In The Immortal Nicholas by Glenn Beck, a simple farmer named Agios supplements his meager earnings by harvesting precious frankincense. Following a series of tragic events, he gives up on life and wanders aimlessly, numbing his sorrow with alcohol. When he meets Caspar who is searching for frankincense, Agios’ life is changed forever as he starts on a journey to meet the newborn baby that Caspar and his friends, Melchior and Balthazar, are seeking in the town of Bethlehem. Soon Agios learns that this child, Jesus, is destined to be the King of Kings, and he feels compelled to protect Jesus and his parents as they try to avoid capture by the evil King Herod.
Beck’s premise for this book is to try and give Santa Claus a Christ-centered reason for being. Agios represents Santa but he is more of a misguided soul doomed to wander eternally through the world than the jolly man most of us know. Until Agios fulfills his mission, he remains immortal and goes through many personal tragedies. While he does eventually change his name to Nicholas and begin handing out gifts to deserving people, the core of the story is about Agios and his struggle to find meaning in life.
The historical portrayal of Biblical era life seems accurate and even compelling, but the story is not a warm and fuzzy Christmas tale for children. Beck is aiming at adults here, and trying to bring the message of Christ into Christmas without the typical commercialization of the holiday season. Whether or not you are a fan of Beck, The Immortal Nicholas is an interesting alternative to traditional holiday stories.
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If you’ve read every rendition of The Night Before Christmas and you know every line of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express, you might be looking for something different this holiday season. Here are just a few new picture books featuring some familiar characters.
In his third adventure, The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas written by Laura Murray and illustrated by Mike Lowery, the Gingerbread Man and his classmates prepare songs, cards and treats to show their appreciation for their neighbors and community helpers. Drama ensues during the delivery of gifts when the weather suddenly turns windy and snowy and the class returns to school…without the Gingerbread Man! With his icing dripping and his legs doughy, will he still be able to deliver his Christmas gift to a very special person?
In The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish written by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna, the pout-pout fish is gloomy because he has procrastinated his holiday shopping, and still needs to find gifts for all his friends. The gifts must be perfect in every way— big, bright and meaningful, with a little bit of bling. First, he is overwhelmed by choices, and then all the stores close, leaving Mr. Fish wondering how he will find all his just-right gifts before the Christmas party. This holiday-under-the-sea is a beautifully illustrated variation of the typical White Christmas setting.
When Santa Claus arrives at the castle with presents on Christmas Eve, three knights mistake him for an intruder and are determined to keep him out in The Knights Before Christmas written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Scott Magoon. Santa Claus is just as determined to reward the knights for their chivalrous deeds, and launches their goodies over the castle wall using a Christmas tree as a catapult. This book is a fresh and enjoyable take on the original poem, and the detailed illustrations filled with speech bubbles and puns will require several re-reads to appreciate all the humor.
Jim Kokoris’ It’s. Nice. Outside. is a road trip novel unlike any other. Fifty-something John Nichols (former college basketball player, high school English teacher and author) is on his way from the Chicago suburbs to his oldest daughter's wedding in South Carolina in a minivan. His companion? His developmentally disabled, autistic 19-year-old son Ethan who is afraid to fly.
The family is fraught with issues. Nichols is divorced, due to an affair with a wildly inappropriate woman (he blames it on the stress of parenting a special needs son). Now that woman is repeatedly calling again out of nowhere. Despite this, he still loves his ex-wife and holds out hope of reconciliation. Meanwhile, no one likes his daughter's husband-to-be. His middle daughter, a famous sketch comedian, has been feuding with her older sister and may not show up for the wedding.
Nichols makes his way south, using up his frequent stay points at Marriott properties that have pools (swimming calms Ethan) and eating at Cracker Barrels (Ethan likes routine). All the while, he’s trying to sort out what happens next in life for both him and his son. A trio of stuffed bears along for the ride provides Nichols with a cathartic outlet, as he runs them through outrageous comic routines tailored to entertain himself as much as they do Ethan.
Kokoris does a great job fleshing out believable, empathetic characters as he portrays the dysfunctional family dynamic. He shows sensitivity in his depiction of Ethan while spotlighting the everyday challenges of parenting a special needs adult. This novel is both laugh out loud funny and poignant, and will appeal to readers who enjoy books by Jonathan Tropper or Jonathan Evison.
Publishers seem to be making a real effort to create informative books for kids that are beautifully crafted and truly spark imagination. Wide Eyed Editions are among the best, and they have recently released two atlases that are great for aspiring explorers.
