Jo Franklin’s book I’m an Alien and I Want to Go Home begins with Daniel Kendal’s sister telling him, “You’re an alien, abandoned on Earth by your alien parents.” It’s a typical nasty remark that siblings say to each other but to Daniel, the statement makes sense. He is tall and lanky with brown hair and eyes. His parents and siblings are all short and stocky blonds with blue eyes. There are no baby pictures of Daniel, and the final bit of evidence comes from a paper clipping his mother saved regarding some sort of unidentified object crashing to earth the day Daniel was born. All of these factors make Daniel feel certain that he is an alien and needs to go home.
With the help of his two best friends, Eddie and Gordon, Daniel figures out that he must be from a distant planet known as Kepler22b. The problem is how can he contact his ‘real parents’ and get back to his home planet. Through a series of hilarious misadventures including a bizarre encounter with a group of self-proclaimed alien abdunctees, the trio set out to find a way to send Daniel to Kepler22b.
For any young people who have ever felt like they didn’t fit in, Daniel’s quest to get back to where he thinks he really belongs is both relatable and humorous. Franklin’s short chapter punctuated with clever dialogue and Marty Kelley’s quirky illustrations make this book a great choice in particular for reluctant readers.
In Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, the title character is a flawed human being who reaches out to the poor around her yet never gives up on life’s pleasures. Mazie Phillips-Gordon is a self-proclaimed good time girl. Her favorite things in life are cigarettes, alcohol and having fun. Despite her hedonistic ways, Mazie is also a pushover for the vagrants who populate her Lower East Side world during the Great Depression.
Attenberg sets up the story as a documentary on Mazie told in part through her diary and also through the interviews and observations of people who knew her. By using different points of view, Attenberg allows us to see the good in Mazie that she often fails to see. She and her younger sister Jeanie are rescued by their sister Rosie who takes them away from their abusive father and ineffectual mother. However, both girls go through rebellious periods making life difficult for Rosie. In an effort to try and curb Mazie’s life spent in bars and speakeasies, Rosie’s husband has Mazie work in the ticket booth at his movie theater. Feeling confined in the box office – which she refers to as her ‘cage’— Mazie manages to keep her spirits up by helping the homeless people in her neighborhood. Attenberg may refer to Mazie as a saint in the title, but this book recounts the unvarnished world of a woman who lived life to the fullest.
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.
Young and wealthy Charles Fairfax dies suddenly of what appears to be an acute gastric illness. In late 19th century New York City, such an event is fairly common even among the higher echelon of society. However, Charles’ death seems too unexpected to the young man’s father. He calls on a friend, Frank Malloy — once a NYC Police Detective Sergeant and now a private investigator — to look into his son’s death. As Malloy quickly learns, this death is more than questionable. It is Murder on Amsterdam Avenue. With the help of his fiancée, Sarah Brandt, Malloy is able to navigate through the New York aristocracy to uncover some shocking secrets in the Fairfax family history. This book marks the 17th in Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery series, and whether or not you’ve read any of the previous titles, Thompson has set up a delightful romp.
One of the best elements in the story is the relationship between Frank Malloy and Sarah Brandt. Both are widowed with young children and the way that they care about each other while solving the mystery is touching yet realistic. Thanks to Thompson’s eye for detail, you will feel as if you are stepping back in time to late 19th century America. For fans of Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series or Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Gaslight Mystery series is definitely worth a read. However, you may want to start with the first book in this series, Murder on Astor Place, to get more of the back stories for these characters.
“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” is an old mnemonic device for remembering the order and fates of Henry VIII’s six wives. In The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, the reader meets the wife that survived, Kateryn Parr. Written in first person from Kateryn’s point of view, the story delves into the many trials that she endures as a wife and queen. When the 31-year-old Kateryn marries 52-year-old Henry in 1543 to become his sixth wife, she has been twice widowed, and all of her marriages have been arranged. Before Henry proposes, Kateryn is set to marry Thomas Seymour, the man she actually loves. However, no one dares go against the tyrannical Henry, so Kateryn puts her love aside to marry the king.
At first, Henry dotes on Kateryn, buying her expensive presents and exotic birds from all over the world to fill her aviary. She can even tolerate Henry’s grotesque physique, the open festering wound on his leg and his fumbling attempts at love making. Yet, she's constantly reminded of her ill-fated predecessors as she wears their gowns and jewels, sleeps in the same bed and even raises their children.
As Gregory portrays Kateryn, it's her religious leanings that put her in constant danger. She's a devout Reformer who subscribes to the new church that Henry created primarily to marry Anne Boleyn. However, there are many Papists in the court who want England to return to the Catholic Church, and Kateryn’s religious sentiments make her powerful enemies. Henry is starting to waver between Reform and Catholicism as his health deteriorates, and begins to fear that, in breaking from the Church, he is doomed to eternal damnation. As Henry’s mental health also declines, he sees heretics and traitors everywhere, and not even Kateryn is safe. When she discovers the King is about to have her arrested, Kateryn must swallow her pride and humiliate herself in order to avoid the executioner.