Like most avid readers, there are a handful of books from childhood that I became completely lost inside. I still love Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden, and reading it always brings me right back to my childhood, as well as that lonely old mansion in the English countryside. Megan Shepherd’s debut novel The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is sure to spark this same feeling in readers young and old. A blend of history and fantasy, it sucks readers into another world filled with mysterious characters and magical creatures.
Emmaline is one of many at the makeshift hospital for children with tuberculosis, but she is the only one able to see the winged horses in the mirrors of the once great house. Against the nuns’ strict orders, she sneaks out to play in the walled garden whenever she can. One morning, she discovers a horse from the mirror world hidden there. The horse, Foxfire, has a broken wing, which prevents him from returning to his own world. Letters from The Horse Lord begin to appear in the garden’s ancient sundial, and explain that Foxfire isn’t just wounded, but is being hunted by a sinister Black Horse. This creature hunts at night and is repelled by colorful objects. In order to save her new friend, Emmaline must find colorful objects to surround him. This is hard to do in the drab, gray hospital where all color seems to have been washed from the world.
This deeply moving story will have readers on the edge of their seats and will stay with them long after they have discovered all the secrets hidden in the pages.
Jason Overstreet’s suspenseful debut transports readers to the dazzle and excitement of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance in The Strivers' Row Spy, the first entry in a promising mystery series. Sidney Temple is a recent college graduate on the brink of opportunity that even his bourgeois family could not have imagined. His impulsive marriage to artist Loretta brings him great happiness, but even more is in store for this bright young man.
J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, hand-picks Sidney to be the FBI’s first African-American agent, and Sidney knows this is his chance to make a change and work for justice. The FBI is intent on bringing down Marcus Garvey, prominent head of the back-to-Africa movement. Sidney uses his previously unknown skills at deception and undercover work to thwart the Bureau’s investigation. And by giving renowned leader W.E.B. DuBois insider information, Sidney gambles on a change that could mean a fair future for all Americans.
As Sidney and Loretta climb into the most influential Harlem circles, the stakes become more perilous. Tragedy threatens to shatter Loretta’s trust in her husband, and Sidney’s double-life is dangerously precarious. Overstreet does a marvelous job of capturing the heady atmosphere of 1920s Harlem, and is so convincing in his storytelling that readers may forget this is all fiction and Sidney Temple never existed. Overstreet peppers his story with real historical figures from the ‘20s. Besides Hoover, DuBois and Garvey, Sidney also has encounters with James Weldon Johnson, Adam Clayton Powell and Max Eastman. Readers who enjoy spy stories or historical fiction will definitely find a new author to follow in Jason Overstreet.
Are you doing BCPL’s Reading Challenge? This would be a great one for February’s challenge. Don’t forget to take a picture of yourself with the book and submit your entry by visiting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and post or tweet the photo with the hashtag #bwellread. Camera-shy participants may post a photograph of the book they’ve chosen.
One pill makes you larger. And one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all. — Grace Slick.
Except in this case, the mother is author Ayelet Waldman, and she is giving herself not a pill but two drops of LSD, under the tongue. And while she’s not 10 feet tall or seeing white rabbits, she does get to be happier, as she writes in A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life.
Hallucinogenic drug use conjures up images of swirly colors and dancing at Grateful Dead concerts, whereas Waldman describes herself as a straight-laced lawyer, author, wife and mom of four, who rarely drinks and has never been a recreational drug user. Recreational is the key word, though, because Waldman’s suffered from a mood disorder and insomnia throughout her life. Add in a painful middle-aged frozen shoulder, and she’s been prescribed and taken myriad pharmaceuticals from SSRIs to opioids, while pursuing calm promised by anything from meditation classes to mindfulness apps. In her 50’s, Waldman became increasingly desperate for a solution, feeling that her inability to control her emotions and behavior might irreparably damage her family and, most disturbing to her, alienate her beloved husband, author Michael Chabon. When Waldman came across James Fadiman’s book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys, which espouses the therapeutic use of hallucinogenic drugs taken in order to induce a more relaxed frame of mind, she was ready to try it.
For 30 days, Waldman journaled her experience as she followed Fadiman’s microdosing protocol, taking a miniscule amount of liquid LSD once every three days. Her dose was far too small to trigger a groovy trip, but she did find it stimulated creativity and enhanced her composure — in short, giving her many really good days, albeit with occasional side effects. She also explores the consequences of the “war on drugs," which she argues shut down promising research on medical use of psychedelic drugs, illogically demonizes many less harmful substances while pushing dangerous and addictive medications and continues to influence a judiciary which proffers draconian punishments meted out disproportionately to people of color. Waldman is frank that her microdosing would have continued beyond a month if she’d had a reliable source where she could purchase it, but her fear of criminal prosecution stopped her from pursuing one. Thought-provoking and rather funny thanks to Waldman’s snarky asides, A Really Good Day is a fascinating look at an unconventional therapy.
