Art historian Paul Koudounaris has developed a grotesque but incredibly interesting research niche as he uncovers Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. In this, the follow-up to his 2011 Coup de Coeur award-winning Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, Koudounaris continues to delve deep into the centuries-old mystery of the veneration and bejeweling of full skeletons and individual bones of Christian “saints” in Europe. In the past, the relics have made their appearances only once a year at festivals, but the author was granted unprecedented access to examine and photograph these unique marvels.
Beginning in the early middle ages, the remains of various Christian martyrs were buried in the Roman catacombs. Long forgotten, the skeletons filled the underground passages until the era of the Protestant Reformation. In the late 1500s through the following century, many Catholic churches were looking for relics that would help to invigorate their parishioners to remain devoted. These churches, mostly in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, were sent authenticated bones from The Vatican with official documentation identifying them as having belonged to early Christian martyrs. In the intervening years, many of these unofficial saints have been “decanonized” by Roman Catholic officials.
Individual examples and stories of the relics and the stunning manner that they are displayed make up the bulk of this fascinating look at the crossroads of religion, art and history. Sumptuous photographs of the artifacts in all their dazzling glory, including a breathtaking double-page spread of the “Chapel of Bones” at the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, complete this unique volume.
Dogs have become ubiquitous in American society. Their physical abilities and emotional connections with humans have been studied and marveled about for generations, no moreso than today. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh has now compiled a collection of short vignettes celebrating the human-canine connection in Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty and Life with Dogs. Handsomely illustrated with candid photographs of the dogs and the humans with whom they share their lives, this is a perfect book to dip in and out of as time permits.
While some of the two- to four-page stories are, perhaps, more “extraordinary” than others, it is likely that readers will find themselves smiling, tearing up or both as the connection between dog and man is recounted. Some of the amazing stories include dogs that have bravely served the military both in the theatre of war and with veterans back on the home front. Other pieces involve therapy dogs, including those that serve as lifesaving alarms for people who suffer from blood sugar fluctuations and those dogs who provide comfort to humans dealing with mental or emotional trauma. Still more feature canines that have come to the rescue in crisis situations, sometimes almost unbelievably, saving their human companions through intelligence and will.
Short blurbs about the breed of dog showcased and other information related to the story round out each article. A list of resources to learn more about organizations that support these incredible feats and encourage better dog welfare is also included. Its handy, easy-to-hold trim size and heartwarming accounts will make Devoted a sure favorite with animal lovers young and old.
Best-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.
Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
Two very different cats play lead roles in new largely wordless books for young readers. International feline superstar Hello Kitty makes her graphic novel debut in Hello Kitty: Here We Go! by Jacob Chabot. After a quick introduction to her friends and family, HK’s global adventures begin. Making her way through locations real and imaginary, the jet-setting cat finds new friends, exciting places to explore and strange new creatures to assist her along her path. Each short vignette features Hello Kitty charming her way to adventure, fun and happiness.
Multiple Caldecott-winning author/illustrator David Wiesner’s new picture book centers on a tuxedo cat with the completely opposite mood from Hello Kitty. The amusingly misnamed black-and-white feline Mr. Wuffles! is a curmudgeonly creature with no interest in the toys that his owner brings him. Until suddenly, a new toy appears in Mr. Wuffles’ world – that of a small spaceship commanded by a group of tiny green aliens. Wiesner’s ability to realistically illustrate the movements of a lazy cat who suddenly becomes interested in the visitors is remarkable. The aliens’ ship is in need of repair after being batted around and chomped by Mr. Wuffles. They receive aid from an unexpected group of under-the-radiator insects who have also been terrified by the cat. Ant, ladybug and alien “speak” to each other through art to assist each in mystifying their feline tormentor and concocting an escape for the otherworldly creatures. In this short video, David Wiesner introduces Mr. Wuffles! and his artistic process.
Lovable each in their own way, these two furry, whiskered cats bring their adventures in paneled, graphic novel format, introducing young readers to visual literacy and expanding their imaginations.
Canadian master of the short story Alice Munro has been named the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature by the Swedish Academy. Only the 13th woman in the history of the award to win, Munro has been one of the rumored front-runners in recent years, and prior to the announcement had been running second by oddsmakers Ladbrooke’s, slightly behind Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The first from her country to win the award, she is also the first North American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993.
Munro, 82, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, and has won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize on multiple occasions. Her signature style of writing often evokes small-town life in Ontario and other parts of Canada, often viewed through the observational lens of ordinary women with extraordinary stories to be told. Often covering the emotional and literary depth of novels, her realistic short stories develop characters, setting and plot using an economy of words and pages.
Earlier this year, Munro announced her retirement from writing. The Nobel Prize in Literature will be presented in Stockholm on December 10.
