Book Review: Tom Clancy Line of Sight, Mike Maden

Book Review: Tom Clancy Line of SightMike Maden

Tom Clancy Line of Sight, Mark Maden

Fiction Series: Tom Clancy Line of Sight, Mike Maden

Fans of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series know that the world Clancy created continues in a series of novels about Jack Ryan, Jr. Using his cover as a financial analyst, Jack and his colleagues at the Campus serve as an off-the-books intelligence agency for his father, President Jack Ryan. In this latest offering, Line of Sight, from a new author to the series, Jack is sent on a mission of a different sort. His mother, eye-surgeon Cathy Ryan, hears he is heading to central Europe. She asks her son to look up an old patient of hers, Aida Curic. Dr. Ryan had operated on the little girl twenty years earlier and wanted to know how she was doing.

 

Jack’s trip starts in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he has a financial consultation–and where he faces an attempt on his life by a beautiful hit woman. After successfully turning the tables on her, he flies to Sarajevo to look for Aida Curic. After several days unsuccessfully searching, Curic shows up on his doorstep, and the two of them quickly connect.

 

I do not believe in doing negative reviews, but I do have a couple of criticisms of this book. I am a red-blooded cis straight male, but wow! One character is described as a busty blond girl-next-door. Jack’s would-be assassin, or more accurately his first would-be assassin, is a beautiful woman who attempts seduction as her prelude to murder. When Aida Curic shows up on his doorstep, her curves are described in vivid detail–and in very short order Jack and she begin an affair. Given that both her Muslim faith and his Catholic faith are supposed to be central parts of their characters, and furthermore that Ryan is supposed to be a highly trained and disciplined operative who (we would think) is already on his guard after an attempt on his life, this seems more James Bond than Jack Ryan, Jr.

 

The other is probably more of a general criticism of the entire series, but it does specifically apply to this book. Recent novels in this series have been less overtly political–maybe because they were written during an era when Democrats were in the real White House. This book feels at times like a Republican campaign commercial. Granted, you don’t go into a Tom Clancy novel expecting subtlety or nuance in its politics, but the tone is much stronger in this offering, and I found it occasionally distracting.

 

Those criticisms aside, Maden checks the boxes for a Tom Clancy thriller. Multiple intractable foes, bringing both personal danger and global destabilization. The hero needing to use his spycraft, his brilliance, and his physicality to resolve the situation. Familiar names from the Campus bringing their skills to the party. (Though this book does spend much less time with other characters than other authors in the series have.) President Ryan and his cabinet being on-top-of-everything-in-amazing-fashion. These are expectations that fans of the series have, and Maden delivers.

 

Something else that Clancy fans have come to expect is detailed exploration of challenging subjects, whether that is the specs of a Russian sub or the destructive capability of a jumbo jet crashing into a government building. Maden writes with impressive sensitivity and detail about the aftermath and political consequences of the Balkan wars. NATO, America, and Western Europe may not have had any good options during those wars, but the failure to act and the refusal to protect civilians led to the worst atrocities and genocide seen on the continent since World War II, and the scars are still fresh in the region.

 

Tom Clancy Line of Sight is not a perfect novel, but it is a worthy continuation of a series that has entertained generations of readers since the 1980s. I look forward to seeing how the Ryans and the Campus next save the world–though Jack may want to ask a relative to set him up with dates in future books!

Tom Clancy Line of Sight, Mark Maden

Book Review: Tom Clancy Line of Sight, Mike Maden

The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi

Book Review: The Consuming FireJohn Scalzi

The Interdependency, Book 2

Consuming Fire, John Scalzi

Fiction: Consuming Fire, John Scalzi

Emperox Grayland II is in deep. Most believe she is in over her head. She is the unexpected, unprepared ruler of the Interdependency, a series of worlds held together by their mutual need for each other and their connection through the “flow,” a poorly understood current outside the bounds of normal space which allows travel between select points in normal space. Humans cannot control the flow. They can access it in certain areas, then exit back out from it in other areas, but they are utterly dependent on the direction and current of the flow itself to get from one system to another.

