Stack Overflow: New Releases

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I have to admit: I have a very hard time with release dates. With many books, I’ll get an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) well before the book’s release date, sometimes several months in advance. I don’t want to write about these just yet, because who’s going to remember my review by the time the book is actually available? So then I set them aside for now … and then usually miss the release date entirely. At other times, I receive a book just before (or just after) the release date, in which case there’s no way I’m going to have it read and reviewed that quickly anyway.

Today, though, I have the happy coincidence that several of the books in my “recently read” pile are also books that were just released or will be released this week! (There are many more new releases in my “to-read” pile but, alas, they will have to wait.)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier

I have been impatiently awaiting this book for nearly five years now, when I first read Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. It’s a magical adventure about a blind thief, told by a much-too-clever narrator, and is filled with nonsense and wonder. When I interviewed Jonathan Auxier about it, he mentioned that he was working on another tale set in the same world but not exactly a sequel. Well, his second book turned out to be The Night Gardener, which turned up the spookiness and toned down the whimsy, great for kids who love stories that give them the chills.

Now, Auxier has returned to Peter Nimble’s world. There are some familiar characters: Peter himself, Sir Tode (the fearless knight-cat-horse), and Professor Cake. And a whole host of new characters. Chief among them is Sophie Quire, the daughter of Augustus Quire, a bookseller, and Coriander Quire, a bookmender who died under mysterious circumstances when Sophie was just a baby.

The little town of Bustleburgh, spurred on by Inquisitor Prigg, is getting ready for the modern world by ridding itself of nonsense. Anything frivolous–particularly anything magical–has been banned, with various items collected and burned on the annual Pyre Day. This year, it’s storybooks–much to the consternation of Sophie and her father. But then Peter and Sir Tode show up in Bustleburgh with a mysterious book for Sophie to fix, and she quickly finds herself in the middle of an exciting (and sometimes scary) adventure.

Although Peter and Sir Tode are present throughout much of the story, the focus is really on Sophie. I love that Peter tries at first to make her just another sidekick, but that she is really her own person and isn’t interested in being rescued. (It was a little reminiscent of the scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when Finn first encounters Rey at the market.)

If you love books about stories, you will want to add this book to your list. It celebrates the power and magic of stories and particularly all of the stuff that Inquisitor Prigg calls “nonsense.”

And, by all means, if you haven’t read Peter Nimble yet, you really should!

The Nameless City

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

I’ve read several of Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novels–one that she wrote herself and a couple written by others–and I’ve always enjoyed her artwork and the way her characters are able to express so much just by their facial expressions. Many of her books involve teenagers navigating the difficult landscape of adolescent relationships, whether they’re building battlebots or attending a mysterious summer camp or entering public school for the first time after being homeschooled.

Her latest book, The Nameless City, is out this week, and the teen(ish) characters in it are wrestling with bigger issues than romance and friendship. The Nameless City sits at the mouth of a mountain pass, and is constantly being conquered by the neighboring tribes, getting a new name each time. Kaidu is a kid, training to be one of the Dao soldiers, although he’s more interested in books than fighting. Rat is one of the natives; she’s street-smart and sees Kaidu as just another one of the invaders.

On the surface, the story is about Kaidu and Rat getting to know each other and becoming friends, but it touches on subjects like imperialism and identity. Even within the ruling nation, there are differences in opinion about how the city should be governed.

It’s a fascinating book and gorgeously illustrated. Expect to hear more soon from GeekMom Rebecca Angel, plus a podcast interview with GeekDad Jamie Greene.

Parent Hacks

Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids by Asha Dornfest

Longtime readers of GeekDad may recognize Asha Dornfest’s name: she was actually one of the founding contributors of GeekDad, and also the founder of Parent Hacks, a site where parents can share their tips and tricks–those little “aha!” moments you get that make you feel like MacGyver. Like just recently, I discovered that those little plastic “tables” that come in some pizza boxes make excellent stands for dyeing Easter eggs. (Don’t ask me why we happened to have about 20 of these on our dining table at the time…) The site has been running for over a decade, with tons of hacks organized into categories like “Organizing Time & Space” or “Fun & Learning.”

