Off the Grid
When JoAnn Hill and her husband moved to DC nineteen years ago, her interest was initially captured by the “majestic monuments [and] world-renowned museums.” Then she went off the grid. She soon realized that the “fabric of the city isn’t solely embedded” in politics and tourism, but in its “eccentric individuals and hidden histories.”
In “Secret Washington, D.C.: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” Hill takes readers on a lively romp through some of the lesser-known delights of our capital city. For each of her more than 80 entries—from a miniature Washington Monument buried under a manhole to a set of marble bathtubs in the US Capitol—she presents a brief explanatory essay, photos, factoids and, for those who wish to see things for themselves, a useful sidebar that details “What, Where, Cost, and Pro Tip.”
Did you know, for example, that DC has a memorial park dedicated to Sonny Bono? That there was once a thriving bordello on the site of the current National Museum of the American Indian? Or that a sign denoting Capitalsaurus Court commemorates the discovery of a dinosaur bone near Garfield Park?
As Hill notes, there’s a “treasure trove of mystique, peculiarities, and hidden history just waiting to be explored.” And you couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide than JoAnn Hill. A former DC public school teacher, she writes about DC living and dining as well as global travel on her blog dcglobejotters.org. Find her on Instagram @joann_hill_dc
Jillian Beckley is having one of those days. You know the kind, when “you need to take one more tequila shot and splash some water on your face.” She’s just lost her reporting job and is badly in need of an idea to land her a new one. Then she learns of Nevertheless.
Laura Hankin’s new book, “A Special Place for Women,” focuses on a fictional club for wealthy women in New York City. “An unholy elitist union of corporate interest and pseudoscience,” Nevertheless is suspected of being behind both the election and the eventual downfall of the Big Apple’s first female mayor. So, what if someone were able to infiltrate the club, discover their secrets, and then write an exposé? “An undercover operation would be very difficult,” her editor points out when Jillian pitches the idea to him. “I eat difficult for breakfast,” she swaggers.
Jillian’s mission would not only secure her some gainful employment, but it would also keep a promise she made to her dying mother, who was a big fan of the former mayor, to find out the truth about what happened. Of course, being a “pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword warrior” is easier said than done. The further she gets into the inner circle of Nevertheless, the more Jillian wrestles with questions about influence and power, wondering whether her mother “would be proud of what I was doing and who I had become to do it.”
Hankin is a master at skewering pretention and her pitch-perfect descriptions and wise-cracking dialogue are laugh-out-loud funny. But “A Place for Women” is much more than a witty romp; it also tackles some deeper issues, of loyalty and trust, and of whether it’s ever morally justified for people to “carve grooves in the world so that the water flows where [they] want it to.”
Laura Hankin (www.laurahankin.com) is also the author of “Happy & You Know It” and writes for publications such as McSweeney’s and HuffPost. Her musical comedy has been featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and her singing video, “Indoor Book Tour,” can be viewed at www.literaryhillbookfest.org.
Tilting at Windmills
Dominguita Melendez would rather spend recess reading than playing dodgeball (a girl after my own heart). But when a bully throws her copy of “Don Quixote” into the dirt, she is forced to defend herself and she proclaims herself a knight-in-training.
“A knight!” he scoffs. “Girls can’t be knights!” So Dominguita dons a cape and becomes Dom Capote. She takes on a squire and a steed (a mangy mutt she names Roco), and sets off to show the bully that girls can SO be knights!
“Knight of the Cape” is the first in Terry Catasús Jennings’s “Definitely Dominguita” series of chapter books for six- to nine-year-old readers. Charmingly illustrated by Fatima Anaya, the stories are based on Dominguita’s (and Terry’s) love of classic novels.
In “Knight of the Cape,” Dominguita follows in the bumbling but well-meaning footsteps of Don Quixote, “wander[ing] around looking for adventure and for creatures who need rescuing.” Early on, however, “she made a decision on the damsel thing. Most damsels can take care of themselves,” she declares. “I’m going to rescue anyone who’s in distress. Not just damsels.”
Like her literary inspiration, Dominguita’s adventures sometimes go amiss (who knew the blades on the restaurant’s decorative windmill would snap off?). But, as her brother points out, Don Quixote “always tried to do the right thing. The thing a good knight would do. And that’s what you did.” As Dom Capote might say, “Just so.”
In the second book in the series, “Captain Dom’s Treasure,” Dominguita and her new friends try to decipher an old map they’ve discovered in a copy of “Treasure Island.” The third installment, “All for One,” based on “The Three Musketeers,” will be published later this summer, and “Sherlock Dom” comes out this fall.
Terry Catasús Jennings, who came to the US from Cuba in 1961, is an award-winning author of children’s non-fiction and fact-based fiction who writes for various educational outlets, including Ranger Rick and the Smithsonian’s Science and Technology for Children series. www.terrycatasusjennings.com