Sheila M. Trask

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Fresh settings, quirky characters and original twists abound in our favorite new cozies. Whether you prefer to sample exotic recipes, explore antique-filled English mansions, take a little break at a charming B&B or create a custom floral bouquet, a delightful adventure awaits in these books—oh, and murders, too. But don’t worry: The strong, determined and often hilarious women at the center of the action are sure to figure things out before it’s too late—if only just.

J.J. Cook, the beloved author of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries, moves from the hills of Tennessee to the streets of Mobile, Alabama, for the first in her new Biscuit Bowl Food Truck mysteries. Death on Eat Street is a quirky and entertaining mystery that centers on the backstabbing backside of the food industry.

Thirty-year-old Zoe Chase defies her parents by quitting her bank job to open, to their great dismay, a diner and a food truck. It’s not only her parents’ disapproval that Zoe has to deal with, though. Her new digs aren’t in the nicest part of town, and food truck vending turns out to be a cutthroat business. When a competitor is found dead behind the wheel of Zoe’s Biscuit Bowl truck, she finds out just how serious things can get.

Zoe and the delightful cast of supporting characters, including a lazy but lovable Persian cat named Crème Brulée, lend a light mood to this ever-escalating murder mystery. Zoe’s life is threatened at every turn, but she’s undaunted. She’s much more interested in sharing her famous deep-fried biscuit bowl treats with everyone from office workers to the men at the homeless shelter. Her kind heart and intrepid determination carry the day, along with her nourishing recipes, several of which are included.

BAD NEWS AT THE B&B
If you’re still hungry after your breakfast bowl with Zoe Chase, you might consider lunch at a new bed and breakfast, the Dixie Dew, where polite Southern chats over tea and cakes can carry a sinister undertone.

Award-winning author Ruth Moose makes her cozy debut with Doing It at the Dixie Dew, another tale of a woman reinventing herself. Instead of a food truck, Beth McKenzie is rehabilitating her family home and turning it into a warm and friendly B&B. Once the first guest is booked, she thinks she’s on her way, but things quickly take a grim turn when that guest turns up dead the next morning. Trusting the small-town gossip grapevine more than the local police to solve this crime, Beth follows a trail of precious jewels and deadly poison that leads her directly into the clutches of the astonishing culprits.

Along the way, she bakes muffins, falls a little bit in love with her handyman and stencils the heck out of her new tearoom. Beth’s bright optimism remains throughout, even when more murders are discovered and many of the clues appear to lead straight back to the Dixie Dew. Instead of dwelling on the implications, Beth and her friends make dark jokes—maybe the motto for the B&B should be “Rest in Peace,” they suggest—and move on. With Doing It at the Dixie Dew, Moose sets the stage for further adventures for the new innkeeper and her comrades; you never know who will come through the door next.

MOTHER-DAUGHTER MYSTERY
For afternoon tea, might we suggest a stop in the English countryside? In Murder at Honeychurch Hall, Hannah Dennison’s first novel outside of the popular Vicky Hill series, a thoroughly modern woman—television personality Kat Stanford—is tossed deep into the history of Honeychurch Hall. This 600-year-old estate holds many secrets, the latest of which is a missing—and possibly murdered—nanny.

The setting, the murder . . . none of it would even be on Kat’s radar if it weren’t for her mischievous mother, Iris, who has confounded her daughter’s respectable plans for her retirement by setting up housekeeping in a rundown carriage house on the premises. As exasperated Kat attempts to talk her reckless mother down from her latest adventure, the two share their aggravation and affection for each other in equal measure. Their entertaining banter anchors the fast-paced action, as readers come to suspect nearly everyone on the estate. Everyone has something to hide, from the stately Lady Edith to her fanciful grandson Harry. Even Iris has a few skeletons in the closet, leaving Kat to wonder about her own mother’s culpability.

Dennison keeps the twists and turns coming fast and furious, alleviating the tension periodically with humorous scenes involving the underwhelming local constabulary and unusual antiques like Kat’s beloved vintage Jerry mouse. In the end, it’s all connected, but readers will have a hard time putting it all together until the very last pages.

TILL DEATH DO US PART
It’s flowers and cupcakes for dessert at the romantic Rose in Bloom, a truly charmed flower shop in the small town of Ramble, Virginia. Owners and cousins Audrey Bloom and Liv Rose have an untarnished reputation for providing the perfect bridal bouquets, with the arrangements based on the Victorian meanings of flowers. These ladies are so good that not one of the couples wedded with their bouquets has ever gotten divorced. Just as the local paper is set to celebrate their success, tragedy strikes their latest customers: The groom turns up murdered, with flower petals from Audrey’s shop strewn over his body. Audrey has little faith in the local police, and when suspicion for the murder starts to turn her way, she relies on a strong network of friends and family to help her sleuth out the truth.