Now, there’s a book! Dornfest picked some of her favorite hacks from the site and collected them into the same list of categories for easy browsing, and they’re accompanied by fun illustrations by Craighton Berman. It’s the sort of book you can just flip around and look at pertinent tips, but I actually just read through the whole thing straight through. One of my personal favorites, since I have a toddler who currently mixes up her right and left shoes: cut a sticker in half and put one half inside each shoe, so that the shoes have to be in the right position to put the picture back together.

The range of tips starts at pregnancy and covers babies and early childhood. Most of the hacks aren’t quite as relevant for parents of older kids (say, tweens and up) but if you’ve got small kids or are having them soon, you’ll definitely have some “why didn’t I think of that?” moments as you read this book.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Leland Purvis

Jim Ottaviani is a master at writing non-fiction comics, taking complex ideas and events and presenting them in a way that is both engaging and enlightening. He’s written about the atomic bomb, Richard Feynman, and primates, among other topics. His latest book, illustrated by Leland Purvis and published by Abrams Comic Arts, is a biography of Alan Turing.

The book is a little bit of a puzzle: aside from the characters in the book, there are narration bubbles in two colors: one of the narrators appears to be interviewing the other, but then the dialogue from the illustrations overlaps and intersects with this ongoing conversation. What makes it even more odd is that the interviewer appears to be Turing–strange because the topic of this conversation is Turing himself. There is, as it turns out, a method to this madness, though I won’t explain it here.

What I will tell you is that Turing’s story is told through the eyes of various people in his life: his mother, his brother, various friends and colleagues, and so on. The book follows Turing through college and his career, with a large section about code-breaking during World War II. The ongoing conversation talks about his ideas and work, but also about his personality and relationships. Turing often behaved in a way that people didn’t understand–nowadays I think we would suspect that he had some form of ASD (and there are those making this argument) though of course there isn’t a definitive way to diagnose that now. In this book, at least, he does have some odd mannerisms and often is so engrossed in his work that he doesn’t pay attention to social etiquette.

Turing’s homosexuality is another significant topic of the book. For some of the book, it is sort of the elephant in the room. Some of the characters interviewed about Turing dance around the subject, preferring to use euphemisms; others are more straightforward about it. But nobody seems entirely comfortable talking about it, because of the consequences it had for Turing.

Prior to reading The Imitation Game, I had only a general sense of who Alan Turing was, sort of CliffsNotes version of his biography in my head. Ottaviani and Purvis have created a rich, multi-faceted portrait of him and I found it truly fascinating. While the book purposely leaves some things ambiguous, it really made me think–and in more ways than one.

Little Dee and the Penguin

Little Dee and the Penguin by Christopher Baldwin

Okay, and one more comic book for kids. This one’s an odd, mostly silly story. It starts with a tragedy comparable to a Disney movie, though you won’t know that for sure right away. You see, little Dee’s father, a forest ranger, goes out in the middle of the night to help some people … and apparently never makes it back. Before we discover his fate, though, we meet Paisley (a penguin), Ted (a bear), Blake (a dog), and Vachel (a vulture). Paisley stowed away on a boat and was taken far from Antarctica, and is being chased by two polar bears who happened to read about her in the paper. Ted, Blake, and Vachel are just out for a picnic. And poor Dee is attending her father’s funeral.

All of them wind up together, running from the polar bears and trying to get Paisley back home. And despite the fact that the animals are not interested in adopting a small human child (who never talks), she just keeps turning up.

I thought it was a little funny that the title is Little Dee and the Penguin because Ted and Blake and Vachel seemed more like the protagonists of the story to me–they’re the ones who grow and change more over the course of the story, thanks mostly to Dee. At any rate, it’s a goofy story with a lot of over-the-top stuff and a host of other funny animals that show up along the way.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.

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