There is a new subgenre of epic fantasy that seems to be growing called flintlock fantasy. Traditional epic fantasy has a Medieval or Renaissance type setting; technology is limited, and religion and magic dominate. Not so in one of the best new contenders in this subgenre, Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. Promise of Blood is the first book in the new Powder Mage Trilogy. McClellan’s world is poised on the brink of modernity, with steam power, labor unions and massed armies using cannons and muskets. Much as the modern era was kicked off with the violence of the French Revolution and rise of Napoleon, Promise of Blood begins with a popular military commander ousting the corrupt hapless king and his unfeeling nobility. Soon the cobblestones of “Election Square” — voting being carried out by guillotine — runs red with blood as Royalists seek safety from the revolution behind barricades.
Into what otherwise sounds like a retelling of Les Misérables, McClellan adds magic, lots of varied magic. The King is supported by his Royal Cabal of Privileged, which are like the traditional wizards of epic fantasy novels. The revolution is led by the Powder Mages, less powerful than the Privileged. They gain their power from ingesting gunpowder and bullets. The Powder Mages are a reflection of the new modern era about to be born. Other groups integral to the story are Knacked, those who only possess one single ability, and the Predeii, sorcerers older and more powerful than the Privileged. Lastly, there are the old gods, who are not pleased with the Revolution, and they are not forgiving.
Promise of Blood is full of battles, magic and mundane. It is rife with court intrigue and the maneuverings of a land in revolution. It features a cross section of characters from different cultural strata. It works on every level. The only good thing about reaching the end of the book is the knowledge that book two in the series comes out in February!
A boy’s first summer of independence and puppy love is described in the charming novelette, Meeting Cézanne, by Michael Morpurgo. Set in 1960’s Provence, France, Meeting Cézanne tells the story of 10-year-old Yannick’s summer infatuation with Provence, his cousin, and the artist Paul Cézanne. When an unfortunate misunderstanding leads to Yannick destroying a drawing by the “most famous painter in the world,” Yannick tries to repair the damage by asking Monsieur Cézanne for a new one.
Paired with colorful illustrations by Francois Place, themselves reminiscent of Cézanne’s work, this re-release of Morpurgo’s short story is a wonderful book for the elementary school set. Morpurgo’s first person prose will resonate with young readers. Yannick’s yearning for his cousin to like him, his desire to fix his error and his confusion over the famous artist are realistic and relatable. Morpurgo is the award-winning author of many children’s books, including War Horse which was made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. He was also named Children’s Laureate in the United Kingdom from 2003-2005.
Besides being a great read, Meeting Cézanne is sure to pique an interest in painters for the reader. 13 Painters Children Should Know by Florian Heine is a great introduction to the many various painting styles of the great artists. Heine provides a brief biography of each artist as well as a detailed description of what makes each special. Additionally, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter is a delightful picture book describing the ups and downs of Picasso’s art career. Beautifully illustrated with artwork by Kevin Hawkes, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! is a quick and easy foray into the world of Picasso.
How much of the information you “know” is actually misinformation in disguise? Maybe your first grade teacher simplified a few things in history class, or science hadn’t quite caught up with reality yet, or your parents were just telling you what their parents told them. All (well, some) are revealed in The De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn’t Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew by the editors of Cracked.com, a U.S.-based humor website.
With a tongue-in-cheek, often slyly humorous style, The De-Textbook takes you from the basic things we are doing wrong everyday (like breathing and sleeping) through more advanced misconceptions in biology, history and psychology, to name a few. This is definitely a book geared toward a more adult audience, as some of the more subtle jokes and innuendos may be confusing to a younger audience, and that's not counting an entire chapter on sex education. Each section is filled with short snippets of information that are hilariously presented accompanied by numerous pictures and illustrations, also hilariously presented. If we had textbooks this engaging in school, maybe we all would have actually learned something.
So if you’re curious (or rather, suspicious) about whether ostriches really hide their heads in the sand, or whether the Dark Ages were really all that dark, or perhaps you're wondering how many planets there really are in the Solar System and why scientists can’t seem to make up their minds about it, The De-Textbook is a great place to start. Trivia buffs and fans of Cracked or similar humor sites like The Oatmeal will especially enjoy this one.
Acclaimed writer Ned Vizzini died Thursday at age 32 in Brooklyn. Vizzini was a successful young adult author, television screenwriter and essayist. His first novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, was published in 2006 and is the semi-autobiographical account of a high school student dealing with depression. Vizzini’s account of this high achiever who spends time in a mental hospital following a suicide attempt has become a contemporary classic in teen literature. In 2010, it was adapted for the big screen as a feature film starring Zach Galifianakis.
