House Held Up by Trees ?by Ted Kooser; illustrated by Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press, $16.99.
This lovely, unusual book is the first picture book from Ted Kooser, who lives in Nebraska, was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006 and won a Pulitzer for his poetry collection, "Delights & Shadows." The illustrations, in subtle shades, have the delicacy of watercolor but were ?created digitally with gouache by a native of Niagara Falls, Ont. This is a story about the passage of time, about the power of nature to both lift us up and take from us the illusion ?that we control the world around us. It's the story of a house, newly built, "alone on a bare square of earth," a home to two children and their father. The children love the nearby woods, the father is obsessed with his perfect lawn and fiercely determined to root out any seedlings, even as the children grow up and leave. Then he, too, moves away, the house stands, ?unwanted and empty, and as years go by, the trees take over, in a surprising, wondrous way. Kooser's spare story is beautifully told.?
Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns; Minotaur, 336 pages ($24.99)
The Shakers, a religious sect which began in England during the late 1700s, stressed equality of the sexes, pacifism and hard work. Sexual relations, even among married couples, were forbidden, making it a difficult religion for many to follow.
Eleanor Kuhns acutely captures the movement in her superb debut, which is resplendent with affecting details about daily life in a Shaker village in 1795. "A Simple Murder" works as an intense historical but also a heartfelt story about families, especially the bonds between fathers and sons, and the grievances that can pull relatives apart.
Widowed weaver Will Rees returns to his Maine farm that he left in the care of his sister and her husband with the proviso that they care for his son, David. But Will finds the farm in disarray, his cattle sold and, most important, that David has run away to join the Shaker community. Wanting to repair his relationship with his 13-year-old son, Will agrees to help the Shakers find out who killed one of their female members. Will's reputation as an investigator in the Continental Army makes him most suited to solve this crime.
Kuhns skillfully weaves in historical details about the times and the Shaker movement in "A Simple Murder." While Will's investigation jump-starts the plot, his need to reconnect with his son takes priority. His growing affection for Lydia Jane Farrell, a former Shaker living near the settlement, adds to the emotion of "A Simple Murder."
Kuhns' affinity for showing the complicated relationships that drive people shines in this strong debut.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Businessby Charles Duhigg, Random House, 286 pages ($28)
New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg explores the habit loop of cue, routine and reward to explain why our routines become so ingrained, so automatic and so hard to change in his fascinating book "The Power of Habit." .
He pulls together both anecdotal and large-scale studies in neurology and psychology and ties them in with consumer behaviors, the successes of a football team and global businesses, people who kick addictions, and large-scale social movements. He details the research behind habit change and the results of people and entities that have tried to change habits. And he writes it all clearly and with flair making complicated research accessible and interesting.
The book is divided into three sections, discussing the habits of individuals, the habits of successful organizations and the habits of societies.
The book is full of compelling examples: How Tony Dungy turned the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a winning team by drilling players' basic habits. How Paul O'Neill revived a flagging Alcoa through safety initiatives. How Target can tell which customers are pregnant and how it doesn't creep them out by letting them know that they know (by mixing lawn mower ads in with the diaper coupons).