By J. J. Zerr.
2016. 188p. iUniverse, paper, $14.95 (9781532006128).
The 13 short stories in this compelling collection share a male perspective, often one
with a military background. The opening
story, “What Kind of Man Are You?,” begins
with a graphic rendering of life on an aircraft
carrier during the Vietnam War. The narrator,
a flight-deck officer, is a hard-nosed pilot determined to toughen up his recruits. In “The
Short, Happy Love Life of Heiny Bauer,”
Heinrich “Heiny” Bauer endures the wrath of
the strict Catholic-school nuns, under whom
he can do little right. Zerr is perhaps at his
best with “The Noble Guerilla,” set in 1863,
in which a young man leaves the family farm
and inexplicably signs on with a band of murderous guerilla fighters. Zerr is a fine writer
with a strong, original voice and an ear for
language, such as in this sentence, where he
describes the passage of time: “Tock didn’t
seem at all anxious to chase after tick.” War
Stories will please a wide audience, particularly
those born early in the boomer era.
I Love Me and the Skin I’m In.
By Jessica N. Crutcher. Illus. by Richa Kinra.
2016. 24p. Outskirts, paper, $8.95 (9781478770602).
Crutcher shows that skin color doesn’t matter with this charming picture book featuring
Jessica, a young African American girl upset
about being teased at school. On the ride
home, Jessica cries as she tells her mother,
“They said I can’t be black because I’m too
light. Is it true, Mommy? Am I not black?”
Her mother explains that she had similar experiences growing up and recounts what her
own mother told her: “You are perfect just
the way you are.” With her mom’s encouragement, Jessica bonds with three new friends,
classmates who have been teased for having
dark skin, light skin, or red hair and freckles.
In this way, the author shows how arbitrary,
and silly, such bullying really is. Text and images are well composed and presented (with
one exception: one image misspells the word
elementary on a large sign that reads “
El-ementery School”). Full-color illustrations
help convey the story, and distinctions in
skin tone, a vital component of that story, are
effective. This would make an excellent addition to elementary-school libraries.
My Guardian Angel.
By Hsiao-Yen Chi. Illus. by the author.
2016. 36p. Volare, $17 (9780997832808).
In this stunningly beautiful children’s
picture book, guardian angel Taber—a big,
blue creature with a big belly—is assigned his
newest child to watch over, a baby named
Sophie. Taber soon becomes Sophie’s favor-
ite playmate, but as she grows, her parents
worry that Sophie is talking to her invisible
friend too much. Then, on Sophie’s third
birthday, Taber takes her for a special flight
pacing brisk, the description vivid and fully
immersive. The not-so-subtle references to
the band Phish add another amusing layer to
the narrative. Illustrated by artist Sam Ball-
ing, this novel is, above all else, a literary love
letter to the Green Mountain State.
Manly Manners: Lifestyle &
Modern Etiquette for the Young
Man of the 21st Century.
By Wayne James.
2016. 802p. illus. iUniverse, $42.95 (9781491794258). 395.
James has written a refined yet topically edgy
etiquette book to reflect the changing mores
of young men in twenty-first-century society. A Virgin
Islands native, the author
notes that he was “groomed
in the intricacies of polite
society” from an early age.
He attended Georgetown
law school and, soon after,
became a prominent New
York fashion designer of upscale women’s
clothing. In 2008, he was elected senator of
the Virgin Islands. Written in a sophisticated
yet conversational voice, his book offers engaging information covering everything from
table manners and wedding planning to the
proper etiquette when having an audience
with the pope or even when detained by the
police and incarcerated. James also addresses,
in frank detail, sex-related subjects, such as
proper genital hygiene before inviting fellatio and etiquette in gay bathhouse cubicles.
The book is enhanced with detailed diagrams
of place settings and the like. Open-minded
young men will find a wealth of solid advice
in this hefty volume, which is variously sophisticated, amusing, and entertaining.
Transport: Death Mission.
By Phillip P. Peterson.
2016. 266p. CreateSpace, paper, $8.89 (9781539063612).
This eerie science-fiction epic examines
the Crichtonesque mechanics of a dangerous machine. Russell Harris is a death-row
inmate slated for execution in a dystopian
future. The former soldier wins a reprieve
when he’s recruited for a risky mission by
his former commander, who sends him to
an isolated military base. There he learns
that he and 10 other convicts will be used to
test an alien artifact, pulled from the ocean
floor, which uses the energy of a black hole
to transport its passengers to portals around
the universe. Although some meet gruesome
ends, Russell, the sole woman convict, and a
few others escape unscathed and eventually
must make a bitter choice that pushes them
further into unknown territory. Like the late
Crichton, Peterson seems more interested
in generating suspense via a believable set
of physics and other mechanics than in his
characters. Still, he’s crafted a solid, engaging
thriller that asks big questions about mankind’s self-destructive nature and its manifest
destiny among the stars. Readers will eagerly
await two upcoming sequels.
in the sky. Later, while an exhausted Sophie sleeps, he says good-bye. The next day,
as Sophie stares out the window, the question of whether she remembers him is left
charmingly unanswered. The story and text
are both admirably composed, but the most
striking aspect of the book is its gorgeous
illustrations. Every image creates a world
unto itself, with vivid details. The author’s
incredible pencil-and-watercolor art is complemented with first-rate book design, from
the cover to the flaps that first show what Sophie’s parents might see—Sophie talking to
air—but, underneath, reveal Taber in a series
of amusing vignettes. Children and parents
will repeatedly enjoy this book for its story,
characters, and wonderful illustrations.
This or That: A Busy Morning.
By Wendy Kronick and Susan Beauchene.
Illus. by Emilia Manrique Medrano.
2016. 30p. Xlibris, paper, $16.99 (9781514470497).
The first in a series from Kronick, a specialist in early childhood development, and
Beauchene, this picture book empowers
young readers to make their own choices
while also giving adults concrete examples of
how they can give children more agency and
independence. The book is written from the
perspective of a toddler’s mother, who asks
him to make simple decisions—which song
to sing, which toy to play with—throughout
the day. As the boy gets ready to eat breakfast,
for example, the mother says, “The bib keeps
your clothes dry and clean. Which will you
wear, the red or the green?” This is soon followed by, “It’s sunny outside; let’s get some
fresh air. Should we walk to the park, or stroll
over there?” The rhyming narrative is pleasant and smooth. Young readers will chime in
with their own choices and enjoy Medrano’s
fun, colorful illustrations, which include diverse characters. The book’s primary strength
is in modeling how and when adults can offer
choices to the children around them and is a
laudable introduction to the series.