The excitement of the art scene in 1860s Paris is the lush setting for Maureen Gibbon’s new novel Paris Red. When we meet 17-year-old Victorine, she is wearing bright green boots to set her apart from all the other women walking down the street. It is a fashion choice that pays off, as she gains the attention of a mysterious stranger.
The stranger reveals that he is an important artist, and he strikes up a flirtation with both Victorine and her roommate, Nise. Victorine feels compelled to choose between her best friend, who she feels as close to as a sister, and this charming artist. But once she models for the artist, she knows her future is secured. She becomes not only his lover, but his most important muse.
Jealousy and financial insecurity mars their relationship, but within the confines of the artist’s cramped studio, Victorine is secure that they are creating art that will provoke and shock the outside world. So moved, she begins to paint on her own, at first timid, but then confident in her own talent.
The mysterious artist is none other than Edouard Manet, one of the most celebrated artists of the 19thcentury. His work is considered to have given birth to modern art. Victorine Meurent is the face in many of his celebrated works, most notably his controversial masterpiece Olympia.
Fans of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, books that tell the story behind legendary great art, will find this book a sensual treat.
In the battle of the pranksters, there can be only one winner. In The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, prankster Miles Murphy, already disgusted at having to start a new school in a tiny little town famous for cows, is dismayed to find there is already a reigning school prankster. When Miles discovers the current practical joker is really quite good, he challenges himself to outdo the unknown perpetrator and sets about creating elaborate tricks, only to be thwarted at every turn.
Admitting defeat, he joins together with his nemesis to form the Terrible Two. They take the Prankster’s Oath and plan the greatest caper in the history of Yawnee Valley! Barnett and John have teamed together to create a wonderfully fun book about friendship, creativity and cows. Hilarious illustrations are provided by Kevin Cornell. An added educational component includes numerous fun facts about cows. Did you know cows can climb up stairs, but not down?
A fast, funny read, The Terrible Two is the first in a planned series of four books and has already been optioned for a movie. Fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of Wimpy Kid and Tom Greenwald’s Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading will devour this series.
When a novel depicts a brief period of time, the pacing becomes just as crucial as the plot and the characters of the story. Hannah Pittard’s new novel Reunion takes place in the mourning period between a death and subsequent viewing. During those emotional few days, readers witness genuine exchanges between siblings who revert to old tendencies as soon as they’re in the same room together.
En route to Chicago via plane, Kate Pulaski checks her phone and discovers her estranged father Stan has killed himself. Her older siblings Elliot and Nell are pausing their busy lives to fly to Georgia to be with Sasha, Stan’s fifth wife, and their daughter Mindy. Kate is baffled by how quickly her brother and sister have booked their flights, and is forced onto another flight by her husband Peter — right before he tells her he wants a divorce. Kate remembers an affair she had and isn’t surprised by her husband’s scorn, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Wondering how any of her siblings, half-siblings or mothers-in-law could possibly want to mourn Stan’s death, Kate tries in vain to bolster her head and her heart for a tumultuous next couple of days. Days spent drinking far too much wine and attempting to read into familial relationships that she barely knew existed — what else is there to do at a family reunion predicated on a suicide?
Hannah Pittard opens and nurses complex relations between her cast of lovingly crafted and completely human characters, illustrating that a sense of familiarity — with people, places or things — can cause people to take an introspective look at what they’ve become and where they’re headed. Coming-of-age fans will find lots to like in Reunion, as will teens and new adults who enjoy relationship-centric stories.
Good news for thriller fans! Two new novels will have readers on the edge of their seats with gripping suspense, shattering secrets and women in peril who will do anything to stay alive.
NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly shares a story about fear, family secrets and one woman's hunt for answers in The Bullet. Caroline Cashion, a professor at Georgetown University, is stunned when an MRI reveals that she has a bullet lodged in her skull. Her parents finally admit that she was adopted at the age of 3 following her biological parents’ murders. Caroline was present at the crime, and in fact was struck by the same bullet that killed her mother. Doctors could not remove the bullet without risking Caroline’s death. Thirty-four years later, Caroline returns to her hometown to learn about her parents and their horrific deaths. But Caroline is in danger. The killer was never caught and the bullet in her head is the only evidence that can identify him. This fast-paced thriller, complete with a touch of romance, is perfect for fans of Lisa Gardner or Tess Gerritsen.
