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Blaze Away.

James, Bill (author).
June 2015. 208p. Crème de la Crime, hardcover, $27.95 (9781780290720); Crème de la Crime, paperback, (9781780295558); Crème de la Crime, e-book (9781780106373).
REVIEW. First published May 1, 2015 (Booklist).

The prolific James is back with an art-theft caper starring the hapless Ralph “Panicking Ralphy” Ember. The owner of a club called The Monty, Ember wants to elevate the tone of the joint, which is currently frequented by crooks, drug runners, and other felons, by purchasing classy paintings to hang on the walls. He already owns a copy of a plate from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which is hanging over a thick metal panel designed to protect Ralph from his trigger-happy enemies. Sadly, one of these, Basil Gordon Loam, had a few too many drinks one night, launched a fusillade of bullets at the Blake, and was subsequently banned from The Monty. Now he’s back to make peace with Ralph and even offers to help acquire the art Ralph needs to make the club posh. His contact? Jack Lamb, who’s also a police informer, sometime friend of DCS Colin Harpur, and the owner of many works of art—some even legit. The gifted James skillfully weaves together disparate plot strands into a crime caper that is as hilarious as it is violent. This is a must for Donald E. Westlake fans. Four stars!

— Emily Melton

School Library Journal

Tomie dePaola Title and Myriad Animals on Holiday House Fall List | Publishers Preview
Upcoming titles star book-loving dogs, cats, and other creatures; diPaola returns to Holiday House after a 20-year hiatus publishing elsewhere.

Hands-on Projects and Titles that Celebrate Maker and Latino Cultures | Libro por libro
Making and tinkering have long-been staples of the Hispanic community. Tim Wadham shares Spanish-language, bilingual, and Latino-focused books and crafts that are just right for maker spaces looking to diversify their offerings.

Pictures of the Week: Author Gabrielle Balkan Wows Librarians at Quarto Fall Preview
On Wednesday May 13, Quarto Publishing USA presented its fall titles, calling attention to its new nonfiction imprint, Wide Eyed Editions. On hand was author Gabrielle Balkan, who discussed her The 50 States.

Library Journal

Not Forgotten | French on Fridays
Thinking about those who served pre-Memorial Day.

Books for the Bounty | Wyatt’s World
Help patrons find new vegetable-centered cookbooks, from Root to Leaf to The Broad Fork, readers will feel At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen

McCullough’s Wright Brothers Take Flight | RA Crossroads
Blending social history, scientific innovation, and dual biography, McCullough offers a resonating account of American invention, hard work, and determination.

Kirkus Reviews

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A breezy romance about a single mother who tries to reinvent herself after her young-adult son leaves the nest.

Flinn (The Nest, 2015, etc.) has created a memorable, multidimensional heroine in Elle McLarin, a lonely middle-aged woman stuck in small-town North Carolina, where she can’t escape her criminal past. During her teenage years, Elle spent 12 months in prison as punishment for slipping her high school crush a roofie and taking advantage of him. She was pregnant with another man’s child at the start of her incarceration, and by the time of her release, she had an infant son and a scandalous reputation that she couldn’t live down. As the book opens, her son has turned 18 and left for the Army. Elle, now 37 years old, is finally able to leave town and start fresh. She drives across the state and settles on the North Carolina coast, where she opens a bakery and begins making new friends for the first time in nearly two decades. It’s not long, however, before her past catches up with her. After she finally begins to enjoy her new successes and even explore a relationship with her handsome neighbor, an odd sequence of events lands her in the spotlight on national news. Her new beau, Nate, learns all about the inglorious woman she used to be, and she worries that their budding relationship won’t survive. The strengths of this engaging, plot-heavy page-turner are in its character development of Elle and the perfect pitch of its narrative voice. Flinn depicts Elle as a complicated woman with constantly conflicting emotions. As the first-person narrator, she’s initially quite unlikable but gradually reveals that beneath her seemingly uneducated persona is an intelligent, pragmatic, and bighearted woman who’s worked hard to improve herself. Readers won’t be able to help rooting for her to find happiness as the story winds its way to its conclusion.

An uplifting tale of love and redemption that’s perfect for fans of stories of rehabilitated youth and second chances.

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“The human population explosion has been bad for most other living things, but not so for those lucky enough to warrant domestication,” writes science journalist Francis (Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance, 2011, etc.) in this provocative account of the latest developments in the field of evolutionary biology.

“In an evolutionary sense,” writes the author, “it pays to be domesticated.” Not only do humans breed animals for our own purposes—pets, horses, and cattle—but we have been an “unconscious evolutionary force.” Francis cites the famous 1959 experiment by the Russian scientist Dmitry Belyaev, who explored the domestication of foxes by selecting for tameness. By the sixth generation, they developed physical and behavioral characteristics normally associated with dogs. The author suggests that the driver in this case—also exemplified in the descents of dogs from wolves and humans from primates—was natural selection of those animals best able to tolerate the social stress of life in the vicinity of human habitations. Selection for tameness was related to “a general dampening of stress responses,” and over several generations, stress hormones decreased. In the author's view, a similar process of self-domestication occurred in the evolution of humans from their primate forebears. Francis astutely substantiates this thesis with fossil evidence from a variety of mammal species, including cats, dogs, raccoons, mice, and more. As the author writes, the concept of survival of the fittest was not based solely on competition for resources, nor initially on transformations in the brain, but rather on “parallel neuroendocrine alterations in humans (and bonobos) on the one hand, and dogs, cats, rats, and other domestic creatures on the other.” This leads him to the novel conclusion that rather than just human intelligence, the extraordinary evolutionary success of our species has depended on our “hypersociality and unprecedented capacity for cooperative behavior.”

A highly illuminating look at the cross-species biological basis for human culture and sociability.

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A deep, detailed biography of a complex African musician and the homeland that has shaped his artistry.

There’s no questioning the ambition of this biography of Thomas Mapfumo (b. 1945), a musical figure who might well be to Zimbabwe what Bob Marley was to Jamaica. Eyre is certainly well qualified, as a guitarist who has long known his subject (and performed with him) and as a journalist, radio producer (PRI's Afropop Worldwide) and musicologist (Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali2000). The author asserts from the outset that “in the end, there is no way to understand Thomas Mapfumo without understanding Zimbabwe, and no better way to know Zimbabwe than through an examination of the life and work of Thomas Mapfumo.” Yet both the complex, contradictory artist and his country, the former Rhodesia, defy easy understanding. His musical accomplishment has been controversial from the start, as he appropriated spiritual music and brought it into the secular marketplace, updated it with electric guitars and added nonnative elements such as reggae and rumba, and had contentious business dealings with practically every musician and most managers with whom he has worked. Mapfumo’s “music has never riveted the larger world the way Bob Marley’s reggae or Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat have. Many of those closest to Thomas and his story are left with the nagging sense that he could have, should have, counted more.” Eyre is plainly one of them, and this biography is the result, though it gives ample space to those questioning Mapfumo’s originality, politics, business dealings, and decision to leave Zimbabwe for Oregon almost two decades ago, with even the author acknowledging, “Thomas’s career was certainly compromised, if not ruined, by his move to America.”

An essential book for those who love the artist’s music and want to know more, but it won’t likely win converts as an introduction.

<May 2015>