What young reader can resist a book that answers the question: can cow poop help two friends patch up their friendship?
In Zig and Wikki in The Cow, by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler, Zig (an alien) and Wikki (his computer friend) are going about their day when Zig notices his pet fly looks sick. An already jealous Wikki is happy to take the fly back to Earth where they promptly lose their spaceship. Hilarious adventures through a farm’s ecosystem ensue. Will Zig and Wikki find their spaceship? Will their friendship be saved? Will the fly be okay? Interspersed with scientific facts about an ecosystem, the story is a fun read (and just a little bit gross). Zig and Wikki in The Cow is a great book to read with your beginning reader. The pictures are charming, the story is funny and (after a few “ewwws”) your reader will be proud of the science lessons learned. If you enjoy this one, be sure to check out their first adventure Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework.
Three picture books take on one of the first questions that kids have to come to terms with: when is enough enough?
For a while, Davy was an only lamb. He enjoyed the focused attention he received from his parents, until one after another brother arrived on the scene. Before he knew it, there were twelve brothers, all of which wanted to follow in Davy’s hoofsteps, everywhere he went. Matthew Cordell, author and illustrator of Another Brother, uses bright, funny line drawings and successful, subtle ovine humor in this satisfying and surprisingly touching sibling story.
Minerva is the subject of The Unruly Queen, written and illustrated by E.S. Redmond. This is largely a tale of gluttony, as Minerva seems more interested in using as many resources (and exasperated nannies) as she possibly can. However, when her fifty-third nanny finally beats her at her own game, Minerva receives her much needed comeuppance. The rhyming couplets match the art, which is reminiscent of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton.
An unnamed magpie has what we would refer to as hoarding tendencies, in More, written by I.C. Springman and illustrated by Brian Lies. Acrylic and colored pencil drawings of the magpie, mice, and objects star in this timeless fable that mirrors present-day issues of materialism. A field mouse offers the magpie the gift of a marble, but after collecting many more items, its nest becomes overwhelmed by many other found objects. After a catastrophic incident, the field mice help the magpie determine just what matters, and what is enough.
Miracles and foundering souls aside, Francesca Kay's new novel, The Translation of the Bones, is not a religious story, nor does it answer big questions about faith and God. Rather, it considers why people believe what they do and the inextricable connection between love, sorrow, and solace. The story is centered on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, in urban South London, where a mentally fragile young volunteer, Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, mistakes a bad blow to the head for a personal message from Christ. When word of a bleeding statue spreads, the spectacle becomes an embarrassment to those connected to the church and its spiritually exhausted parish priest.
Kay limits plot development in favor of richly developed characters whose commonality is the church and aching motherhood. There is Stella, the lovely cabinet official's wife and flower arranger, whose youngest boy is at boarding school; and Alice, the church housekeeper whose son is in Afghanistan. Both are awaiting the return of their sons. There is also Fidelma, the obese, housebound mother of Mary-Margaret, whose childhood memories still haunt her. Whether or not a miracle has occurred becomes unimportant and unexplored as Kay's characters carry on with distracted lives until tragedy eventually unifies everyone and unhinging loss challenges the nature of belief.
The author's first novel, An Equal Stillness, won Britain's Orange Award for New Writers in 2009. Her new slim novel omits chapters and speech marks, but it doesn't matter. The story shifts seamlessly between different points of view with language, so lovely at times that it invites the occasional sigh, and the knowledge that passion, whether prompted by religious mania or devotion to loved ones is a complex emotion that human beings will forever be trying to define.
The improbable history of the sinking of the Titanic is legendary. The “unsinkable” ship’s maiden voyage was favored with the advantages of an experienced captain, a capable crew, and peerlessly clear weather. She had every probability of reaching her destination unscathed. Yet despite the clear night and the watchful lookout, a looming, unseen colossus was destined to sink her. Of course, even the smallest twist in the kaleidoscope may produce chaos. It is on this premise, embodied by the mysterious, anachronistic presence of a pair of 21st century night vision binoculars, that author David Kowalski launches his epic exploration of “what if?” What if the Titanic hadn’t struck the iceberg? Or, what if she had, but on a different side? Who lives that night, who dies and how - these subtle changes will reshape history as we know it in breathtakingly plausible ways. That is, unless one man’s profound sacrifice in 2012 can reset the Titanic on its original date with destiny.
