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.
The days are getting shorter, and the weather’s getting colder. This can only mean one thing: winter is almost here. With the changing of the seasons come some new winter themed picture books that you can enjoy with your kids. If It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws! by Kim Norman and illustrated by Liza Woodruff uses a well-known children’s participatory song and brings the reader along on an adventure in the chilly outdoors. Whether you are tasting a flake, grabbing your skis or building a fort, you will have fun following along as a group of arctic animals enjoy a day playing outdoors together. If you like this book you may also want to check out the author’s other winter-themed book, Ten on a Sled, an alliterative counting story featuring the same cast of characters.
When Lulu wakes up and looks out her window, she sees that an unexpected snow storm has blanketed everything in fluffy white in Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow by David Soman and Jacky Davis. Putting on snow gear, along with her trademark tutu and wings, Lulu, aka Ladybug Girl, steps outside with her dog Bingo to play in the winter wonderland. This book shows the joys of imagination, perseverance and cooperation. A great choice to read while curled up in front of a fire while waiting for some snowflakes to fall.
Winter Friends by Charles Reasoner features forest creatures playing outdoors on a snowy winter night. This die cut book has adorably illustrated animals, simple rhyming text and thick cardboard pages which make it a perfect choice to share with babies and toddlers. It may be cold outside, but it’s a great time to snuggle up with a good book.
Adriana Trigiani completes her Valentine trilogy with her new novel The Supreme Macaroni Company. Valentine Roncalli, who took the reins of her family’s business, the Angelini Shoe Company, in the previous novels, now comes into her own. The novel picks up right where the previous one ended. Valentine is newly engaged to Gianluca Vechiarelli, an Italian tanner and son of her beloved grandmother’s new husband. They announce their engagement to the Roncalli family during the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, and the two of them embark on their lives together. The story pulls readers into the world of Valentine’s boisterous Italian-American family as she and Gianluca plan their wedding, and we see the challenges that Valentine faces growing the family business and learning to balance work and family. Throughout the course of the novel, it is clear that happily ever after isn’t always easy. In this novel, Trigiani does what she does best. She tells a story about family. Filled with warmth, humor, joy and sorrow, The Supreme Macaroni Company is all of the things that readers have grown to love about Trigiani’s novels.
In addition to writing this novel, Trigiani has been working on another exciting project—a film adaptation of her debut novel Big Stone Gap. Written and directed by Trigiani herself, the film stars Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman, Patrick Wilson and Whoopi Goldberg. Filming is now complete, and Trigiani says that the movie should be released in about a year.
New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey delights adults and teens alike with Dead Set. After the unexpected death of her father, Zoe and her mother must move to the Tenderloin area of San Francisco while they wait for dividends from her father’s life insurance policy. To deal with her troubles in the real world, Zoe escapes into her dreams where she finds comfort and friendship from her dream brother, Valentine. A mysterious something — or someone — has also joined them in her dream world.
Back in the real world, Zoe happens upon a dark and dingy old record store. Most people walk right past the back room with the beaded curtain, but Zoe is curious and goes inside. There she discovers a collection of albums that contain something other than music. The grooves on these records contain lives — souls of people who have passed on but lingered in this world. Emmett, the proprietor of the record store, promises to help Zoe reconnect with her father. All it would cost her is a piece of herself. It starts with a lock of her hair. The next time, the price is a tooth. How much would you pay to spend another moment with someone you loved and lost? And at what point does the price become too much?
Kadrey is best known for his Sandman Slim series. This dark, twisted, stand-alone fantasy novel will appeal to those already familiar with his work as well as those who enjoy a quiet horror story with a strong, albeit sometimes lost, female character.