By Hilde Ostby & Ylva Ostby
Review by E. Kirshe
Diving for Seahorses is a collaboration between sisters: the writer and editor Hilde Ostby and the clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Ylva Ostby; a necessary team, as this book artfully explores the history of human knowledge regarding memory.
The book takes its name from the hippocampus. As explained in the first pages, an Italian doctor named it the hippocampus (Latin for horse sea monster) back in 1564. This is the seahorse we’re diving for. This metaphor is stretched throughout the book (sometimes a little too thin, but it works).
This was an overall fascinating read. Anyone who has ever had an interest in learning more about the human brain, and of course specifically memory, will enjoy this book.
It’s that time of year again. As book lovers, we believe that a book is always the perfect present. Whoever you’re looking for, there’s something on this list for them. We aimed for more obscure or lesser-known titles, as well as our favorite new releases from 2018. If you pick a book from this list, the odds are pretty good they don’t already have it – either because it just came out so they haven’t gotten a chance, or because it’s not on their radar.
Did you, like us, forget that Hanukkah starts December 2 this year? Most of the books on our list are available online with one- to two-day shipping – so no matter what holiday you celebrate, there’s a perfect last-minute gift for you in here somewhere. (You can also check out our picks from last year.)
Review by E. Kirshe
In Idyll Hands, police investigate two unrelated cold cases involving missing girls. Set in 1999, a body is found in the woods of Idyll, Connecticut. The murder is thought to be connected to a cold case from years earlier. Idyll Chief of Police Thomas Lynch agrees to put part-time cop Michael Finnegan on the case– if he allows the bored Lynch to look into the disappearance of Finnegan’s sister, missing since 1972.
The book is something of a slow burn. Stephanie Gayle really makes the reader appreciate the work that goes into solving a crime with little information- especially in a 1999 police station where typewriters are still used. Tracking down witnesses who haven’t thought about these crimes in decades and suspects who may no longer be recognizable makes for some engaging long-form police work.
Review by Tess Tabak
I have a confession to make: even though I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m somewhat obsessed with books about diet. My Life With(Out) Ranch by Heather Wyatt is a fairly fun, uplifting read. She writes about how to be kind to yourself while also working towards making healthier decisions.
Born out of a blog of the same title, My Life With(Out) Ranch is told in a bloggy, conversational style. The book is structured through chapters which each focus on a different aspect of the weight-loss journey such as self-worth, romance, exercise, and dealing with the judgement of others. Wyatt includes a few tangentially-related recipes at the end of every chapter, ranging from the healthy (zucchini noodle pad thai) to lower cal versions of junk food, like ranch dressing cut with buttermilk.
Though this book is about Wyatt’s weight loss journey, anyone who’s trying to change their eating and exercise habits for health can use her motivational and relatable advice. In the chapter on exercise, for example, she shares the story about how she went from never having run at all to completing a half marathon. She wrote about the training with humor, including her train of thought on her very first run: Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In this volume, Andrea Warner paints a heartbreaking-yet-inspiring picture of Buffy Sainte Marie, the folk rock legend who’s mostly been erased from music history. Blacklisted by two US presidents, Buffy was an outspoken woman of color, and an activist, exactly the type of person that gets willfully forgotten.
When my baby boomer aunt saw this book, her face lit up. “I love Buffy!” she said. “Whatever happened to her?”
This book answers that question. Buffy only had one or two records that achieved hit status in the US. She never stopped producing music after that. However, much of her later works were not commercial successes, deemed too experimental. Other of her songs were covered by, and later attributed to, more famous musicians, including “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” a song Elvis Presley famously covered and allowed his fans to think he had written.
There’s even more to the story of why Buffy exists in relative obscurity today, despite being one of the most inventive, original artists of the 60s and 70s. This work makes a case for Buffy as one of the musical greats of the 60s. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In You are the Everything, a new YA novel by Karen Rivers, a high school student struggles to piece together her life following a horrific event.
Elyse Schmidt has always wanted to date Josh Harris, but he’s never noticed her. However, now that they’re the sole survivors of a plane crash, they begin to bond. Elyse finally has everything she wanted. All it took was the death of her best friend, everyone in her marching band class, and some 200-odd strangers.
If you’re looking for a YA novel as some kind of escape/fantasy, you’re in the wrong place.You are the Everything deals with some tough stuff: grief, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt. However, even though I generally fall into the “escapism/pleasure” YA camp, I sort of enjoyed reading this book.
Enjoy is the wrong word. This book is a bit like a plane crash: it’s bright, shiny, impossible to look away. I read the whole thing fairly quickly (though this may have something to do with the fact that I was on an airplane at the time). (On that note – Do not read this book on a plane. In about 5 minutes I went from “Oh cute! They’re on an plane too!” to “Oh no! I’m on a plane too.”) Continue reading
Review by Dan Tarnowski
See All The Stars is a debut work of YA fiction by Kit Frick. It is billed as “part love story, part suspenseful thriller.” The blurb describes an intense and complex coming-of-age story involving four teenage women. “What happened then to make Ellory so broken now?” The plot follows headstrong Ellory’s life between “then” and “now.”
The chapters of the 305-page young adult fiction novel alternate back and forth between “then” and “now”, past and present. The “then” chapters recap Ellory’s junior year of high school in bits and pieces, and the “now” chapters depict her subsequent senior year, showing the aftermath of “then.”
The fractured plot makes the book somewhat slow to build steam, especially as most of the story is told through Ellory’s thoughts, thus turning fiction’s “show rather than tell” convention upside down. As the groundwork for the “then and now” plot is laid, we learn about Ellory’s group of friends, her high school routine, and her unique relationship with her best friend, Ret. Kit Frick’s poetic language is displayed from the get go, and this voice, part image-heavy, part wittily penetrating observer, becomes a compelling layer in the world of See All The Stars (“The green flecks in his eyes flashing like marble glass signaling yes, yes, yes”). Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Scribe by Alyson Hagy is a fascinating and quick read yet at just under 160 pages this novel packs a lot of story. Hagy’s writing is beautiful, stylistically as the whole book comes off as poetic as well as having that practicality that lets the reader feel like they are really in the landscape of the novel.
“Outside, the air was layered with the scents of cooling bark and leaves. The sun flared behind the hill where the Hopkins house lay in ruins, nothing left to scratch the sky but its four stout chimneys. Persimmons. The sunset was the color of persimmons.”
And what a strange location it is- set in a harsh dystopian landscape of a post-war, post-pandemic Appalachia the decimated population relies on bartering and brute force to survive.
The unnamed main character trades in words, writing letters for people who seem to think the act can vindicate or more importantly offer them absolution. She’s been living in peace on her family’s lands for years; alliances are kept in place both with the local overseer Billy Kingery and with the group of migrants she allows to live on her land, the Uninvited, a group which seems to almost worship her late sister. When she agrees to write and deliver a letter, something of a confession, for a mysterious man named Hendricks a devastating series of events unfold. Continue reading