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An environmental activist, educator, and intrepid traveler recounts his efforts to protect the wilderness.

In May 1970, Henley (As If the Earth Matters: Recommitting to Environmental Education, 2007, etc.), soon to be a senior at Michigan State University, took off for a summer of backpacking in Mt. McKinley National Park. Suddenly, he received word from his parents that he was wanted by the FBI for failure to respond to a draft notice. An objector to the Vietnam War, Henley became a fugitive—and his life of adventure began. For much of the early 1970s, the author traveled around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, taking odd jobs and living among the hippies, conscientious objectors, and assorted eccentric characters with whom he shared “a throbbing sense of community spirit” and copious amounts of cannabis. Ending up in Haida Gwaii in Queen Charlotte Sound, he felt a powerful, visceral connection to the land. When he discovered that the South Moresby Wilderness Area was threatened by the logging industry, he mounted a vigorous environmental campaign. “Its creation,” he writes, “marked the first registered environmental group in Islands’ history.” At the same time, Henley saw the need to educate Haida children about nature: the area had a high juvenile crime rate as well as considerable antipathy between First Nation and nonindigenous boys and girls. With the support of the community, he established the Rediscovery program and camps that grew to become recognized “as a global model for reconciliation.” The Haida adopted him, giving him the clan name Raven Walks Around the World, but Henley’s rigorous, often perilous adventures hardly stopped in that community. Consumed by wanderlust, he traveled to 130 countries on every continent, including Antarctica, by air, land, and sea. Lecturing on a superluxurious private ship, he reflected on his peripatetic life: “From hitchhiking barefoot and penniless in Central America to cruising aboard the largest and most exclusive passenger vessel that continually circumnavigates the globe, I’d pretty much seen it all.”

A celebration of nature and passionate call for stewardship of the planet.

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An Irish expatriate steps back into a nightmare from her student days.

Alison Smith left St. Johns College in Dublin two days after her boyfriend was arrested for murdering five female students, and she’s stayed away for nearly 10 years. She’s found contentment of a sort at a job in the Netherlands, though she continues to resist a friend’s attempts to set her up with eligible men. Then two Irish detectives come to her door and ask her to come home and talk to her ex, Will Hurley. He’s been in a psychiatric hospital ever since he confessed to being the killer who preyed on lone female students. But now another victim’s body has been found in Dublin’s Grand Canal, and Will says he has information he’ll share only with Alison. Even though she's spent the last decade pretending her year at St. Johns never happened, Alison agrees to help Will prove his innocence. It’s a plus that Michael Malone, one of the two Garda detectives who brought her back to Dublin, also thinks Will is telling the truth. In flashbacks, we see Alison's excitement at leaving her childhood home in Cork for Dublin, searching for student digs and going to parties, her romance with Will, and her growing doubts about her BFF Liz’s friendship. But she never doubted Will, never suspected him, and never thought that her desire to tell the truth would lead to his guilty plea. It’s partly to right that unintentional wrong—and partly because of the encouragement from Detective Malone—that she tries to find the real Canal Killer. Amid distracting details about clothes and cushions, she confronts not only a past tragedy, but a current threat.

Although Howard (Distress Signals, 2017) meanders a bit through the streets and shops and pubs of Cork and Dublin, she picks up the pace when it most matters—and tosses a lovely curveball at the end, too.

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An Everyman detective is asked to solve a murder in a wealthy community in which ample motives and abundant resources make everyone a suspect.

Caroline Campbell wishes to celebrate her husband’s 65th birthday in the low-key manner dictated by her breeding. Ostentatious announcements are for other people. So Caro invites several of her and John E.’s closest friends for a weekend at their rural Pennsylvania getaway, Bucolia Farm. As author Richard (Naughty Nana, 2013) shows the guests receiving the engraved invitations, each of the eponymous one-percenters gives clues about what readers may grow to revile about them: greed, pretension, lust. When the guests are assembled, it appears that most are united in their dislike of one of their own. Preston Phillips, who’s earned his invitation as the hostess’s first cousin, is as much a draw to partygoers as he is a repellant. Some have come to Bucolia just to settle a score with Preston. Marshall and Julia Winthrop have been on the wrong side of Preston’s shady business dealings. Vicki and Leon Spiller seem to blame Preston for the death of their teenage son many years ago. For other attendees, feelings about Preston are more mixed. His former fiancee, Margo, whom he left at the altar years ago, finds herself almost willing to make amends. When Preston doesn’t make it through the celebration weekend alive, Detective Oliver Parrott, who takes charge of the case, is so struck by the partygoers’ consensual impressions of the selfish businessman that he realizes the case may be more about who didn’t kill Preston than who did.

Richard’s inclination to favor the one-percenters’ perspectives may leave readers craving more of the wicked socialite skewing that’s employed only intermittently in her adult mystery debut.

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A middle-grade novel tells the story of an outsider who searches for something that will make him special.

