The bestselling author that brought you The Hunger Games series is showing her versatility with Year of the Jungle, a picture book about Suzanne Collins as a little girl whose dad serves in the Vietnam War. Collins collaborates with illustrator James Proimos to bring this touching picture book to young readers.
This book follows young Suzy as she sees her dad off to Vietnam without truly understanding the ramifications of his going away. While he is gone she looks forward to his postcards and feels the loss more deeply than she is able to express. Days go by and turn into months as holidays and seasons pass without her father. She can’t understand the concept of a year and has to just keep waiting for his return with no idea as to how long she will have to wait.
Collins seeks to capture the impact that serving in the military can have on the children of those brave soldiers. She reached back to remember how she felt as a 6-year-old coping with the loss of her father. Collins talks in this short video about her experience writing Year of the Jungle. This picture book is honest and heartfelt, though not too graphic or intense for young readers, especially if they have a loved one serving in the military.
A cozy New England hamlet definitely needs some mystery and dark secrets to make life interesting, and Karen Brown delivers with The Longings of Wayward Girls. In the summer of 1979, Sadie is a 12-year-old girl with a big imagination, a flair for the dramatic and just enough boredom to lead her into trouble. She also physically resembles another neighborhood girl who disappeared five years prior, a coincidence that will continue to haunt her into adulthood. Sadie and her best friend play a trick on Francie, a younger neighbor, leaving her a series of letters supposedly written by a boy from an earlier era. Francie’s letters back to the imaginary person become darker and more telling of trouble at home, but Sadie and her friend are not mature enough to understand this. Soon after, Francie becomes the second girl in the neighborhood to disappear, and Sadie and her friend harbor guilt over her disappearance. Twenty-four years later, Sadie is living the quintessential stay-at-home mother existence in her hometown. Yet she remains haunted by her dysfunctional family history, a recent stillbirth and her own lack of professional accomplishments, not to mention the long-ago unsolved disappearances of the two girls.
In some ways, this is a typical suburban drama about families with underlying issues: Sadie’s alcoholic, suicidal mother; Francie’s abusive father; another neighbor’s odd obsession with Christmas displays. Yet Brown fine tunes the characters and brings enough details about suburban living into the writing to authenticate the scenes. The characters are not always likeable, but their past traumas and upbringings do provide a modicum of explanation for their current actions and personalities. Those who enjoy authors like Jennifer McMahon or Heather Gudenkauf will become intrigued with this community brimming with past and present secrets.
For Celia Cassill, life since her husband's premature death has been about keeping what's important close to her. Her memories, her grief, her personal space are hers alone. The young widow in Amy Grace Loyd's graceful debut, The Affairs of Others, goes about her days like a figure in a dollhouse, her life compartmentalized in the converted Brooklyn brownstone she purchased after her husband died.
Celia has carefully chosen the tenants who rent her three apartments based on their ability to respect each other's privacy and mind their own business. "There is a certain consonance of character I look for," she tells George, an English teacher who wants to sublet his rooms to a recently divorced middle-age woman named Hope. Celia reluctantly agrees. Soon Hope's problems seep into her landlord's guarded milieu and Celia finds herself increasingly drawn into the attractive woman's orbit. It's not long before the lives of her other tenants ignite her curiosity as well, like the mismatched couple whose relationship is on the rocks and the elderly ferry captain who suddenly wanders off. Celia begins tiptoeing around their messy lives as she reevaluates her own through trial and error, sex and violence.
Loyd, the former literary editor at Playboy magazine, exposes with elegant, spare prose grief’s manifestation and its tentacle-like reach. “Certain grief trumps others,” Celia says in her somber, observant voice that resonates with the intimate knowledge of dying. Readers of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking or Lily Tuck's I Married You for Happiness will recognize lost and found joy in this accomplished first effort.
One day, Judith and her best friend Lottie both go missing. When Lottie is discovered dead several days later and Judith is nowhere to be found, the residents of her puritanical town fear the worst for their beloved girls. Several years later, everything changes when Judith appears on her mother’s doorstep with a terrible secret she has been violently forbidden to share with anyone in All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. Instead of being greeted with open arms, Judith finds herself shunned by all of those around her, including those she loves the most. In the time she’s been gone, the boy she intended to marry has moved on and found another, her father is dead, her mother and brother have written her off as damaged goods and the townspeople have drawn their own suspicious conclusions as to where Judith may have been all this time.