 

But the flow is changing. Places that were connected to each other are losing that connection. Few know this, fewer accept that it’s happening, and fewer still believe the Emperox’s latest pronouncement: she has had a vision of the flow ending. Beset by enemies, facing inevitable environmental catastrophe, ill-prepared for the throne (she became Emperox because of the untimely death of her older brother who was the heir), and now of questionable sanity, it seems only a matter of time before her accidental ascendancy comes to an abrupt and likely terminal end. The question is whether humanity itself will be snuffed out in the consuming fire.

 

In The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi continues the story begun in The Collapsing Empire. We pick up the threads of Emperox Grayland II; of Lord Marce Claremont, the scientist who brought predictions of the flow’s end to the Emperox; of Lady Kiva Lagos, unlikely ally to the Emperox who loves money and sex with near equal fervor; and of Lady Nadashe Nohamapetan, in jail for a failed assassination attempt but still with cards to play in the game for power and control of the Interdependency. Scalzi weaves these threads together against a backdrop of impending environmental doom. Only one planet in the entire empire is self sustaining. All of the others were settled because of their locations near access points to the flow. None of them are naturally inhabitable. They all rely on each other for something: food, air, water. When the flow is no longer there, they will continue for awhile. But the end will come, sooner rather than later, and everyone will die.

 

Scalzi wrote The Consuming Fire in a two-week burst in June, 2018. (He does NOT recommend this as a model for writing a novel!) Given the timing, during a US election year and in the middle of political battles over climate change, it is easy to see parallels between real life and this book. But don’t think this is simply a parable for modern readers. The characters in Scalzi’s works are involved and complex. The universe he has created for them may face environmental challenges, but these are also people who forced hostile planets and empty space to make room for them. The Interdependency has involved and interconnected political, social, economic, and religious systems, and their differences from any current situation are as significant as any similarities we may see.

 

It may be a couple of years before the next book in this series is published. Considering that the author has multiple active series going at this time, he should be able to keep himself busy until then. I look forward to returning to the Interdependency, though. The Consuming Fire is full of the typical Scalzi wit and irreverence, and is a page-turning space opera that hurtles toward an exciting and climactic finish. If the next installment is as enjoyable as the first two have been, it will be worth the wait.

 

Even if it takes him three weeks to write it!

Consuming Fire, John Scalzi

Book Review: The Consuming FireJohn Scalzi

Book Review: Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Book 3 of the Heroine Complex series

 

Bea Tanaka is not just the little sister of superheroine Evie Tanaka. She has super powers of her own: the ability to project emotions onto others and the ability to channel intense anger into a “sonic scream” (or “canary cry,” depending on your taste in comics) which can totally destroy most demon-possessed objects that are attacking. So it’s way past time for Aveda Jupiter and Evie to promote her to full-fledged superheroine and stop treating her like a child. In fact, she has put together a posterboard presentation to convince them of this very thing. To make the point even more compelling, she has used glitter. Lots. Of. Glitter. She even has her own superheroine costume, complete with cape. They totally have to promote her!

 

Heroine’s Journey is the third book of the Heroine Complex series. Like the first two, it is smart, breezy, and snarky. Told in the first person, this time by the aforementioned Bea Tanaka, it follows the ongoing story of our Asian-American superheroines as they protect San Francisco from the threats posed by demons crossing over through portals from another dimension. Bea is now 22, working part-time at a bookstore and hanging out with best friends Leah and Sam. She still lives at the house which serves as HQ for the superheroines Aveda and Evie, but tensions are high between the sisters. Bea knows she is ready to step up. Evie is not so sure. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Demons attack, and Bea is able to step in and make a difference.

 

And, Evie and Bea’s dad returns after 10 years away with virtually no contact.

 

Kuhn really does an amazing job of balancing humor and pathos. Bea’s feelings for her father and her late mother are powerful. Her longing and sorrow drive the character to make some questionable decisions, including hurting people who love her. But Kuhn also shows Bea is usually self-aware, knowing that she is making poor decisions and (usually) able to pull herself back from the brink. She is passionate and proud and simultaneously vulnerable and scared.