Vizzini’s other novels include Be More Chill and The Other Normals which also focus on outsiders and their struggles. His most recent project was a middle-grade series he co-authored with film director Chris Columbus. House of Secrets, an electrifying adventure, is the first in this series which reads like a movie. Vizzini also wrote for television, including the shows The Last Resort, Teen Wolf and Believe, the new show from J.J. Abrams premiering in March. His essays have appeared in a wide variety of outlets such as The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Daily Beast.
Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews and Walt Disney: for most of us, the three are linked together with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, tea parties on the ceiling and Jane and Michael Banks of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. The name P.L. Travers, however, is recognizable by only the most diehard of Poppins fans, as she is the author of the Mary Poppins children’s book series, as well as the subject of the biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson.
P.L. Travers was born in Australia and christened Helen Lyndon Goff; she later adopted Pamela Lyndon Travers as a pseudonym. Travers valued her privacy, and felt protective of the Mary Poppins characters and stories. Lawson explains that each contained elements of Travers’ own rather peripatetic and often difficult life. Initially, Walt Disney encountered resistance from Travers when he approached her about adapting her Poppins books to a film version. The “real” nanny is sharp-tongued, mysterious, controlling and a bit vain. Travers felt Disney would “replace truth with false sentimentality” and called Disney’s movie-making “vulgar.” In the end, Disney’s coffers trumped Travers’ misgivings, and the Julie Andrews version of Mary triumphed on the silver screen.
Expect to hear more about P.L. Travers after the December release of the new movie Saving Mr. Banks which follows Disney as he woos Travers for the film rights to the now-classic movie Mary Poppins.
How do you vanquish a demon? One day, Kennedy Waters is mourning the death of her mother and packing up her life before heading to boarding school, the next she finds herself on the run from vengeful spirits. Unbeknownst to her, Kennedy’s mom was a descendant of The Legion, a secret group of five individuals who unwittingly released the demon Andras into our world two centuries ago. Since that time, one blood relative from each family has been tasked with trying to protect the world from the demon’s army of poltergeists and ghosts. Unbreakable, a new novel by bestselling author Kami Garcia, takes the reader on the fast-paced and exciting quest of five teens determined to complete this job. Ancient journals reveal a device they believe can be used to destroy the demon, however it needs to be assembled and the parts are hidden in different locations around Maryland. Together they must decipher the clues to some of the creepiest settings collected within the pages of one story and exorcize the evil spirits determined to protect their treasure.
Kami Garcia, a coauthor of Beautiful Creatures, has created another thrilling and captivating story. Unbreakable, which was only released in October, has already been optioned to be a feature film. The novel is complex and frightening, yet has moments of tenderness and romance. Throughout the story the reader will empathize with Kennedy’s desire to belong to this makeshift family, and fear that she may not really be one of them. The sequel is due to be released in 2014, and I haven’t been this excited for a follow-up book since I finished reading The Hunger Games.
Two new visually stunning picture books capture the essence and energy of the train, a holiday staple and year-round hit with kids of all ages. Celebrated author/illustrators Brian Floca and Elisha Cooper each tackle this transportation wonder and provide entertainment and facts sure to entice readers again and again.
Floca explores America’s early railroads in Locomotive. Illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page. Using the travels of a mother and her two children on the newly constructed Transcontinental Railroad as a framework, Floca masterfully succeeds in presenting the history of the magnificent train and capturing the impact this new mode of travel had on shaping America. Free verse, heavy with alliteration and onomatopoeia, along with frequent changes in font and typeface capture the movement and splendor of the train. The nuanced paintings complement the text and detail the mechanics of the train as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Endpapers and an author’s note offer enlightening details. Every page offers facts which will delight and educate even the most ardent train aficionado.
Fast forward 150 years and board a variety of trains in Elisha Cooper’s Train. Cooper invites the reader to join him on an adventurous trip as he examines today’s train travel. The action starts with a commuter train heading west and switches to a passenger train rolling through the Midwest. A freight train loads its cargo and rumbles toward its destination past an overnight train climbing the Rocky Mountains. Finally, there’s the dramatic high-speed train, a bullet-shaped beauty. Cooper’s fluid language and dappled watercolors capture nature’s grandeur and the movement, speed and power of these mighty trains. Further reading is provided with a glossary, facts section and brief author’s note. Readers will want to punch multiple tickets and take repeat rides on this journey of discovery.
