An American woman’s journey from embassy secretary to African royalty is this year’s choice for the One Maryland One Book selection. King Peggy: An American Secretary, her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How she Changed an African Village chronicles the story of Peggielene Bartels of Silver Spring, Maryland, who learns in 2008 she is the new king of Otuam, a poor Ghanaian fishing village of 7,000. This book was previously reviewed on Between the Covers last year.
Now in its sixth year, the Maryland Humanities Council program brings people together from across the state through a shared reading experience, book-centered discussions and other programming. A calendar of free public events will be available on the MHC website this summer. Last year’s book, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, attracted almost 7,000 readers in Maryland’s only statewide book club.
Isabella Hendemore, now Lady Trent, has had an adventuresome, successful, and often harrowing life researching the lives and habits of the mysterious, dangerous dragons that dwell across the world. Though she has written many books on the subject, rumors and speculation abound about her journeys to far-flung mountaintops and desert plains in search of these elusive creatures. But Lady Trent has finally written her memoirs, and boy are they exciting. The first volume, A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent, is the beginning of a new series by fantasy author Marie Brennan set in a world where dragons are just another type of exotic creature to be studied, hunted, captured and exploited. As a child, Isabella is entranced by the small dragon-like sparklings in her garden, even though natural history is not considered a proper subject of study for young ladies. Her obsession with discovering more about dragons only grows as she matures into adulthood and gets married. When the opportunity to study dragons firsthand arises, she and her husband set out on a thrilling and groundbreaking expedition that carries a deadly cost.
As with her previous Onyx Court series, Brennan excels at breathing life into her characters and settings. She looks beyond this first book, casting out storylines that will intrigue readers to follow the adventures in later novels. So hold on to your bonnets, dust off your microscope, and get ready to dig into Brennan’s new fantastical world in A Natural History of Dragons.
Dr. Cyrus Mills returns to Eden Falls, Vermont and the Bedside Manor for Sick Animals in The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout. Bedside Manor was Cyrus’ father’s veterinary practice and with the passing of his dad, Cyrus is the freshly-minted owner. However, Cyrus, who was long-estranged from his father, wants to sell the old place to a national chain and get back to his life. He doesn’t even practice veterinary medicine, but prefers the isolation of his career as a vet pathologist. Cyrus also needs fast money and plans on using the proceeds from the sale to help him defend against potentially career-ending litigation at home in Charleston. Plans change when Cyrus realizes the Bedside Manor is in financial trouble and he is given one week to prove that the practice could be a profitable investment. During this week, Cyrus cares for a variety of household pets and finds himself reconnecting with his former community and the crazy cast of characters who populate the small town. But not everyone is happy to see Cyrus and at least one banker and an anonymous blackmailer have set him in their crosshairs.
During the course of the week, Cyrus’ personality changes as he learns to open up to the people who are supporting him in his endeavor to turn the practice around. He is also forced to face some truths from his past, including new information about his mother and father. Nick Trout is a veterinary surgeon who has written best-selling memoirs about his experiences caring for animals. In his first novel, he offers a well-written, fast-moving, entertaining tale populated with plenty of unique two and four-legged characters. Ultimately, this is the story of one man and the dramatic way his life changes once he opens his heart and lets people and animals into his world.
In Last Days by Adam Nevill, we are introduced to the Temple of the Last Days, a severe apocalyptic cult started in England and led by the enigmatic Sister Katherine. She began as a visionary, but soon detached herself to the life as a recluse, surrounding herself with her favorite acolytes and treating the remaining cult members with reproach and disgust. The cult traveled from England to a farmhouse in France, and eventually ended up in Arizona where Sister Katherine wound up beheaded and several members committed suicide.
Years have passed but interest and speculation about the cult never ended. Enter Max Solomon, CEO of Revelation Productions and general new age guru, who wants to make a documentary on the Temple of the Last Days. He enlists a young filmmaker named Kyle who is well known in the indie film business for making gritty, realistic films on paranormal topics. Kyle, heavy in debt, agrees. Max sets up filming locations and connects him with members of the cult who were lucky enough to escape its clutches before it landed in Arizona. Kyle soon realizes that these living remains of the cult are broken souls, and reliving past days will not be easy for them. During filming, strange things begin to happen, from unexplained footsteps on the floor above to unexplained noises coming from basements below. There is talk of presences, but no one can explain what or who these presences might be. Kyle is skeptical until he begins to see shapes in the darkness, shapes carved into the very walls themselves. And then the former members begin to die.