Rachel Williams’ Atlas of Adventures takes readers around the world to experience different places, cultures and events. Giant illustrations done by Lucy Letherland invite readers to dive into exotic locales while interesting captions give facts and short descriptions of each unique experience. Every full-page spread offers a tantalizing peek into another culture. Choose from pages such as “Go to sleep under the Northern Lights”, “Learn to steer a gondola in Venice,” “River raft down the Grand Canyon” or “Set the world aglow at Hong Kong’s Lantern Festival.” The editors have captured some of the most fascinating events around the globe and made them wonderfully accessible. The adventures are organized by continent, and each section begins with a map of the continent showing important places as well as each adventurous destination. Readers can leisurely explore one continent at a time or jump from Paris to the Great Pyramids with a flip of the page. At the end, there is a collection of things and people to go back and search for in the illustrations.
The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan is another wonderful atlas for children from the same publisher. This book shows children “the story” of each state and is fascinating even for readers who aren’t usually drawn to history or geography. It is a perfect balance of fun and fundamental kinds of facts accompanied by eye-catching illustrations. Maps include geographic information like borders and bodies of water, but they also include inspiring people, landmarks, “regional spotlights” for things you just don’t find anywhere else and historical moments that made each state what it is today. The book inspires an interest in the natural world by highlighting state parks, battlefields, reservations and national forests. It is easily accessible but still manages to give readers an idea of the personality of each state.
Readers who enjoy these will like other Wide Eyed Editions, such as Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska or This Is the World: A Global Treasury by Mirosalv Sasek.
The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs is the output of more than two decades of Tristan Gooley’s experience being in tune with the land and helping others learn to do the same. Sometimes I question Gooley’s sense — like when he gets himself lost in an abandoned underground slate mine — but I cannot question his fortitude or his know-how. When stuck in the aforementioned abandoned slate mine, he was resourceful and used the “dip” of the rocks underground to find his way. For those with no idea what “dip” is, or how to use it, he explains in a way that anyone can understand. Obviously, he found his way out, or he would not have been able to write this book. His techniques must work.
Lost Art is at times laugh out loud funny, but Gooley has all the gravitas of any scientist when he is explaining the finer points of how not to die in the wild — even something as simple as figuring out how to tell when approaching civilization. He explains all of his how not to die lessons in language that is easy to understand and fun to read. His love for the wonders of the world around him bleeds through the page. Soon, the reader will be locating tracks of mice and deer, and they, too, will feel his passion for the glory of the natural world.
This book is a must for any fan of the outdoors. Gooley’s passion for wonder and knowledge is infectious. Also look out for his previous book, The Natural Navigator, in which Gooley explains how to find one’s way just by using the world around them.
Attention all Captain America fans, Falcon fans, Marvel fans and fans of superheroes! Just in case you didn’t get the memo, I am pleased to inform you or remind you that there is a new captain in town that is ready and able to lay a smack down on members of Team Hydra with his handy-dandy red, white and blue shield. With that said, I present to you Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon, who was chosen by his trusted friend and colleague Steve Rogers to become the new Captain America. This story can be found in the Marvel Now series, All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant with Rick Remender as the writer and Stuart Immonen as the penciler.
So, how exactly does Sam fare as the new red, white and blue hero? Pretty good. Sam is on a mission to save the world. Steve Rogers, who no longer looks youthful after being restored to his natural old age, sends Sam off to stop Hydra, an international subversive organization, from carrying out a terrorist attack. Hydra’s current goal is to make the world secure for themselves by preventing overpopulation by any means necessary. They hope to accomplish this task by spreading across the U.S. a child’s blood that contains a pervasive toxin capable of making people infertile. This is a personal problem for Sam because not only does he wants to make the world a safe place, but he also wants to start his own family. While Sam battles his foes, he also battles what people think of him and what his parents would think of him if they were alive. In the All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant, Sam contests against members of the New Hydra: Sin, the daughter of Red Skull; Zemo; Batroc; Crossbones and Baron Blood. However, Sam does not fight solo. Fighting by his side are: his partner Redwing; sidekick Nomad, who happens to be Steve Rogers’ adopted son, and Misty Knight, who claims to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Does Sam complete his mission? Does Hydra succeed? Does Sam get sterilized by the toxin to prevent him from having his own family? Read the All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant to find out what happens. There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end. Therefore, if you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to stay tuned for more of the All-New Captain America. Visit Marvel.com to check out the latest news on your favorite characters, comics and graphic novels.
New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy is back with her second teen novel, Dumplin', in which she explores self-esteem and body image against the backdrop of a small Texas town and its popular teen pageant.