In her first novel for young adults, children’s book author Julie Berry creates a riveting story of the power that secrets can have over us. Written from Judith’s narrative point of view we see her find her strength even through her own silence. It’s a story of finding your own legs to stand on even in the face of pain, loss and tragedy. Readers who enjoy historical fiction with a hint of mystery and romance will find themselves unable to put this book down!
Bestselling author Tom Clancy passed away this week at the age of 66. A native of Baltimore and a Loyola College alumnus, Clancy is best known for his military and espionage thrillers. From the publication of his 1984 debut novel The Hunt for Red October, Clancy’s work helped redefine the modern thriller genre. That novel, which he sold to the Naval Institute Press for $5,000, went on to sell over five million copies. His books have inspired video games and several blockbuster movies including The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games and The Sum of All Fears.
Even after Clancy’s death, his iconic hero Jack Ryan will endure in his final novel Command Authority, which will be published in December. Jack Ryan, a new movie starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, will also be in theaters later this year.
In addition to his literary achievements, Clancy was vice chairman of Community Activities and Public Affairs and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. This moving obituary from The Baltimore Sun brings to light Clancy’s strong ties to Baltimore and his lasting impact on the community.
Noted film director (Home Alone, Harry Potter) Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini serve up an action-packed adventure in House of Secrets. The Walker children, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor, have enjoyed a privileged childhood, but following an “incident” at the hospital where their father worked, the family has fallen on challenging times. Forced to relocate to San Francisco, the family happens upon a house that seems too good to be true. A grand old Victorian once owned by a famous author, the Kristoff House is offered at a fraction of its value. Enchanted, the Walkers quickly take up residence – but not for long.
The day of the move, a mysterious neighbor visits the household. Dahlia, the daughter of author Denver Kristoff, the original owner, seems friendly and harmless enough, but her exterior conceals the truly villainous nature of the Wind Witch. Soon enough, she has separated the children from their parents and cast them into the fantastical worlds of Kristoff’s books.
Left to fend for themselves in the mysterious realms of Kristoff’s fiction, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor must band together to make sense of their banishment and find a way to defeat the Wind Witch who has trapped them within the pages of her father’s works. Along the way, the children are alternately helped, hindered and betrayed by the characters they encounter.
This is a decidedly action-driven story and the precocious Walker children seldom experience a dull moment from the first time they lay eyes on the mysterious Kristoff House. Readers will find themselves similarly swept along for the ride. Though the cultural references in the dialogue may date the story before its time, today's kids will particularly enjoy the number of mentions of current popular media and electronic devices.
Recommended for upper middle grade or young adult readers for somewhat mature content, House of Secrets will hold particular appeal for fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Sharron Kahn Luttrell’s Weekends with Daisy is a beautiful story of how Luttrell fell in love with a puppy named Daisy and the enduring impact that experience had on her life. After Luttrell’s beloved German Shepherd Tucker passed away, she had what she refers to as canine deficit disorder. She needed a dog in her life. She heard about National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) and their Prison Pup Partnership. The program needed volunteers to help socialize the puppies on the weekends during their training, and she knew this was the perfect way to get her puppy fix.
That’s how Daisy, a sweet yellow Lab puppy who was training to become a service dog, eventually became part of Luttrell’s life. During the week, Daisy was cared for and trained by her inmate handler Keith at the medium-security prison where he was serving his sentence. Each weekend, Luttrell would pick Daisy up and drive her home where the Luttrell family cared for Daisy and introduced her to the sights, sounds and smells of the outside world. Eventually, Luttrell gave in to her curiosity and learned about the violent crime that Keith committed, and she had to find a way to make peace with the fact that the man she learned about was the same man who she had come to know as Daisy’s trainer.
Weekends with Daisy is a story about an amazing dog, but it’s also a story of Luttrell’s self-discovery and acceptance. Daisy’s sweet face and loving disposition will melt any dog lover’s heart. Eventually, Daisy was matched with an autistic boy named David. She works hard each day to make his life easier. Luttrell continues to foster service dogs-in-training for NEADS. Rescue, her seventh foster dog, recently graduated from the program.
