It’s reassuring to discover that heroes, both ancient and modern, are not somehow supernaturally endowed after all. Indeed, they may come by their skills quite naturally. In the thoroughly absorbing Natural Born Heroes, which tracks heroism from the times of Zeus and Odysseus to the World War II bravery of a motley crew of fighters, Christopher McDougall makes it clear that incredible acts of strength and endurance are doable. His extensive knowledge of fitness training, nutrition and physiology winds artfully around a tale of superhuman resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Greek island of Crete, Hitler’s designated launching pad for the invasion of Russia.
It’s rare that a memoir is so emotionally engaging that a reader may wish to reach back through time and envelop the author in a warm parental hug. But that’s the impulse poet Tracy K. Smith engenders in this account of growing up as a dutiful daughter in a small town in northern California during the 1970s and ’80s. “My mother was proud of my decorum,” Smith recalls. “She liked having a little girl who instinctively wanted to obey.” Smith was much more than a compliant child, though. She was also preternaturally attuned to everything happening around her and determined to find a place for it in her rich imagination.
Ten years ago, Jeanne Birdsall introduced readers to the funny, smart, sweet-but-never-saccharine Penderwick sisters, whose initial summer adventures were followed by two additional books. This fourth installment opens five years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. With Rosalind away at college and Skye and Jane busy with teenage pursuits, the focus is on 10-year-old Batty, along with her stepbrother Ben and the newest Penderwick sibling, 2-year-old Lydia.
When Bear visits a duck family one spring, they have so much fun together he decides to stay. But the ducks’ home is too small for Bear, and his ideal space is far too gloomy (and roomy) for the ducks. Can a compromise be struck? The smart money’s on finding Room for Bear.
Each new book by Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) is, on the surface at least, vastly different from those that have come before. The Buried Giant—his first novel in almost 10 years—is no exception. This fable-like narrative, set in England just after the mythic reign of Arthur, chronicles the adventures of an elderly couple as they journey across a wild and rugged landscape. Old and forgetful, but still endearingly in love, Axl and Beatrice have been cast to the margins of their settlement, not even allowed candles for fear that they may do themselves harm. So, they decide to set out for their son’s village, which they believe they can reach with a few days’ travel. But the landscape abounds with human hostility and ignorance, as well as the shadowy possibility of ogres and other mythical beasts.
When young Ursula Brown reaches the estate of the Vaughns (who are also recognizable as the Three Bears) to be a governess for their son, Teddy, her story becomes less a simple fairy-tale retelling and more of a mash-up of classic literary tropes.
In 20 novels published over a remarkable 50-year period, Anne Tyler has staked her claim as our premier chronicler of the ordinary, imperfect American family. Set in Baltimore, like most of her work, A Spool of Blue Thread concerns just such a family. Abby and Red Whitshank and their four children are, from the outside, just like anyone else. Red is a second-generation building contractor, Abby a social worker, and the clan has long occupied a rambling house that Red’s father once built for another man. Like all families, they have had their ups and downs, their squabbles, resentments and misunderstandings, but nothing has irreparably damaged the household fabric.
This radiant collection of short stories features a set of flawed yet sympathetic women in a whole mess of compromising positions.
Comparing a new young adult author to superstar John Green is risky business. Fans of Green’s work are bound to bring a certain set of expectations to their next read—expectations that All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven meets and even exceeds.
Just when you think you’re being guided by an omniscient narrator, author-illustrator Julia Sarcone-Roach throws you a curveball in this very funny picture book about the art of misdirection.