Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: July 4-8, 2022

Off Target

Book Cover
Eve Smith
Orenda Books
Softcover $15.95 (300pp)
978-1-914585-02-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

One mistake shakes the foundations of a family in Eve Smith’s domestic thriller Off Target.

In a society where IVF is the norm, Susan and her husband have been trying to conceive the old-fashioned way for years. Susan’s husband will not consent to any screening or testing. Intimacy no longer feels intimate. When Susan engineers a scene to recapture the spark and her plan backfires, she escapes to a concert to stave off her disappointment.

Weeks later, Susan is surprised, elated, and terrified to discover she is pregnant with someone else’s child. Knowing that her husband will accept no child but his own, Susan makes a decision. With a firm understanding of the known risks, desperation bordering on panic, and a pushy best friend, Susan goes forward with an experimental procedure that takes correcting genes for hereditary illnesses a few steps farther.

The first half of the book focuses on Susan’s attempts to get pregnant, her relationship with her husband, and her decision to alter her unborn child’s genetic code. The book tempers the breathless tension between Susan’s happiness and terror with descriptions of the size of the fetus, much like a pregnancy app, and interstitial advertisements and articles about genetic modifications.

In the second half, the narrative shifts to share the load between Susan and her preteen daughter, Zurel. Its alternating chapters trade between Susan’s anxiety about her daughter’s well-being and Zurel’s confusion and frustration with her perceived differences. A sense of foreboding and menace permeates the book: society at large struggles with the effects of genetic tampering; and Susan’s secret maneuverings are exposed, endangering more than just her marriage.

Off Target is a thrilling novel examining genetics and personhood. It offers a different kind of answer to the question of nature versus nurture.

DONTANá MCPHERSON-JOSEPH (June 27, 2022)

The Continuing Storm

Learning from Katrina

Book Cover
Kai Erikson
Lori Peek
University of Texas Press
Softcover $27.95 (160pp)
978-1-4773-2434-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In The Continuing Storm, Kai Erikson and Lori Peek discuss the short- and long-term effects of Hurricane Katrina on its most vulnerable victims.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, it inflicted devastating damage. But the storm was only the beginning of the catastrophe. In New Orleans in particular, those who were injured, displaced, or lost loved ones continue to suffer—and the root of their pain was in other humans, not nature. Erikson and Peek argue that it is important to understand what happened—not just for the sake of truth, but to prevent repeating past mistakes and worsening future disasters.

Rather than focusing on just the storm, Erikson and Peek reframe “Katrina” as several separate events: the storm, the breaking levees, and the long-term trauma of grief, increased poverty, and the loss of communities. Stark testimonials from those who survived each of these discrete stages support the idea that their struggles stem not so much from the initial impact, but from the indifference and hostility of their own governments and fellow citizens.

The book discusses how incidents before, during, and after Katrina contributed to the events’ severity. Years earlier, the intentional destruction of coastal wetlands removed much of the natural protection that New Orleans once enjoyed. In the days after the storm, racist, irresponsible reporting delayed the arrival of aid and created a false image of Black majority areas as lawless wastelands. The local, state, and federal governments’ actions exposed their real priorities: protecting private property, not saving lives. All of these factors contributed to a “perfect storm” of bigotry, greed, hysteria, and ignorance that cost an unknowable number of lives—and that must never be repeated.

The Continuing Storm is a succinct volume about how racism, poverty, and other human-made injustices exacerbate natural disasters.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (June 27, 2022)

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects

Twentieth Anniversary Edition

Book Cover
Mike Mignola
Dark Horse Comics
Hardcover $39.99 (144pp)
978-1-5067-2862-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

A robot in the service of President Abraham Lincoln fights against supernatural foes in the humorous graphic novel The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects.

Screw-On Head, a robot whose head can attach to a number of different metal bodies, is summoned by the president to retrieve the Kalakistan Fragment, an ancient manuscript that’s been stolen from a museum by the villainous Emperor Zombie. Zombie seeks to use the manuscript to gain access to an ancient temple and a powerful object inside it. But Screw-On Head, his servant Mr. Groin, and his dog, Mr. Dog, have other plans.

This edition reprints the original Eisner Award-winning Screw-On Head story, but it also includes other stories and extras that have never been published before. The artwork is dynamic and moody thanks to its expert use of shadow and weights. A section of hypnotic, striking stand-alone illustrations, in keeping with the Victorian-era horror atmosphere, features skeletons in formal garb and creepy cemeteries and churches. A half-finished black-and-white story, “Axorr, Slayer of Demons,” is entertaining—a curiosity that holds unforgettable visual treasures, like a hero’s sword fight with a giant, evil octopus.

There are notes on the backgrounds and context for each story, and pencil sketches that offer a glimpse into the creative process. The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects is a collection of graphic novel odds and ends with enough imaginative power to delight everyone.

PETER DABBENE (June 27, 2022)

We Are the Ocean

Book Cover
Paul Watson
Sarah Borg, illustrator
GroundSwell Books
Hardcover $17.95 (32pp)
978-1-939053-46-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop)

Magical illustrations follow pairs of children and their dogs as they learn about the importance of water and the interconnectedness of nature. A Dalmatian rubbing noses with a whale, a pooch in boots dancing between icebergs, and a young child setting sail on a winding river are just some among the diverse cast of characters in this story about preserving and caring for our oceans—and, by extension, ourselves.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (June 27, 2022)

Wolfstongue

Book Cover
Sam Thompson
Anna Tromop, illustrator
Little Island Books
Hardcover $16.99 (224pp)
978-1-915071-00-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A modern fable and adventure story, Sam Thompson’s Wolfstongue follows a boy into a foxes’ underground city in order to save the last wolves from enslavement. Here, anthropomorphized animals and pen-and-ink drawings illuminate the wrongness that stems from ascribing human systems—be they attributes, values, landscapes, or motivations—to wild things.

Bullied and called “Silence” because he gets tongue-tied, Silas is walking alone on a cycle path when he meets a wolf with a brass pin stuck in his paw. Once Silas removes the pin, the wolf disappears through a hole in the fence. No sooner has the wolf gone than foxes appear, saying they’re tracking down a dangerous animal. Too stunned to speak, Silas remains silent. One of the foxes savages his ankle. When Silas is alone again, the wolf reappears and offers help, but the cure requires Silas to go beyond the fence. By accepting, Silas enters the lives of the creatures around him. His understanding of the world is changed in profound ways.

As Silas discovers a “vast forest hidden around the corners of the places he knew,” the wolf teaches him that there’s “only one world.” But the solution for coexistence isn’t remaking everything in the mold of human beings—it’s honoring the nature and necessity of difference that exists beyond what’s human. Even Silas’s eventual role as Wolfstongue is a type of honoring that shows Silas’s difference among humans. It’s only by experiencing silence himself that Silas can empathize and understand the freedom found in the wordlessness of wild things.

A moving novel for young readers, Wolfstongue shows the power of words to shape the destiny of species through the imposition of human nature on a world we all share.

LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (June 27, 2022)

Barbara Hodge

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