Harry Potter fans will love the magical world of A Shadow Bright and Burning, the first book in Jessica Cluess’ Kingdom on Fire series.
Henrietta Howell can set herself on fire, something only she and her best friend Rook know about. In their world, not all magic is created equal, especially that wielded by a woman. When Henrietta’s secret is suddenly revealed, she expects to be executed immediately. Imagine her surprise when, instead, she is dubbed the prophesied female sorcerer, the key to saving the world from the terror of the Ancients.
As she begins her training, however, Henrietta realizes she is not like the other sorcerers-to-be. Frustrated and alone, she seeks advice from an unexpected friend and learns of a secret that puts everything she believes into question: maybe she is not the prophesied one after all. One thing is certain, Henrietta must do whatever she can to hone her skills and blend in with her fellow trainees. Her life, and the lives of everyone around her, depends on it.
A Shadow Bright and Burning is a great introduction to what promises to be a powerful and enlightening series. Cluess puts an enchanted spin on an age-old tale: triumph in the face of inequality, something readers of all ages can relate to.
You don’t have to be a fan of The Young and the Restless to appreciate this honest memoir from one of that show’s biggest stars, Eric Braeden. In I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama, Braeden shares his life story, including his almost four decades on the number one daytime television show as the charismatic Victor Newman.
Braeden was born in 1941 in a dark, airless hospital basement in Kiel, Germany. Allied bombs sounded in the air and the ground shook with repeated explosions. Days after his birth, the hospital was destroyed in yet another Allied attack. But Braeden’s childhood was a happy and privileged one. His parents were loving, he had brothers to play with and developed a love for sports, especially track and field. His father’s sudden death when he was 12 changed his life forever. The family was forced to sell their beautiful home and possessions and move into a house with no central heating, no hot running water and no showers or toilets that worked.
While struggling through these hard times, his family never gave up, and Eric continued his education and his track and field prowess. He jumped at the opportunity to go to America when he received a partial track and field scholarship to Montana State University (now University of Montana). While there, he and his friends participated in the filming of a documentary film, which led him to Los Angeles and his destiny as a television star. This rags-to-riches immigrant story is an uplifting tale that takes us from Nazi Germany to modern Hollywood. It is the story of one man shaped by war and deprivation who dedicated his life to his art, his family and humanitarian work.
With his fantastic capacity for storytelling, Neil Gaiman brings us the stories of the Norse gods in his new book Norse Mythology. Mr. Gaiman often draws inspiration from the Norse myths for his other books, and his love and interest in these myths is evident.
The book starts with some of the major “players” of Norse myths: Odin, Thor and Loki. Though these are not the only important gods, you can find them in most if not all of the stories. The beginning of the world and creation is next discussed, and we find ourselves learning how the world, the gods and humans all came about, according to the Norse. Yggdrasil, an ash tree also called the world tree, is very important to the Norse myths and connects the nine worlds. Gaiman then goes on to portray the mischief of Loki, the wisdom of Odin and the strength of Thor in his own retelling of some of his favorite myths. He tells the story of how the gods came into their treasures, and he tells the story of Loki’s children: Hel, who will be the leader of the underworld; Jormungundr, the Midgard Serpent; and Fenrir, the Fenris Wolf. My favorite of the myths in this book is when Thor, Loki and Thialfi journey to the land of the giants, and the giant Utgardaloki challenges each of their strengths. These are just of few of the amazing myths that are retold in this book.
From the story of Odin trading his eye for wisdom to the gods attaining their treasures to the last days of the gods at Ragnarok, Neil Gaiman will captivate you with his retelling of these myths. This quick and enchanting read will leave you with wonderful stories to tell and pass on to anyone interested in the Norse gods.
Put on your jammies, grab your favorite stuffed animal and snuggle up with these new picture books perfect for bedtime.
In Bedtime for Yeti by Vin Vogel, Yeti must put on a brave face at bedtime when he discovers that his favorite stuffed animal is missing. Where could his sidekick be? And is he in danger? Will little Yeti be brave enough to save the day?
Various anthropomorphic animals perform familiar bedtime rituals in A Number Slumber by Suzanne Bloom. Then the alliterative text counts down from 10 (terribly tired tigers) to one (really weary wombat). The pastel illustrations are soft and soothing and evocative of dreaming.
Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton features a simple and repetitive story, with everything from the quietest yawns from the smallest sleepy mice to the mighty yawns of Great Bear. The real pleasure, though, comes from the illustrations. The predominantly pink, purple and blue color palette gets darker as the pages turn and bedtime approaches. The inside cover offers a brief astronomy lesson with its depiction of the solar system and a map of the constellations featuring Ursa Minor and Ursa Major — the namesakes for the story’s Little Bear and Great Bear.
In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln’s youngest son Willie Lincoln was laid to rest. Newspapers from the time report seeing the President visit his son’s crypt in the night to cradle the boy’s body. Departing from this real historical event, Lincoln in the Bardo, MacArthur Fellow George Saunders’ first novel, is a moving journey through the netherworld and a meditation on what it means to love what you cannot hold.
