Welcome, fellow members of the VFD and other esteemed colleagues of Lemony Snicket. You are apologetically invited to endure the somber account of a celebrated member’s decidedly inauspicious apprenticeship: Who Could That Be at This Hour? All other readers are invited to stop reading right now.
Oh, all right, tag along if you absolutely must.
By his own account, Lemony Snicket’s education was an unusual one. Just how unusual? Well, that would certainly be the wrong question, but since you’re new at this, we’ll indulge your overdeveloped sense of curiosity – a phrase which here is the polite substitution for "nosiness". Suffice to say that Snicket’s education supplied him with the skills necessary to escape drugging by tea; send secret messages through library loans; free-fall, and other similarly uncomfortable exploits encountered in this book.
What strange sort of book is this? Call it a prequel to unfortunate events, call it a nod to the noir; whatever the classification, Snicket’s latest is most certainly a restorative. Who Could That Be at This Hour? is the first in the intended four-volume series, All the Wrong Questions. Chronicling the latter days of his uncommonly strange childhood and early career, the authorized autobiography of the dear and drear Snicket is at turns gloomy and startling, but always entertaining. Readers who have enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events will not be disappointed. Staples of Snicket’s style – clever wordplay and melancholic narration – are abundant in this new venture, accompanied by superb woodcut illustrations.
Singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant wanted to share child-friendly works of the oral tradition with her young daughter, delighting in the gift of words and speech that was featured in poems and stories. The result was a twenty-six song, two-CD set of poems that Merchant set to music. Released in 2010, it also included biographical sketches and a photograph of each poet. Now, paired with well-regarded illustrator Barbara McClintock, many of the poems from that endeavor come to life in the picture book Leave Your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry.
Transforming a musical package to a picture book isn’t altogether unknown, but a book of poems is less common. Covering many famous poets, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, e.e. cummings, and Ogden Nash, the collection varies in tone and level. From Jack Prelutsky’s breezy and fun “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” to Laurence Alma-Tadema’s poignant “If No One Ever Marries Me”, the works focus on language and the way a few choice words coming together can create a memorable portrait. Take “Equestrienne”, by Rachel Field; McClintock’s exquisite illustrations of a rider and her milk-white horse perfectly capture the tone of the poem. Listen to Merchant’s interpretation on the accompanying CD, and the whole package comes together beautifully. The music styles range from Klezmer to jazz to string arrangements.
McClintock’s illustrations of “I Saw A Ship A-Sailing” epitomize her style, with a duck captain and mice sailors simultaneously working an old vessel but also juggling, playing with puppets, and riding a hobby horse. The whole package will bring a smile to both children and adults reading and listening along.
The Princess of the Silver Woods, the final novel in Jessica Day George’s trilogy showcasing Westfalian royalty, is part Little Red Riding Hood, part Twelve Dancing Princesses. In this book, readers follow Petunia, the youngest of the dancing princesses who readers first met back in book one, Princess of the Midnight Ball. After escaping the curse of the King Under Stone in the Midnight Ball, the twelve dancing princesses have gone on to lead fairly normal lives...for princesses, anyway.
Petunia is on her way to visit the Grand Duchess and her grandson when she is kidnapped by Oliver, a young man who claims to be an earl, whose property was wrongfully taken away. At the same time, she and her sisters begin to have frequent dreams about the King Under Stone. Knowing something nefarious is surely afoot, the Westfalian princesses, along with their respective princes, must again fight against evil to stop the King Under Stone once and for all.
Jessica Day George takes a fairytale that has been told over and over, and turns it on its head, much like she did with Cinderella in the middle book of the trilogy, Princess of Glass. Despite knowing the original story, readers are captivated, unsure what will happen next. Fans of retellings of fairy tales, like Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, will surely enjoy this novel. Princess of the Silver Woods is a funny, well-written, captivating story, that teen and adult readers alike will enjoy.
There are some murder cases that just haunt you. Detective Stynes was new to his career in law enforcement when 4-year-old Justin Manning disappeared from a community park and was subsequently found dead several weeks later. The Hiding Place by David Bell is a multifaceted story exploring the lives and relationships of Justin’s family and their acquaintances. The title could reference the shallow grave where his body was discovered or the location where the truth to this clever puzzle resides.
After 25-years, there is renewed interest in the Manning case as the black man convicted of the crime is finally released from jail. Dante Rogers has always maintained his innocence and now with the case in the media spotlight, Stynes wonders if they actually arrested the correct person. Did the suspect’s race influence the police? Was the testimony of the children playing at the park that day 100% reliable? Not for the first time, the detective commences second guessing his actions during the investigation.