At just under 750 narrative pages, The Company of the Dead is a tome to be sure, yet not a page in its composition is superfluous to its intricately-woven plot and character development. Throughout the story, Kowalski demonstrates compulsive attention to historical detail and lyrical language. These elements serve to draw the reader ever further into the author’s ambitious yet startlingly realistic vision of a world reshaped and on the edge of the apocalypse.
The Company of the Dead is broadly recommended for readers of any genre who are prepared to invest time in an absorbing adventure. Technically a secret rather than an alternate history, The Company of the Dead nevertheless plays on the same “what if?” element characteristic of so many alternate history titles. It will therefore strike a particular chord with devotees of alternate history and historical fiction. Readers beguiled by alternate histories involving familiar historic figures and locations may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as well as a smorgasbord of series and standalone titles by Harry Turtledove.
Bestselling Regency romance author Sarah MacLean’s new Rules of Scoundrels quartet will follow the four charming rogues who own the Fallen Angel gambling club. Each has fallen from society after a scandal but will find love strong enough to redeem him. The series is off to a great start with A Rogue by Any Other Name.
MacLean’s first scoundrel is the Marquess of Bourne who gambled away his inheritance when he was 19 years old. The scandal left him penniless and exiled from society, but he has built a new life and fortune for himself as one of the owners of the most notorious gambling hell in London. The only thing that he hasn’t regained is Falconwell, his ancestral estate. When he finds that Falconwell is now part of the dowry of his childhood neighbor Penelope Marbury, Bourne traps her into marrying him. Penelope has always loved her childhood friend Michael (now Bourne) but the man she has married bears little resemblance to him. Bourne doesn’t expect marriage to change his life, but Penelope is not at all the woman Bourne expected her to be. In the end, he has to choose between the revenge that he always wanted and the life he never knew that he could have.
MacLean has an extraordinary ability to create characters who readers love, and she injects a modern sense of humor into her historical setting. Old letters between Penelope and Bourne open each chapter, giving their relationship history and depth. The epilogue of A Rogue by Any Other Name has a tease of the next novel, and it will definitely leave readers wanting more. Readers new to Sarah MacLean should also try her Love by Numbers series, where Penelope makes her first appearance.
The End of the Wasp Season is the latest novel by Denise Mina and the second featuring Detective Inspector Alex Morrow. Morrow was introduced in the novel Still Midnight, in which she was trying to solve an attack on a family while wrestling demons of her own. In the current novel, Morrow is heavily pregnant with twins and trying to unravel the mysterious death of a woman who was thrown down a flight of stairs and stomped on. As in the previous novel, Morrow is also dealing with sexism within the police bureau and trying to ensure that male officers treat the victim with respect.
Morrow is a complex character. She is methodical, organized, and truly desires justice for the victims. She finds herself in an uncomfortable situation when she runs into an old school friend named Kay whose previous employment was caring for the victim’s mother. Morrow wants to reconnect with her, but realizes that Kay and members of her family may be suspects in the crime. Kay is still living in semi-poverty and has a strong mistrust for the police. Morrow represents all the things that Kay dislikes.
The novel is set in Glasgow, Scotland and Mina really creates a strong city atmosphere. For a reader that prefers audio editions, the work is read by Jane MacFarlane who has a delightful Glaswegian accent that lends to the enjoyment of hearing the novel. Mina describes police procedures in realistic detail, from evidence collection to suspect interrogation. But the greatest strength in her novels is her insight into the psychology of the main characters. The story is as much about those who commit the crime as those who solve them. The reader gets caught up in the story and it becomes impossible to stop reading. Both Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season are wonderful novels and Detective Alex Morrow is a character every reader should discover.
Heft by Liz Moore is a confessional novel about loneliness, human fragility and hope. From the very beginning, Arthur Opp confides, “the first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.” By his estimation, he probably weighs between 500-600 pounds and has not left his home in Brooklyn since September 11, 2001. He has no contact with family or friends. If he needs anything from the outside world, he simply orders it online.
Out of the blue, former student Charlene calls Arthur to find out if he might consider tutoring her teenage son, Kel. Although Charlene was Arthur’s student over twenty years ago, he still thinks of her often. For him, Charlene represents a life that might have been. Meanwhile, Charlene is a struggling single mom raising her son in Yonkers. Wanting more for Kel, she has managed to get him into a better school in an affluent neighborhood nearby by working at the school as a secretary. Kel is a gifted athlete and is interested in pursuing a career in baseball. Charlene is concerned that he’s more interested in sports than in his academic future. A firm believer in higher education, she hopes Arthur Opp may be able to help. Readers will stay up way too late, temporarily neglect chores and relationships just to see how this story unfolds.
