The Road to Urbino moves between Sri Lanka, the UK, and Italy, illuminating how each locale touches and irreparably changes its cast of characters throughout their lives.
Ras is in jail. His crime: the theft of The Flagellation of Christ, painted by Piero della Francesca. The crime mystifies all who hear about it, and Ras suspects that includes the whole world. In order to form a sufficient defense, his attorney, Elizabeth Saunders, takes an in-depth approach to her frequent visits with Ras. Instead of just hearing about the moment Ras committed his decidedly stupid act, Elizabeth forms her defense by learning about Ras’s childhood, love affairs, and, most of all, his broken relationship with his daughter, Lola. At the forefront is Ras’s brother, Sam, who became a social activist after the horrific killing of their mother.
Details spill out from the viewpoints of Ras and of writer Alex Benson. The two men were in each other’s company for a brief time in Italy, but Alex might hold the key to Lola’s secret life. Ras and Alex’s differing personalities and thought processes making their narratives and interactions appealing.
The narration develops in a singular fashion. Some of its dialogue is signaled with traditional quotes; some goes without. The technique is intriguing and reads in a beautiful, fluid way. Tragedies burst out from the page, as colorful as a bright painting, and emotions layer on as if delivered by skillful brushstrokes. Love and knowledge of art is apparent, making Ras’s internal draw to The Flagellation of Christ clear.
The Road to Urbino is an original literary experience that begs consumption in moments of quiet relaxation in which it may fully cast its spell—and it will cast that spell.
TANISHA RULE (December 27, 2019)
The tender tale of a father looking for his lost son is cast across an imaginative cosmic canvas in Sea of Stars Volume 1.
Without anyone to watch his young son Kadyn, recently widowed space trucker Gil is forced to bring his boy on a week-long job. A giant leviathan attacks their ship, and—just before he’s thrown clear of a huge explosion that he might have caused—Kadyn sees his father swallowed.
Kaydn is found by two talking aliens whom he dubs “Space Monkey” and “Space Dolphin.” They serve as his companions as he explores space and begins to manifest additional powers. The trio are discovered by Dalla, an alien outcast who believes that Kadyn may be the long-lost god of her people; she is determined to return their savior to them by any means necessary. Meanwhile, through ingenuity and boldness, Gil survives and sets about finding his son.
The story takes place in a freewheeling universe that takes the grimy details of everyday life and survival and combines them with wondrous, ethereal concepts like swimming in space (among space sharks, no less). The book is odd, refreshing, and all its own, but stays true to its internal logic. With plenty of action and no shortage of humor, every page is fun.
Green’s art is a visual feast of aliens, robots, and humanoids, but special mention is merited for Renzi, whose colors give the book a vibrant, beautiful, unique look. Even Jared K. Fletcher’s designs and fonts, from the cover and title pages to dialogue and sound effects, contribute to the overall sense of immersion and otherworldliness. Sea of Stars plunges headfirst into a great story and a fantastic ocean of possibilities.
PETER DABBENE (December 27, 2019)
Three whimbrels with downy fluff feathers who’re just old enough to embark on their first migration get separated when wild winds and rain from a hurricane blow one of them off course. Based on the true story of a tiny whimbrel tracked from the Arctic north to tropical Caribbean islands, Numenia’s tale takes shape in lyrical quatrains with dramatic views and striking angles, with intricate, delicate wings shown flying through the raging storm.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (December 27, 2019)
Soviet Jews faced anti-Zionist actions within the USSR; under pressure from human rights campaigns, they were finally offered opportunities for emigration, though leaving was risky. Poignant and suspenseful, Emil Draitser’s Farewell, Mama Odessa is an autobiographical novel about the exodus of Soviet Jews.
Two million Jews fled Russia before the Soviet Union collapsed, and this novel reveals the psyche of those people, who were caught between crushing persecutions and uncertain futures. The story focuses on Boris, a young journalist whose illusions about “Mother Russia” are blasted, and his older cousin, Ilya, who emigrated to America years earlier. A third character, Yuri, adds a touch of dark comedy with his clumsy attempts to gather the funds and paperwork needed to leave the country and win back his gorgeous ex-wife.
These characters are caught between their love for Odessa, a cosmopolitan, cultural Black Sea port city, and their desire for freedom. The assertion that “there is no such thing as a former Odessan” is supported by profound insights. The text captures the emotions that bind people to the places they know and love, even as it includes Odessa’s history of pogroms against Jews. While detailing the travails of the fleeing Jewish populations, the book also includes lighthearted moments, unexpected kindnesses, and humorous events that sparkle with a distinct Odessan sense of humor, noting absurdities with wit and more than a little satire.
Farewell, Mama Odessa is a compassionate and timely novel. It brings to life the hopes, fears, and practical realities involved in exile and flights to freedom, honoring those who risked everything and generating compassion for today’s refugees.
KRISTINE MORRIS (December 27, 2019)
Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories
Rise Up is full of inspiring stories about young people who overcame the odds and realized their impossible dreams.
With confidence that young people can change their lives and impact the world, this book introduces more than two dozen young people who achieved extraordinary feats and survived unthinkable peril. It encourages following in the footsteps of these ordinary heroes and suggests accessible first steps toward the future.
Malala Yousafzai and Louis Braille are among the book’s familiar names, but it also includes lesser known overcomers from a mix of cultures, balanced between boys and girls—young people like William Kamkwamba of Malawi, who learned to make windmills to give his village light and food, and Laura Dekker of New Zealand, who completed a solo sail around the Cape of Good Hope when she was only sixteen. The book highlights commonalities in its subjects’ strengths and vulnerability. The variety of subjects guarantees that every reader will find someone to relate to and be inspired by.
The book’s colorful and exuberant illustrations of key scenes and subjects are just as vital to the book as its text. They brim with personality and positivity, bolster the storytelling, and help to connect to the subjects. Lively, inviting writing uses alliteration and plays with language, but stays focused on the extraordinary stories and what can be learned from them. Beyond the central narratives are sidebars with bonus inspirational stories, how-to tips, and information about what happened to the subjects as they grew up. This multilayered approach is engaging and equips the audience for action.
Deepening knowledge on subjects like climate change, survival skills, and activism, Rise Up is full of motivating life stories to encourage young readers to pursue more than they previously thought possible.
MELISSA WUSKE (December 27, 2019)