Bloom and Doom is the first Bridal Bouquet Shop mystery from Beverly Allen, who also writes as Barbara Early. Allen’s casual dialogue captures the camaraderie among Audrey and her co-workers, as they band together to design funeral flowers instead of wedding sprays. The central mystery definitely intrigues, although it may be a secondary mystery that holds the most surprising outcome. Both are revealed slowly, as Audrey and company realistically, and often comically, go through their everyday life accompanied by a charming parade of small-town characters, like the attractive cupcake chef from the bakery two doors down and Audrey’s crazy, escape-artist cat, Chester. Ramble is a town full of such characters, and there will surely be more for Audrey to discover in upcoming volumes.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Fresh settings, quirky characters and original twists abound in our favorite new cozies. Whether you prefer to sample exotic recipes, explore antique-filled English mansions, take a little break at a charming B&B or create a custom floral bouquet, a delightful adventure awaits in these books—oh, and murders, too. But don’t worry: The strong, determined and often hilarious women at the center of the action are sure to figure things out before it’s too late—if only just.

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Whether they feel watching eyes or hear the sound of quickening footsteps behind them, the potential victims in these unnerving stories sense a predator’s approach, and so can we. As these characters hurry to the relative safety of their homes and rush to lock the doors behind them, readers of these smart and suspenseful books will be turning pages faster and faster in hopes of catching the criminal before it’s too late.

EYES IN THE WOODS
The smartest, and perhaps most sarcastic, private investigator in Atlanta has lost none of her spunk in the third installment of Amanda Kyle Williams’ Keye Street series. In Don’t Talk to Strangers, the worldly Street is a little out of her element. Instead of working from her high-tech office in the city, she’s drawn deep into the woods of rural Whisper, Georgia, to help solve two murders with the same M.O. but a decade between them. The killer keeps young girls captive for months, maybe years, before disposing of their bodies in the same remote location. Street is determined to stop it from happening again, but she finds herself in a precarious position: The locals don’t want her help and make their feelings menacingly clear. With potential enemies all around, our tenacious detective is clearly at risk. The reader feels the pressure, too, and shares the intense need to solve this mystery right alongside the intrepid investigator.

ESCALATING DANGER
A world away from the wilds of Georgia, Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer faces a different kind of killer on the streets of south London. In Clare Donoghue’s debut novel, Never Look Back, the murderer is brazen, practically daring the authorities to discover the women’s bodies he leaves poking out of alleys. Three victims into his warped scheme, the killer’s timetable is accelerating, and Lockyer doesn’t have much time to stop him from striking again. As with the most compelling cases, Lockyer’s quest isn’t merely police work; it’s personal. The victims are young and bear a startling resemblance to his daughter, Megan. Plus, Lockyer’s more than a little attracted to stalking victim Sarah Grainger, who may be next on the killer’s list. By involving the detective so intimately in the details of the case, Donoghue shows how a stalker’s threats infiltrate the lives of his victims on every level. Readers will be just as desperate as Lockyer, Megan and Sarah to see the end of this killer’s spree.

ON-AIR VICTIM
Eyes on You
, the new standalone novel from Kate White, author of the Bailey Wiggins mystery series, is set in the brutally competitive world of modern media. Television news personality and rising star Robin Trainer is the co-anchor of a successful, gossipy news show, so she’s used to the political backstabbing that’s part of every day on set. However, she never expects it to turn deadly. When threatening notes start to appear in her purse and gruesome dolls turn up in her office chair, she begins to realize that the threat is real. But in the house of mirrors that is the media, who can she trust? Trainer’s first-person narration lets us in on every thought and interaction— from her reluctant attraction to her charming co-host to her confrontations with a vicious competitor—leaving us feeling as vulnerable as our haunted heroine.

UNDER HER NOSE
Clever and likable Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan has appeared in three previous books by Jane Casey. In her newest adventure, The Stranger You Know, Kerrigan returns to the London police office where she works with her abrasive, yet intriguing, partner, Josh Derwent. On her latest case, Kerrigan faces a serial killer who performs bizarre rituals on his victims—after he kills them. He leaves a scrupulously clean crime scene and no clues. Kerrigan has little to go on, and even less help from Derwent than usual, as he’s been abruptly banned from the case. As Kerrigan creeps closer to secrets from Derwent’s past that parallel the current crime, she can’t stay away from him. But will her presence help exonerate him, or does it put her own life in jeopardy? Casey expertly dangles the solution just out of Kerrigan’s reach, putting readers in the roles of the pursuer and the pursued until the final pages.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Whether they feel watching eyes or hear the sound of quickening footsteps behind them, the potential victims in these unnerving stories sense a predator’s approach, and so can we. As these characters hurry to the relative safety of their homes and rush to lock the doors behind them, readers of these smart and suspenseful books will be turning pages faster and faster in hopes of catching the criminal before it’s too late.
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If you’ve seen one book of nature photography, you might think you’ve seen them all. Think again. Get ready to see everything from anemones to elephants in a whole new light.

