marcelo (West Coast Love) charms in this feel-good story about three Filipino sisters, the Alexandria, Va., bridal boutique they inherit from their parents, and their bumpy roads to happily-ever-after. Mari de la Rosa is the oldest at 32, and the most type-A of the bunch, immediately minting herself as CEO of Rings and Roses; Jane, 30, is an even-keeled single mother to a young son and takes charge of the shop’s books; and 26-year-old Pearl is creative but incapable of showing up on time. The story toggles between Mari’s point of view and Pearl’s as Pearl asks for more responsibility and Mari is reluctant to comply. After Pearl brings in a coveted local bride, a wealthy socialite, she and Mari have a bitter fight about Mari’s rigidity and Pearl’s fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants nature. The layered plot, which includes a dark period in Mari’s past that places roadblock to finding love in the present, and the cast of colorful supporting characters, particularly sassy shop seamstress Amelia, are a treat. Fans of Jill Shalvis and Jane Green will particularly enjoy this. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Tubman Command

Elizabeth Cobbs. Arcade, $24.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-948924-34-4

Cobbs (The Hamilton Affair) delivers an immersive account of Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the 1863 Combahee Ferry raid. As a spy for the Union Army in Yankee-occupied Beaufort, S.C., Harriet works for General David Hunter. In order to convince Hunter to take ships down the Combahee River to free slaves, Harriet must discover the location of torpedoes in the river, which she does with the help of scouts Samuel Heyward and Walter Plowden. After the raid commences, complications arise when there isn’t enough room on the ships to transport all the rescued slaves, though many are freed in the raid. Rich historical detail adds texture, but the highlight is Harriet, a woman who repeatedly risks her life for the freedom of others. Cobbs’s terrific portrait of Tubman will both move and inform readers. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Tooth & Claw: The Dinosaur Wars

Deborah Noyes. Viking, $18.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-425-28984-6

The title of this account aptly references both the breakthrough discoveries and the obsessive rivalry between two 19th-century American paleontologists. Born into a Quaker family in Philadelphia, Edward Cope was a self-taught prodigy with a passion for the natural sciences. While traveling in Europe, Cope met Othniel Charles Marsh, who would become Yale’s first professor of paleontology, and the two bonded over their shared ambition—before “the blade of rivalry” severed their friendship. Noyes (The Magician and the Spirits) provides a snappily written account of the equally indomitable scientists’ frenzied race to be the first to locate, excavate, and assemble dinosaur bones and name species. Laced with jealousy, betrayal, sabotage, and revenge, this quest brings them to various sites as their professional and personal enmity plays out in the press. The author provides insight into the rivals’ outsize personalities and casts their story against the volatile political, territorial, and economic landscapes of the era. Still, while she acknowledges that white Americans were then conducting an “attack on the Plains Indians’ way of life,” her language veers into bias in places, generalizing the Crow as “congenial” and “peaceful” and some lands as “unknown terrain.” Sidebars and cameos give the book additional historical context. Ages 10–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer

Emily Arnold McCully. Candlewick, $19.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9356-5

McCully (She Did It!) dramatically details the life of Augusta Ada Lovelace (1815–1852), the person first credited with understanding a computer’s potential beyond mathematical calculation. Lovelace’s father was the poet Lord Byron, and her childhood was framed by her principled, domineering mother’s determination to eradicate all traces of his paternity. Privately tutored in mathematics to ward off any poetical instincts, Lovelace thrived intellectually even as she endured physical ill-health and her mother’s emotional coldness. Her introduction at age 17 to her future mentor and collaborator Charles Babbage, inventor of the earliest computer prototypes, changed her life, offering intellectual food and challenge. McCully proceeds with clear explanations of Lovelace’s intellectual activities—in particular, Note G, in which Lovelace proposes an algorithm considered to be the first for a computer—while blending a largely sympathetic view of her personal life: marriage, offspring, gambling and other addictions, and early death from uterine cancer. Archival photos and illustrations, appendices, source notes, a glossary, and a bibliography deepen the portrait of this singular figure whose impact on science and technology has long been understated. Ages 10–14. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Martin and Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

Nancy Churnin, illus. by Yevgenia Nayberg. Creston, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-939547-53-8

Churnin (Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing) adds to her repertoire of biographies for children with this side-by-side comparison of Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank. Both born in 1929, though an ocean apart, each endured discrimination and, eventually, death because of who they were. A straightforward narrative points out that, while they never met, the contemporaries were connected by shared experiences: being shunned by their peers as children; experiencing injustices small and large (“Everywhere Martin went, he saw signs that said, ‘Whites Only’... Every day, more signs blared, ‘No Jews Allowed’ ”); and finally finding power in words and self-expression. Stylized illustrations by Nayberg (Anya’s Secret Society) initially employ a muted color palette of tawny, brooding hues, while ending spreads in brighter greens and blues strike a hopeful note. As the teenage diarist and civil rights leader stand together, the timeless, powerful themes they heralded form the conclusion: “Love is stronger than hate. Kindness can heal the world.” A timeline and selected bibliography are included. Ages 8–14. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women

Rey Terciero, illus. by Bre Indigo. Little, Brown, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-52288-5

This graphic novel retelling of Little Women reimagines the March sisters as a blended family—Meg and her father are black, Jo and her mother are white, and their younger siblings, Beth and Amy, are biracial—in a modern-day Brooklyn setting. With their father in the military, fighting in the Middle East (“making the world a safer place” for “my little women,” he writes), and their mother struggling with the emotional and financial stress of single parenthood, the girls vow to think beyond themselves to help their mother and “be strong,” like her. Readers familiar with the original will find the sisters’ personalities familiar, but Terciero and Indigo give the sisters timely concerns. Eldest sister Meg must make serious decisions about her future, youngest sister Amy faces racist bullying at school, and Jo is hiding her queer identity from her family and friends, including neighbor Laurie. And for shy budding musician Beth, recent tiredness hints at an illness that can’t be ignored. Journal entries and emails to their father give readers a deeper understanding of the siblings’ inner emotions and turmoil while adding dimension and realism to comfortable sibling banter. Smart and thoughtfully rendered, this modern retelling will resonate with today’s readers. Ages 9–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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