Most people count sheep to fall asleep. Dani counts happy thoughts. My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz tells the tale of a little girl just starting school as she deals with first day of school jitters, making friends, losing friends, getting hurt, hurting others and all the other ups and downs in the life of a child.
Dani is a wonderfully realistic character who demonstrates resilience in the face of sadness. She is both excited and nervous about the first day of school, but she soldiers on and starts to have fun. Quickly making a best friend in Ella, Dani is happier than ever. Disaster strikes when Dani learns that Ella is moving away. Her sadness is heartbreaking. After a few rough days, and a few missteps, Dani slowly finds ways to be happy again.
Manageable chapters with limited text and plenty of delightful illustrations by award winning illustrator Eva Eriksson, make this book excellent for beginning readers. Through the combination of words and illustration, Lagercrantz and Eriksson perfectly capture the essence of a little girl’s life. My Happy Life is a very sweet, honest story suitable for both independent reading and reading aloud. This charming story is refreshingly free from “cuteness” and serves as a great example for children in how to handle hard knocks.
Could a simple mistake ruin the future of a 7th grade student? In Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills, it looks as if Sierra Shepard is going to pay a heavy price for picking up the wrong lunch bag on her way to school. Sierra has always been the model student: straight A’s, honors classes and a member of the Leadership Club. However, one day she hurriedly picks up her Mom’s lunch bag instead of her own and discovers a paring knife inside to cut up an apple. When Sierra sees the “weapon” in her bag at lunch time, she immediately alerts the cafeteria monitor of the mistake. Despite her good intentions, Sierra’s principal is bent on having her expelled for violating the school’s “zero tolerance” policy on weapons.
Her father, a high-powered attorney, is determined to keep her in school, even if it costs her principal his job. As the hearing to decide Sierra’s fate looms before her, she begins to discover that not everything in life is as black and white as she always believed it to be. Sierra must decide what is really important to her. Are the other “bad kids” serving in-school suspension as guilty as she always believed them to be? Are her friends on her side, or are they just enjoying her publicity? Does making a mistake mean that it’s okay to do something she knows is wrong to prove her innocence? These questions and others not only cause Sierra to re-evaluate her life, but they make good talking points to share with young people about some very touchy subjects.
This murder mystery is a true whodunit with murder served up as the main course, while romance and comedy are definitely delectable side dishes in this new series, Rules of Murder, by Julianna Deering. Deering takes a foray into the past with Rules of Murder, which takes place in 1932 and is set in a quaint countryside town in Hampshire, U.K.
The novel opens to Drew Farthering returning to his extravagant manor house after a long vacation with his friend Nick. Drew returns home to find that his mother and stepfather are entertaining guests for this weekend including his stepfather’s beautiful niece, Madeline. It’s during the festivities that they find two people dead on the property.
Drew, being a fan of murder mystery books, is eager to see if he can uncover the plot behind the murders using Ronald Knox’s “Ten Commandments for Mystery Writers.” He soon discovers that he isn’t the only one interested in deciphering the mystery as Madeline inserts herself into the investigation. The two “detectives” make a connection at the party that blossoms as they work together to uncover the murderer.
This book felt like a combination of The Great Gatsby and a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The mystery will keep you guessing until the end though; the reader is given enough information to take a stab at uncovering the murderer, if they read carefully. There are touches of fact mixed in with the fiction that add to the realism of the book. If you enjoy Agatha Christie, this book may be for you.
Set in the late 1800s just as the Eiffel Tower is being built, Elizabeth Ross’ Belle Epoque tells the story of Maude Pichon, a 16-year-old girl who ran away from her small French village to Paris. Maude’s fresh start in the City of Lights doesn’t go exactly as she’d planned, as she has trouble finding work, and quickly runs out of money. However, things seem to be turning around for Maude when an ad for a job with the Durandeau Agency catches her eye, and she is hired on the spot. The details of the job are sketchy; Maude only knows that the work is supposed to be undemanding and well-paying.
On her first day at the agency, Maude learns that the young women are hired by wealthy Parisians as repoussoirs. The owner of the agency, Durandeau, had the idea that rich Parisian women need a repoussoir, an ugly woman, to make them seem more beautiful in comparison. Maude is dismayed at the thought that she is ugly enough for the job, but given her dire financial situation, she feels she has no choice but to accept the work.