Janet Manning and her daughter Ashleigh have recently moved back into her childhood home in Dove Point Ohio. Late one night a mysterious man appears at her door announcing he knows some secret information about Justin’s death. A few short days later her childhood friend Michael reappears after a 10 year absence. He was with her that tragic day in the park and questions her with a strong intensity about what she remembers from that day. Even Detective Stynes meets with his retired partner to ruminate if they did everything they could to find the killer. With all of the second guessing going on it is a safe bet that there is more to this story than what was initially believed. Bell has constructed a clever novel that is labyrinthine in its twists and turns, dead ends and surprises. Just when the reader thinks they have the mystery figured out … think again!
Tom Wolfe is back. Eighty-one years old, a controversial player on the literary scene since 1965, and still decked out in his hallmark white suit, Wolfe’s newest book proves he is ever a master of pointed social commentary as he skewers Miami and its denizens in his novel, Back to Blood.
Miami: it isn’t just for snowbirds anymore. Officer Nestor Camacho is a young and buff policeman out on patrol on the Biscayne Bay when he is pressed into service to bring down a man clinging to the apex of a 70 foot boat mast. Camacho, in a Herculean show of strength, “rescues” the man, according to accolades heaped upon him by the Miami Herald. Or rather, make that the “Yo No Creo El Miami Herald,” (“I don’t believe the Miami Herald”) as it’s known in the large and influential Cuban population. Camacho is now a pariah among his Cuban family and community for taking down a Cuban refugee before he reached dry land, destroying his chance for asylum.
Wolfe writes his cast of characters with a politically incorrect and sometimes sordid pen. A WASPy newspaper editor thinks he’s found relevance in his association with the Russian benefactor filling the city’s new art museum, who instead may be foisting forgeries into the collection. A gorgeous but naive Cuban nurse thinks she is movin’ on up by having an affair with her Americano employer, a publicity hungry sex-addiction doctor for whom the phrase “physician, heal thyself” seems to be tailor-made. A Haitian professor is ashamed of his heritage yet earns his living teaching Creole while obsessively hoping his sweet daughter can “pass” for white. Nestor is the hub around which these stories turn, presented in Wolfe’s trademark frenetically vivid style. In the same vein as Wolfe’s earlier take on New York in The Bonfire of the Vanities, fans of social satire should enjoy Back to Blood.
High school friends Avishag, Lea and Yael do what typical teen girls do—they gossip about friends, giggle over boys, and daydream about their adult lives to come. But in Israel, soldiers can come from anywhere, even the “caravan classrooms” of small villages, and the girls quickly find themselves serving in the Israeli Defense Force. Shani Boianjiu tells a unique coming-of-age story in her debut novel, The People of Forever are Not Afraid.
The girls are trained in different areas of military expertise-Lea in the military police at a checkpoint, Yael as a marksmen trainer and Avishag as a member of the only female combat unit. While it sounds dangerous and exciting, in reality the girls are bored most of the time as they watch foreigners and refugees sneak across the borders and steal everything not nailed down. They still talk, gossip, and occasionally flirt with other soldiers, but they also grow increasingly numb to the violence that surrounds them. At the novel’s center is the trio’s loss of innocence, but more profound and disturbing is the question-do they even remember that they once had it?
Shani Boianjiu, the youngest winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” earned rave reviews for People. Drawing on her own experiences in the IDF, she has created a novel that is literary yet accessible, and readers will quickly be drawn in by the early, fast action. Boianjiu’s writing is just like her characters-nuanced yet fragmented, disturbing but smart, violent and gritty. While this story is about teens, the strong language and violence make it more appropriate for mature teens and adults.
In his novel Outrage, Arnaldur Indridason deals with the serious subject of rape and its deadly consequences. With Inspector Erlunder on a leave of absence, his colleague Inspector Elinborg is able to take center stage as she is called upon to solve a rather unpleasant crime. A man is found in a Reykjavik apartment with his throat cut and his mouth stuffed full of the date rape drug Rohypnol. There were signs of sexual activity in the apartment that leave Elinborg to wonder if this man was a rapist and perhaps his victim regained consciousness and attacked the attacker. There are few clues to go on, but Elinborg finds a discarded shawl under the bed with a rather familiar scent. Elinborg is an accomplished cook and cookbook writer. She realized the scents are Indian cooking spices, and is able to discern that the victim may also be a lover of this type of cuisine. Following lead after lead, Elinborg tries to discover more about the man in the apartment as well as his possible victim. Delving into the past, she must come to terms with some unpleasant truths about the man whose murder she is trying to solve.