 

The characters are the reason to read these books. The plots are cute and funny: demonically possessed rocks and spider-rides from carnivals and killer pens attacking and porcelain unicorns coming to life. (Can anything really surpass the killer demon-possessed cupcakes from the first book in the series? That may be unbeatable.) But Kuhn’s magic is in her characters. I literally cried during one scene near the end when Bea and Evie are having a heart-to-heart. Kuhn writes characters that are truly super. Not just in their fantastic abilities: telekinesis, fire, hair-tentacles, empathic projection, etc. They are super in their feelings, their relationships, their passion, their sexuality, their friendships.

 

Balancing feelings for sisters and lovers and friends and mothers and fathers and enemies is hard in real life. It is seldom done effectively in literature. Kuhn’s characters are transcendent in the power of their emotions. Kuhn is not afraid of conflict or lust or even confusion. Emotions don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to follow a logical progression. Humans, especially those in their early 20s, are allowed to have strong and confusing and sometimes paradoxical reactions to other people. They can and do make mistakes and hurt people and manage to apologize and change and heal those wounds. Seeing it happen on the page makes you really care about these characters.

 

If the Heroine Complex stories are finished, then Heroine’s Journey is an outstanding conclusion. It did not feel like a conclusion, though, and I hope it is not. I feel like there are more stories from these characters, and Sarah Kuhn is the perfect storyteller for them. Read them for the fun, read them for the feels, but read them knowing that in the end you will care more than you thought you would going in.

 

See our reviews of the other stories in this trilogy, Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship.

Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

Book Review: Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

Fiction: Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng

I went into Little Fires Everywhere blind. I had read no reviews. I had seen no summaries. I knew it was highly regarded: book of the year according to several sources, NY Times bestseller. Nothing, though, could have prepared me for just how good this story is.

 

The Richardsons are a model suburban family living in an idyllic community, Shaker Heights, OH, an actual suburb of Cleveland. They have four children who are active in high school sports, drama, and music. And as the book opens, they are coming to grips with the fact that their house is burning down, and the likely arsonist is youngest daughter, Izzy.

 

Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, rent their house from the Richardsons. Mia is an artist, selling enough just to get by with help from part-time jobs, but not likely to become famous. She and Pearl have lived all over the country, moving as Mia’s artistic muse calls. Pearl is a student in high school with the Richardson children, and they are hoping to stay put for a few years so Pearl can have a normal high school life.

 

It’s easy enough to summarize the main plot threads. The families become more and more interconnected, as all of the Richardsons are drawn to one or both of the Warrens. Moody and Pearl become best friends. Trip and Pearl start sleeping together. Mrs. Richardson hires Mia to do some housekeeping. Lexie befriends Pearl and calls on her during a time of personal crisis. Izzy finds in Mia the love and support she cannot get from her own mother. As these ties grow stronger, Mrs. Richardson’s lifelong friend tries to adopt a Chinese-American baby who had been abandoned at a fire station. The baby’s birth mother wants to get her back. And this drama, played out in the courts, drives a wedge through the relationships.

 

There’s more. So much more. But frankly, any summary of the plot leaves so much out that it is unfair to the book and to the author. Celeste Ng has written a story about motherhood, about adolescence, about decisions that you carry with you for your entire life, and has written it beautifully and memorably. Her descriptions of Shaker Heights make it part of the book, another character that plays its own role in the drama. Ng grew up in the real Shaker Heights, OH, and you can tell from the details in this book that it was both a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to leave.

 

The mothers in the book are all very, very different. Elena Richardson plays by the rules. She grew up in Shaker Heights. She has some liberal views on things, but cannot abide by chaos or entropy. So when her friend runs into trouble with her adoption, that is unfair. Her friend played by the rules. Mia Warren makes up her own rules. Itinerant for most of her adult life, she raised her daughter as a free spirit. When her friend, Bebe Chow, pulls her life together and wants to reclaim the baby she gave up in a moment of desperation, Mia helps. Pearl is drawn to the stability and predictability of the Richardson household, and sees aspects in Elena that she has never seen in her own mother. Izzy is drawn to the freedom and acceptance of Mia, so different from the judgment she feels by being a less-than-perfect Richardson.

