Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: August 8-12, 2022

Birds and Us

A 12,000-Year History from Cave Art to Conservation

Book Cover
Tim Birkhead
Princeton University Press
Hardcover $29.95 (496pp)
978-0-691-23992-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Birds and Us is a fascinating look at the relationship between human beings and our avian relatives throughout history, written by ornithologist Tim Birkhead. The text follows the arc of the bird’s flight through human art and culture, as well as our scientific, artistic, spiritual, and even culinary interest in birds.

The book goes back to the very beginning of the relationship between people and birds, examining cave paintings by the earliest humans and what they say about human attitudes and beliefs. It continues to follow the arc of the bird’s flight through human art and culture. There are many examinations of esoteric historical events, as with Aristotle’s theories about egg laying that he tried to prove through experiments with chickens. There is also a discussion of the infamous Dodo bird, and how the most popular images of the bird probably have little connection to the way it actually looked.

There are also meditations on birds as food, including discussions of decedent Roman tastes for exotic dishes like flamingo tongues. The delicacy is described in great, if unappetizing, detail. And the book features an engaging discussion of the history of bird watching as a pastime. Its development as a hobby is traced to publications in the nineteenth century that created a league of citizen ornithologists whose amateur observations added to the data collected by professional scientists. As an added bonus: Birkhead’s personal adventures and scientific expeditions to far-flung locales are included, with details about people met and birds observed.

Birds and Us is an entertaining account of the journey that birds and humans have taken together throughout history. Tim Birkhead’s book succeeds at being both an excellent history book and an informative nature guide.

MATT BENZING (June 27, 2022)

The Bruising of Qilwa

Book Cover
Naseem Jamnia
Tachyon Publications
Softcover $15.95 (176pp)
978-1-61696-378-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Influenced by Persian culture, The Bruising of Qilwa is a stunning fantasy novella that confronts questions of belonging: to a culture, a family, and to yourself.

Nonbinary blood magic practitioner Firuz might be considered one of the lucky ones. They escaped the slaughter of other blood magic practitioners in their homeland and became a refugee with their family in the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa. However, old tensions and prejudices linger, waiting for a chance to pounce, and the safety of Firuz and their family is tied to the whims of a fragile, war-torn society.

Still, Firuz finds comfort with a like-minded healer, Kofi, who gives them a job at his free clinic, and with Afsoneh, an orphan refugee with powerful—if undisciplined—magic. When an unfamiliar plague begins to creep through Qilwa, Firuz’s fears are realized: the government finds an easy scapegoat in the recent refugees. With a target on their back, Firuz challenges prejudice and perception to save the only home they and their family—born and found—have left.

The worldbuilding is immersive, with gripping descriptions of the sights and sounds of Qilwa jumping from the page. But the fantasy setting is not so impenetrable as to obscure the novel’s real-world themes. Post-imperialism, colonization, and immigration are key elements of the text, and nuanced questions arise as power structures topple and invert. Within this shifting landscape of power, there are no easy answers, and characters are often led to the question of how many wrongs can still lead to a right.

Jamnia’s queer-normative world is a welcome break from fantasy trends and tropes: people introduce themselves with pronouns without fanfare, and homophobia and transphobia as forms of oppression do not factor in.

Cracking the door to a fresh fantasy world, The Bruising of Qilwa makes an unforgettable first impression.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (June 27, 2022)

This Is How We Love

Book Cover
Lisa Moore
House of Anansi
Hardcover $27.99 (400pp)
978-1-4870-0119-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Lisa Moore’s novel This Is How We Love is an intimate and complex exploration of relationships—and of what it means to be entangled by the demands of love.

Jules and her husband, Joe, are in Mexico when their phones ring, simultaneous in piercing their tropical sleep and sparking instant awareness that something has happened. Their twenty-one-year-old son, Xavier, was beaten and stabbed at a party. Though left in the snow to die, he remains in critical condition.

Snagging the last seat on a plane home, Jules arrives in Newfoundland just as the snowstorm of the century has immobilized the city. Fighting her way to the hospital, she thinks that this is all her fault: the beating, the kicking, the boot to the head, the stabbing. Her heart counts out her failures: the times she let Xavier down; the times she left him to fend for himself. “I’d thought that nothing would ever get close enough to hurt him. I’d believed he was invincible,” she thinks.