Nurse Cathy Green looked at the elderly lady lying on the asphalt floor of the hospital's parking garage. The lung cancer patient was wheezing. Her oxygen tank was near empty. The rattled nurse couldn't stand to watch this woman die just because no one came to rescue her, so she walked away. It is gut-wrenching scenes like this that stay with you in Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink's riveting, exhaustively researched account of what happened at one particular hospital following Hurricane Katrina.
For the doctors and nurses at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, the principles of the Hippocratic Oath were severely tested in the days following the storm when the floodwaters rose. Keeping the sick alive became an exercise in ping-pong triage. Patients were controversially grouped for evacuation. Rancid air and pitch-black interior rooms made conditions unbearable. Help was slow in coming. Complicating the picture was the "hospital within a hospital." LifeCare housed the most critically ill patients on Memorial's seventh floor. Who gets help first? Who is evacuated last? In Memorial's case, Fink attempts to contextualize what really happened after the hurricane and who was responsible for the 45 patients who died there under suspicious circumstances.
A medical doctor who has worked in disaster relief, Fink won the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for her 2009 article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial.” Published in The New York Times magazine, it chronicled the mercy killings at the hospital under horrendous conditions. In her book's shifting perspectives and reconstructed narrative, she places readers where they need to be: inside the mindset of those who were there. "We went into survival mode and were just trying to keep them alive with food and water," said a staff member. Readers who like their narrative nonfiction with some kick will find this issue-oriented page-turner of ethical choices made by a beleaguered staff a difficult read to put down.
Love triangles, a cursed movie set, magic potions, gruesome murders; R.L. Stine’s newest teen fiction A Midsummer Night’s Scream has it all. Claire Woodward is a 16-year-old girl living a life of privilege in Hollywood. Her parents own a film studio and have finally given consent for her to act in one of their movies, the remake of Mayhem Manor. The excitement of being cast in a movie with her best friend as well as some notable actors is tempered when talk turns to how the movie set is cursed. The original Mayhem Manor was a horror film about six teens who get trapped in a spooky old house and one by one, die a terrible death. Shooting stopped after not one, but three of the actors died during the filming. Sixty years later the producers elect to reshoot the movie at the same location. Author R.L. Stine has proven to be a master of macabre with the success of his Goosebumps and Fear Street series, so readers will not be surprised when his newest novel takes a decidedly dark turn.
This story is part teenage romance, part horror story. There is a mystical element in the character of Benny Puckerman, who peddles magic potions, can only be seen by Claire and has his own agenda regarding the movie remake. Claire narrates the story in a casual conversational tone, at times directing comments to the reading audience. Those discerning readers looking for a sophisticated Shakespearean work should keep on looking, but if you are interested in a quick-moving, fantastical tale with a nice touch of suspense, A Midsummer Night’s Scream will really get your heart pumping.
John Brown: abolitionist, Harper’s Ferry raider, failure. Dry high school American history text material, forgotten right after the test…or not, especially if presented by author James McBride in his bawdy and raucous new novel, The Good Lord Bird.
Henry is 10 years old. He helps out in the rural Kansas barbershop in which his father works. Both Henry and his father are slaves, owned by Dutch. Henry’s father is barbering the scripture-quoting Old Man when Dutch walks in; an exchange with the Old Man gets heated and after guns blaze, Dutch is wounded, Henry’s father is dead and the Old Man is unmasked as the despised John Brown. Brown rescues Henry, though he mistakes him for a girl and calls him “Henrietta.” “She” is incorporated into his motley band of family and stragglers embarked on a mission to free the slaves.
McBride presents this story as 103-year-old Henry’s recollections, recorded by a fellow church member. Written in the coarse lexicon of the times, the rich and illustrative language can result in a comedy of errors. Henry is biracial and becomes adept as passing for a girl, and sometimes as white, to ensure his safety. As he travels through the states, alone or with Brown, he offers an out-of-the-mouth-of-babes razor-edged skewering of blacks and whites, slaves and owners, and country and city folk. The Good Lord Bird is historical fiction and McBride freely molds icons like Frederick Douglas and Brown into his own flawed characters. This book is not a choice for the easily offended.
Only in the hands of a talented writer like McBride could subjects like slavery and emancipation manage to entertain and amuse while also inform and illuminate. Despite the irreverent approach, ultimately the reader is left with Henry’s observation on slavery and its poisonous legacy when he says “the web of slavery is a sticky business. And at the end of the day, ain’t nobody clear of it.”