Ishmael Beah writes as though he is guided by a kaleidoscope of imagery. The old man's hair was not gray; it was the "color of stagnant clouds." Such is the pleasure of reading this Sierra Leone-born author, who recently published his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, about the aftermath of civil war in his home country. The book, part fable/part allegory, is really several individuals’ stories set in the village of Imperi. It is about the redemptive nature of those who have suffered heartbreak few can imagine and the human need to renew, rebuild and rejuvenate.
Imperi is a devastated, desolate place since the war. Villagers are now making their way back, past the rows of human skulls that line their path. They bring with them memories. They bring physical scars as well, like those borne by Sila and his two children, whose hands were cut off by a 16-year-old boy soldier now living among them. They crave a return to the old ways, like Bockarie and Benjamin, two teachers at the center of the story who find it difficult to inspire students when conditions are so poor. Fortunately, there are storytellers, like the elder Mama Kadie, whose evening tales swaddle those listening in the tentative celebration of tomorrow. As more villagers return, we learn of their pasts. Insidious corruption from both within and outside of the government complicates matters.
Beah, a former child soldier who wrote about his experiences in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling as a young boy. "I bring a lot of that oral tradition to my writing and I try to let it seep into the words." His evocative narrative, conveyed in the third person, borrows from his native Mende as well as other languages. It is lyrical prose that invites readers to slow down and drift into a world Beah knows all too well.
Photographer Rebecca Winter became a feminist icon, celebrated artist and a wealthy woman thanks to her “Kitchen Counter” collection of domestic photographs. In Still Life with Bread Crumbs (also the name of Rebecca’s most famous photograph), Anna Quindlen confronts the challenges involved with aging – financial decline, parental infirmities, career relevance and love.
Rebecca, now 60 years old and long-divorced, is dealing with dwindling finances, supporting her elderly parents and supplementing her grown son’s income. These obligations are coupled with a drastic reduction in income and force her to sublet her cherished Manhattan apartment and rent a small country cabin in a town where everyone soon knows her name. Almost immediately, she is faced with decidedly nonurban issues such as raccoons in the attic and a lack of power outlets. Local roofer Jim Bates offers assistance with her home and also secures her a paying gig photographing birds. When not sitting in a tree stand with Jim, Rebecca embraces the nature around her and slowly feels her creative spark returning.
Quindlen’s nonlinear narrative infuses Rebecca’s tale with a fresh pace as the depth of her story is uncovered layer by layer. Her past has shaped the woman she is today and the reader gets glimpses of key events that had a profound impact on her evolution. In moving to the country, she has physically distanced herself from friends and family and embarks on a soul-searching journey. While she may no longer be the same woman who snapped those famous photographs, she is still vibrant and willing to embrace second chances. Quindlen once again delivers with this beautifully written, insightful novel of one woman embarking on a new phase of life filled with professional rejuvenation and unexpected love.
Walk down the toy aisles at your local store and you will see that the aisles are divided into two categories. The aisles with shelves lined in pink that contain the soft, sweet, nurturing toys are obviously marketed toward girls. Those blue shelves with the rough-and-tumble, mechanical looking toys built for speed and smashing things, well, that’s where the boys should shop. But what if your child doesn’t conform to society’s gender norms? Then perhaps you may enjoy Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case.
Jacob loves to play dress-up at school with his best friend, Emily. Although most boys in his class want to dress as a knight, fireman or dragon, Jacob is much happier when he puts on a pretty dress and imagines that he is a princess. Even though he is being teased by some of his classmates, Jacob musters up the courage to ask his mom if he can wear a regular dress, not just a playtime dress, to school. While his parents don’t immediately embrace the idea, Jacob’s mom helps him sew a dress to wear to school. With the support of his parents (“Well, it’s not what I would wear, but you look great” – Jacob’s Father) and his teacher (“I think Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in. Just like you do. Not very long ago little girls couldn’t wear pants. Can you imagine that?”), Jacob shows everyone that there is more than one way to be a boy.
Case’s soft, moving illustrations help set the mood of the story while the Hoffmans’ text conveys far more than a singular lesson. This story is great for teaching children about diversity, acceptance and self-confidence. The authors’ note at the end of the book helps to explain how all adults who play a role in raising, nurturing and educating children can make a difference in the lives of those children who do not conform to typical gender roles.