 

Little Fires Everywhere describes the destruction of the Richardson’s home. Gasoline poured on each bed, lit, came together in a conflagration. It also describes the process of starting over from scratch. No one thing destroys a relationship or leads to a life-altering change. It is a bunch of small things, seemingly insignificant on their own, that add up to a prairie fire. Celeste Ng. has written a fantastic book that shows these fires being set in the lives of two suburban families. Like most fires, this one is dangerous and beautiful to watch.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

Book Review: Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng

 

Book Review: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, Eugenia Cheng

Book Review: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of MathematicsEugenia Cheng

How To Bake a Pi cover

Nonfiction: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of MathematicsEugenia Cheng

I like to challenge myself in my reading. How to Bake Pi definitely challenges me. Eugenia Cheng is a woman of extraordinary talents. Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, honorary fellow of pure mathematics at the University of Sheffield in England, pianist, and according to this book, baker.

 

Each chapter begins with a recipe, which Cheng uses to illustrate some principle of math (or “maths,” since she is English). Some of the recipes are shockingly easy–dump ingredients into a rice cooker and let it sit on “warm” for several hours. Others are quite involved. The recipes, though, are not the main part of the book. They are introductions to demonstrate the lessons Cheng wishes to teach about the math principles.

 

Cheng’s writing is funny, approachable, and accessible. She is wholly committed to her theme: Math is easy. Or, more accurately, math is a way to make complex things easier. It uses logic and proofs to demonstrate how and why things work the way they do. Kitchen recipes follow patterns. Some of them are step by step. Take 2 ingredients, mix them, add additional ingredients, mix them in with the first two, apply heat, eat yummy result. Others are more abstract. Some require specialized knowledge or unusual ingredients or specific tools. Cheng uses these qualities of recipes to show similar qualities in math.

 

I will confess, I am no mathematician. Nor am I a good cook. (Our recipe and review pages are done by my wife, who is an outstanding cook. I do help her test the recipes, though!) A lot of the book went past me. But it did so while leaving some strong impressions. First, I really wish my math teachers had used food as a teaching tool! Second, I really wish I had never “learned” that math was hard. I can’t say that Cheng has persuaded me that math is easy, but she has persuaded me that my painful memories of early morning trigonometry failures are not the whole story of math. All in all, How to Bake Pi is a fun and enlightening book that is able to reframe math for the numerically challenged. And give you some new ideas on preparing food as well.

How To Bake a Pi cover

Book Review: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of MathematicsEugenia Cheng

Book Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fiction and Disturbances, Neil Gaiman

Book Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fiction and DisturbancesNeil Gaiman

Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman cover

Fiction: Trigger Warning: Short Fiction and DisturbancesNeil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has won many literary awards, including the Newberry, Carnegie, Hugo, and Nebula. He is known for his comics, his novels, his screenplays, and his short fiction. When it comes to putting pen to paper (or more likely fingers to keyboard), he does it all well. Trigger Warning is a collection of short stories, with a few poems thrown in as well, that demonstrates the breadth and power of a master at work.

 

Gaiman warns in the introduction that “There are things in this book, as in life, that might upset you.” His work is often strange and disturbing, and these short stories contain several that are both. Like the author himself says, “I wondered…whether, one day, people would put a trigger warning on my fiction. I wondered whether or not they would be justified in doing it. And then I decided to do it first.”

 

Fans of other works by Gaiman will find familiar characters and settings in some of the stories. Black Dog features Baldur “Shadow” Moon, a character from his novel American Gods. Gaiman won a Hugo for his Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife;” in Nothing O’Clock, Gaiman returns to the Doctor, the TARDIS, and Amy Pond. Although not traditionally associated with Gaiman, The Case of Death and Honey tells of an elderly Sherlock Holmes nearing the end of his life…or is he?

 

Gaiman’s stories travel the lines between fantasy and horror, science fiction and possibly some other genre uniquely his own. They are dark and sometimes macabre, not in an overtly bloody or gruesome way but in the psychological way where the road to your own fears is marked and your imagination takes you down the paths that make you shudder. Gaiman warns us in the title that he is going for triggers. Believe him.

