When hundreds of hamsters go missing, only a penguin, a ninja spider, a pigeon, two kids, and an elderly woman can interpret the clues left behind in a sleepy mountain town and crack the case. Alex T. Smith’s Mr. Penguin and the Fortress of Secrets brings back an avian adventurer for another round of madcap adventures.
The story begins with a whiz-bang as Mr. Penguin and his trusty sidekick, ninja spider Colin, wrest a secret package from some shady characters. They escape via airplane, but the needle hits E and the plane crashes into a mountain. The heroes must find a way out of this predicament—and, in so doing, find their way into the next.
The language zips, skitters, clonks, biffs, staggers, and screeches, and the sheer variety of its verbs and onomatopoetic language sets a breakneck pace, giving the story the feel of a 1930s screwball comedy. Mr. Penguin is a lovable doofus, forever hungry and discombobulated. His partner Colin speaks in scribbled notes and kung fu kicks and is an amusing counterpart for the bumbling penguin. Cooperation and friendship lie at the center of the story; only by working together can the multiple mysteries be solved.
The book’s clever plot twists will surprise and delight young readers and will almost certainly lead to another installment of Mr. Penguin’s epic adventure. Stylish and intricate drawings wind through the text in black, white, and orange, with Mr. Penguin wearing his signature adventurer hat with an arrow through it and carrying his scruffy leather case.
Mr. Penguin and the Fortress of Secrets is a rollicking caper whose intrigue includes mesmerists, lurking men dressed in black, an isolated fortress, a toasty warm bakery, and a cast of characters who work together to succeed.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (August 27, 2019)
A History of Texas
Ablaze in infamy and otherworldly as any heavenly planet, Texas is mythology come alive. This singular place is what happens when fiercely independent, prone-to-violence people are assimilated into a fledgling nation whose capital is so remote in distance and ideology as to exert little influence. Indeed, in seeking to understand our twenty-eighth state, perhaps it is most important to keep in mind that Texas is attached by a lengthy, porous border and centuries of history with sovereign Mexico.
Henry David Thoreau’s maxim that “most events recorded in history are more remarkable than important” offers a prescient introduction to Stephen Harrigan’s 944-page Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, in that none and all of the events he retells define Texas perfectly. A longtime writer for Texas Monthly and the author of two historical novels based in Texas, Harrigan uses his stupendous storytelling skills to great effect. He covers the state’s major historical events from inventive angles, introduces newly discovered archaeological and archival research, and excels at puffing up many of Texas’s larger-than-life personalities, including Santa Anna, Jane Long, Stephen Austin, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Georgia O’Keefe, Pancho Villa, Lyndon Johnson, Dorie Miller, Barbara Jordan, Larry McMurtry, George W. Bush, and Lizzie Davis, as well as buffalo soldiers, Comanches and Apaches, and a motley mess of others.
MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2019)
When Max breaks a precious family heirloom by accident, her immediate solution is a wild scheme involving the construction and use of a homemade time machine. The book is an enjoyable flit through history—a humorous, lighthearted adventure with Max and her dog, Boomer. The two attempt—with questionable success—to avoid making the same mistake twice. Bright illustrations with clever details catch their bevy of glitches that land them in ancient Egypt, outer space, and finally their own backyard.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (August 27, 2019)
Adventures of a Young Reporter
As a decades-long newspaper reporter, Peter Copeland covered some of the biggest stories of the late twentieth century. He was part of the last generation of foreign correspondents in the heyday of the profession. He shares those experiences in his engaging memoir Finding the News.
Structured around key periods in his journalism career, Copeland’s book covers a few experiences in depth, beginning with his first days as a breaking-news reporter with City News Bureau in Chicago. He moves to a Scripps paper in El Paso before becoming a Mexico-based correspondent. As his international-reporting responsibilities expand, he covers events like the US invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Noriega, the first Gulf War in Iraq, and the marines’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
His reportorial skill comes through most via the in-the-moment storytelling. Copeland focuses less on high-level views of events than he does on the challenges of reporting events on the ground. He details building relationships with military commanders and gaining their trust, showing how that led to better access. But he also writes about the difficulties of going to the bathroom on a deployment or finding a phone line to transfer an article from a war zone to headquarters back home.
Beyond assignments, Copeland details the larger challenges of a reporting life, from the strain of being away from his wife and children to the changes to the news business model that were caused by the internet and a never-ending news cycle.
Throughout, Finding the News makes a case for the importance of real journalism and serious reporters who come to a story with questions. It’s both a valentine to an important profession and a behind-the-scenes look at how a career in the field comes together.
JEFF FLEISCHER (August 27, 2019)
The varied work of a Japanese manga artist-turned-painter is reproduced in the beautiful full-color book The Art of Baron Yoshimoto.
Yoshimoto’s career in manga began in 1959, and he made a name for himself in that field during the 1960s and 70s. He began painting under the pen name Manji Ryu, finally unifying all of his work under the name Baron Yoshimoto in 2015. The Art of Baron Yoshimoto collects over a hundred of his works, the oldest dating back to 1969.
Some of Yoshimoto’s art features nude or semi-clad men and women, often amid swirling, heavenly backgrounds, while other paintings focus on impeccably dressed individuals wearing rich, flower-patterned clothing. Yoshimoto incorporates weapons, animals real and fictional, and planets into his intricate canvases. Some showcase a more intimate approach, as with a painting from 1979 in which a woman looks up at the viewer, as if interrupted, while cutting her toenails. There are impressive examples of Yoshimoto’s manga style included as well, and while these entries sometimes lack context, they impart a sense of the artist’s development over time, making the book a true retrospective.
Perhaps most impressive are Yoshimoto’s larger, more recent works, including his fusuma, or sliding door paintings, reproduced in vibrant color and fine detail. With some images, the dimensions of the original are reduced to fit on the page, but there are also photographs that show works as they appear in the rooms that house them, providing a sense of size, scale, and presence that is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate by listing a set of measurements.
The book includes an interview with Yoshimoto and fellow artist/sometime collaborator Katsuya Terada, as well as a timeline of Yoshimoto’s career, an index of paintings, and photos of the artist. Nearly all text is presented in both Japanese and English.
The Art of Baron Yoshimoto is a gorgeous hardcover collection from a master artist who is always evolving.
PETER DABBENE (August 27, 2019)