BACK TO NATURE
Portraitists are known to spend a lot of time working with their subjects to get just the right shot. Acclaimed photographer Susan Middleton does just that, but her subjects are an unusual lot. We’re used to seeing evocative human portraits and even animal portraits, but invertebrate marine life?  Jellyfish, maybe. But flatworms? Slugs? Middleton collects all these animals and many more, and sits with them for hours, waiting to take what can only be called their portraits. The results in Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life are nothing short of spectacular. Set against a stark backdrop of plain white or black, each image seems full of life and movement, as if set to music. Middleton shares some of her techniques as well as the impetus behind her work: giving a face to the invertebrates that make up 98 percent of our ocean’s animal life, at a time when their environment faces unprecedented challenges.

ALL BUG-EYED
Where Middleton’s jellyfish glide gently across the page, John Hallmén’s magnified images of insects stare boldly out at the viewer. The Swedish nature photographer uses the latest digital technology to create startling color images of beetles, mites, flies and more. Bugs Up Close: A Magnified Look at the Incredible World of Insects features full-page pictures that bring out every detail in these diverse creatures, with extreme close-ups of compound eyes and enlarged pictures of ants that show their individual hairs. Some images are a challenge to understand at first glance, such as the incredibly detailed image of the mouthparts of a tick, but Lars-Åke Janzon’s text offers ample explanation. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief natural history of the insect, along with their common and scientific names. It’s easy to get caught up in the patterns Hallmén highlights in his subjects’ bodies, hair and eyes, but true-sized silhouettes of each insect appear nearby as well, reminding us that these larger-than-life images are just that.

Amazon river dolphins, copyright © 2014 Art Wolfe. From Earth Is My Witness, reprinted with permission from Earth Aware Editions. 

WHOLE WIDE WORLD
At first glance, Art Wolfe’s nature photography feels more familiar than either Middleton’s or Hallmén’s. The sweeping vistas and colorful tribal portraits remind us of National Geographic magazine, and in fact the collection of photographs in Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe is narrated by the National Geographic Society’s Wade Davis. Wolfe’s body of work, presented here in large format and spanning more than 50 years, truly celebrates photojournalism as an art form. The sheer scope of Wolfe’s work is a bit overwhelming: He has worked on every continent and hundreds of locations around the globe. This collection takes us on some of those journeys, which Wolfe makes accessible with his attention to color, pattern and atmosphere. He captures the geometry of Namibian sand dunes and Ethiopian tribal scarification patterns, as well as the vibrant red clothing of Kenyan Maasai tribesmen and the dazzling, bejeweled headscarves of Rajasthani women in India. Seemingly infinite landscapes pour over two-page spreads and often require additional page folds to hold the wealth of the world that Wolfe observes.

AND I MUST GO
Scaling back to North America, the scenery is no less majestic in America’s Great Hiking Trails, a comprehensive photographic pilgrimage that traverses each of America’s 11 national scenic trails. Photographer and avid hiker Bart Smith was the first person to hike all of these trails—from the Appalachian to the Pacific Crest and all those in between—and he documented every step. Smith’s mostly unpeopled photographs, accompanied by Karen Berger’s informative writing, convey the unique atmosphere of each trail, from the incredibly green, lush swamps of the Florida Trail to the dusty, dry deserts of the Arizona Trail. Smith captures the grandeur and intimacy of walking these trails with images of breathtaking mountaintop vistas and human-sized footpaths across otherwise untouched meadows. Through this contrast, he illustrates humanity’s effect on nature as clearly as nature’s effect on humanity.

CUTTING EDGE
Most books of nature photography are content to illustrate the known world, albeit in new ways. The images selected for William A. Ewing’s new collection, Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography, take that one step further, as the featured artists ask what might have been or what might yet be. Abstract chapter categorizations such as “Sublime,” “Pastoral,” “Rupture,” “Hallucination” and “Reverie” reveal humanity’s hand in the development of the world’s landscapes. Philippe Chancel illustrates the truly skyscraping modern construction in Dubai, and Simon Norfolk’s provocative series depicts one military tank in four seasons in Afghanistan. These contrast with Didier Massard’s otherworldly “Aurora Borealis” and “Mangrove,” which reveal the haunting beauty of the planet, as well as indoor landscapes by Robert Polidori. Ewing’s selections show art’s power not only to observe and document nature, but also to imagine its future.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

If you’ve seen one book of nature photography, you might think you’ve seen them all. Think again. Get ready to see everything from anemones to elephants in a whole new light.
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“I’m of two minds,” we say. Or, “I changed my mind.” These phrases roll casually off the tongue, but we don’t mean them literally. Maybe we should, according to two new books that explore the fascinating history and tantalizing future of neuroscience.