In a Georgetown cemetery, the spirit of Willie Lincoln refuses to move on, instead arriving in a strange place called the “Bardo,” a dizzying state between life and death where the dead refuse to believe that they’re dead. There, spirits replay past events and undergo strange transformations in their struggle to cling to the world. The arrival of Willie upends this delicate world, particularly the visits from his father, who is the first living being the dead have seen in years.
Lincoln in the Bardo is written in a style unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’s narrated by characters who speak in turn like a play, some of whom are from real historical sources such as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and some of whom are ghosts. I found myself re-reading the first few chapters, not quite sure of what I was getting into, but once I adjusted to the unusual style, the novel was accessible, fast-paced and binge-worthy.
Saunders has created a historical novel that flirts with fantasy and sacrifices, features his readers have come to love. Fans of his comic imagination, Vonnegut-esque inventiveness and blunt sensitivity will find his talents are on full display.
Anyone who enjoyed The Underground Railroad’s inventive approach to American history will find much to love, but Lincoln in the Bardo is sure to ensnare adventurous readers of all kinds.
A new Elinor Lipman novel is always a must-read for me, and On Turpentine Lane certainly lived up to expectations. Filled with relatable, funny characters, sharp dialogue and fast-moving stories, Lipman writes wonderful romantic comedies that bring the reader into the world she creates.
Faith Frankel moves from Brooklyn back to her hometown of Everton, Massachusetts, and falls in love with a cupcake of a house on Turpentine Lane. She has a job in fundraising at her alma mater and a solid boyfriend in Stuart. Her life is starting to take shape. But when Stuart leaves for a cross-country hitchhiking expedition, her job is threatened and the police start ripping up her basement looking for bones, her world is torn upside down. Through it all, Faith’s family is supportive, as is her colleague and soon-to-be roommate, Nick.
Elinor has been called the Jane Austen of America and I was thrilled to be able to talk to her about her inspiration, her favorite authors and Colin Firth, who we both agreed was the best Mr. Darcy ever!
Between the Covers: I am so thrilled to be talking to one of my favorite authors! You never disappoint, and On Turpentine Lane was wonderful with sparkling characters, sharp dialogue and laugh-out-loud comedy. Who or what was your inspiration for this novel?
Elinor Lipman: Thank you! The inspiration was a dark, creepy house on my childhood street, in a thicket of overgrown trees and shrubs and weeds — the whole thing looming large in my memory. The owner had been a reclusive widow, always dressed in a long black, witchy dress, rarely seen. I used to cross the street rather than walk past her house and certainly never trick-or-treated there.
Fast forward 40-plus years, and I found out that my best childhood friend had bought the house and had moved in. I was astonished. I was going to write an essay about visiting a house as an adult that had spooked me as a child, but then it struck me as not only a setting for a novel, but a character in the story.
BTC: Faith Frankel is delightful! She’s gutsy and loving, yet honest and sometimes immature. How did Faith come to you? Is she based on anyone you know?
EL: Naïve, yes, but I'd argue with immature in case that made her sound bratty. She's not based on anyone I know. I start with an opening sentence or a line of dialogue and then develop the character as I go along. She's her own person…though probably has a lot of me in her.
BTC: Your dialogue in this one, as in all of your novels, is snappy and smart and your supporting characters are quirky, realistic and well-developed. Are the dialogue or characters based on real conversations or people?
EL: That's a hard one to answer because while dialogue isn't based on real conversations or people, I'm always trying to make it sound right, natural, crisp. No speechifying. No planting information in the dialogue. I don't want everyone to sound the same, and since Faith is half my age, I ran a few expressions by younger people. (One I remember was "didn't sleep a wink." Was that from another era? My son said no, it's fine.)
I'm constantly paring sentences down and following something David Mamet said, quoting the screenwriter William Goldman: "Get into a scene as late as possible and leave it as early as possible." To me, that means cut out the "hello, how are you?" and the "okay, good-bye, see you next time." Sometimes I cover the opening dialogue with my hand to see how far and late I can start an exchange.
BTC: Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’re working on next?
EL: Sure. I'm more than half-way through, and it centers around a heavily notated high school yearbook that a woman bequeaths to her daughter. Why was the original owner so obsessed with this class? Complications ensue! No title yet.
BTC: Were you always a reader? What was your favorite book as a child? Who are some of your favorite contemporary novelists?
EL: Yes, always a huge reader, especially as a child, aided by the no-TV-on-school-nights rule. I re-read my favorites literally dozens of times. Most beloved was Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. I adored Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna and read every Nancy Drew.
Contemporary favorites: Stephen McCauley, Anita Shreve, Maria Semple, Stacy Schiff, Jill McCorkle, Laura Lippman, Tom Perrotta, Maggie O'Farrell, Philip Roth. I love memoirs; two recent ones I flipped over (as audio books) are Trevor Noah's Born a Crime and All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen.
BTC: I know your first novel Then She Found Me was made into a charming movie starring Helen Hunt and Colin Firth. First, did you get to meet Colin Firth? How was the process of having your book turned into a movie? Are any of your other novels being made into movies? Who would be your dream cast if On Turpentine Lane was made into a movie?
