From “Game of Thrones” to The Pillars of the Earth, popular culture offers up medieval stories where royals grab for power, where crucial alliances are built between church and state, where important people suddenly fall over dead after a sumptuous meal, poisoned by a hidden rival. But this world did, in fact, exist, and the subject of Kirstin Downey’s fascinating new biography, Isabella: The Warrior Queen, maneuvered through it with unlikely and thrilling success.
After closing New York Times reporter Matt Richtel’s compelling book A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, I couldn’t help but think of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Both chronicle the story of a crime. If you’ve ever read In Cold Blood, you know how the story builds with palpable suspense. The same is true here. The crime, though, isn’t coldblooded murder, but something seemingly more mundane: a car accident on a hillside in Utah that killed two rocket scientists and was caused by a careless teenager. The alleged crime is negligent homicide, because the teenager, Reggie, may have been texting just before the crash.
Joshua Wolf Shenk offers an intriguing look at the nature of creative partnerships in Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. His subjects range from the musical (Lennon and McCartney) to the scientific (Watson and Crick), from the literary (Melville and Hawthorne) to the technical (Jobs and Wozniak). From these dozens of case studies, Shenk synthesizes the patterns. What happens when creative pairs meet? (Hint: It’s often like falling in love.) When does the really good work get going? Why do such partnerships often end?
Brian Benson’s new memoir about the journeys we take and how they shape the people we become is not to be missed. Going Somewhere begins in South America where, as a young college graduate with a liberal arts degree, Brian decides to spend a few months backpacking. He’s stopped in his tracks by Rachel, an American making her living as a singer. He joins her band. They fall in love. And a few months later, they decide to ditch Guatemala in favor of a different adventure: biking from Wisconsin to western Oregon. He’s a lanky, six-foot-tall athlete; she’s a diminutive beauty with a plus-sized wit. They buy matching bikes, and their love seems to be in full bloom. But what happens on the trail?
Martin Windrow never intended to require visitors to his London flat to don protective headgear, but that’s what happened. He had to protect his guests from the eight long talons of Mumble, the tawny owl who lived in his small, urban apartment. All surfaces had to be covered with either plastic or newspaper to protect them from Mumble’s unpredictable and very messy emissions. How could cohabitating with such a creature be worth these high costs?
Jihad, an Arabic word meaning strife or struggle, has many connotations in our culture, few of them romantic. Yet romance is at the center of Krista Bremer’s moving memoir, My Accidental Jihad, though struggle is a key element as well.
Sometimes things happen in life that change one’s perspective. Literally. For Gail Caldwell, hip surgery made her five-eighths of an inch taller. It was a new view, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
At first, Carol Wall’s memoir, Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening, sounds like a book you might have read before: An unlikely friendship develops between two people who appear to have nothing in common. Giles Owita is an immigrant from Kenya who works part-time as a gardener. Wall is a high school English teacher and writer whose work has graced the pages of magazines like Southern Living. But things are not as they seem.
What are the effects of children on their parents? Academics have long studied the question, and most readers have some back-of-the-hand knowledge of the subject. But rarely have those two groups been in conversation—until now. Jennifer Senior successfully connects a barrage of scholarship with the real experiences of moms and dads, and the resulting book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, is completely fascinating.
Unremarried Widow describes the heart-rending love affair between the author and her military husband, Miles, who died in a horrific helicopter crash while serving overseas. It’s obviously a sad story, and Artis Henderson wisely chooses not to tell it in chronological order. Her narrative begins in the early days of their marriage, then lurches forward to the accident, then back to their...