A heavily and densely woven debut novel by author Laura McHugh, The Weight of Blood oozes mystery, secrets and pain like a long-festering wound. Told primarily from the perspective of Lila, a young mother burdened by her past, the story is paralleled by Lila’s now 17-year-old daughter Lucy’s story. Lila disappeared when Lucy was just a baby, and she always wondered what really happened the day her mother was last seen holding a gun and heading toward a cave deep in the Ozark Mountains. When Lucy’s childhood friend, Sheri, disappears and is found dismembered a year later, old secrets and suspicions begin to surface as Lucy works to uncover the truth.
Lucy lives with her father who is often away for days at a time working out of town. Even when he returns home he is still only half there, the other half still consumed by the pain of losing his young wife so many years ago. Lucy has an intimate support network of pseudo-family members, her mother’s once-best-friend and her daughter, a grandmotherly figure who lives nearby in the woods and her father’s brother Crete who is fiercely protective of Lucy, treating her like his own daughter.
In a small town, where heritage is held to the highest of standards and outsiders are always kept at arm’s length, there are no limits to what someone will do for the sake of family. The events that unravel through Lila’s and later into Lucy’s stories attest to the lengths one will go for family.
Tedd Arnold, author and illustrator of The New York Times bestselling Fly Guy series, has come out with a new book, Fix This Mess! In this new beginning reader, Arnold plays with words and the importance of meaning what you say.
Jake orders a robug through the mail that he intends to use to clean his filthy mess of a house. When he asks the robug to “Fix this mess,” the robug proceeds to move one mess to another area. This makes Jake frustrated. Will Jake ever get the robug to fix the mess? Well, not unless he changes his tactic.
Jake isn’t the only messy dog in town. Bad Dog, by award winning author and illustrator David McPhail, is a realistic fiction work about another messy dog, but unlike Jake, this one doesn’t have opposable thumbs to help clean his own messes.
Bad Dog is a beginning reader about a little boy with a bad dog named Tom. Tom does everything from destroying the family’s TV to digging through the garbage. One day, the boy’s parents get so fed up that they are ready to find Tom a new home, but then an unexpected event changes their perspective, at least for the time being.
While Arnold uses bright and busy illustrations, McPhail utilizes more subtle hues and contained illustrations. Both of these books have just one or two sentences to a page, making them great books for your beginning reader.
America’s longest-running syndicated television show, Soul Train, receives deserved attention in two new titles focusing on the lasting legacy of this landmark production. The show debuted in 1971 and continued airing through 2006. Those 35 years were marked by groundbreaking moments, future stars, celebrity performances and thousands of Soul Train Lines.
In Soul Train: The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation, Questlove (drummer and frontman for The Roots, the in-house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) celebrates the show he loved and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse from conception to conclusion with features on the many artists whose careers skyrocketed following an appearance. Think Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, LL Cool J and Lenny Kravitz! He also highlights the changes the show made during its long run, including the departure of creator and host Don Cornelius in 1993. A forward from Gladys Knight, a preface from Nick Cannon and Questlove’s exclusive access to the show’s archives all combine to create a volume rich in history, music and culture.
Music critic and novelist Nelson George offers a history of the revolutionary show in The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style. The show debuted in October of 1971, seven years after the Civil Rights Act, and was unlike any previous variety show. Don Cornelius, a former radio reporter, was inspired by the civil rights movement to create a venue to highlight the cultural preferences of young African-Americans. It turned out that the music from a wide range of genres, the innovative dance moves and the fantastic fashions had wide crossover appeal and staying power. Many of the performers, including dancers Jody Watley and Rosie Perez and singers Aretha Franklin and Barry White, share memories and add insight into this fabulous show that revolutionized entertainment and promised “a groove that will make you move real smooth.”
Actor B. J. Novak’s first collection of short stories, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, shows that he is more than just another Hollywood star writing a book. Best known for his acting and writing roles on The Office, Novak brings the same sort of absurd humor to his collection of over 60 short stories. The stories range in length and subject — some only a few lines, others pages long — and while some stories are entirely new, others are retellings of stories readers know well.
One More Thing begins with “The Rematch,” a continuation of the fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” told from the Hare’s perspective in the years after the race that ruined his reputation. From retold fables to dating stories like “All You Have to Do” and “Missed Connection: Grocery Spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday,” the collection is varied, and sure to keep the reader laughing. In “All You Have to Do,” a man informs readers that in order to find love, all you have to do is wear a red T-shirt each day, then go to the Missed Connections website and find out who liked you that day. In the second “Missed Connection,” a woman is searching for a man in a red T-shirt after they met outside of Trader Joe’s and spent the night together.