Last Days is a gripping read, well detailed and full of interesting characters. The book creates an eerie atmosphere that will have the reader looking over their shoulder while making sure the lights are on. Fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz will enjoy this new voice in contemporary horror.
Timing could not have been better for John Thavis's entertaining and candid new book, The Vatican Diaries: a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church. While the long-time journalist stirs in lighter, less sacrosanct moments about life in and out of the Apostolic Palace, there is serious discussion of many aspects of this Vatican City-State visited by millions each year.
Nearly three decades of experience covering the Holy See for Catholic News Service has provided the recently retired Rome Bureau Chief with a heap of material on the men in red. In ten highly readable chapters, Thavis traverses more territory in “arguably the world’s most hierarchical organization” than on his motorino throughout this ancient city. Intriguing chapter headings, like “Hemlines and Banana Peels” and “Cat and Mouse,” provide a fascinating peek at the culture behind the headlines. In a chapter called simply “Bones,” Thavis highlights the difficulty of protecting and conserving the plethora of antiquities that come out of the ground while moving forward with modern development as mundane as a parking garage. Thavis calls it the “politics of the bones.”
No subjects are off limits either, as the Minnesota native seems to have witnessed it all firsthand. He takes on the sexual abuse scandals and other controversies swirling around papal decisions, including provocative observations on the last two popes. Lighter subjects, too, are explored, including free-speaking priests who get into trouble and the mindset of Vatican protocol where things shouldn't go wrong but often do. Even bell ringing has its own challenges. There is chapter on it. Thavis dispels the myth of "Vatican secrecy" in his introduction. "More than 3,000 people work in the Vatican's administrative machine, and many of them will share information if given the opportunity," he says. It is fortunate for readers that Thavis has opened up his reporter's notebooks.
Eddie Huang is co-owner of the hugely successful Baohaus, a Taiwanese bun shop in New York’s East Village. Fresh off the Boat, his provocative new memoir, is a refreshingly current take on the immigrant story and a very funny book. Huang recounts his upbringing in Orlando, Florida. He attended a mostly white school, struggling to stay true to his Taiwanese culture, while also wanting to fit in. For his school lunch, his mother usually prepared a home-cooked Taiwanese meal. He didn’t want food that smelled or looked any different from that of his peers. He talked his mom into allowing him to take the processed pre-packed meals and juice boxes.
He describes going into wealthy white homes where the kids had so many toys, he didn’t know what to play with first. He does not shy away from his tough upbringing but maintains a light, irreverent tone, no matter the subject. In time, he came to embrace his own culture. He is proud of his Asian-American background but refuses to be anything but himself. He criticizes Hollywood’s emasculated version of Asian-American men, loves partying, hip-hop, basketball and football.
Throughout Huang’s life, his love of food remains constant and his passion for food culture is infectious. Equally infectious is Huang’s humor, perhaps best captured in the audiobook version. Huang is the narrator and his hip, street-smart humor comes off best in his distinct Brooklyn accent. Besides audiobook listeners, Fresh Off the Boat will also find fans among memoir readers, pop-culture enthusiasts and foodies.
Where is your liver? What does the larynx do? Are molars made from moles? If we have 12 billion brain cells, how come we still step in puddles so often? Human anatomy and physiology is fast and funny and goofy and gross in What Body Part is That? Nonfiction with lots of humor is not only fun to read, but may cause our brain to absorb facts better. Research has shown “bizarre elaboration” to have a significant positive effect on retention, especially of vocabulary. Let’s let author Andy Griffiths demonstrate bizarre elaboration: “Your esophagus is the tube that food travels through in order to get to your stomach. Other easier-to-pronounce names for the esophagus are food funnel, nutrient hose, provisions pipe, chow spout, hamburger highway, taco tunnel, and sausage chute.”
Each two-page spread features a couple of paragraphs of text on a body part, a fun fact sidebar, and a full-page illustration. Special features include “How to Walk in 15 Easy Steps,” “Amazing Things People Can Do with Their Bodies,” and “Body Part and Body Part-Related Superheroes” (including Mucusgirl, Spleenboy, and Bladderwoman – don’t ask!) This book, by the author of such laugh classics as The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow, claims to be “99.9% fact free,” but even that statement is not entirely accurate – readers will remember lots about the body once they’ve read this profusely illustrated, super-silly fun-fest.
