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.
Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies tells the story of Peggy Fitzroy who was orphaned as a child and has lived with her Uncle and Aunt Pierpont and her beloved cousin Olivia ever since. At 16, her Uncle Pierpont announces that she is to marry Sebastian, the second son of Lord Sandford, and a much desired husband by her peers. Peggy is dismayed at the news but reluctantly agrees, despite never having met Sebastian. When they do meet at the social event of the season, he tries to assault her, and she is saved by a man named Mr. Tinderflint. Tinderflint tells her that he once knew her mother and implores her to take a post at the court that he has arranged for her. She refuses and runs back to the party. When Sebastian demands an apology the next day, she refuses and calls off the engagement, leading her uncle to kick her out of his house.
Left with no other options, Peggy remembers Mr. Tinderflint’s offer and decides to pay him a visit. When she reaches his address, she finds out that his offer is more complicated than it initially seemed. Her job is to assume the identity of the deceased Lady Francesca Wallingham, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Francesca, one of Princess Caroline’s maids of honor, and a spy for Tinderflint and his associates Mr. Peele and Mrs. Abbott, passed away while visiting her home, leaving them without their spy at court. After enough training to portray Francesca, Peggy sets off for Hampton Court where she begins to question whether the real Lady Francesca Wallingham died of natural causes, as she was told, or if the lady was murdered. As she investigates Francesca’s demise and the loyalties of the court, readers are treated to a captivating mystery filled with intrigue, suspense and romance.
It may be as cold as Hoth out there, but Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us, and you want to make sure that you're ready to explore those strange, new worlds of romance. Whether you are a comic book fan, a gamer or a techno-nerd, it’s time to stop being a n00b when it comes to your love life and “boldly go where no geek has gone before!” The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith is a great walkthrough guide to help you navigate the dating scene and avoid an epic fail. While most of the book is written for the geek guy, there is still plenty of pertinent information for the geek with XX chromosomes.
From selecting your character to first contact and all the way to the boss level, Smith will give you the cheat codes and troubleshooting tips to help make that first date result in a sequel. Have no fear if you crash and burn, sometimes the princess is in the other castle. You will also learn valuable tips on how to respawn without losing XP. Filled with colorful eight-bit illustrations and loads of geek culture references, this book is a fun read for geeks of all ages — even if you've already found the droid you were looking for!
Tales from the Holy Land, the new collection of short stories from Baltimore’s own Rafael Alvarez, former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and writer for Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, is equal parts time machine and atlas. The stories are set in Baltimore, but a Baltimore that both no longer exists, yet still lingers on in memories. As Alvarez’s characters make their way through the world, we get an intimate view of the landmarks, both physical and cultural, that made up Old Baltimore and haunt the new Baltimore like a legacy forgotten by a city unsure if it's on the rise or in the final stages of its demise.
The characters in this collection will be familiar to fans of Alvarez’s earlier works, and they are as welcome as old friends. Much like the physical landmarks that are so often prominent, these characters are highly representative of the many cultural backgrounds that made up Old Baltimore. Tales from the Holy Land is, in that way, like an atlas, denoting the patchwork of tribes — Poles, Italians, Slovaks, Germans, African-Americans, Irish, Jews, Spaniards, Greeks and all the rest — that made up the city, lived side by side and worked hard every day of their lives. Alvarez has written a paean to these people, to their cultures, their beliefs and to the incredible food that they brought with them and readily shared with their neighbors. Food is a common theme in these tales, and the sweet aromas of the dishes waft off the pages.
Alvarez’s stories are often bittersweet and dark, raw and gritty. They marvel at the monsters — crime, poverty and prejudice — which so quickly overtook a great American metropolis and sent waves of people streaming out to the suburbs. This is clearly a very personal book, intended for a mature audience. If you have wandered the bones of this city and wondered what lies beneath, then the place to start your excavation is Tales from the Holy Land.
The North Point Branch of BCPL is pleased to host Rafael Alvarez as he begins his tour for Tales from the Holy Land. Join us for an author talk and book signing on Thursday, January 16 at 7:00 p.m.
Pastry chef Serafina Wilde is a hot mess. Reeling from the cruelties of her celebrity chef ex and struggling to rebuild her reputation in the cutthroat New York City catering world, she escapes to Santa Fe to lend support to her free-spirited Aunt Pauline. So begins Bliss by Hilary Fields, a yummy debut about picking up the pieces and starting over in a place far from the epicenter of your past troubles.
Aunt Pauline has always filled many roles in Serafina’s life, including guardian when a teenaged Serafina lost her parents. Now Aunt Pauline needs her too, as she has just experienced the loss of her partner Hortencia. In Santa Fe, Pauline is offering Serafina the opportunity of a professional lifetime — to turn her business, “Pauline’s House of Passion,” into a bakery. There’s only one condition: the unconventional Pauline, who in the 1970s started an offshoot of the women’s lib movement, is determined to keep her back room of sex toys and all things Kama Sutra, suggesting to Serafina that it could be a business of both “sinful desserts and earthly delights.” Why not? As Serafina begins to rebuild her life and rediscover love, she learns that being a nonconformist in “City Different” has its perks.