Punk-rock bassist and Soto Zen monk Brad Warner’s There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places takes its title from a well-known Zen Buddhist quotation. Warner believes that it “expresses the Zen Buddhist approach to the matter of God very succinctly.” As he explores the question of what God means to Buddhists and what non-Buddhists can learn from Zen teachings, Warner addresses spiritual and practical considerations through his experiences.
Having recently traveled the world doing book tours, spiritual retreats, and lectures, the author considers the roles of the body and mind and how people of various religious and cultural backgrounds conceptualize them. He travels to the Holy Land and meets and stays with an elderly Palestinian peace activist who owns a hostel that only takes donations. Warner also finds himself teaching and learning in places where Zen Buddhism is quite unknown, such as in Mexico and Northern Ireland. In one section, he discusses how Buddhism rejects the common Western perception of the body and mind as separate. The opposite, in fact, is a core belief of Buddhists, as the Heart Sutra explains there is no division between body and mind.
A good choice as a beginning-to-intermediate look at how Zen Buddhism and Western traditions can complement and contrast, Warner’s conversational musings are accessible to anyone wanting to think about his or her own spiritual background and understanding. Readers of comparative religion authors such as Karen Armstrong and Thich Nhat Hanh will find much to consider in this thought-provoking book.
Every busy, overwhelmed parent’s nightmare comes true in Just What Kind of Mother Are You?, the debut novel by British author Paula Daly. Lisa Kallisto is a busy, overworked and harried kennel operator. She is married to Joe, a taxi driver, and has three young children. Half paying attention to Sally, their 13-year-old daughter, Lisa agrees to host Sally’s friend Lucinda for the night. But due to a series of events, Lucinda goes missing and Lisa quickly realizes that she is ultimately responsible. Compounding the situation is that Lisa and Kate, Lucinda’s mother, are best friends. A tension-filled gathering at Kate’s home pits family against family and neighbor against neighbor, as the small town attempts to find Lucinda and bring her home safely.
Daly writes from various perspectives: from Lisa’s, that of Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall, and from a third-person narrator observing an ominous man who follows schoolgirls from a distance. A former physiotherapist, the author writes of the economically unstable area of England’s Lake District. Bucolic in appearance, the area can be fraught with unexpected booms and busts, turning families upside down generation to generation. In an interview, Daly credits Stephen King’s seminal nonfiction book On Writing for pushing her to become a novelist.
Equal parts thriller, a meditation on the bounds of friendship, a maze of placing and accepting blame, and a contemporary look at class divisions in northern England, this page-turner will leave you breathless up to its unexpected conclusion.
National Book Award-finalist Sara Zarr is known for her spot-on portrayals of contemporary American teens. In The Lucy Variations, Zarr once again writes teen characters with pitch-perfect voices and concerns. While in her previous work she dealt mostly with middle-class families, this novel is a bit of a departure, looking at the rarefied world of a family of classical music prodigies. As a child and young teen, Lucy was a top concert pianist who was known among this elite group of musicians. But suddenly everything changed, and Lucy stopped playing altogether. Now, will her younger brother Augustus (“Gus”), a pianist prodigy himself, take up the family mantle?
Zarr is a master of plotting and examining family dynamics. Lucy’s grandfather, the patriarch of this musical family, shows utter disappointment and disbelief that his granddaughter with so much promise throws it all away when faced with adversity. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father has to recalibrate his life after having been her de facto manager for so many years. And Lucy and Gus have a supportive, intelligent sibling relationship, a nice change from the often-adversarial portrayal of siblings in books for teens.
Glamorous whirlwind tours of European concert halls, backstage intrigue and grand parties contrast with Lucy's desire to simply be a normal teen. Her friendship with down-to-earth Reyna provides grounding. The possibility of reclaiming her former glory comes in the appearance of Gus’ new piano teacher, who encourages Lucy to sit behind the keys again. Readers will be drawn in to the often unfamiliar world of a teen whose love of classical music is lost and regained.
Yoshiki Tonogai’s acclaimed manga horror series Judge has made its way to this side of the Pacific. In the first volume, the time-honored story of unrequited love gets a twisted twist. Longtime platonic friends Hiro and Hikari are Christmas shopping together with Hiro’s older brother Atsuya, who is also Hikari’s boyfriend. But Hiro has a crush on Hikari, and when he attempts to derail Hikari and Atsuya’s date, an unexpected tragedy occurs. Two years later, Hiro wakes up chained in an unfamiliar place. He is wracked with guilt over causing the tragic incident, but even more incredulous of his fate.
Tonogai’s art is as integral to Judge as the fascinating story line. Those facing judgment like Hiro are caricatured with giant animal heads that insinuate the deadly sin for which they have received their castigation. The quick pace of the story is mimicked in the line art that is both page-turning and sometimes jarring. Scenes that are meant to put the reader ill at ease are drawn with the same effectiveness as unsteady camerawork in film. How each of the sinners finds his or her judgment is reminiscent of how contestants are culled on reality shows, but with a much more harrowing end. Those who enjoyed the Saw film series will likely find Judge appealing.