What do kids like to read? Here’s a chance to find out as kids are the ones who count in the annual Children's Choice Book Awards. This is the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by children and teens of all ages. Finalists have been selected and voting is open now! Teachers, librarians, and booksellers can compile votes from their young readers, but this is one award all about the children.
There are five finalists each for author of the year and illustrator of the year, and these nominees cross all age levels. Additionally, there are five finalists in four separate grade levels (K-2, 3-4, 5-6, and teen) for book of the year. Approximately 20,000 children and teens from across the country read numerous titles before selecting these finalists. Many of the nominees were featured on Between the Covers last year, including The Duckling Gets a Cookie, The Fault in Our Stars, and Liar & Spy.
The Children’s Choice Book Awards program was created to provide young readers a platform to voice their opinions. Since the generated list is so kid-friendly, it is a place for young readers to find books they will genuinely enjoy and which will help develop a lifelong passion for books. Share this with young readers who want their opinions recognized. Voting ends May 9th and the winners will be announced on May 13th in conjunction with the start of Children’s Book Week.
Rainbow Rowell’s teen debut, Eleanor & Park is a story about first love, not fitting in during high school, punk rock, and comic books. Eleanor is a self-described chubby, curly-haired, redhead, who is teased mercilessly by her schoolmates. She has an even worse home life. Park, a half-Korean teenage punk rock fan, feels like he doesn’t fit into their town. They meet on the first day of school in 1986 when Park takes pity on Eleanor and lets her sit next to him on the bus.
For weeks, the two don’t speak a single word to each other as they ride to and from school, until Park realizes that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulder. He begins paying attention to which ones she seems to like, and brings more for her to borrow. They read in silence on the bus, and she devours the borrowed comic books at home. Weeks later, Park breaks the silence, asking about the song lyrics she has written all over her notebooks. Eleanor confesses that she’s never heard any of these bands, and the lyrics are from songs she’d like to hear. So he makes her mix tapes and lends her his Walkman since she can’t afford one, let alone the batteries to keep it running. Once the silence is broken, they never stop talking; talking progresses to hand-holding, and that turns into love that readers see grow throughout the novel.
Park becomes Eleanor’s escape from her home life, and she becomes his from small-town America. Rainbow Rowell’s story about two misfits falling in love amidst the music and comic books of the late 1980s is a romantic, yet realistic novel. Older teens, new adults, and those whose adolescence took place in that era are all sure to enjoy it.
Many of us wish that we could have a “do-over” in our lives. That’s exactly the opportunity that the heroines of these two new novels receive with interesting results. Jen Lancaster’s Here I Go Again is a hilarious trip back to the future. In high school, Lissy Ryder was the ultimate mean girl. Now, she is returning to her 20th reunion under less than desirable circumstances. Over the past few months, her husband left her, and she lost her job. Unemployment, combined with astronomical credit card debt required to keep up her lifestyle, has resulted in Lissy being forced to move back home with her parents. She goes to the reunion, and the way she treated people in high school comes back to haunt her. When she gets a chance to go back to 1991 and change her life, Lissy tries to make things right, but she finds that her actions have unexpected results in the present. Fans of Lancaster’s memoirs will recognize her fast-paced, chatty writing style and ubiquitous pop culture references.
In Allie Larkin’s Why Can’t I Be You, heroine Jenny Shaw’s life is a mess. Although her boyfriend dumps her at the airport and runs away with her luggage in the trunk of his car, she still gets on a plane for a business trip to Seattle. At her hotel, someone calls her Jessie from across the lobby. On a whim, Jenny answers. Soon she finds herself pretending to be Jessie Morgan, a long-lost classmate in town for her high school reunion. As she gets to know Jessie’s high school friends, Jenny sees the kind of friendship she longs for in her own life. Pretending to be the free-spirited, wild child Jessie, Jenny is able to open up and try things she never would have as herself. Eventually, Jenny realizes that when she’s being Jessie, she’s more true to herself than ever. Why Can’t I Be You is a story of finding yourself in the last place you would have expected. Larkin is an exciting new voice in chick lit, bringing readers strong characters and stories with real heart.