As an actor, Novak uses his connections to get his famous friends to voice characters on the audiobook version. From his Office co-stars Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson to Oscar-winner Emma Thompson to pop star Katy Perry, the wonderfully performed audiobook version adds to the hilarity of Novak’s off the wall stories. Fans of humor books filled with pop culture references and unique stories won’t want to miss Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.
The science fiction genre has been on the decline for quite some time, but with the rise of innovative, mind-bending authors like Ann Leckie that might be about to change. Leckie has set imaginations afire, garnered a constellation of outstanding reviews and received a recent nomination for a 2013 Nebula Award for her debut novel, Ancillary Justice.
Ancillary Justice is set in a far future in an interplanetary empire known as the Radch. The Radchii utilize humans, massive ships and space stations connected by a vast network of artificial intelligence and the Ancillaries. Ancillaries are formerly living humans that have been transformed into part of the collective mind of their ships or stations. No longer human but also not fully machine, they are the Borg with more humanity and better fashion sense. Breq, the book’s protagonist, used to be an Ancillary of the starship Justice of Toren. Something happened to the ship, and she is the last surviving piece with all of the ship’s memories and no individual identity of her own. Breq is on a quest for vengeance for the death of her favorite human officer. The story is told in both Breq’s present and flashbacks that tell of the events leading up to the loss of the Justice of Toren. These flashbacks allow the brilliance of the work to shine through.
With a narrator that is a ship consisting of hundreds of parts, you often seem to get point of views from dozens of perspectives, but they are all from the same character. It is no accident that the Radchii have no sense of gender. Throughout the book, Breq refers to everyone as "she," and it is only through the conversations of others that we get any sense of gender identity. As Breq’s story unfolds and you see a multifaceted Artificial Intelligence developing a split personality and hiding secrets from itself, you develop a true appreciation for what Leckie has accomplished.
A world on the verge of unimagined changes in identity, technology and biological change, Ancillary Justice delivers a window into our future and how the definition of being human might be more malleable than we think.
Want to share your love of Downton Abbey with your little one? Look no further than Mouseton Abbey: The Missing Diamond by Nick Page. This estate, populated by mice and presided over by Roquefort, the present Lord Mouseton, has an impressive history — it was originally a monastery and even survived the War of the Fondues!
At Mouseton Abbey, it's Cheesemas, and Roquefort has misplaced the Great Big Cheesy Diamond, which is a tradition for the family’s Cheesemas banquet. Lady Brie, the Countess of Mouseton, is well acquainted with her husband’s habit of losing things and even tried buying him a planner at one point (which he lost). Soon, everyone at Mouseton Abbey from Roquefort and Lady Brie’s three daughters to the household staff is on a search for the diamond. But with last-minute banquet preparations underway, Roquefort is causing more disorder and housekeeping angst as he tears apart rooms and upsets cooking preparations in search of the treasure. Will the family find the diamond and be able to keep their Cheesemas tradition?
Adorable knitted mouse characters set in delightfully sketched rooms make this a fun and enchanting story, and the humor and mice misadventures will be appreciated by both adults and children. There is even a character chart in the beginning of the book with names and titles (Lady Gouda, in dress and demeanor, bears more than a passing resemblance to Downton’s Lady Violet). With the mice’s names — Wensleydale, Ricotta, Fontina — it could be a lesson in cheeses as well as aristocratic country estates!
Whether you are an avid fan of Downton Abbey or just someone who enjoys a bit of humor involving cats, you are sure to enjoy Chris Kelly’s Downton Tabby: A Parody. In this book, you will be introduced to the aristocratic upstairs cats, whose day consists of grooming, sleeping, being fed and, of course, loafing around on expensive furniture in an adorable manner. There are also the downstairs cats — mostly named Emma — whose lots in life are to work in servitude to the upstairs cats. After all, this is England in the early 1900s. Their choices in life are really rather limited: serve, be served or be murdered by Jack the Ripper. Given those options, if one were not fortunate enough to be a proper kitty of breeding, a life of service is better than no life at all.
Following the general story line of the Downton Abbey television show, you will enjoy the trials and tribulations, the prides and the prejudices as well as the sense and the sensibilities of the felines of Downton Tabby. Learn how to keep a secret, the secret language of the tail, codes of conduct for both upstairs and downstairs cats and the art of arguing with someone who has deeply held beliefs.
Heavily illustrated, one of the gems of this book for cat lovers is the photos of cats dressed as characters from Downton Abbey reenacting scenes from the television show. A cheeky romp, this short book is an entertaining quick read. Who knows, you may even learn a bit about history, too!