Climo, Liz. The Little World of Liz Climo. Running Pr. Sept. 2014. ISBN 9780762452385. $14. COMICS
You might know Liz Climo’s work from The Simpsons TV series, where she’s currently a storyboard revisionist, or from The Simpsons Movie, The Lebrons, and Seth Macfarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. You might have also stumbled across her work at lizclimo.tumblr.com. But if not, welcome to the great big world of Liz Climo, filled with adorable animals, Poohish but both savvier and cuddlier, with wise and witty and sometimes touching things to say. “Aw, don’t be sad,” says the stegosaurus to the brontosaurus whose head droops to the ground. “I’m not sad,” comes the reply, “Just afraid of heights.” And one ugly duckling says to another, “Dude, you mom is super hot” as a swan glides by. It’s surprising, then, to read in the introduction that Liz’s high school art teacher found her work too…cartoony. Though Liz’s own work is never mean-spirited, one takes a bit of mean-spirited pleasure in finally saying to the art teacher, “Take that!”
Doescher, Ian. William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return. Quirk. Jul. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9781594747137. pap. $14.95. HUMOR/SF
Talk about a mash-up. Published in July 2013, Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars retold George Lucas’s beloved epic in the style of the Bard of Avon. It got raves and the joys of New York Times bestsellerdom. It’s no surprise that there was a quick follow-up with William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back last March and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, coming this summer. Darest thou read such fabulous folderol? Only if you want to have fun.
Doughty, Caitlin. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. Norton. Sept. 2014. ISBN 9780393240238. $24.95. MEMOIR
“A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves. It is the only event in her life more awkward than her first kiss or the loss of her virginity.” So opens this eye-popping new book from Caitlin Doughty, host and creator of the “Ask a Mortician” web series and the collective Order of the Good Death. Is Caitlin some ghoulish weirdo, obsessed with the macabre? No! After majoring in medieval history (a lot of death there), she started working at Westwind Cremation & Burial because she wanted to face death directly, to take control of it, something we’re mostly too squeamish to do. And she wrote this book because she wants us to understand how wrong it is that we’ve marginalized, sanitized, compartmentalized, and de-ritualized death. Filled with personal anecdote and anthropological insight, her book is forthright and sometimes downright witty. So get real, get brave, and open it up. You won’t be able to put it down.
Holland, Jennifer S. Unlikely Heroes: 37 Inspiring Stories of Courage and Heart from the Animal Kingdom. Workman. Oct. 2014. ISBN 9780761174417. pap. $13.95. ANIMALS
Anyone who knows and love animals knows the love they have to give. That’s something Jennifer S. Holland, a contributing writer for National Geographic, has shown amply in her mega-best-selling Unlikely Friendships and Unlikely Loves, both featuring inspiring true stories from the animal kingdom. Now she’s done it again with an affecting book of great stories about true animal heroes—animals that have crossed species boundaries to save, to serve, or to act as surrogates, sometimes risking and sometimes meeting death when they do. There’s the llama that protected a herd of sheep from a fire, suffering irreparable burns himself; the rabbit whose distress signaled that its owner was in a diabetic coma; the seals that guided an injured dog to shore; the dog that hang-glides with an owner who escapes panic attacks when he takes to the sky. Are the animals being intentionally altruistic? It would seem so. But they don’t expect any medals, and their actions are so humbling it will make you cry.
Mayne, Andrew. Angel Killer: A Jessica Blackwood Novel. Bourbon St: HarperCollins, Sept. 2014. ISBN 978006234887-6. pap. $14.99;
Who doesn’t love magic? Who doesn’t love gripping, twisty, late-into-the-night thrillers? And what bunch of FBI agents, facing a killer who commits seemingly impossible crimes and vanishes like smoke, wouldn’t hope for some magic to help with the chase? Combine those ideas, and you have Andrew Mayne’s magical, twisty, late-into-the-night Angel Killer. Protagonist Jessica Blackwood comes from a distinguished family of magicians and pushed herself on stage early, but a terrible experience has made her leave magic behind. Now she’s an FBI agent, and when FBI consultant Dr. Jeffrey Ailes uncovers her illusionist’s background, he assigns her to a case that he thinks needs someone who can really think outside the box. The Warlock seems to have made a girl who’s been dead for two years crawl from her grave before expiring (again), and he seems to have made a girl at New York’s Empire State building fall like an angel to her death a half mile uptown in Times Square. What’s really scary is that he seems to know everything there is to know about Jessica. Reading this book, we learn a little bit about how to perform magic and a whole lot about how to write a successful first novel. As for its authenticity, the author acknowledges his father, a federal agent, at book’s end, but he comes by the magic himself. Mayne is the star of A&E’s magic reality show Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne. But you can trust his book.
Parzybok, Benjamin. Sherwood Nation. Small Beer. Sept. 2014. ISBN 9781618730862. pap. $16. LITERARY
With climate change and ever-increasing consumption, running out of water is a danger we don’t readily acknowledge, yet Benjamin Parzybok’s Sherwood Nation makes that danger vividly real. In the book’s near future, with the arrival of ocean currents called El Pescadoro, bone-dry summers have stayed the year, rivers have turned to mud, and all the surface water has seeped into the ground. In Portland, Oregon, the water that’s left is strictly rationed, but some people are benefiting from the illegal delivery of extra rations, and idealistic barista Renee is part of a group that launches an attack on one of the delivery trucks. She’s caught on camera, and citizens disgusted with how their government has failed them see her group’s actions as Robin Hood–like and dub her Maid Marian. Soon, she’s on the run from the law, hiding out in a barricaded section of the city trying to build its own community. This novel could have read like a political tract, but the author, whose first novel, Couch, was an Indie Next pick, is better than that, and he’s after something bigger. Here we see how people behave in crisis—some better and some worse—and how idealism, self-concerned realism, and the personal hang in a balance; friends, alliances, and enemies are made, and, most effectively, Renee’s boyfriend, Zach, and Renee herself grow (and glow) as things get tough. Ben, who’s Portland-based, is the creator or co-creator of numerous projects, including Gumball Poetry and the Black Magic Insurance Agency, a city-wide, one night alternate reality game, so he knows about building community. He’s done a great job here, but let’s hope the richly detailed “Sherwood Nation” never really has to come to be.