Outrage reads like a standard police procedural and fans of Icelandic mysteries will thoroughly enjoy it. It is nice for Indridason to let Elinborg take lead. She is an interesting character and much is revealed about her home life and her work style. The case is complex and there are many leads to follow, keeping the reader interested and involved. This is the seventh Indridason mystery set in Reykjavik. Readers interesting in knowing what had happened to Erlunder while on leave need only to pick up his previous novel, Hypothermia.
Three of today’s most celebrated designers offer unique books reflecting personal style and sharing ideas for frustrated DIYers. Friend of Oprah and nationally known designer Nate Berkus offers a twist on the traditional decorating book in The Things that Matter. This beautifully illustrated title combines his life story with a diverse tour of homes, including his family and some celebrity friends. His message regarding the value of the things we cherish is clear since these objects reflect our personalities. This will appeal to collectors and those who keep it simple, since it’s all about how the things we love and choose to surround ourselves with fill us with comfort and joy.
Carter Oosterhouse, the popular host of several of HGTV shows, is known for his simple design style. In Carter’s Way, he offers homeowners an inside look at his successful home design process. Each chapter covers a different room or area of the house and highlights the diversity of layouts in homes today. He recognizes the intimidation experienced by homeowners when tackling design projects, but his laid-back attitude provides encouragement. Oosterhouse focuses on environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and readily-found materials, and the specific examples and striking photos illustrate his philosophy.
Thom Filicia is a respected professional designer and former star of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. American Beauty is homage to his two year renovation of a vacation home in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Filicia fell in love with the Lakes as a vacationing child, and the beauty of the area and the Skaneateles Lake is showcased here. Readers are treated to information about the history of his home and also given smart tips on making the right design choices. After two long years, Filicia created the house of his dreams and the 300 stunning photographs will appeal to anyone dreaming of the perfect retreat.
Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, chronicles the life of one of the world’s most important stylemakers. Born into a wealthy family, Diana was designed for greater things. Her younger sister Alexandra was the beauty of the family, a fact that was revealed to Diana constantly by their mother, Emily. Often Diana felt unloved and unappreciated at home, and used creativity and imagination to escape her dull, drab world. She discovered an ability to surround herself with beautiful things, wonderful clothes and interesting people. In 1936, Vreeland joined the staff at Harper’s Bazaar as a fashion editor. While the editor-in-chief was concentrating on Paris couture, Vreeland concentrated on American fashion and design, often spotting new and fresh designers and photographers and pairing them together to create magic. She was able to keep the pages fresh and inviting throughout the WWII era and well into the Fifties. Times changed drastically again with the arrival of the Sixties, and Diana soon found herself at editor-in-chief of the American edition of Vogue. Here she was able to deal with rising hemlines and a youth movement that would change the world of fashion. By 1971 she was fired from Vogue, but Vreeland never stopped. She joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Special Consultant to the Costume Institute, and was able to create exhibits featuring the fashion that she loved.
Vreeland is a fascinating character with an unusual yet powerful voice. Readers who would love to learn about fashion will find much to like in this book. Vreeland's life is captivating, as are the many stories of the designers, photographers and models of that period. It is fascinating to read how world events and the economy shape the ways people look at fashion and determine what is worn. Empress of Fashion is sure to please readers, even with the most discerning tastes.
Real life doesn’t always have a happily ever after. Kids may want to try these two well–written books for stories of real life with real endings. After a violent episode of abuse by her mother and stepfather, twelve-year-old Carley Connors is sent to her first foster home where she is welcomed by Mrs. Murphy, herself a first-timer. In One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Carley tries to survive in a strange new environment while being haunted by broken pieces of memory from that horrible night. New clothes, home-cooked meals and a return to school is a lot of adjustment for this tough, neglected girl from Las Vegas. A less-than-warm welcome from her foster brother and foster father adds to her anxiety. Hunt displays a deft touch with serious issues, showing Carley’s discomfort and distrust of the kindness shown to her without hitting the reader over the head with her angst. Her characters feel genuine with real emotions and concerns. Carley learns a lot about herself and about love while staying with the Murphys.
First published in 1978, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson is another foster child story with similar themes of finding family and finding yourself. Gilly Hopkins is an eleven year old girl bouncing from foster home to foster home until her beautiful mother, Courtney, can come claim her. The book tells the tale of her stay with Maime Trotter, her foster son William Ernest and family friend, blind Mr. Randolph. Gilly is independent, strong-willed and blunt with her opinions, particularly about the “freaks” she has been stuck with. Gilly’s crude language and bad behavior makes her particularly unlikable at first. The reader begins to cheer for this unhappy creature as the details of her life emerge and as she grows to care for her foster family. The winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, The Great Gilly Hopkins still resonates with children today.