A dizzying amount of wealth permeates the stone fortifications in Anthony Russell’s entertaining new memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. What seems most important is what the wealth symbolizes and how it shapes the lives of those it cradles. Yes, the tweedy set flaunts its well-placed connections. There are pheasant-shoots, duck launches and tea-sipping beneath museum-bound tapestries. Not surprisingly, Russell admits there are also consequences to being reared in a "gilded bubble,” where everything material is handed to you. Russell aims to satisfy our curiosity.
For those not familiar with medieval fortresses, Leeds Castle is about as splendid as they come. Located in Kent, England, the former Norman stronghold with ties to six queens of England is among the most visited historic buildings in Britain. Its 900-year history is the stuff of fairy tales. Readers will appreciate the complement of black and white photographs.
The writer-musician Russell, who grew up in this milieu, was exposed to the stuff of kings at an early age thanks to his maternal grandmother and chatelaine, the bold, indomitable Lady Baillie. "Granny B" purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 for the American sum of $874,000. It is here that Russell spent his childhood in the 1950s, absorbing "the castle way." This included eccentric "ceremonies" like fussing over baby ducks and enduring family gatherings where no one paid him much mind. With such a privileged start, gearing up for adulthood beyond the castle gate would have its challenges.
Writing with wry humor, Russell alternates between being sardonic and wistful. He points out unapologetically some of the silliness while poignantly recalling the shear splendor of it all and gratitude for being a part of it. We get to know some of the uniquely British personalities (with names like Morg, Guysy-Wee and Mr. Elves) who help add the color that make this frank, behind-the-scenes look a delightful jaunt, just in time for the return of another extravagant household in Downton Abbey.
It all began with a vacuum cleaner. Popular children’s author Kate DiCamillo returns with a tale of a cynical young girl and an ordinary backyard squirrel turned superhero in Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The inciting incident occurs in the first few pages (presented in a comic book style by illustrator K.G. Campbell) when Donald Tickman presents his wife with the ultimate birthday present – a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X. Neighbor Flora happens to be peering out the window just as the out-of-control vacuum propels into the Tickmans’ yard, sucking up a hapless squirrel. A fan of comics and survival literature (but not the sappy novels penned by her romance-writer mother), Flora turns out to be the perfect person to revive the fur-stripped mammal.
Well aware that “impossible things happened all the time,” she soon recognizes that the squirrel’s run in with the vacuum has granted him amazing powers (among them, flying and typing poetry). Upon witnessing his super strength, Flora dubs him Ulysses and becomes his de facto sidekick. Of course, every superhero has an arch nemesis, and in this case it’s Flora’s own mother who has it in for the rodent.
Campbell’s appealing pencil illustrations are essential to the enjoyment of this engaging and exciting novel. DiCamillo is a master at creating the quirky characters that are the hallmark of her work, appealing to both young and older readers. The winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux (and a Newbery Honor in 2001 for Because of Winn-Dixie), DiCamillo was inaugurated as The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature on Jan. 10. According to the Library of Congress, the National Ambassador “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” DiCamillo's platform is "Stories Connect Us” and she will be serving in the position during 2014 and 2015.
In 1600’s England, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. Times are dark and violent, and morality is judged by all. Those who defy the church or the government are branded as witches and killed. Many flee into the darkness to await better times, but one woman dares to remain in the light. Her story drives The Daylight Gate, the new novella by award-winning author Jeanette Winterson.
Alice Nutter is a youthful, strong and well-respected woman. She believes her wealth allows her freedom to live as she pleases, making friends and allies without political or moral consequences. Her choices are not beyond the notice of local officials, however, and they quietly start rumors about her competence. These rumors eventually force her to reveal her secrets and unleash her powers on those who would destroy her. Winterson is an intelligent storyteller, and her spare prose moves the story along at lightning speed. Graphic and violent, The Daylight Gate is a quick dip into a nightmare that just might keep you awake at night.
A.G. Howard creates a new twist on an old tale in her Splinte red trilogy. Unh inged is the newly released second installment of this gothic and modern rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Howard plays on the fact that Carroll based his novel off of a girl he knew, Alice Liddell. In Howard’s debut young adult novel Splintered, the reader is introduced to Alyssa Gardner who is a descendant of Alice Liddell.
When Alyssa was young she began to hear insects and plants talking to her, causing her to fear that she would go crazy like her mother and the other women in her family. The only way she can break the curse and free her mother from the binds of insanity is to jump down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Alice Liddell. Her adventures in Wonderland leave a lasting impression, and Alyssa becomes forever tied to the ethereal realm.