EL: I didn't get to meet Colin Firth — the only star of Then She Found Me I didn't meet!
I loved having the book made into a movie, even though the plot departed greatly from the novel. I'd been prepared for that. "Think of it as a movie based on a character suggested by the novel," a Hollywood-savvy friend told me. (I wrote about the experience in my essay collection, I Can't Complain.) It took 19 years from first bite, the option, to the screen in 2008, so I was very inclined to love it.
My dream cast for On Turpentine Lane would be Emma Stone and Mark Ruffulo…well, Mark Ruffulo at 35. Or how about if Jessica Chastain turns to romantic comedy? She lives in my building, and I'm going to give her a signed copy ASAP.
Rani Patel In Full Effect is the debut young adult novel by author and child psychologist Sonia Patel, a resident of Hawaii and devout hip-hop enthusiast born to Gujarati parents. The novel follows the life of Rani Patel, a teenager living on the island of Molokaʻi with her mother and father. Rani is similarly devoted to '80s and '90s hip-hop music and shares much of the author’s background and heritage, but even with all of the obvious similarities, Rani is a fully developed character in her own right and should not be written off by readers as a “self-insert” author proxy. We see her grow and change over the course of the book, and to say that Rani Patel In Full Effect chronicles a tumultuous period of the titular character’s life would be putting it mildly. At times, the events and subject matter are downright unsettling — which is important.
Rani Patel is not a typical young adult novel protagonist. She isn’t white, to begin with, or shoe-horned into any particular high school caste, or fighting to save the world. Patel’s novel is, at its core, about trauma, and she does an outstanding job depicting the realities of recovery, if not the time frame. This book pulls no punches, and I respect the hell out of that and enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Sonia Patel is clearly interested in talking about the realities of being a teenager — not an adult’s notion of what that means — and the end product is dark. Very, very dark. But so is that reality, sometimes. Yet through music and the love and support of friends and family, Rani learns how to express what she’s gone through and finally acknowledge that her feelings and fears are valid.
And don’t get me wrong, this book isn’t all darkness. In addition to a cast of characters as culturally rich and diverse as Hawaii itself, Sonia Patel’s narrative is sprinkled through with '90s hip-hop slang and native Hawaiian phrases that let the reader play interpreter (supported by a helpful glossary, of course), and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the poetry and raps that Rani labors over for the entirety of the novel. I would love to see Sonia Patel, who raps herself, drop the Rani Patel mixtape in the future, but the words stand on their own merit on the page and the author’s detailed description of every beat laid down by “DJ Skittles” make it easy for the reader to transport themselves to the pavilion at Pala’au State Park where Rani’s crew performs.
Rani Patel In Full Effect is a refreshing and important addition to the culture of YA novels as a whole. It covers so many bases and demographics normally marginalized by the mainstream that I don’t even know where to begin. Rani herself is an Indo-American teenager, acutely aware of her own sexuality, whose life has been defined by men her entire life, just like her mother and grandmother before her. She fights for native Hawaiian rights with her friends and she strives to be the first woman in her family to get an M.D. Interwoven with Rani’s story, Sonia Patel writes about the crystal meth epidemic that has plagued Hawaii for decades and decries a toxic tourist culture that preys on residents. As far as first books go, Rani Patel In Full Effect is a knockout. You can learn more about Sonia Patel’s writing endeavors and work in child psychology at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, where she will occasionally grace her followers with clips of her rap skills and sick dance moves.
For some, having magic run in your family would be pretty cool; you could heal injuries, conjure light and even talk to the dead. But for Alex, who watched magic drive away her father and distort her memories of her favorite aunt, magic is nothing but trouble and pain. Seeking to escape her family’s struggles, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her magic. But in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, rejecting the gifts of your ancestors comes with horrific consequences, and Alex is going to have to work very hard to fix her mistake if she ever wants to see her family again.
The trouble begins on Alex’s Deathday, the day her entire family (living and dead) gather to bestow their blessings on a bruja, or witch, newly come into her power. When Alex damages the cantos they were performing, she calls an entity known as the Devourer, who then steals her family away. To rescue them, Alex will have to journey to the world of Los Lagos, an in-between limbo where nothing is what it seems, accompanied by Rishi, her best friend, and an untrustworthy brujo named Nova. There, she’ll have to face horrific monsters, powerful curses and her own painful memories as she begins to understand not only her role as one of the most powerful bruja in a generation, but also her place in the long tradition of her family.
Córdova expertly blends Latin American traditions, Latinx culture and urban fantasy to create a fresh, richly detailed story filled with diverse characters, but Labyrinth Lost isn’t just about magic. Alex’s physical journey may take her through the twisted wonderland of Los Lagos, but her emotional journey requires her to work through her fears and anger in learning to accept her family’s love and acceptance.
Fans of the book should know this is the first of the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy, although there’s no publication date yet for the second book. Readers who enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone or When the Moon Was Ours should consider giving Labyrinth Lost a try.