She is quickly hired by Countess Dubern to be the repoussoir for her daughter Isabelle, with the caveat that Isabelle can never know that Maude has been hired to spend time with her. Instead, the countess tells Maude to pretend that she is a distant relative of a friend, who has just arrived in Paris for the season. Maude quickly gets swept into Parisian high society, attending operas and balls, dressed in the latest fashions, all the while becoming friends with Isabelle, whom she is supposed to be deceiving. Belle Epoque is a fascinating novel—a coming of age story, mixed with a bit of romance, and a lot of history—perfect for fans of historical fiction.
Picture books are not just for children; in fact, many of the best examples of the format prove entertaining for all ages, while some feel decidedly more adult. Kitty & Dino, by Sara Richard, begins with a child’s discovery of an unusual egg. This nearly wordless story unfolds as the Siamese cat of the household checks out the egg as it’s in the process of hatching. Much to Kitty’s distress, the new arrival is an attention-seeking baby dinosaur. Rendered in illustrations heavily influenced by the Japanese style of ink painting known as sumi-e, the panels that make up the story radiate an energy that keeps this story flowing. The characters of Kitty and Dino are depicted in a naturalistic way, with their postures and behaviors bringing this captivating story to life. Kitty slowly warms up to her housemate, teaching him about mealtime, grooming and play. As the pages turn, Dino grows older (and much bigger) and the unlikely friends’ bond grows deeper. Charming, funny and superbly illustrated, Kitty & Dino is a book for everyone.
Author/illustrator Dan Krall comes to picture books by way of a rich career in both TV and film animation. His beyond unusual story, The Great Lollipop Caper, has a quirky grownup sensibility. Leaning heavily on pun, the titular caper is both a character and the crime he commits. Yes, the protagonist is a tiny pickled caper berry who wants children to appreciate his “complex flavor.” Would caper-flavored lollipops help to expand his fan base to the very young? Wide-eyed cartoony character illustrations and speech bubbles lend to the offbeat humor that may be best appreciated by a hipster adult reader.
Eleven-year-old Fin is an orphan placed in the guardianship of his glamorous 24-year-old half sister, Lady. Cathleen Schine’s delightfully urbane comedy of manners, Fin & Lady, is set in 1964 as the unlikely duo becomes a family and moves to a brownstone in Greenwich Village. Fin’s only memory of Lady is from a trip to Capri six years earlier where he traveled with his parents to bring Lady home following her turn as a runaway bride.
Lady is long on charm and personality, but short on peace and quiet. Her days are never quiet (unless she is hung over), and she embraces a wide array of activities such as entertaining lavishly, cheering on the Mets and participating in burgeoning political movements. While she is obsessed with retaining her freedom, she still has a compelling desire to be loved and a traditional need to marry. To that end, she tasks Fin with the job of finding her a husband. Lady’s trio of ardent suitors includes Tyler, the lawyer she left at the altar, Jack, a preppy jock and Fin’s favorite—Biffi, a Hungarian immigrant. Lady keeps them each in her life, but none captures her heart.
As Fin adapts to life in the big city and living with his sometimes ditzy, but always devoted sister, it becomes less clear which of the two siblings is truly taking care of the other. Schine has once again created a humorous and heartwarming story with this tale of a brother and sister struggling with life and love. The identity of the narrator is artfully concealed, and that disclosure puts the finishing touches on the family’s remarkable history. This is a nostalgic coming-of-age story set during a tumultuous time amidst the vivid backdrops of bustling New York City and romantic Capri.
Never trust a stranger with a flat tire. Never park more than six spaces from your destination. Never be stranded. In Koethi Zan’s debut thriller The Never List, Sarah and her best friend Jennifer became obsessed with creating what they called the Never List after they were in a car accident when they were 12. The list was their own guide to avoiding anything that might lead them into danger. Throughout their teen years, they studied statistics and filled notebooks with rules to help them avoid situations that might make them vulnerable. Even though the girls were vigilant about following their rules, the unthinkable happened, and they were abducted. Sarah never saw Jennifer again.
Ten years later, Sarah has a new identity. She rarely leaves her New York City apartment, choosing to remain in her safe haven whenever possible. When she learns that her sadistic captor is up for parole, she becomes obsessed with understanding the clues that she thinks he has hidden in his recent letters. This sends Sarah on a journey to try to find evidence that will keep him in jail. The Never List is a gripping psychological thriller. Sarah’s terror is palpable in the first-person narrative. Zan slowly doles out the details of the kidnapping as the book progresses, leaving the reader breathlessly awaiting the next piece of the puzzle.
Although it was written over two years ago, this novel contains eerie similarities to the Ariel Castro case, in which he kidnapped and held his victims for more than a decade. Zan was shocked by the parallels. She addressed the astonishing coincidence in this recent interview.