COGNITIVE WONDERS
Are you primarily right-brained or left-brained? You might think you know, but Michael S. Gazzaniga is here to tell you it’s not that simple. Gazzaniga pioneered split-brain research with his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in the 1960s. In Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience, he details the experiments that led us to talk about the brain’s two hemispheres in the first place. Filled with scientific luminaries like psychobiologist Roger W. Sperry and theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, Tales from Both Sides of the Brain takes us back to the intellectually energetic laboratories of Caltech. In scenes that read like episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”—intellectual energy abounds—we sit in on experiments done with split-brain patients, whose brains’ hemispheres had been surgically separated to treat epilepsy.

Gazzaniga meticulously documents the strange things that happen when the two sides of the brain aren’t communicating, such as losing the ability to label an item held in the left hand, even though the answer comes swiftly when the same object rests in the right. What’s even more fascinating, though, is the way the brain can sometimes overcome such limits. As Gazzaniga says, the brain is not a “random bowl of spaghetti” but a “biologic machine” with the power to rewire itself. Gazzaniga tells the stories of split-brain patients who have regained lost functionality as their brains’ hemispheres learned to “cue” each other in new ways.

Director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara and president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, Gazzaniga continues to search for answers about how the brain works. His impassioned writing invites readers into his world, where the science of the past sets the stage for even greater discoveries to come.

BRAIN, HEAL THYSELF
Where Gazzaniga carefully documents the past, Norman Doidge, M.D. marches enthusiastically into the future in a dazzling collection of stories about neuroplasticity and the ever-changing brain. Following up on his 2007 bestseller, The Brain That Changes Itself, which brought the science of neuroplasticity to a mainstream audience, in The Brain's Way of Healing, Doidge considers cutting-edge treatments that use the body’s senses to access, and improve, neurological functioning.

In friendly vignettes reminiscent of Oliver Sacks’ case studies, Doidge chronicles the heroic efforts of patients with a wide variety of apparently intractable ailments, from chronic pain to multiple sclerosis. All have been treated successfully with non-invasive, natural methods that take advantage of the adaptive abilities of the nervous system. In-depth, personal stories describe patients like John Pepper, who has kept his Parkinson’s disease symptoms in check with a vigorous, yet careful, exercise regimen, and David Webber, whose blindness was relieved with a series of relaxation and visualization exercises.

The list of successful healings is long and impressive; it’s tempting to be skeptical of such a wealth of glowing accounts, except that Doidge truly takes a holistic approach to his subjects, getting to know them and their doctors and sharing every detail with his readers. Doidge doesn’t just read about low-light laser treatments, for example, but actually sits in on multiple sessions and discusses the science behind them. Similarly, he delves into the lives and careers of innovators like Moshé Feldenkrais, whose integrative movement protocol is well known, but whose escape from Nazi Germany is likely not.

Each of Doidge’s examples suggests tangible treatment ideas for patients who may have thought they were out of options. Doidge’s penchant for considering unconventional approaches to healing offers hope for all.

“I’m of two minds,” we say. Or, “I changed my mind.” These phrases roll casually off the tongue, but we don’t mean them literally. Maybe we should, according to two new books that explore the fascinating history and tantalizing future of neuroscience.
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Who better than authors and booksellers to follow every story to its conclusion, no matter how unexpected? Mystery writers and bookshop owners star in these stories featuring amateur—but determined—sleuths. These intrepid ladies aren’t afraid to poke their noses into remote farmhouses, secluded island communities and the long-held secrets of their own small towns, and they won’t stop until they reach The End.

FAR FROM THE TREE
The mother-daughter writing and sleuthing team in Antiques Swap may share genes, but their methods are poles apart. Fans of the Trash'n'Treasures Mystery series will recognize the entertaining way level-headed narrator Brandy Borne’s sensible tone clashes with her mother's cheerful disregard for the rules. When an old flame’s vindictive wife is found dead, Brandy rushes to clear her own name, while mother Vivian gathers material for their next book. And she’s really hoping for a reality TV series. The little town of Serenity, Iowa, turns out to have plenty to work with, as Brandy and Vivian uncover the most surprising games played by the town’s elite, with the highest of stakes.

BETWEEN THE LINES
Semi-retired bookstore owner Claire Malloy is back with her signature snark in this witty 20th installment of Joan Hess’ series. Though the distractible Claire can’t be bothered to address the alarming rate at which her bookstore inventory walks out the door on its own, she is more than willing to throw herself into a murder investigation when the prosecutor makes a grievous error: He humiliates Claire in public. That’s all it takes to put her firmly on suspect Sarah Swift’s side, though the evidence paints Sarah guilty of killing her husband. Throw in a surly teenage daughter, a husband who happens to be the Deputy Police Chief and the impending visit of her mother-in-law, and you’re caught up in the chaos that is Claire Malloy’s life. None of this stops her, of course, from sneaking down back roads, climbing into dusty attics or taking seriously a 4-year-old boy’s zombie sighting. Her willingness to consider all sides of the story ultimately solves the complex case.