 

An example. Click-Clack the Rattlebag starts so gently. A man visiting his girlfriend meets her younger brother. The younger brother wants him to tuck him in and tell him a story. I read this over Thanksgiving, spending time with my wonderful granddaughters. They like grandpa to read them stories. I like to read them stories. I did not read this one to them–I know that Neil Gaiman is not the go-to source for bedtime stories for toddlers. This story started so gently, so sweetly. A young man, bonding with his girlfriend’s family. Except, that is not what the story is about. The hints are there, near the beginning. Even if I did not know about Neil Gaiman’s work, even if it were not in the middle of a collection called Trigger Warning, the indicators could almost have been in all-caps: THIS STORY IS GOING TO GO SIDEWAYS AND CREEP YOU OUT! I don’t want to give too much away, but let me say that later in the evening when my older granddaughter wanted me to read a story to her, I thought twice about it!

 

(Of course, then I went ahead and read the story–Gaiman will not stand between me and my granddaughters!)

 

This may not be the right book for every reader. For those who love fantasy, horror, and great writing, it is an excellent choice. One thing I love about short story collections is they can be read in small pieces. One story now, another tonight, pick it up later in the week. Skip around, come back to it later. It’s worth the time, and the goosebumps.

Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman cover

Book Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fiction and DisturbancesNeil Gaiman

Book Review: Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

Book Review: Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

Fiction: Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award in 2011. It is a powerful story of a poor family near the Mississippi coast. Esch is fifteen, living with her father and three brothers. She has just learned she is pregnant. Her father drinks heavily, but even in his condition he knows that a hurricane is coming. What he does not know is that preparing for that hurricane will become the least of his family’s concerns.

Ward writes vivid descriptions of people, events, and scenery. You can almost feel the humidity in the Mississippi forests where her characters live. Her words bring the scenes to life: teenagers gathered to fight their dogs, the lust and hunger of a young girl giving herself to the boy she adores, the fear and exhilaration of kids breaking into a neighbor’s barn, the terror of cowering in a house that is losing its battle with a category 5 hurricane. You can smell the iron in the blood from fighting dogs and fleeing children, you can smell the rot of the wood, you can hear the roar of the wind and the metronome of a bouncing ball, you can see the debris left by wind and water.

Ward’s prose is song and story. Poetry and primal scream. She writes about forgotten people: poor, African American, rural, southern. She writes with ferocity and tenderness. Poverty and racism have taken their swings at these folks. Childbirth killed their mother, alcohol has ensnared their father, the hurricane is poised to cleanse the land as though they had never lived there, but this family will endure. They may be knocked down, but they will not give up.

Esch is the protagonist, and she is as complex a character as I have seen. Fifteen, she loves sex and she loves Manny. The descriptions of her feelings for him are powerful, vivid, shameless and blunt. The descriptions of their intercourse are hard to read. Manny is selfish and does not love Esch. He is, in fact, living with another woman. But he is happy to take advantage of Esch’s feelings, and the result is basic biology. Esch becomes pregnant. How she deals with this impending hurricane within her own body at the same time as her family deals with the pending arrival of Katrina gives the book an extraordinary power. The tension rises as the storm draws nearer–and as the baby grows within her body.

The descriptions of poor, rural, African American life in southern Mississippi are jarring and difficult. For me, that is a reason to be glad I read them. It is easy to take my middle-class privilege for granted. I have known nothing else. I have never lived in a house that needed to be boarded up for a hurricane. I have never lived in a situation where we had to steal food to survive–or steal a pregnancy test to confirm what my body was saying. I have never watched my father drink himself to forgetfulness. I have never had my hopes set on performing well in a basketball tournament–or had them crushed when my brother got into a fight with my sister’s baby’s father during the game. I have never had my house shifted off its foundation by a storm, nor had to cut a hole in the roof to escape through the attic. I have never had to watch my dog ripped away by the current of floodwaters during a storm. These are not experiences I would ever want to have. Through the power of her prose, Ward shares these experiences in ways that break through the differences in race and economics and geography and identity and speak to our common humanity.