In prose as clean and clear as stars shining in a cold Canadian sky, the very souls of the cast are revealed. Each person navigates the highs and lows of living and loving; most are ill-equipped for either task. Flashbacks pierce the narrative like bolts of lightning, exposing the underbelly of life in Newfoundland, and the many shades and shapes of the relationships it fosters: between a mother and her son; between a mother and someone else’s son; between young lovers; and between drug dealers and those bound to them by fear.

This Is How We Love is a haunting novel about the complexity of relationships, which can be both mazes of hopelessness and sources of wild joy.

KRISTINE MORRIS (June 27, 2022)

Lambda

Book Cover
David Musgrave
Europa Editions
Softcover $18.00 (372pp)
978-1-60945-764-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In David Musgrave’s fascinating novel Lambda, a woman is enmeshed in conflicts between surveillance police, a synthetic person, and genetically human Lambdas.

“A lambda function is a small anonymous function”: this computer programming definition serves as both epigraph and symbol of oppression. The Lambdas, who arrive on land from a life in the sea, are taught English, housed in flooded basements, and trained to work in low-paying jobs. They experience themselves as a collective, unlike “landers,” who strive to surpass their fellows. The question of who the true lambdas are is complicated as the novel proceeds.

Set in near-future London, wherein even toothbrushes play a role in government surveillance, the story centers on Cara, who shifts between action and inaction. Accustomed to being passive, she acquiesces to the interests of Peter, her coworker in a surveillance office, who wants to date her. She’s still a wishy-washy lander when she meets her first Lambdas, but her passivity is challenged when a school bombing brings out anti-Lambda sentiments.

In addition to detailed descriptions of settings and objects, shifts between points-of-view and in tone contribute to the worldbuilding. The first chapter is a transcription of Cara’s interview with a synthetic person, Mr. Hello, who becomes central to the plot. Mr. Hello’s voice is urbane and considerate as he describes an act of ghoulish violence, mirroring the veneer of Cara’s world, which often seems to be shellacked over a brutal void. Much of Cara’s story is told through her EyeNarrator Pro, an app that records what users see (along with other data) to create a narrative journal. And when Cara’s toothbrush gets unruly, she’s forced to reconsider her relationship with Peter.

Lambda is a riveting novel about human power dynamics that’s set in a world populated by sentient objects and marked by pervasive surveillance.

MICHELE SHARPE (June 27, 2022)

Hearts of Briarwall

Book Cover
Krista Jensen
Shadow Mountain Publishing
Softcover $15.99 (288pp)
978-1-62972-996-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A spirited maverick with a passion for cars meets her match in Krista Jensen’s ebullient Edwardian romance, Hearts of Briarwall.

Lydia, whose parents died in her youth, is shepherded by her conscientious brother, Andrew, though she’s less concerned than he is about keeping up appearances. Surrounded by friends who are inspired by Wendy’s adventures in Peter Pan, she’s encouraged in her beliefs—which include suffragism—and pressed to consider her future.

When Andrew brings home Spencer, whom Lydia once knew, she’s struck by how Spencer’s changed. But Andrew has different ideas about Lydia’s prospects. And Spencer, who is focused on presenting a business proposal, isn’t sure about seeking new love.

Evoking feminine frivolity about securing a match and turning English social rules toward their own benefit, Lydia and her charming friends offer each other bemused support. Their whimsical experiment involving perfumery inspires a recurrent motif about attraction and self-empowerment, and they have intriguing discussions about how women’s rights dovetail with their personal desires. The friends’ interventions at Lydia’s manor are a highlight of the novel. Meanwhile, Spencer’s interwoven perspective reveals his struggle to reconcile his growing interest in Lydia with his reluctance to upset her brother.

Chaste interactions tinged with meaningful undertones draw the two leads closer. But misfired communications lead to restraint, and Spencer’s doubts about his Birmingham background threaten to divide the pair, despite their mutual enthusiasm for motorcars, which showcases Lydia’s passion and Spencer’s foresight. Through their clever hot-and-cold exchanges, their relationship mirrors the period: it’s sometimes energized by modern possibilities, yet is still bound by traditional propriety. When setbacks loom, it’s people’s sincere resolve about love being worth saving that resounds.

Hearts of Briarwall is an entertaining historical romance about lovers who learn to risk being honest with themselves.

KAREN RIGBY (June 27, 2022)

Barbara Hodge

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