BEST LEFT UNWRITTEN
Best-selling author Alex Griffith has mined his childhood home, Broward’s Rock, for all it’s worth, fictionalizing the island’s secret affairs, dirty deals and suspicious deaths in his novel Don’t Go Home. The golden boy is out of ideas, though, which is how he lands in the hands of bookstore owner Annie Darling. The Death on Demand proprietress is happy to help, until she learns what he has in mind: a nonfiction book that will reveal the real names of his characters. His plan leaves Alex with plenty of enemies, and when he is murdered on the eve of his planned press conference, the list of suspects is long. Annie, however, has a native’s knowledge of the island, and she’s read Alex’s book; she can find out who had the most to lose from his tell-all. Author Carolyn Hart sets Annie on a winding path into the past, carefully curating the intricate plot twists that ultimately lead to the truth.

Who better than authors and booksellers to follow every story to its conclusion, no matter how unexpected? Mystery writers and bookshop owners star in these stories featuring amateur—but determined—sleuths. These intrepid ladies aren’t afraid to poke their noses into remote farmhouses, secluded island communities and the long-held secrets of their own small towns, and they won’t stop until they reach The End.

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How well can you really know someone? Can you comprehend the hidden desires harbored by your neighbor, your fiancé, your best friend or your daughter? Or do you only see the fiction they present to the world? 

These two probing psychological thrillers reveal what can happen when the perfect facade crumbles, leaving the innocent among the ruins.

In her skillfully plotted debut, The Bones of You, Debbie Howells uses two narrators to get at the truth of what happened on the day 18-year-old Rosie was brutally killed in an otherwise quiet English village. Rosie haunts these pages with flashbacks to her troubled life and terrible death, and possesses an oracle-like knowledge of others’ emotional states and motives, recalling the afterlife narrator of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Most of the story, however, comes from kindhearted Kate, a neighbor and mother to her own 18-year-old daughter, who befriends Rosie’s mother, Jo Anderson. Though she’s just lost her daughter and has another one to protect, Jo’s focus seems to be on decorating her perfect home and attending awards dinners with her internationally acclaimed journalist husband, Neal. At first Kate puts this down to the peculiarities of grief, but when Neal becomes a suspect and anonymous messages begin appearing at Kate’s door, she has to wonder what’s really happening at the Anderson house. Howells leads us down a winding path to the truth, where each character reveals just enough of his or her secrets to drive suspense skyward and keep readers from guessing who was really responsible for Rosie’s death until the strangely satisfying truth is revealed.

Appearances are similarly deceiving for Morgan Prager, the Brooklyn college student at the heart of The Hand That Feeds You, by Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment, writing together for the first time as A.J. Rich. An altruistic woman with a weakness for rescue dogs—her small apartment holds a Great Pyrenees and two pit bulls—Morgan is engaged to the charming Bennett and almost finished with her thesis on victim psychology. All is right in her world—until she arrives home to find bloody paw prints on the floor and her fiancé’s mauled body on her bed. Morgan’s grief and guilt overwhelm her as she tries to understand how she could have been so wrong about her sweet dogs. Then she discovers she was wrong about Bennett as well, who had several other “fiancées” waiting in the wings. Some have died suspicious deaths, and others are still waiting for their beloved’s return. The writing is fast-paced yet psychologically nuanced as Morgan chases down the truth, questions her own research and faces her traumatic past, all the while fighting to get her dogs back. The final twist is creepy and unexpected, and the action-packed last pages fly by as we fight alongside Morgan to understand who can be trusted in this world.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

How well can you really know someone? Can you comprehend the hidden desires harbored by your neighbor, your fiancé, your best friend or your daughter? Or do you only see the fiction they present to the world?
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Who among us hasn’t used Google Maps to get a detailed aerial survey of our neighborhood, right down to the tricycle in the driveway? We no longer need anything as old-fashioned as a map to navigate our world. Or do we? We may think we’re getting the whole story with our digital access to up-to-the-minute street scenes, but no satellite image delivers the artistic elegance and historical context of the maps reproduced in these four gorgeous collections. 

A GLOBAL APPROACH
If you think of maps as antiquated and utilitarian, maybe even boring, prepare to reconsider. Map: Exploring the World, an attention-grabbing collection of more than 300 maps, brings the art of cartography to life with meticulously reproduced, full-color maps ranging from a Catalan atlas manuscript on parchment to modern digital data maps that trace airline flight paths with light trails. The editors play with the expectation that maps are historical documents, and thus should be presented from earliest to latest. Instead, they follow a gold-highlighted 1547 map of Java la Grande from the Vallard Atlas with a 1997 painting of the sacred Baltaltjara site by Australian aboriginal artist Estelle Hogan. Turn the page and you’re in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie-the-Pooh, courtesy of Ernest H. Shepard’s 1926 drawing. A new scene unfolds on each page, accompanied by just enough text to give context, while encouraging readers to make their own connections between art and history.