Salvage the Bones is an amazing story about an amazing girl. It is also the story of people who have nothing to lose but each other–yet when it looks like they will lose everything, they somehow find out just how strong they are and how strong the bonds of family, friendship, and survival are. A truly extraordinary novel.

Book Review: Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

 

Book Review: Clade, James Bradley

Book Review: CladeJames Bradley

Fiction: CladeJames Bradley

Several months ago I was introduced to the term “Cli-Fi.” This breezy abbreviation refers to a subgenre of speculative fiction that tells stories of the world after climate change. BookRiot included several recommended titles in their article about Cli-Fi, several of which we have reviewed on Scintilla.

 

James Bradley’s Clade may be the best one of the group. Clade starts on the summer solstice in Antarctica, where a young scientist is studying the effects of climate change. Adam is also worried about his partner, Ellie, who is home in Sydney awaiting the results of IVF treatment. The book then follows their lives for several decades, from their daughter’s arrival to the dissolution of their own relationship, the loss of Ellie’s father, the challenges of parenting and grandparenting, until finally ending on another summer solstice many years later.

 

First, the novel itself is very poignant. Bradley never forgets the people he is writing about. Adam and Ellie are people who hurt, and in their pain they cannot help but hurt others. They each recognize the pain within themselves, and they see the pain in others, but they cannot break through their own suffering to give peace to anyone else. When they are sad, they lash out. When they are frightened, they lash out. This hurt extends through all of their relationships: Ellie’s father and stepmother, Adam and Ellie’s daughter Summer, their grandson Noah. Regardless of the science fiction or the trauma that is in their world, the human story that carries the novel is achingly real.

 

Hypothetically, in a peaceful world with a stable climate and amazing resources, Adam and Ellie might have been able to get therapy and move into some healthier relationships. That is not the world they live in. Their world is collapsing. Fires and floods, monster hurricanes that virtually wipe out England, riots and government collapses, pandemics. Entire countries lost to encroaching seas. Their personal stories are set on a planet that is roiling and has no time for their personal problems. One interesting speculation Bradley makes in building his world is that the removal of the weight from ice sheets from tectonic plates would cause them to shift, adding earthquakes and volcanoes to the challenges facing the planet. Previous mass extinction events have shown both climate change and seismic/volcanic activity in correlation, though there is no way right now to prove cause and effect (or which way that may tilt), but it does add another layer of complexity to the challenges facing the survivors of this world.

 

Clade is a novel worth reading if you like compelling human stories with very real-feeling characters. There are no heroes here, only survivors. But it is also a novel worth reading if you are interested in science fiction, “cli-fi,” or just want a good book to get lost in. I made the mistake of starting it when I went to bed. I could not put it down until I finished it. Clade is a book I highly recommend.

Book Review: CladeJames Bradley

Book Review: The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy, Paige Williams

Book Review: The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate TrophyPaige Williams

Nonfiction: The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate TrophyPaige Williams

Eric Prokopi loves fossils. Even as a child he was taken with hunting fossils. After graduating from college, he created a business buying and selling fossils. He became extremely skilled in collecting, preserving, and mounting them. His work was displayed in museums around the world, collected by movie stars and other wealthy fans, and auctioned off for thousands of dollars. Perhaps his finest work was the mounting of a skeleton of T. bataar, a Tyrannosaurus relative that stood 8 feet tall and 24 feet long. When the gavel fell at the end of its auction, over $1 million had been offered. Rather than enriching Eric Prokopi, though, the gavel marked the beginning of the end of his career. T. bataar’s skeleton had been smuggled illegally out of Mongolia, and the Mongolians wanted her back.

 

Paige Williams is an outstanding journalist, but her work writing The Dinosaur Artist reads more like a thriller novel. Her prose is outstanding, her research is amazing, and the story is compelling and incredible. Eric Prokopi and his entire family gave her full access to their lives: interviews, documents, emails, introductions to friends and colleagues. They did so with no idea what she would write. She could have written a book condemning Prokopi as a smuggler and a thief. Certainly the material was there for that. He was accused and convicted of those crimes and sentenced to jail. His family fell apart, his business went bankrupt, and many of his friends abandoned him. He was even made the villain of a children’s book in Mongolia which told the story of the stolen dinosaur and her wonderful return home.

