Jo Baker’s engaging new novel Longbourn focuses on the life of housemaid Sarah and her fellow servants for a behind-the-scenes retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Austen’s novel will be intrigued by the lives of the underclass in Regency England, no less intriguing and dramatic than those of the gentry they serve.
Sarah, orphaned and raised almost as a daughter to housekeeper Mrs. Hill, fills her days from early morning to late night with the strenuous labor it takes to run a country household. Baker fills her novel with detailed accounts of the housemaid’s chores, from emptying the chamber pots to heading to town in the rain and cold to purchase ornamental roses to decorate the Bennet girls’ shoes. Readers will learn fascinating period housekeeping hints, like the fact that cold tea leaves sprinkled on floors will bind with dust, hair and insects, making sweeping easier.
Even as she supports the sisters in their complicated courtships, she dreams of a life of her own. She becomes flustered in her dealings with Mr. Bingley’s handsome, flirtatious footman Ptolemy, the man charged with delivering letters. His goal is to open a tobacco shop one day. Mysterious James Smith, the newly arrived servant with hazel eyes and a secret cache of seashells, intrigues her as he lightens her daily work burdens and takes an interest in her. Sarah wonders “Could she one day have what she wanted, rather than rely on the glow of other people’s happiness to keep her warm?” Longbourn is a book to savor almost as much as its inspiration.
Two new Halloween books are sure to capture the imagination of the youngest readers. Nighty Night, Little Green Monster by Ed Emberley is the perfect bedtime book for the season. A colorful young monster’s features are described with simple adjectives as each turn of the die-cut page builds his face. Once the reader sees this silly rather than scary character, the refrain “nighty night” repeats as page-turning slowly makes him disappear. Emerging readers will enjoy paging through the book on their own as the visual clues help tell the story. Go Away, Big Green Monster, now a modern childhood classic, was published by the same Caldecott-winning author/illustrator in 1992.
Whatever could be inside graphic designer/author Mark Gonyea’s The Spooky Box? The narrator speculates that the simply depicted black box could be filled with any number of creepy things, from bats to rats to spiders. Each page is more visually exciting than the last, as Gonyea skillfully builds suspense. Breaking down the fourth wall, he orders the reader to open the box to reveal its contents. Noises are now coming from within, and the speculation continues. This is a book that children and adults will enjoy equally; its surprise ending provides an opportunity for plenty of what-if discussions that will last long after the book is over. Gonyea dedicates his striking orange and black picture book to “everyone who loves thinking of endless possibilities.”
Nearly every small child has a special stuffed animal, and two recent picture books take a look at these imaginative friendships. In No Fits, Nilson!, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, the title character is depicted as a towering blue gorilla who dwarfs his constant companion, a young girl named Amelia. With his black porkpie hat, tennis shoes and collection of six wristwatches, Nilson exudes cool, although he is prone to temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Throughout the story, Amelia must remind him to stay calm. Acrylic paintings in a muted pastel palette done on printmaking paper lend a retro quality to this gentle, sweet book that speaks to patience, sharing and working past minor setbacks.
Paul Schmid’s Oliver and His Alligator takes a look at a small boy’s apprehensions about the first day of school. Pastel pencils combine with soft digital colors to bring to life tousle-haired Oliver and his alligator, whom he brings to class “in case things got rough.” And when Oliver feels immediately shy and unsure, with a “munch, munch!” his alligator swallows a woman who greets him, and then his classmates in quick succession. Children will enjoy the humor of the situation, possibly wishing they had an alligator of their own to vanquish anxiety. But Oliver soon comes around to thinking that he may be missing out on something by sitting quietly by himself. Oliver and His Alligator makes for a welcome addition to the canon of books that address first day jitters.