URBAN SPACES
Jeremy Black, University of Exeter history professor and author of more than 80 books, sheds a different kind of light on humankind’s history as it is reflected in our mapmaking ventures. In Metropolis: Mapping the City, Black focuses on a single subject of cartography: the cityscape. Noting that as civilization developed, so did the human desire to control and organize the rapid pace of change, Black suggests that maps are perhaps the perfect tool for urban planning, allowing people to measure, navigate, plan and protect their newly organized cities. A mapmaker’s vision could affect an entire culture, as evidenced by examples like side-by-side planning maps of New York City in 1815 and 1867. The former shows a relatively featureless grid of streets, while the latter allows the lush, green space of Central Park to dominate, a factor that shapes the settlement of the city to this day. Black’s maps range from bird’s-eye views and panoramas to skyline profiles and schematics, giving readers multiple visual perspectives along with his ample and authoritative text describing each map in its historical context.

THE COURSE OF WAR
Focusing the historical lens even more closely than Black are Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen in Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783. This unique collection illuminates the battles—physical and political—that defined America’s fight for independence. Brown and Cohen carefully curated this collection, scouring sources from the King George III collection at the British Library to the archives of Revolutionary War map printer William Faden and previously undiscovered family collections. Many of the maps are published here for the first time, with full-page reproductions and enlarged insets providing astonishingly detailed accounts of each battle. The 1777 “Plan of New York Island,” for instance, allows readers to see the “carefully placed British forces, twenty-one-thousand strong,” as they “attacked the poorly organized and ill-equipped rebels.” The authors’ lively commentary runs throughout the book, but as they take pains to note, the maps are the focus. Where other history books might use maps to support the narrative, Revolution uses narrative to support the maps themselves.


A "Map of Video Websites" from Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps, courtesy of Martin Vargic.

A MAPMAKER’S WORDPLAY
The maps are the narrative in the wildly original Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps: Mapping the Modern World, in which 17-year-old Slovakian artist Martin Vargic reimagines our planet not just geographically, but culturally, too. Famous for his viral “Map of the Internet,” which remapped the world in terms of website popularity (countries like Facebook and Google dominate North America, for example), Vargic takes his near-obsessive attention to detail to new heights with atlas-style maps that contain vast alternative vocabularies for describing the globe, with thousands of words in each entry. Vargic’s meticulousness was not always obvious when huge pieces like his “Map of Stereotypes” made their way around the Internet. Here, though, full-page, two-page and even foldout maps, along with insets, allow us to see every word he has imposed upon our previously well-ordered vision of the globe. Do you recognize the island relabeled with words like Cigars, Vintage Cars and Uncle Fidel? Would you sail on the Jack Sparrow sea? There’s a sly sense of humor to everything Vargic does, which lets us laugh at ourselves a bit while we contemplate the larger truths he’s telling.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Who among us hasn’t used Google Maps to get a detailed aerial survey of our neighborhood, right down to the tricycle in the driveway? We no longer need anything as old-fashioned as a map to navigate our world. Or do we? We may think we’re getting the whole story with our digital access to up-to-the-minute street scenes, but no satellite image delivers the artistic elegance and historical context of the maps reproduced in these four gorgeous collections. 
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Health news: It’s everywhere. Our smartphones, televisions, friends and relatives are all standing by with updates on the latest research, though we’re often left more confused than ever. Luckily, several new books by doctors, scientists and nutrition experts take us much deeper into the science behind the headlines so we can make informed decisions about promoting and protecting our health.

Shall we start with the good news or the bad? It’s up to you in journalist Jeff Wilser’s entertaining analysis of the health claims we hear every day. Depending on which side of his lively book you start with, you’ll get The Bad News About What’s Good for You, or, alternatively, The Good News About What’s Bad for You. Wilser takes on topics from breakfast to retirement and challenges the conventional wisdom. Eat breakfast, lose weight? Maybe, Wilser finds, but most studies don’t bear that out. Think retirement will bring freedom and adventure? Possibly, but it’s also linked to higher risks of depression, divorce, stroke and heart attack. Wilser’s background as a writer for publications as diverse as The Chicago Tribune and GQ serves him well here, as he shares pop culture anecdotes and hard science side-by-side, with equal parts sincerity and humor.  