Unhinged picks up one year after Alyssa’s return to the mortal world, where she is doing her best to live a normal life. Because she is so consumed with preparations for prom, graduation, college and planning her future with her boyfriend Jeb, she tries to ignore the whisperings of trouble in Wonderland. When her wonderland mentor Morpheus comes to explain the dire situation, Alyssa is forced to acknowledge that there is a problem. Despite initially feeling like it’s not her problem, she quickly changes her tune when Wonderland begins to spill over into the mortal world.
Howard manages to weave together a rich combination of dark and gothic with colorful and creepy to create a unique world Tim Burton fans are sure to appreciate. This trilogy is one of those series that has the ability to cross over from young adult fiction to adult, so don’t hesitate to pick it up for a paranormal adventure.
It can be difficult raising a head-strong, impatient, stubborn and impulsive little girl. But what happens when that little girl is also a witch? That’s the challenge Salem’s parents face in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso.
When Salem’s spelling skills are questioned by a fellow student studying for the school’s spelling bee, she sets off to prove that she is a great speller. However, instead of spelling the word “dinosaur,” Salem turns Mrs. Fossil into a dinosaur. No one is supposed to know that Salem is a witch, and this mistake almost causes her to be expelled from school. What Salem needs is an animal companion, and Aunt Martha knows just the right one for the job: Lord Percival J. Whamsford, also known as Whammy, an 800-year-old talking cat who still has five of his nine lives left.
Will Whammy be able to instruct Salem in the fundamentals of being a witch? Can she really fly using a vacuum cleaner instead of the traditional witch’s broom? What will happen when Salem’s spell goes completely awry as she tries to ensure that she is crowned the new Miss Spelling Queen? And will all this be too much for Whammy to handle? Find out in the first installment of a delightful new graphic novel series. This fast-paced, humorous book is excellent for mid- to upper-elementary readers who will surely enjoy the simple green, black and white drawings reminiscent of Sunday morning comics.
On March 11, 1948, a fire raged through the main building of North Carolina’s Highland Hospital, killing nine female patients trapped in a locked ward on the fourth floor. Victims included Zelda Fitzgerald, a dancer, artist and writer like her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald. Highland was a residential treatment facility for the mentally ill and considered quite progressive in its treatment methods. Author Lee Smith takes inspiration from the hospital, the tragic fire and Zelda Fitzgerald’s own life in her newest book Guests on Earth.
Smith’s narrator is 13-year-old New Orleans native Evalina Toussaint. Evalina refuses to eat after the death of her mother and is packed off to Highland for a cure. Now an orphan, the resort-like hospital becomes Evalina’s home, and its caregivers and patients her family. Fresh air and exercise, music and art: Evalina thrives under the care of the enlightened psychiatrist Dr. Carroll and develops into a talented pianist. Swimming and songs aren’t the only therapies employed at Highland, though, and as Smith reveals the darker secrets in the lives of Evalina, Zelda and other patients, she also explores the more invasive and seemingly barbaric treatments employed upon the mentally ill.
Smith, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, imbues her writing with the atmosphere of rural Appalachia. She draws upon both the folklore of the mountains as well as the culture of southern high society in creating compelling characters and an absorbing story. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.” Guests on Earth allows a few of the guests to share their memorable tale.
Attention LEGO fanatics! Your favorite toys are coming to the big screen when The LEGO Movie arrives in theaters on February 7th. Voiced by stars like Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Chris Pratt, this movie promises to be fun for kids and adults alike. These cool new books will keep you excited about all things LEGO until you get to the theater.
The LEGO Movie: The Essential Guide by Hannah Dolan is a fun companion to the movie. It offers character profiles, background information about the town of Bricksburg and the Prophecy and, of course, behind-the-scenes information about the movie. Kids will love the book’s fun illustrations and movie stills.
If the movie inspires you to get creative with your own LEGOs, try Daniel Lipkowitz’s The LEGO Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life. This book pulls together hundreds of building ideas at varying skill levels. Tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your build so that you can be a heroic Master Builder too.
New readers can relive the fun of the movie with Helen Murray’s The LEGO Movie: Awesome Adventures. Kids will be excited to read this book filled with easy text and graphics from the movie.
If you’re looking for even more LEGO fun, check out these titles available in our collection or visit one of our branches to join us for an upcoming LEGO Fun program!