Jarrod likes bugs. He keeps them in his bedroom and feels that they are misunderstood, just like he is. (Especially the cockroaches he’s training.) Jarrod can identify lots of different insects. He knows all about them and is happy to share. This, unfortunately, has made him an outcast. He has one friend, Gavin, but to all the other eighth-graders—indeed, to the rest of the school—he is “Bug-boy.” If that weren’t bad enough, Jarrod has a condition. Every couple of days or so, without warning or explanation, he passes out. Nobody knows why, but he has to wear a helmet—all the time. The helmet makes him look like a bug, setting him further apart. Life is difficult; even Gavin seems as if he’s drifting away. But then Jarrod swallows a fly, and suddenly everything makes sense. His condition isn’t a weakness at all: It’s a superpower (of sorts) stemming from his affinity for bugs. But who will believe him? How’s he going to track down the sickening puppy mill he’s just seen through the eyes of a fly? Stewart writes in the first-person, present tense, bringing intimacy to Jarrod’s isolation and immediacy to his plight. The boy’s regular bug eating—which forms an integral part of the story, described copiously and in graphic detail—won’t be to everyone’s taste. (He can access the memories of the pests he devours.) Yet there’s no denying the gross-out appeal of Jarrod’s metamorphosis from passive introvert to proactive, insect-crunching champion. His relationships, moreover, are worked neatly into the plot and add depth to Stewart’s (The River Keepers, 2017, etc.) lively book. Jarrod’s interactions with his parents show how superficial his differences really are; so too do his friendship with Gavin and his awkward introduction to a student called Dog-girl and the unlikely prospect of romance. Jarrod, in short, is a character whom many young readers will recognize, perhaps with unkind preconceptions. But before they know it, they’ll likely have embraced his aptitude—his “thing”—and be rooting for him.

Unabashedly, a young hero from the margins shocks, then ultimately conquers the mainstream in this strangely compelling oddity.

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An unusual cast of characters interacts in an odd, circular tale translated from the French.

The opening pages inform readers that “This is the story of… / a Rabbit who wants to grow up; an anxious Stag; a Soldier at war; a Cat who keeps having the same dream; a Book who wants to know everything; and a Shadow.” The narrative begins with a chapter about the child Rabbit and the Stag that adopts it, following which each character has its own section. The story builds as the characters’ separate tales become intertwined with one another’s and ends full circle back with the Stag and the Rabbit. As the story unfolds, the characters explore their emotions with symbolism looming large; the disconsolate Rabbit weeps at the bottom of a hole; the Soldier pursues adventure in the form of an erupting volcano. They bare their souls in dialogue, and the Soldier, referred to with masculine pronouns, takes off his helmet and is revealed to be a girl. All are stuck in place in some fashion, but their interactions help them move on. The line-and-watercolor illustrations—mostly vignettes, though there are some full-page paintings—heighten the moodiness. The overall effect is a somewhat moralistic picture book about birth, coming-of-age, and death that demands contemplative readers with a high tolerance for the surreal.

With 56 pages, a meandering plot, and characterization that tends toward the symbolic, this is a picture book for patient, older readers. (Picture book. 4-7)

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Two lesbian teens with very different backgrounds meet at a writers’ retreat.

Tess is a poor, white Franco-American farm girl from a New Hampshire military family, an author of fan fiction who hopes to gain confidence before her West Point interview. Soph is an extremely rich, white, unwilling debutante from Manhattan, a poet aiming to impress the program director for her own college applications. Soph is out and proud, loudly political about feminism and the political imperative for everyone to claim their sexuality; Tess is closeted, unable to risk coming out before she’s safely in the military. At the weeklong Young Women’s Writing Conference, they grapple with social justice, writing, their own maturity, and first love. A transphobic attendee threatens a friend’s safety, and though both protagonists learn to act as allies, the trans character looks out for herself, showing the cis girls the limits of their good intentions. Analogies between language and human interaction abound; one lovely vignette shows several girls offering different names for bread rolls from their own cultural backgrounds. Nuance is at the core of their journeys: context matters, and real leadership is harder than simply condemning those who make harmful choices. Unrealistically crafted dialogue is a distraction. An opening note directs interested readers to an online list of trigger warnings.

In a narrative where learning a writer’s craft fuels each coming-of-age, the clear literary metaphors for diversity, tradition, and modernity are both thematic and thoroughly satisfying. (Fiction. 13-17)

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A woman navigates change and growth while reckoning with memories of her youth in this debut novel.

