Mapping Manhattan is Becky Cooper’s love letter to New York City. Cooper hand printed simple maps of Manhattan, blank except for Broadway, Houston, and Central Park, and walked the length of Broadway to distribute them to her fellow New Yorkers and to invite them to fill in the maps with their memories, their Manhattan. In this slender, beautifully designed book, she collects 75 of the maps she received. The maps tell such a variety of life stories. I kept turning the pages, eager to see what designs and memories the next spread would bring. As someone who loves open, sparsely populated spaces, I often find it hard to fall in love with cities. But you can’t really read Mapping Manhattan without falling a little bit in love with NYC. You can’t really read it without thinking about your own maps either. Cooper includes a blank Manhattan map at the back of the book for readers to join the project and make their own map.
I know Kyo Maclear as a picture book author (Bloom, her picture book biography of Elsa Schiaperelli, is a recent favorite), but she also writes for adults, and Birds Art Life is just the kind of book for grown-ups that I like best. Its subtitle, “A Year of Observation,” accurately describes the contents. Maclear is spurred to write memoir when her father becomes ill and nearly dies. Much of the writing in Birds Art Life focuses on memory and family, what it means to be a daughter and a mother. It’s also a chronicle of a project: Maclear begins to notice birds, meets an urban bird watcher, and asks if she can shadow him for a year. He agrees, and her burgeoning bird watching skills and reflections on the environment and urban nature form another chunk of the narrative here. Finally, she is a working writer and artist, and her reflections on living a creative life are also braided throughout the narrative. Each chapter forms a kind of speculative essay about the month of the year, a particular bird or set of birds she observed, and the values or beliefs she is wrestling with. It’s a short book but not a book to rush through. I read a few pages each day, rarely completing even one chapter, because there was so much to think about and sit with in each chapter.
I like to occasionally challenge myself to read something way outside my wheelhouse, and contemporary romance definitely qualifies. The Wedding Date has gotten some strong reviews, especially from one of my favorite readers, Rebecca Schinsky from Book Riot, whose recommendations are usually spot-on for me. I really wanted to like this book, and I did read all the way to the end, but this just didn’t work for me. It’s got a great meet cute: Drew and Alexa are stuck on an elevator at a San Francisco hotel where Alexa has come to visit her sister and Drew has come to attend a wedding. It’s the wedding of Drew’s ex-girlfriend, and his date canceled on him at the last minute. He and Alexa hit it off in the elevator, and on a whim, he asks Alexa to be his date. Much steamy romance ensues.
I did like that Alexa and Drew have interesting jobs that are important to them (she works for the mayor’s office and he’s a pediatric surgeon). I did like their spunky sidekick friends who encourage their romance. I did like that they are an interracial couple and Jasmine Guillory writes about race and what it’s like to be a black woman in America in ways that might be eye-opening for some readers. I liked that this was a body-positive story about a woman whose real body is considered attractive. And I liked that it was a very quick, page-turny read.
But ultimately, I think romance just isn’t for me. The steamy romance scenes, which have gotten a lot of praise in reviews, had me rolling my eyes. I was totally fixated on how often the characters eat meals (it seemed like every page one of them was starving and plotting their next meal) and the content of those meals (incessant doughnuts, burgers, fries, pizza, burritos). I am not even kidding when I say that this book made my stomach ache. Drink a smoothie! Have a salad! There is simply no way two adults in their 30s could eat like this without feeling sick. No one wants pancakes and waffles for breakfast, burgers and fries for lunch, and giant burritos for dinner–all in the same day. And since this is a romance, there must be an obstacle to the romance that must be overcome, and that part really didn’t work for me. Alexa and Drew have a long-distance relationship, which provides some drama, though not much, as they just hop a plane to visit each other every weekend. The real obstacle is that Alexa finds out that Drew has broken up with his last few girlfriends around the two-month mark because….. well, that part is unclear. He has commitment issues? Who knows? And since this revelation needs to break them up, she proceeds to have a big crazy freakout instead of doing what I would hope most adults would do–which is ask Drew what’s up. It’s a lazy way to write conflict. And of course the conflict is resolved very quickly so that we can get to the happily-ever-after ending.
John Murray’s Writing about Nature is a guide to, yes, writing about nature. Murray uses his own nature writing as examples and quotes widely from many familiar essays and books about nature (he seems especially fond of Thoreau and Edward Abbey). The chapters are quick reads and focus on the usual elements of essays or articles (openings, conclusions, structure, research, style). There are some interesting insights about writing throughout the book, though nothing that will be new to those who have read other writing guides. The best part of the book, for me, was the practice exercises at the end of each chapter. Many good ideas here for prompts or exercises.
The Unstoppable Wasp Volumes 1 and 2 collect all 8 issues of The Unstoppable Wasp comic book series. There’s much to love here! Excellent writing and art, a diverse group of strong female characters, grounding in the Avengers and Marvel universe (which makes for some fun appearances by popular Marvel characters like Ms. Marvel and Daredevil) and a focus on girls in STEM. In volume after volume, a group of teen girl scientists who represent the most brilliant minds in the world come together to use science to fight crime. It’s great stuff. I felt like the series was just hitting its stride when it got canceled, so there are only these 8 issues. A necessary addition to every middle-school or high school classroom library.
The Dragon Slayer is a short collection of three Latin American folk tales rendered in graphic novel format by Jaime Hernandez. The book is beautifully designed and includes some interesting back matter, but overall, I didn’t find the stories or art particularly memorable or engaging. Might be a good choice for an upper elementary or middle school readers.
Obviously I’m going to love a graphic novel for younger readers about a construction company run by KITTENS. Adorable kittens! Whose own adorableness gets in the way of their being taken seriously as professionals. The art is eye-catching and fun, the writing is engaging and clever, and kittens save the day! Yes! I also appreciate a book for younger readers that still includes some jokes and situations that will be appreciated by grown-up readers, and Kitten Construction Company has several of those moments.
Solid picture book biography of Handel. The theme (“Handel knew what he liked”) is a bit overdone and I wondered about the historical accuracy of explaining all of Handel’s choices and successes as “Handel knew what he liked!” But otherwise, this is an accurate and effective look at Handel’s career, especially his successes and failures in London.