TURNING THE TABLES ON FAT
Though Wilser touches on the surprising news that some fats are, in fact, good for you, physician Steven Masley and nutritionist Jonny Bowden devote their full attention to the topic in Smart Fat: Eat More Fat. Lose More Weight. Get Healthy Now. Although a generation of Americans grew up hearing that margarine was better than butter and that carbohydrates should form the foundation of our food pyramid, that wasn’t necessarily good information, Masley and Bowden write. Their astute survey of the situation delves deeply into the question of what fats really do to our bodies and how certain “smart” fats might do much more good than harm. The science here is comprehensive but never boring; the authors write clearly and elegantly, leaving space for interesting “smart fat facts.” (Did you ever stop to think that there are no vegetables in vegetable oil, only grains and seeds?) Practical plans follow the scientific explanations. A 29-day menu, meal-by-meal advice and “diet” recipes that sound like no diet you’ve ever been on—beef stew, anyone?—round out this informative and useful volume.

OUR PREHISTORIC LEGACY
Of course, we don’t have conscious control over everything that affects our health; many traits have been passed down for generations and persist even though they’re no longer useful in the modern world. That’s the fascinating concept behind Too Much of a Good Thing: How Four Key Survival Traits Are Now Killing Us by Lee Goldman, head of Columbia University Medical Center. The habits that lead us to develop obesity, hypertension, mental illness, heart disease and stroke may have once been valuable to the continuation of the species. Some of Goldman’s examples seem like common sense—humans are designed to eat whatever’s in front of them, because not so long ago the next meal was far from a sure thing—but others are surprising. For instance, he makes a convincing case that our attraction to salt was once useful for staving off dehydration, but now serves mostly to raise our blood pressure. You may have never thought about how protective Paleolithic blood-clotting plays out in modern times (think heart disease and stroke), but this world-renowned cardiologist explains it plainly and suggests an important role for medicine in bridging the gap between our lifestyle and our genetic heritage.

SELF-HELP SOBRIETY
One thing our ancestors were not prepared to deal with was the prevalence of alcohol in everyday life. It’s something most adults today have to contend with, and something that gets many of us in trouble. Here with The 30-Day Sobriety Solution: How to Cut Back or Quit Drinking in the Privacy of Your Own Home are Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and Dave Andrews, an experienced sobriety coach. Using positive psychology and systematic instructions, the authors guide readers through each of the 30 days of their program. It might be daunting to see how much work is involved in getting and staying sober, but the upbeat tone of the book, along with a generous sprinkling of quotations and cartoons, makes it seem not only doable, but enjoyable. Don’t expect “how I hit rock bottom” stories here, but rather inspirational reports from folks who have beaten alcoholism. Canfield and Andrews cover the biology behind addiction, but their focus is on empowering people to overcome it.

LIFELONG NUTRITION
What we really want to know, of course, is indicated in the title of Michael Greger’s book, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, written with Gene Stone. Greger may not be able to promise actual immortality, but as a physician, author and keeper of the popular website NutritionFacts.org, he is qualified to draw connections between the foods we eat and the diseases we do or do not develop. Meticulously well documented, Greger’s guidebook provides evidence on everything from the pesticide-Parkinson’s connection to the role of antioxidants in breast cancer prevention. Gregor also offers up friendly tips, like his favorite smoothie recipe and a turmeric tutorial. Follow his advice and you may not live forever, but you’ll almost certainly live a healthier life.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Health news: It’s everywhere. Our smartphones, televisions, friends and relatives are all standing by with updates on the latest research, though we’re often left more confused than ever. Luckily, several new books by doctors, scientists and nutrition experts take us much deeper into the science behind the headlines so we can make informed decisions about promoting and protecting our health.
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Don’t look now—that’s the warning you’ll wish the heroines would heed in these two twisty thrillers, even as you’re urging them to uncover every clue to the sudden deaths of those closest to them. Secrets can only be avoided for so long.

In Heather Gudenkauf’s atmospheric Missing Pieces, Sarah Quinlan travels to her husband Jack’s rural hometown of Penny Gate, Iowa, only to find that it holds little of the quaint charm she had pictured. The reason for the visit is troubling—Jack’s beloved Aunt Julia has been badly hurt in a suspicious accident—but it’s nothing the long-married couple can’t handle together. Soon, though, Julia is dead, and small-town gossip tips Sarah off to some secrets in Jack’s past that don’t mesh with the man she’s known for decades. Gudenkauf expertly develops the story from Sarah’s perspective, so readers ask questions, doubt answers and seek the truth right along with her. What if Jack isn’t who he says he is? How did his parents really die all those years ago? And who’s next?

Gudenkauf’s cast of shady characters, from Jack’s mentally unstable sister to his grieving uncle, all have their mysterious moments, which sustains suspicion until the final pages. Gloomy, dark corners of barns and farmhouses, along with long, lonely stretches of back roads and cornfields, play equally large roles in keeping the tension rising. Sarah’s trail is a winding one, but one that we want to see through to the end.