Susan Crawford’s The Pocket Wife introduces readers to Dana Catrell who suffers from bipolar disorder. Married to Peter, she is shocked when their neighbor Celia is brutally murdered. Upon learning that she was the last person to see Celia alive at a booze-fueled lunch marred by an argument over incriminating pictures of Peter, Dana threatens to descend into mania. Her husband is behaving oddly, and Detective Jack Moss is a frequent and persistent visitor. This is the story of a wounded woman teetering on the edge of sanity, determined to recover her memory and find the truth. But when Dana uncovers some of Celia’s secrets, she starts receiving threatening notes which Peter believes are self-authored. Alternating chapters follow Jack and his investigation and Dana, whose reliability is questionable and whose voice evolves with her changing mental state. The engaging characters add to this electrifying combination of solid mystery and fast-paced psychological thriller.
Navigating the trials of fifth grade is tough enough: tough teachers, difficulties with friends, avoiding bullies and trying to stay “cool” in front of all your peers. In Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s new novel Paper Things, 11-year-old Arianna Hazard has all these complications coupled with the fact that she and her 18-year-old brother Gage are currently homeless.
Ari prefers to think that their situation is temporary; Gage had promised when they left their guardian’s house that he had an apartment lined up just for them, but that was over two months ago. Ari has to spend her nights wondering whose couch they will crash on next or where she can hang up her school uniform. Ari had promised her dying mother that she would get into Carter Middle School, a school for gifted children. Unable to find quiet places to study, she’s behind on her schoolwork and hasn’t even touched her application. Instead, she’s trying to ignore the comments from her classmates that her hair is greasy and that she smells bad.
Can Arianna find any stability in a world where she needs to protect her cherished folder of cutouts from catalogues amidst a shelter of preteen girls? Will she gain the trust of the teachers at her school enough to earn a leadership position to get into Carter, even when she’s failing her classes? Will she and Gage get what they want most — a home of their own?
Parents and teachers looking for a good resource for children in difficult circumstances will find this novel to be a great teachable moment about empathy, kindness and perseverance. Two other great novels that shed light on homeless children are Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and Almost Home by Joan Bauer; both would make great companion pieces to read along Paper Things.
It's one thing to be able to describe a debilitating chronic illness; it's another to do so in language so contemplative that the words seem to hover over the page for their raw honesty. Anna Lyndsey (pseudonym) has written her illness-inspired memoir Girl in the Dark about living with a rare light sensitivity so severe it plunges her into a self-imposed darkness. "How do you write about having to live entirely in the dark?" she asks. Lyndsey does it by sectioning her narrative thoughtfully, giving readers a brief cast into her physical and emotional daily, personal life that is as candid as it is hopeful and full of love.
To say Lyndsey's illness has isolated her would be an understatement. The former British civil servant was fine until one day about 10 years ago she realized she could no longer tolerate light. It starts with the computer screen, which makes her face burn like “someone is holding a flamethrower to my head.” Eventually, her whole body is affected until she is left with no choice but to make her footprint smaller, something easier said than done. She refers to her bedroom as her lair. “I slipped between the walls of my dark room with nothing but relief,” she says. Life is a constant adjustment. Doctors can’t help, nor can her supportive mother and brother. Her rock is her companion-turned-husband Pete who never wavers, bringing her talking books and melding into the new normal.
Lyndsey’s story is not so much about the unusualness of her illness as it is about living as humanely as possible with it. Eschewing strict chronological order, Lyndsey instead delivers up short, poetic essays on various subjects. For readers drawn to the fragility of the human condition, Lyndsey’s remarkable storytelling becomes a fertile ground for resiliency when the impossible becomes possible.
Earlier this year, we lost one of the greats. Terry Pratchett was a satirist worthy of being commented on in the same breath as Mark Twain. The only British author to outsell him was J.K. Rowling. Pratchett wasn't always huge though, and that's how you arrive full circle at The Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett. It is a collection of the short stories that Sir Terry first published when he was just a starting journalist for the Bucks Free Press.