Allie Brosh has been publishing her stick figure drawings on her blog Hyperbole and a Half since July 2009. Her sense of humor and quirky drawings made the blog incredibly popular. Now Brosh has taken the blog a step further, publishing her first book filled with her familiar simple, but hilarious drawings. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened contains a mix of classic stories from the blog and brand new ones.
Longtime Hyperbole and a Half readers will enjoy revisiting favorite pieces like “The God of Cake,” a story from Brosh’s childhood in which she became obsessed with her grandfather’s birthday cake, and did everything she could to devour the entire thing. While new stories like “Lost in the Woods,” a tale in which Brosh, her mother and younger sister end up lost in the woods for hours after her mother decides that the girls need to learn about nature, will make readers — new and old alike — laugh out loud. Readers will also enjoy brand new pieces about Brosh’s comical dogs — the simple dog and the helper dog. Hyperbole and a Half does take a turn for the serious with Brosh’s two-part piece on her experiences with depression. Both parts are refreshingly honest, but not without her unique brand of humor.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened is a hilarious collection of stories and drawings. Brosh’s storytelling ability combined with her comic drawings make for a fun and insightful book.
It’s cookie-baking season again and there are a number of places to look for new recipes to add to your repertoire. A new book from Krisztina Maksai, European Cookies for Every Occasion, takes on old-world favorites with a contemporary twist. Focused specifically on the sweet treats of Central Europe, Maksai’s conversational introductions to each recipe are a good counterpoint to the clear, all-business side of the techniques used as she creates each of the morsels. Clearly coming from a 21st century perspective, she indicates the value of using organic ingredients (such as lemon zest) and her concern over artificial dyes.
This is a gorgeous cookbook full of excellent step-by-step photographs explaining the process of making each cookie. The book is broken into four main sections, starting with Quick and Easy, then Moderately Easy, Moderately Difficult and, finally, Challenging Cookies. Also included is a short list of essential baking tools and an introduction of how Maksai became the baker she is today. In it, she explains the importance of tasting various dark chocolates to select the right one for the application, and also describes why using a double-boiler may not be the best choice for melting chocolate.
Cookie ingredients that are particularly popular in Europe make numerous appearances in the book, such as various jams, marzipan and poppy seeds. Maksai was born in Romania, moved to Germany as a child but grew up in Hungary. Since then, she has lived in Austria, the United States and Hungary once again. This blend of cultures is evident in the cookies she highlights within this elegant cookbook. Krisztina Maksai’s YouTube channel even includes a video of her constructing a stained glass gingerbread house which includes a smoking chimney!
If you wait all year for the Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie lineups, these three new romances will be the perfect way to relax and unwind from the holiday hustle and bustle. Sherryl Woods brings readers back to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland in A Seaside Christmas. Songwriter Jenny Collins grew up as the only child of a single mother. Her world was shaken when her mother married into the big, close-knit O’Brien family, and Jenny suddenly had a new baby brother. After a very public breakup with country music bad boy Caleb Green, Jenny decides to leave Nashville and go home for the holidays to regroup and find her place in her new family. She is shocked when Caleb follows her home to win her back. Is Caleb there for her or because he knows that her song can help him break through as a solo artist?
In Sleigh Belles, Beth Albright continues her Sassy Belles series, which she describes as Steel Magnolias meets Sex and the City. Local news reporter Dallas Dubois has a chronic case of trying to get over Cal Hollingsworth, an affliction that she has suffered from since her high school crush on him. When the director of the local children’s Christmas play can’t continue, Dallas’s station manager demands that she take charge, but what does she know about working with kids? Directing the play puts Dallas in regular contact with Cal who soon begins to see the real woman behind the mean-girl reputation. Albright’s hilarious one-liners and abundant southern charm make this story a winner.
In Sarah Morgan’s Sleigh Bells in the Snow, Jackson O’Neil left his successful business to go home and save Snow Crystal Resort and Spa, his family’s business. Kayla Green wants to escape everything related to Christmas and the bad memories that the holidays bring up for her. She is coerced into spending a week at Snow Crystal to win Jackson’s business for her PR firm. Once she’s in Vermont, Kayla is completely out of her element and finds that saving Snow Crystal won’t be as easy as she thought. Her attraction to Jackson is undeniable, but she doesn’t think she can ever risk her heart again. Like Kayla, readers will be enchanted by the O’Neil family and Snow Crystal.