Maybe you’re trying to eat healthier in 2017. Maybe you just love delicious food. If so, check out The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
This is Moskowitz’s 10th cookbook, and each chapter is devoted to one of 17 different holidays. On New Year’s, eat your black eyed peas and cabbage for good luck. On Christmas, you will find the classic chocolate chip cookies to leave out for Santa. There are no set menus, and each chapter contains one or two dozen recipes that fit the holiday theme so you can mix and match whatever suits your taste.
When faced with so many tasty possibilities, you may find yourself celebrating holidays you’ve never considered before. Now that you have four different recipes for latkes, why not spin a dreidel and learn a little something about Hanukkah? And who cares if you’re not Irish on St. Patrick’s Day if you’re serving corned beet and cabbage and shamrockin’ shakes?
Moskowitz also offers tips on hosting, menu planning and table setting. Of course, this cookbook doesn’t have to only be pulled out on holidays. But if you’re looking for food that is simpler and doesn’t have to be special-occasion-worthy, check out Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week for meals that can be on the table in about 30 minutes.
Harry Potter fans will love the magical world of A Shadow Bright and Burning, the first book in Jessica Cluess’ Kingdom on Fire series.
Henrietta Howell can set herself on fire, something only she and her best friend Rook know about. In their world, not all magic is created equal, especially that wielded by a woman. When Henrietta’s secret is suddenly revealed, she expects to be executed immediately. Imagine her surprise when, instead, she is dubbed the prophesied female sorcerer, the key to saving the world from the terror of the Ancients.
As she begins her training, however, Henrietta realizes she is not like the other sorcerers-to-be. Frustrated and alone, she seeks advice from an unexpected friend and learns of a secret that puts everything she believes into question: maybe she is not the prophesied one after all. One thing is certain, Henrietta must do whatever she can to hone her skills and blend in with her fellow trainees. Her life, and the lives of everyone around her, depends on it.
A Shadow Bright and Burning is a great introduction to what promises to be a powerful and enlightening series. Cluess puts an enchanted spin on an age-old tale: triumph in the face of inequality, something readers of all ages can relate to.
You don’t have to be a fan of The Young and the Restless to appreciate this honest memoir from one of that show’s biggest stars, Eric Braeden. In I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama, Braeden shares his life story, including his almost four decades on the number one daytime television show as the charismatic Victor Newman.
Braeden was born in 1941 in a dark, airless hospital basement in Kiel, Germany. Allied bombs sounded in the air and the ground shook with repeated explosions. Days after his birth, the hospital was destroyed in yet another Allied attack. But Braeden’s childhood was a happy and privileged one. His parents were loving, he had brothers to play with and developed a love for sports, especially track and field. His father’s sudden death when he was 12 changed his life forever. The family was forced to sell their beautiful home and possessions and move into a house with no central heating, no hot running water and no showers or toilets that worked.
While struggling through these hard times, his family never gave up, and Eric continued his education and his track and field prowess. He jumped at the opportunity to go to America when he received a partial track and field scholarship to Montana State University (now University of Montana). While there, he and his friends participated in the filming of a documentary film, which led him to Los Angeles and his destiny as a television star. This rags-to-riches immigrant story is an uplifting tale that takes us from Nazi Germany to modern Hollywood. It is the story of one man shaped by war and deprivation who dedicated his life to his art, his family and humanitarian work.
With his fantastic capacity for storytelling, Neil Gaiman brings us the stories of the Norse gods in his new book Norse Mythology. Mr. Gaiman often draws inspiration from the Norse myths for his other books, and his love and interest in these myths is evident.
The book starts with some of the major “players” of Norse myths: Odin, Thor and Loki. Though these are not the only important gods, you can find them in most if not all of the stories. The beginning of the world and creation is next discussed, and we find ourselves learning how the world, the gods and humans all came about, according to the Norse. Yggdrasil, an ash tree also called the world tree, is very important to the Norse myths and connects the nine worlds. Gaiman then goes on to portray the mischief of Loki, the wisdom of Odin and the strength of Thor in his own retelling of some of his favorite myths. He tells the story of how the gods came into their treasures, and he tells the story of Loki’s children: Hel, who will be the leader of the underworld; Jormungundr, the Midgard Serpent; and Fenrir, the Fenris Wolf. My favorite of the myths in this book is when Thor, Loki and Thialfi journey to the land of the giants, and the giant Utgardaloki challenges each of their strengths. These are just of few of the amazing myths that are retold in this book.
From the story of Odin trading his eye for wisdom to the gods attaining their treasures to the last days of the gods at Ragnarok, Neil Gaiman will captivate you with his retelling of these myths. This quick and enchanting read will leave you with wonderful stories to tell and pass on to anyone interested in the Norse gods.