Picture books are not just for children; in fact, many of the best examples of the format prove entertaining for all ages, while some feel decidedly more adult. Kitty & Dino, by Sara Richard, begins with a child’s discovery of an unusual egg. This nearly wordless story unfolds as the Siamese cat of the household checks out the egg as it’s in the process of hatching. Much to Kitty’s distress, the new arrival is an attention-seeking baby dinosaur. Rendered in illustrations heavily influenced by the Japanese style of ink painting known as sumi-e, the panels that make up the story radiate an energy that keeps this story flowing. The characters of Kitty and Dino are depicted in a naturalistic way, with their postures and behaviors bringing this captivating story to life. Kitty slowly warms up to her housemate, teaching him about mealtime, grooming and play. As the pages turn, Dino grows older (and much bigger) and the unlikely friends’ bond grows deeper. Charming, funny and superbly illustrated, Kitty & Dino is a book for everyone.
Author/illustrator Dan Krall comes to picture books by way of a rich career in both TV and film animation. His beyond unusual story, The Great Lollipop Caper, has a quirky grownup sensibility. Leaning heavily on pun, the titular caper is both a character and the crime he commits. Yes, the protagonist is a tiny pickled caper berry who wants children to appreciate his “complex flavor.” Would caper-flavored lollipops help to expand his fan base to the very young? Wide-eyed cartoony character illustrations and speech bubbles lend to the offbeat humor that may be best appreciated by a hipster adult reader.
When James and Bob first met, both were at low points in their lives. James, a London street musician and recovering drug addict, was living hand-to-mouth, barely making enough money to eat and keep a roof over his head. Bob, a flea-ridden, bedraggled orange tabby, was malnourished and injured. Recognizing a fellow kindred spirit in need, James began to nurse Bob back to health, forming a special bond between them. Their uplifting story is chronicled in James Bowen’s memoir A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life.
It’s quickly apparent to James that Bob is far from a typical cat. Easygoing and fiercely affectionate, he prefers toileting outside every morning to using a litter box. And much like a dog, he follows James on his route to the bus, although he also enjoys riding draped across his shoulders. James allows Bob to accompany him to his usual busking spot in Covent Garden. Using a combination of a makeshift shoelace “leash” and the shoulder-carry method, he navigates the ginger feline though busy traffic. He takes out his acoustic guitar and soon Bob is contentedly curled up inside the case. James immediately discovers that his unusual cat draws a lot of favorable tourist attention, and together they take in as much money in an hour as James usually makes solo in a day.
There are some pitfalls along the way, but James and Bob continue to be more than just pet and owner. James is astonished to find out that they are famous abroad, thanks to videos posted by tourists on YouTube. Readers who enjoyed Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World or Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat will breeze through this heartwarming, inspirational book.
Alex London’s thriller Proxy propels the reader into a not-so-distant dystopian future in Colorado. An orphan teen living in the Valve, the slum of Mountain City, Sydney Carton is forced to take on years of debt just to secure his meager existence. And like many orphans, he’s repaying this debt by serving as a proxy, made to take any physical punishments intended for his patron. Unfortunately for Syd, his patron is the incorrigible, spoiled Knox Brindle, son of the wealthy head of SecuriTech.
Throughout their lives, Knox has been forced to watch Syd suffer the painful effects of the electro-muscular disruption (EMD) stick, used to deliver physical discipline. But since they’ve never met and he’s always watched onscreen, it’s been easy to remain detached. Now it seems Knox is responsible for the death of a young woman, and Syd will have to pay with his life. An unusual turn of circumstance throws the teens together in the same place at the same time, and it turns out that nothing is as it seems. Syd’s life may be worth more than anyone realizes.
Baltimore native London has created a detailed science fiction world that takes our current technology and debt-driven society to a whole new level. He manages to put a fresh spin on some time-honored storytelling tropes, creating an exciting, fast-paced novel that makes for a great summer teen read. Proxy is rife with both big thoughts and big action, as London explores the complex nature of friendship, sacrifice and the value of human life.