When you’re set to marry a high-powered New Yorker who’s being groomed for mayor, have a satisfying law career and a comfortable life in the city, what more could life hold? Ellen Branford is about to find out when she travels to tiny Beacon, Maine to deliver a letter from her just-passed grandmother to one of her grandmother’s old flames. In The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café, Mary Simses serves up a delicious dish of chance meetings, small town living and discoveries of long-past. When Ellen’s grandmother passes away unexpectedly, she leaves instructions for Ellen to give a letter to a Chet Cummings, its contents full of apologies and requests for forgiveness. For what? Ellen doesn’t know. But her quick in-and-out trip to Beacon is delayed when at first she nearly drowns and is rescued by a handsome construction worker, and then discovers that there is more to her grandmother’s past than she or anyone in her family knew. Will the magic of this unique place pull Ellen away from a life she’s worked so hard to build? Although the answer is fairly predictable, the plot twists – especially the arrival of Ellen’s fiancé and mother – create an engaging story of love dilemmas and family drama.
Simses’ first novel, she keeps the writing light and humorous with poignant family relationships mixed in for substance. Cozy rural living springs to life through the descriptions of food, homes and one-of-a-kind quirky characters. True to its title, see if you can make it through the book without wanting to bake or eat something with blueberries. Fans of cozy mysteries, romances and anything chick lit will devour this sweet treat of a tale.
The Week Before the Wedding by Beth Kendrick shares the story of Emily McKellips, whose dreams are all about to come true. Her career is in place, she lives in a beautiful home and she has one week until she marries the man of her dreams. But anything can happen in seven days, especially when Emily’s ex-husband becomes a member of the wedding festivities.
The bride, groom and their families converge on a resort in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, customary locale for weddings in Grant’s traditional family. Emily’s family is a little less apple pie. Her mom has been married multiple times and her former stepsister is a happy-go-lucky free spirit. Both are trying to loosen Emily up and add some spice to the celebrations. Emily’s mother and Grant’s mother are at odds almost immediately, and when Ryan, Emily’s first husband, enters the picture, things go from bad to worse.
Emily and Ryan were passionately in love and married young. But the realities of life got in the way and Emily couldn’t deal with the financial instability. She left Ryan and transformed herself from party girl to career woman. Ryan, now a big-time Hollywood director, claims he is scouting locations for his next horror movie and that his appearance in Valentine is a mere coincidence. Grant’s job calls him away until the wedding day, and Ryan and Emily are thrown together with increasing frequency in the days leading up to the aisle walking. Emily was jittery when she arrived in Valentine and by week’s end her nerves are shot as she finds herself questioning her feelings for Grant and Ryan. Readers will discover seven days is a long time when true love is at stake in this entertaining romantic comedy complete with charming characters and laugh-out-loud moments.
David Bowie sang “fame puts you there where things are hollow.” Two new books take a close look at superstar entertainers separated by decades, yet the perks and consequences of fame seem to remain the same. Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen is the true story of circus aerialist phenom Leitzel Pelikan who rose to international stardom at the dawn of the 20th century. Author Michael Walker looks to the music scene in What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and The Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born.
The Pelikan’s small family circus had fallen on hard times, and crippled patriarch Eduard was forced to “apprentice” his talented 12-year-old daughter Nellie to Willy Dosta’s traveling troupe in order to feed his family. Nellie, an accomplished acrobat and flyer herself, returned within a year and gave birth to baby Leitzel in 1891. Nellie left her baby in the care of her parents while she trained, traveled and eventually found renown under the tutelage of Edward Leamy. Petite Leitzel showed a gift for the trapeze and Roman rings and soon outshone her mother under the big top. So famous that she was known simply as Leitzel, she commanded a private car in the Ringling Brothers circus train, enjoyed legions of admirers and suitors, and was married several times including to her male trapeze counterpart, Alfredo Codona. Queen of the Air is not only a biography of a legendary aerialist, it is a behind the scenes view of the celebrity and circus life of an earlier time.
Walker’s title says it all; his premise is that 1973 marked a year of intense road tours for “every major act of the era” which ushered in the real ’70s, changing the hippie-ish peace and love culture of the ’60s to a harsher reality of big money, scads of friendly groupies and an unending assortment of illicit substances. Walker tracks the travels and travails of The Who, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper whose skyrocketing stars and bulging coffers are directly proportional to the indulgence of their dissolute behaviors. 1973 marked the year of outrageous contract demands, powerful and massive customized sound systems and no-holds-barred stage shows. What You Want Is in the Limo will be enjoyed by anyone who ever held a transistor radio to their ear.