Jill at first seems to have an idyllic childhood. Her adoring, artistic mother, Rebecca, is raising her in the Garden, a sprawling homestead full of creative horticultural designs. But Jill has just turned 10 and increasingly asks questions about the frequent absence of her father, Jay, a renowned photographer often away on assignment for months at a time. The Garden remains a paradise, but Jill’s struggle to decode her complicated family riddles is further challenged when her mother gives birth to a baby and tragedy strikes shortly after. Jill’s best friend, Susie, supports her throughout but must struggle with her own mother’s alcoholism. In interspersed chapters told parallel to this childhood tale, a grown Jill is trying to get her garden-ware business off the ground when a chance encounter with the handsome and spontaneous Charlie changes her life forever. The two feel an instant, deep connection, but their romance is complicated by personality differences and Jill’s memories of her past. As Jill grows older, some happy “endings” occur—a marriage, a successful business—but time continues to bring new challenges and realizations. Some elements of Jill’s life are so sentimental and picturesque that they border on the unrealistic or clichéd, yet Leet’s best passages utilize this almost saccharine quality by contrasting it with real change and pain. The book’s many episodes feel sometimes leisurely or overly wandering and random, and its characters likewise can read both as two-dimensional types sharing platitudes and as real individuals meditating on the nature of happiness. Charlie and Jill’s early courtship, for example, feels like a sketch of a romance lacking real characterization (Jill ultimately loses her virginity to Charlie, but the reason she stops waiting is never fully explained). Yet the give-and-take of their adult marriage resonates far more effectively, mirroring the well-written, alternatingly cheery and sad dynamics among Jill, Rebecca, and Jay.

A tale of a woman’s childhood and adulthood employs both sweet clichés and genuine reflections on the passage of time.

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An intriguing combination of economics, philosophy, history, and advice aimed at readers who wish to plan for a meaningful retirement.

To debut author Wright, a financial planner and retiree, retirement offers the chance to recapture the youthful idealism lost to years of work, responsibility, and keeping up with the Joneses—an opportunity to instead enjoy pursuing the pleasures of the mind and continuing the kind of intellectual education most of us left off after college or high school. To this end, he concentrates the first section of the book on how to financially prepare for such a retirement. His plan to save enough money to retire early, or at least have enough by age 65, involves, in part, excelling in your career (hopefully one that you like) while at the same time eschewing status-seeking conspicuous consumption. In other words, forget about the Joneses. He suggests some investing but only if you are satisfied with a fair return over time. If “you become greedy, you will be burned.” Business out of the way, Wright launches into his passion: philosophy. Plato, Mill, Thoreau, Sartre, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud; Wright covers them all logically and lucidly. With lively, down-to-earth prose, he manages to present understandable thumbnail sketches of each philosopher’s worldview, from the ancient Greeks to the present day, all while demystifying complex ontological and epistemological concepts and bringing to life the personalities behind them. Wright exudes an infectious enthusiasm and offers something of a life preserver to those so jaded by their work lives they “cannot conceive of any meaningful alternative to work, other than death.”

A must for future and current retirees; an entertaining excursion through the world of philosophy for everyone else.

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Thunderstorms are for sharing.

Rain poured. / Raccoon shivered. / Thunder roared. / Raccoon quivered.” Raccoon is not altogether comfortable alone in his den as the storm outside rages. Nevertheless, he braves the wet night in order to find some company with whom he can share his collywobbles. In a narrative composed of onomatopoeia and occasional verse, Raccoon travels through the woods, dropping in on Possum, Quail, and Woodchuck in turn, only to be refused entry because there isn’t enough room. “Swish, swish, PLISH.” Raccoon pushes on through the darkness and rain—Poh’s fine artwork resembles particularly good theatrical backdrops against which her stylized figures stand out—until he reaches Rabbit’s hutch, overrun with little rabbits. Raccoon thinks it’s another bust until Rabbit says, “What good luck….Come right in. There’s always room for a good friend.” Being rabbits, they have to be space-ready. Soon enough Possum, Quail, and Woodchuck come knocking, seeking emotional shelter from the storm, and they, too, are welcomed in for some carrot stew and to romp with the 10 little rabbits. Come on in, the story says without saying it, which is always the best way, there’s always room for one more. Readers may notice that only Rabbit is identified as female, which reinforces more than one stereotype.

Lovely artwork combined with goodwill toward men. (Picture book. 3-7)

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Enzo the dragon has a most disastrous cold.

“When cinders come showering down from the skies… // And thunder is rumbling, / and smoke burns your eyes… / Then run like a rabbit! Fly like the breeze— // Enzo the dragon is starting to sneeze.” Enzo’s mother tells him to cover his sneeze, but he does not. It is so explosive it launches him into the air, and the wingless dragon flies over fields and pastures toward town. The peasants, a diverse bunch, flee their thatched homes. A dark-skinned royal magician appears on the scene at the behest of the king and the queen and sensibly prescribes fluids and rest. Like many a cold-sufferer before him, Enzo resists: he wants to be made well instantly and doesn’t need a nap. Along come the knights, but even they can’t get close to Enzo. The magician makes a vat of “abraca-brew,” which Enzo drinks before falling asleep. Once he wakes, he’s better. The text closes by counseling readers to “be a good dragon” and cover their sneezes. Cyrus’ double-page spreads are bright and full of sneeze-driven energy, and green-scaled, knobby-crested Enzo is appealing. The rhyming text amusingly reproduces Enzo’s stuffy-nosed entreaties for help among other onomatopoeia, but the story is the weak link. Literal-minded youngsters will wonder what’s going on when both the wizard and Enzo seem to capitulate to each other, the former by brewing the brew and the latter by drinking it and then napping. Is it a trick? A sleeping potion? Or just inconsistent?

Great splatters of draconic mucus aren’t enough to make this story soar. (Picture book. 3-7)

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