Willowdean Dickson is fat and happy in her skin. For as long as she can remember, her former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet mother has called her "Dumplin'" and has made suggestions about her appearance in what she thought was a helpful way. Her support system exists in her best friend Ellen, their shared love of Dolly Parton and her resilience.
With Ellen working at a Forever 21-esque clothing store and spending time with her boyfriend, Willowdean takes a job at a popular fast food place called Harpy's. There, she meets Bo, a somewhat brooding and very hot guy who goes to a different high school. What happens when you are comfortable and confident in your own skin and then a guy you like starts paying attention to you? When Bo reciprocates Willowdean's interest, she starts to feel inadequate and experiences self-doubt. Still, the two of them can't resist the magnetic pull between them, even though Willowdean's doubts and Bo's baggage prevent the pair from really getting to know each other. Things begin to unravel further for her when Bo transfers to her high school and she becomes overwhelmed with the thoughts and comments of others, real and imagined. Guys like Bo don't date girls like her. To make matters worse, their romance doesn't extend from Harpy's to school.
But if you're Willowdean Dickson, you decide to regain your confidence and screw-what-others-think attitude by entering the most important competition in your small Texas town: the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. At the same time, she and Ellen have a falling out with each other, unlikely pageant candidates gravitate towards her and she ends whatever this thing with Bo is.
Dumplin' is about losing and regaining confidence in oneself no matter what one looks like and relationships between mothers and daughters, best friends and love interests. Willowdean will make readers feel all the feels. Fans of Murphy's New York Times best seller Side Effects May Vary and strong female characters will gravitate towards Dumplin'.
December 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and three new books celebrate his legacy. Ol’ Blue Eyes remains an iconic figure in American culture with his mystique enduring long after his death in 1998.
Sinatra the Chairman by James Kaplan is a detailed examination of the life and career of this legendary performer. By delving into his complex relationships and prolific career, Kaplan exposes the multi-faceted layers that made this man —singer, actor, mogul, friend and lover. This is the follow-up to 2010’s Frank: The Voice and picks up in 1954, after Sinatra won an Academy Award and was firmly re-entrenched as a top selling recording artist.
Award-winning author Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters was first published in 1999 and is being re-issued in time for the anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, along with a new introduction from the author. This book serves as both a unique homage and an insightful portrait of a complex man. Hamill’s beautifully written portrait brings to life a man whose entertaining touched so many generations.
Frank & Ava: In Love and War by John Brady fully explores this volatile relationship which shaped both their lives. Ava had two short-lived marriages behind her and a succession of high profile suitors when she and Frank met. The spark was instantaneous and the two began a tempestuous affair, despite Frank’s marriage which ended soon after in divorce. Frank and Ava’s subsequent marriage was a series of fights, separations and reconciliations which ultimately ended in divorce. Despite the not-so-happy ending, Brady’s exploration of this glamorous couple is compelling. Gossip columnist Liz Smith said of this duo, "If I had to go back in Hollywood history and name two people who were most desperately and passionately in love with each other, I would say Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were it."
Want more? Check out this list of music, movies and more books featuring the Chairman of the Board.
Be wary of the kind stranger that invites you into their home because they just might try to hurt you. This is one of the many lessons that you will learn from Mary Kubica's novel, Pretty Baby.
On a cold, rainy day in Chicago, Heidi Wood stands on a train platform awaiting the arrival of the Brown Line to take her home. While waiting, she notices a mysterious, frazzled teenage girl drenched in rain and feels sorry for her. The girl calls herself “Willow” and, although she is without an umbrella, a decent coat or a place to call home, she is not alone. Willow has Ruby, her baby girl, tucked inside her coat to keep her warm and protect her from the rain. After Heidi spots Willow and Ruby at the train station a few more times, she realizes that they are in desperate need of help. She invites them into her home without the approval of her husband, Chris, and her 12-year-old daughter, Zoe. By inviting the strangers into her home, the charitable Heidi slowly reveals her dark side. Furthermore, Heidi accidentally opens up her old wounds that never healed properly and she manages to damage her marriage to Chris and her relationship with her daughter.
Pretty Baby touches on many topics, such as foster care, adoption, homelessness, teenage parenting, abortion, cancer, infidelity, post-traumatic stress disorder, bereavement, child abuse, rape and murder. Although Pretty Baby has a slow start, it picks up the pace as it goes. Kubica kept my interest to the very end and raised tons of questions — such as “Just who is Willow?” I liken Pretty Baby to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because it also has a husband and wife point of view.
Author Mary Kubica is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller The Good Girl. Pretty Baby is her second novel. To learn more about the author, visit her website.