Two outstanding new children’s books are sure to delight young readers and are destined to achieve contemporary classic status. These novels capture the best of children’s literature with appealing stories, engaging characters and unforgettable adventures.
Settle back and enjoy an old fashioned tall tale in the latest from Newbery Honor-winning author Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a rollicking story told from the perspectives of human and animal residents of the Sugar Man Swamp. Rich in local color, with a quirky cast of characters, Appelt’s masterful storytelling will immediately engage readers. Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’Miah, 12-year-old Chap Brayburn and the Sugar Man (who just might be a distant relative of Bigfoot!) join forces to prevent the development of the swamp by greedy bad guys. The short chapters create a sense of urgency and add to the fast-paced storytelling while lessons about conservation and development are delivered gently. This entertaining story is perfect for reading aloud as demonstrated by Lyle Lovett, whose impeccable narration on the audio edition is unforgettable.
The Doll Bones by Holly Black wraps themes of friendship, storytelling and growing up in a deliciously spooky quest story. For years, Zach, Poppy and Alice have played an intricate game involving pirates, mermaids and warriors in an imaginary land ruled by the Great Queen — a bone-china doll who resides in Poppy’s family china cabinet. But Zach’s dad thinks a 12-year-old boy should only be playing sports and forces Zach to quit the game. Then Poppy removes the Great Queen from the cabinet and unleashes the ghost of a girl named Eleanor whose ashes were used to make the doll. Eleanor’s ghost demands a proper burial for the doll, and Poppy convinces the others to help execute this request. The three embark on an epic journey and must face percolating issues, including conflicts at home and their own changing relationships, all while dodging danger and staving off the supernatural. Thrills and chills enough to satisfy any scary movie fan!
Nominations for the 86th annual Academy Awards were announced on January 16th. Several of the films being honored were adapted from books.
The Wolf of Wall Street, based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir, received 5 nominations, including Best Picture. In 1987, Belfort founded his brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. He was shockingly successful, and his world was one of outrageous excess. His illegal dealings caught up with him, and in 1998, he was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison for securities fraud and money laundering. The Wolf of Wall Street reads more like fiction than memoir. This story was made for the big screen, and it’s no surprise that it is a hit with audiences. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill received individual nominations for acting, and Martin Scorsese was nominated for his work directing the film.
Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench and partially filmed in Maryland, is based on Martin Sixsmith’s Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search. It is the heartbreaking story of Philomena Lee who was forced to give her son Anthony up for adoption because she was an unwed teenage mother in Ireland in the 1950s. She searched for the son who she had lost for decades. At the same time, her son, renamed Michael Hess after his adoption, was also trying to find her while dealing with personal struggles of his own. This poignant story is now an extraordinary film that received several Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. Dench is also nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
The Oscars will be awarded on Sunday, March 2. BCPL has many of the nominated films available in our collection. to help you see the nominated performances for yourself. What film do you think deserves the coveted Best Picture award this year? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Paul Harding's second novel, Enon, brings back the Crosby progeny in this not-quite-a-sequel to his stunning 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, Tinkers. In this latest effort, the grandson of Tinkers' dying protagonist reels over the sudden loss of his only child in the same tiny New England town. It is a story not so much about death as it is about the physical and emotional spiraling into grief's crevasse and the slow, tentative climb out.
Charlie narrates this story with a hand-wringing anguish. His 13-year-old daughter Kate has been struck and killed by a car while riding her bicycle to the beach. It's an unimaginable bond lost, not just for Charlie but for his wife, too, who promptly leaves her depressed husband to return to her native Minnesota. Life is at its lowest point for Charlie as he descends into a morass of drugs and alcohol. For him, grieving demands a continual rewind of the past: his time with his daughter, his memories of his clock-enthusiast grandfather, the history of Enon. Soon healing begins to seem uncomfortably overdue.
Harding delivers metaphor-laden prose and rich detail that relentlessly probe Charlie's grief through his hallucinations that are, at once, dreamy and remarkably lucid. At one point Charlie tries to capture "the function of loss'" through a mathematical proof he writes on a wall. "My thoughts quickly became confused as I tried to demonstrate the calculus of grief." Another time he digs out his grandfather's fly fishing rod he intended to show Kate and begins casting off the old oak stump in his overgrown backyard until he crawls, exhausted and defeated, back into his house. With its disquieting tone, this short novel of 238 pages oozes like a scab that will not heal until finally, a choice must be rendered: to heal or not.