What happens when an ex-wife is forced to live with the woman who broke up her once happy marriage? First time author Amy Sue Nathan delivers a novel with that tantalizing premise in The Glass Wives. Evie Glass finds her world upended when ex-husband Richard dies in a devastating car accident. While she had come to terms with living alone with their ten year-old twins in what had been their dream house, she still counted on Richard to be there. Sure, he now had a new wife more than ten years her junior, Nicole, and a baby son with that new wife. But Richard was still an active parent to her children, someone who would continue to be there through their life milestones: the bar and bat mitzvahs, their graduations. Or so she had always hoped.
Once the shock of Richard’s death begins to wear off, Nicole Glass realizes to her horror that her financial support is now gone as well. Her part time sales job at the gift store doesn’t bring in enough to pay the mortgage, let alone anything else. And although she initially was happy about the thought of removing Richard’s widow from her life, she hadn’t realized her children had already developed a bond with their half-brother. And Nicole herself is left adrift, estranged from her own relatives.
The Glass wives begin to redefine family as necessity brings their separate families together under one roof. Nathan’s smart, thoughtful story, told with compassion and a sense of humor, makes a great poolside read. Need a compulsively readable choice (with a lot of discussion points) for an upcoming book club? The Glass Wives is a sure bet.
Bestselling political thriller author Vince Flynn passed away today at age 47, a victim of prostate cancer. Flynn was known as the creator of the popular character Mitch Rapp, a counter-terrorism operative who works for the CIA.
A native of Minnesota, Flynn began his career working for Kraft Foods, as a sales and marketing specialist. He aspired to be an aviator with the Marines, but was medically disqualified from officer candidate school. A self-imposed extreme program of reading everything he could get his hands on and writing daily helped him to overcome some of his difficulties with dyslexia. His love of espionage thrillers led him to try his hand at writing them.
He has published fourteen such books, creating a loyal fan following and becoming a fixture on The New York Times Bestsellers List. His conservative political views also made him a popular guest on the Glenn Beck program on Fox News. Flynn also served as a consultant on the fifth season of the television series 24. You can follow Mitch Rapp from the beginning in his first appearance on the page in Transfer of Power. His latest adventure unfolds in The Last Man, where Rapp must head to Afghanistan to track down a CIA agent who has gone missing. Readers can look forward to yet another Rapp thriller this fall; Flynn’s The Survivor is set to be released on October 8.
Comic artist Lucy Knisley reveals that her strongest memories are associated with flavors, from the chalky Flintstone vitamins she snacked on in front of the TV as a kid to the flaky, buttery apricot croissants devoured in Venice as a college student travelling thorough Europe. In her graphic memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, she draws some of her favorite food-related stories, each with specific “taste-memories”.
Born in New York City, Knisley (apparently never going through a picky-eater phase) was raised a child of foodies, so her experiences transcend those of an average teen. Her mother worked in restaurateur David Bouley’s kitchen, her godfather was a food critic, and her uncle was the owner of a gourmet food shop. Nevertheless, teens with some interest in cooking (and eating!) will find her to be a likeable, relatable narrator. Knisley’s experiences stretch beyond Manhattan when her parents divorce and she moves to rural upstate New York with her mother. Living in Rhinebeck allows them to have an abundant vegetable garden and a flock of hens that supply a steady stream of fresh eggs, which ultimately gives young Lucy a greater appreciation of where her food comes from. Her first foray into independent cooking comes thanks to a craving for chocolate chip cookies. And since no parent can keep their child completely "pure", she credits a middle school friend for introducing her to such junk food delights as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Lucky Charms cereal.
What sets this graphic novel apart is its cookbook component. Each chapter relates a particular story, rendered in full color comic panels, that ends with a detailed, easy-to-follow, fully illustrated recipe for an appealing dish. Relish is recommended for both teens and culinary-minded adults. Knisley’s first graphic memoir, French Milk, which tells of a trip to Paris with her mother, is also available. Readers interested in even more of her work can check out her website.