Far from tiny towns like Penny Gate, K.A. Tucker’s He Will Be My Ruin takes readers to the crowded streets of New York City, though this heart-stopping urban thriller asks a similar question: How well do we really know the ones we love? Where Gudenkauf sticks with one perspective, Tucker alternates between the voices of humanitarian heiress Maggie Sparkes and aspiring antiques dealer Celine Gonzalez. The two were best friends when growing up in the Sparkes home, where Celine’s mother served as Maggie’s nanny. As adults, they’ve lived on opposite ends of the globe, but now Maggie has been called home by the unthinkable: Celine is dead, an apparent suicide. 

Maggie doesn’t believe for a minute that Celine would do such a thing. When she finds the high-end wardrobe in thrifty Celine’s closet and the picture of the handsome—and very naked—man hidden in the modest woman’s treasure box, Maggie knows there’s more going on. Tucker gives us just enough of a glimpse into Celine’s life through diary entries to intrigue before returning to Maggie’s present-day perspective. As Maggie applies her considerable will and inexhaustible fortune to the case, she becomes entangled in Celine’s secret life. Soon, she’s seduced by the same men, has tea with the same nosy neighbor and doesn’t know whom to trust. Steamy sexual encounters may throw Maggie—and the reader—off the trail, but not for long. Tucker keeps Maggie moving forward at a relentless pace, and it seems she’ll meet the same fate as Celine, unless she can outsmart the true culprit at the very last minute.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Don’t look now—that’s the warning you’ll wish the heroines would heed in these two twisty thrillers, even as you’re urging them to uncover every clue to the sudden deaths of those closest to them. Secrets can only be avoided for so long.
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As a rural northerner, I was skeptical heading into Christopher Ingraham’s memoir of moving his family from Ellicott City, Maryland, to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. I could see why he did it—Ingraham, his wife and their twin toddlers lived in a 952-square-foot row house, the only place they could afford and still get Ingraham to his job at The Washington Post each day, a commute that took 90 minutes if he was very, very lucky. Who wouldn’t want to trade that in for acres of open land, a home-based office and ridiculously friendly neighbors? Still, D.C. to Minnesota? 

Ingraham wasn’t a true believer either when he first heard of Red Lake Falls. As a data reporter for the Post, he’d discovered that Red Lake County was rated the ugliest county among some 3,000 counties surveyed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He wrote his headline—“The absolute worst place to live in America is (drumroll please) . . . Red Lake County, Minnesota”—and the responses poured in, many from angry but unfailingly polite residents of the maligned county. It just wasn’t true, they said. He should come see for himself, they said. So he did.

If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now chronicles what Ingraham found—not only the charming parts, like running along the frozen river with sled dogs and beating the locals at ice fishing, but also the difficulties, such as when the family needed to consult an autism specialist about one of their sons. In Maryland, the nearest E.R. or urgent care facility was a mere three miles from their front door; in Red Lake Falls, it was 16 miles away. 

Even through the challenges, Ingraham mostly writes fondly of his new home, while poking gentle fun at his citified self as he settles in to what turns out to be the absolute best place to live in America, for his family.

As a rural northerner, I was skeptical heading into Christopher Ingraham’s memoir of moving his family from Ellicott City, Maryland, to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. I could see why he did it—Ingraham, his wife and their twin toddlers lived in a 952-square-foot row house, the only place they could afford and still get Ingraham to […]
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With a voice that is at once as innocent as a young child’s should be and yet as preternaturally mature as children from dysfunctional homes often have to be in order to survive, Meredith May invites us into the inexplicable yet strangely hopeful world of her California childhood in this moving memoir.

When a 5-year-old Meredith gets on a plane with her mother and brother, leaving her father at the airport, readers are just as perplexed as she is. When they arrive at her grandparents’ home and her mother goes straight to the bedroom—where she stays for days, weeks, months, even years—we don’t know why. Neither does young Meredith. All she knows for sure is that her grandfather, a beekeeper, is there to take her hand and immerse her in the astonishing world of the honeybee. Under his gentle tutelage, she learns about the complex family dynamics of the hive, the role of the queen and what happens to a bee colony when everything goes wrong.

May captures the flavor of her 1970s childhood, a time when a brother and sister could play all day unsupervised, hide away in the high branches of trees and plot to get into Grampa’s “honey bus,” a den of creation they are deemed too young to enter for many years. Eventually, though, Meredith is ready for the heat, hard work and danger of processing honey in the bus, much as she matures into processing the many unanswered questions of her childhood.

While May answers some of those questions—she finds a way to explain her mother’s narcissistic personality, for instance—much remains a mystery. To May’s credit, she doesn’t try to tie up all the loose ends but is determined, rather, to tell the story as it happened. It’s satisfying to let this book be her “bee dance,” in which she tells the tale of where she’s been and what she’s seen to us, her human hive.

With a voice that is at once as innocent as a young child’s should be and yet as preternaturally mature as children from dysfunctional homes often have to be in order to survive, Meredith May invites us into the inexplicable yet strangely hopeful world of her California childhood in this moving memoir.

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