Heft is a heartfelt novel that never crosses into sappy sentimentalism. With Moore’s keen attention to detail, deeply compelling story and all too human characters, Heft is destined to land on many of the “Best Of” lists this year. Adult and teen readers who enjoy coming of age stories should not miss out on this lovely book.
Ten-year-old August Pullman (Auggie to family and friends) sees himself as a pretty ordinary kid. Or at least, a pretty ordinary kid with a most extraordinary face. You see, August’s face is the result of a most improbable genetic lottery, a one-in-a-million ticket called mandibulofacial dysostosis which, despite countless corrective surgeries, has gifted August with the kind of face that causes children to run screaming and even the kindest adults to avert their eyes.
However ordinary August might feel on the inside, at first – and second – glance the world has always seen a freak, or at best, a gut-wrenchingly pitiable boy. As his sister’s childhood friend Miranda puts it, “…the universe was not kind to Auggie Pullman.” Yet, as the story unfolds over his first year of middle school, August’s teachers and his classmates will learn that August’s face really is the least extraordinary thing about him.
First time author R.J. Palacio brings August and the other characters of Wonder to life with tremendous poignancy, realism and a supersized measure of practical humor. The perspectives of many characters are sampled and distilled into a comprehensive experience of what it means to be different, to love (and sometimes resent) someone who is different, and what extraordinary beauty can be seen beyond the peephole. Palacio’s characters and situations are deftly constructed, startlingly realistic, and likely to resonate with anyone who’s ever been there, whether as the awkward student on the first day of middle school, the parent or sibling of a child whom the world sees as different, or the “normal” kids and adults who must face their own internal concoction of fear, politeness, meanness, and most importantly, kindness when confronted with someone who is different.
Ultimately, this is more than a story about fitting in and more than a caution against judging a book by its cover – though Wonder certainly encompasses both of these messages. It’s a story about the beautiful, the ordinary, and the unseen ways in which an unkind universe still takes care of all its birds.
The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson is an amazingly fun and frightening story you won’t want to miss. The story revolves around Rory Deveaux, an 18-year-old girl from Louisiana who has the opportunity to attend a boarding school in London for her senior year. The transition proves challenging as we witness her try to make friends, struggle with difficult classes, and much to Rory’s dismay, learn to play field hockey. However, even more distressing are the brutal murders which are taking place in close proximity to her school. Young women are being killed in the same manner and on the same dates as the Jack the Ripper murders a hundred years before. Rippermania has taken over the city as everyone anxiously awaits the next victim to be discovered.
It turns out that Rory is the only witness to any of the crimes and this fact puts her in the sights of the killer. The story takes a decidedly paranormal twist as the Shades, a secretive police force, become involved in the case. Their specialty is finding and dealing with ghosts. They are determined to protect Rory and stop the new Ripper before he strikes again. This novel is a fantastic read that teens and adults alike will enjoy. You won’t want the story to end and the great news is it doesn’t have to! This is the first novel in a series called The Shades of London.
Interested in polishing up on your Ripperology? Check out Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect by Robert House or Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell, both available at your library. Amaze friends with sordid facts regarding this legendary unsolved mystery.
Once there was a young Jewish boy named Felix living in Nazi occupied Poland. He was naïve as to why his parents left him at a Catholic orphanage. Felix got tired of waiting for them to come back for him so he chose to leave the safety of the nuns and go back home. This poignant story by Morris Gleitzman shows the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child. The 10-year-old cannot understand the things he witnesses. Why are people found shot outside a farmhouse? Why are there strangers living in his house? The reader follows his conjectures and rationalizations until he very slowly comes to the realization that the Jews are being eliminated and his parents are gone.
Then he befriends a 6-year-old girl named Zelda. They escape a train bound for a concentration camp and spend every moment trying to hide from the Nazis. Felix makes up stories to distract Zelda from hunger and fear. The author Richmal Crompton is his hero, and he prays to her when he is scared. The children are taken in by a kind woman. She bleaches their hair and gets them fake documentation so they can hide in plain sight, but they all live in constant fear of discovery. Felix witnesses unspeakable cruelty and hatred and although he feels anger, makes a conscious choice not to become like the Nazis.
These novels are historical fiction at its best. Thoroughly researched and simply presented with the authentic voice of a child. It is one thing to learn the facts of the Holocaust and an entirely different matter to witness them from a child’s perspective.