 

What Williams writes instead is a clear-eyed look at the entire fossil industry, telling the story of previous men whose rivalries caused the “bone wars” of the 1800s, of a paleontologist whose adventures may have inspired the character of Indiana Jones, of a woman who was so good that her pieces were mounted in the finest museums but whose upbringing was so common that she herself was not permitted in some of those same museums, and of a boy who grew up loving fossils–and who was willing to break laws and bypass customs as an adult to get them. She does not excuse or defend Eric Prokopi. What she does is put his crime into context, showing how he allowed hubris and greed and poor judgment to guide his actions, but also how he was swept up in international politics and bad timing. Prokopi broke the law. He was not the first (nor is he the last). Many others were (and are) doing the same things. Sometimes it is less about the crime committed than about the timing, the publicity, and the politics. In this case, it was about all of that.

 

The Dinosaur Artist is a true story. It is well researched, beautifully written, and hard to put down. Anyone interested in a very different sort of true crime story, in paleontology, or in modern Asian politics will find it fascinating.

Book Review: The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate TrophyPaige Williams

Book Review: Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & You, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Book Review: Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & YouLin-Manuel Miranda and Illustrations by Jonny Sun

Poetry: Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & YouLin-Manuel Miranda and Illustrations by Jonny Sun

If you are on Twitter and not following Lin-Manuel Miranda, you are missing out. He regularly tweets short poems/phrases/words of encouragement to start the day (Gmorning) and then follows them up by echoing the sentiments later in the day (Gnight). He has collected many of those tweets into a book, GMorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & You, and frankly, you should buy a copy for yourself, your loved ones, your neighbors, random strangers you meet in the park, and anyone who has to keep working at this thing we call “life.”

 

Miranda is probably still best known for his musical Hamilton, but he is also starring in Mary Poppins Returns, wrote music and lyrics (and sang) for Disney’s Moana, and wrote and starred in the Tony winning musical In the Heights. He has won multiple Tonys, a Pulitzer Prize, Grammys, an Emmy, and has been nominated for an Oscar, among the many other prizes he has been nominated for or won. He also received a MacArthur “Genius” Award. This work probably will not get him his second Pulitzer, but it is pithy, heartfelt, and poignant.

 

Miranda encourages. His introduction (in rhyming couplets!) tells us:

Most often the greetings I wish you

Are the greetings I wish for myself.

 

So if I write “relax,” then I’m nervous,

Or if I write, “cheer up,” then I’m blue.

I’m writing what I wish somebody would say,

Then switching the pronoun to you.

 

This book is not meant to be a deep exploration of the human condition. It is meant to connect. And this is a good thing. We cannot always understand. We don’t always need to understand. Sometimes what we need to do is remember that we are not alone, that we are surrounded by people who have the same needs and feelings and desires and dreams and fears and disappointments that we do. Sometimes we just need to know that we are loved, that we are wanted, and that the world is survivable together. That’s why I say buy this book for everyone you love–even for everyone you just know. We all need this, and although Miranda wrote the words and Sun drew the pictures, if the book comes from you then the connection comes from you and that may be exactly what someone needs!

 

Good morning, stunner.

You’re just getting started.

Your age doesn’t matter.

The sun is up, the day is new.

You’re just getting started.

 

Good night, stunner.

You’re just getting started.

Your age doesn’t matter.

The stars are out, the night is warm.

You’re just getting started.

 

Jonny Sun’s illustrations are simple but profound. The basic line drawings put the words into images, sometimes whimsical, sometimes moving. In a powerful combination of word and drawing (written the day of the late Anthony Bourdain’s suicide), Miranda writes in all caps: “YOU ARE LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.” Those words are rendered into a picture of multiple hands holding onto ropes, with the knots in the ropes forming the words.

 

It’s not Hamilton. But Hamilton is not for everyone. Gmorning, Gnight is a book for everyone (though parents be warned that sometimes Manuel has a “potty mouth”). Seriously, buy one for yourself. You could use the encouragement!

Book Review: Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & YouLin-Manuel Miranda and Illustrations by Jonny Sun