Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman; Nancy Paulson Books, $17.99.


Inimitable author-illustrator Maira Kalman introduces young readers to the fascinating, brilliant, flawed man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and became third president of the United States in this dazzlingly creative picture biography, punctuating her narrative with funny parenthetical asides. In brightly colored splashy cartoons, with fun fonts, and lively prose that is wise and witty and never condescends, she writes: “What was Jefferson interested in? Everything. I Mean it. Everything.” She notes that Jefferson loved books, practiced the the violin three hours a day (“How did he have time for that?,” she muses), spoke seven languages, was an architect, a botanist, a collector of mastodon bones and Native American artifacts. “Even his bed was interesting,” she writes, noting that it opened into two different rooms. Also, “His favorite vegetable was peas. (Peas really are wonderful and fun to count.)” She mentions John Adams: “He and Jefferson were close friends except when they were fighting.” On a more serious note, she addresses Jefferson’s role in the founding of a nation (noting he was “a terrible speaker but a great writer”), Jefferson’s firm belief in separation of church and state, the Louisiana Purchase and explorations of Lewis and Clark and thoughtfully explores the contradiction of Jefferson, who said of slavery “this abomination must end,” yet was the owner of about 150 slaves, concluding “the monumental man had monumental flaws.”

– Jean Westmoore


In the Blood by Lisa Unger; Touchstone (352 pages, $25.99)


Each of Lisa Unger’s visits to The Hollows delves deeper into the myriad residents of this quiet town about 100 miles from New York City. Here, in this idyllic-sounding town, there is a menace that latches onto those who live here and seeps into their lives.

Unger continues her dark psychological approach in this third visit to The Hollows.

“In the Blood” follows the maturation of Lana Granger, a brilliant college student who has isolated herself at the small college in town. Before she came to college, Lana changed her name and appearance so that no one would associate her with her father, who is on Death Row for killing her mother. Lana lives in fear that her secret will get out and that she harbors those same violent tendencies. Lana has tried to avoid personal relationships, but fellow student Beck Miller has broken down her barriers and is the closest she has ever come to having a best friend.

When one of her professors suggests she take a job, Lana ends up babysitting for Rachel Kahn’s disturbed 11-year-old son, Luke. Despite Luke’s rage-fueled personality, Lana seems to be able to relate to Luke. But soon after, Lana’s friend, Beck, vanishes after the two were seen having a public fight. Lana’s fears intensify as she worries about her friend. But she also has another anxiety. A missing college student brings on a media firestorm and Lana is concerned that her past will be revealed.

The brisk plot churns as Unger skillfully explores the mental state of each character.

– Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel


Falling Upwards by Richard Holmes; Pantheon, 416 pages ($35)


“Falling Upwards” takes readers on a quirky journey of discovery. The clock is turned back to an age when the balloon miraculously opens up the heavens to mankind. An English inventor “suggested that a small hydrogen balloon might be tethered to an adapted garden wheelbarrow” to help transport loads of manure. Benjamin Franklin imagined thousands of French soldiers in balloons descending upon Great Britain to wreak havoc.

Some quickly saw the benefit of taking a peek at an enemy army from the skies. Balloons may well be the primitive ancestor of spy planes and even reconnaissance satellites. U.S soldiers used unmanned surveillance balloons known as aerostats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Great expectations and failure are a part of the balloon’s story. – Ed Timms, Dallas Morning News