Fans of Beth Harbison or Emily Giffin will love this wacky tale full of laugh-out-loud moments, mouthwatering descriptions of food and a carefree setting of well-developed quirky characters. Perfect as a remedy to post-holiday stress, or as a fun way to ease into the new year. Fields’ message is clear: Happiness awaits those who follow their bliss.
Last year was an incredibly good year for fantasy novels, especially debut authors. Django Wexler’s first book, The Thousand Names, was one of the best of the year. Like Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, this is another “flintlock fantasy,” a subgenre where the historical context is much later than the typical Medieval/Renaissance setting, with muskets and artillery replacing swords and bows. The Thousand Names is set in a world much like Victorian Britain and, in this first in a series, the location is an analogue for Egypt under British colonial rule. Just as the Mahdi’s Revolt and religious reawakening threatened British rule in Egypt, the Redeemer Rebellion in Khandar has pushed the Vordanai Colonial Regiment to the sea. The Old Colonials hang on to a miserable spit of land awaiting evacuation, instead they get reinforcement in the form of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a character equal parts Field Marshall Wellington, General “Chinese” Gordon and Yoda. Vhalnich hasn’t come to organize a retreat, nor is his primary objective the re-conquest of Khandar, but something else entirely.
This incredibly well written military fantasy/adventure novel, full of deadly deserts and marauding horseman, harkens back to books like Beau Geste by Percival Wren and The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason and movies like Khartoum. It also breaks new ground in powerful female protagonists in gender-defying roles and romances. There are no damsels in distress here, as they are too busy putting cold steel to their enemies. Wexler has created a world that he can expand to a global setting or narrow to focus on court intrigue, as his next book seems to do. More importantly, the court intrigue and the excellently detailed battles never take primacy over character development. Waxler has given us a band of brothers — and sisters — that have depth and motivation, and are compelling to read about. The magic use in the book builds slowly and organically until the climatic end, which is a scene fit for the big screen. The Thousand Names delivers on all its promise and shows how a good fantasy novel can shake up old tropes and borrow and improve on tropes from other types of literature. It will leave you wondering why the second book isn’t already in your hands.
The son of two famous stage magicians, Max Flash is himself a great escape artist, contortionist and illusionist. These very qualities prompt his parents’ true employer, the Department for Extraordinary Activity (DFEA) to recruit him for a special assignment. In Game On, Max’s first mission is to close the portal between the video game world (Virtuals’ world) and the real world (Gamers’ world) before the Virtuals take over. With the use of a special USB gadget, Max is thrust into the Virtual world via a computer hard drive. His task is to locate the escaped Virtual, Deezil, and close the portal between the two worlds. As he travels from game to game looking for the portal and the evil Deezil, Max must avoid race cars, battle centurions and flee farmers in his quest to save the Gamer world. Relying only on his own cunning and special skills (and some nifty gadgets from the DFEA), Max defies death and suppresses the Virtual uprising before returning home.
The first in the Max Flash series by Jonny Zucker, Game On is a fast paced adventure and the start of a fabulous series for young readers. Max’s further missions will have him battling aliens in space, robots in a parallel universe, an Egyptian curse, and mysterious beings in the Antarctic. With original stories, a likable hero and short, action-filled chapters, Max Flash is an all-around great read. Fans of the television series Phineas and Ferb will enjoy this series for its quirky storylines and action-packed heroic adventures.
P. G. Wodehouse is well-known for his dry wit and ability to make readers laugh out loud. His Jeeves and Wooster series has spawned plays, movies and, most notably, a TV series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Fortunately, the series also inspired Sebastian Faulks to pen Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, based on the adventures of the hapless Bertram Wooster and his ‘gentlemen’s personal gentleman’ Jeeves.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Faulks gives enough detail in his story to get a good sense of backstory for Bertie and Jeeves. Wooster as the narrator is, well, perhaps not the most intellectually astute person, but one with a definite charm and sweetness that helps to soften the insipidity of the situations into which he often blunders. In the very stratified British class system, Bertie is a public- school-educated, old-money-type, with plenty of titled gentry amongst his relations and friends. Jeeves is ostensibly a servant, but he is much more than that to Bertie – and to everyone else he encounters. Head and shoulders above those he serves, Jeeves is the one who Bertie and most of his circle turn to when faced with crises of any kind.
The best thing about this new installment is that Faulks has emulated the characters so well that even a true admirer of Wodehouse will be impressed with the attention to detail here. The plot consists of Jeeves through a typically ‘Woosterian’ series of mistakes being forced to impersonate Lord Etringham in order to keep the peace among the aristocracy and to assist Bertie from accidentally becoming entangled with yet another well-heeled-yet-horrid debutante. As always, Bertie’s efforts to assist Jeeves in his orderly plans cause further complications, but the reader knows that Jeeves will set everything right in the end.
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is a sheer delight for those who have mourned the lack of Wodehouse- level writing since his death in 1975. There is no indication whether Faulks intends to continue writing further adventures with Jeeves and Wooster, but we can all hope that he does.