Most of Pratchett's infamy comes from the Discworld, a world carried on the back of four elephants which naturally stand on the back of a massive turtle. The Discworld gave birth to Rincewind, the least magical wizard ever, an orangutan librarian, a kind but often confused Death, witches, watchmen and dozens upon dozens of novels — and wordplay so brilliant that no one can catch every nuance on the first reading. (Fortunately there's enough in every book to make multiple readings an entirely enjoyable venture.) The Discworld exists as a satire of the world we live in, covering everything from holidays, feminism, religion and a million other sacred cows poked with both anger and understanding. Pratchett came to be known for fantasy that hit close to home. The Dragons of Crumbling Castle is far closer to home.
Meet corrupt small town politicians cooking the local egg dancing competition. There is a pet tortoise that only wants freedom. The book has wacky races and the enduring question of what Santa Claus would do if he wasn't Santa Claus. (Apparently, nothing well.) Two of the stories here went on to lead to Sir Terry's first novel The Carpet People, about tiny, tiny people who live amongst the strands of the carpet fiber and are forced to move when the Fray gets too close. It turns out that even when he was young, Pratchett understood that the world was more than slightly mad. These are light enough stories that I'd recommend them for parents reading to their children, and the entire book has been enthusiastically illustrated by Mark Beech.
We're not done with Pratchett yet. He has at least two more finished books coming out this year.
In Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, Jennifer Chiaverini proves once again that she is an amazing writer of historical fiction. She manages to capture the feeling of a particular era and also give her characters authentic voices. This time her subjects are Julia Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, and Jule Dent, lady’s maid and slave of Mrs. Grant.
Chiaverini’s story spans the years before, during and after the Civil War and is told from both Julia Grant’s and Jule’s points of view. We witness young Julia and Jule growing up together on the Dent plantation in Missouri where they seem to be best friends. However, their relationship quickly changes as the girls become young women and Julia begins to treat Jule more like a servant and less like a friend. Throughout the many years they spend together, Julia never seems aware of how much Jule would like to be her own woman, to make her own decisions and to be free. As Chiaverini portrays her, Julia believes that slaves are happy with their lot in life. When Jule expresses her desire to be a free woman, Julia is incredulous, saying to her, “You had a roof over your head and plenty to eat,” as if these are valid reasons for Jule to remain enslaved. Even after marrying Ulysses Grant, whose Ohio family are abolitionists, Julia still cannot believe that freeing slaves is a good idea.
Whether or not Julia Grant took quite so long to comprehend the evils of slavery, Chiaverini uses her as a representation of what many slaveholders of the day may have felt. After the Civil War ended and all slaves were freed, these newly emancipated people faced a very uncertain future as demonstrated by Jule. She struggles to make her own way in the world, and although it is not an easy path, she reflects that at least she now is free to choose which path to take.
Another great thing that Chiaverini does in her book is include the titles of the sources she used to research her subjects so the reader can find out more about Julia, Jule and the other historical characters that are referenced. As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws to a close, this book is a great way to understand how the events during that time period effected both famous and everyday people’s lives.
Jessica Knoll's new adult fiction novel Luckiest Girl Alive is set in the same area where she grew up. Her protagonist also has the same profession Knoll used to hold. It’s probably because of this that her book is so rich with description and such vivid imagery.
TifAni grew up with a mother who always wanted what was best for her, but not necessarily what would make her happy. When in college she met her best friend Nell, who showed her how to manipulate people to get what was in her best interest. It was a combination of these two figures that helped TifAni create the “perfect” life for herself.
It was during high school that TifAni experienced a severe trauma. In order to distance herself from her past, TifAni changed her name to Ani when she went to college. Ani has always tried to fill her gaping emotional gap with possessions and prestige. After college, Ani went on to have a prominent job at a well-known women's magazine, a fiancé with old money and starves herself into a coveted size zero. Despite how perfect her life may seem to someone on the outside, nothing can smother the pain left by her teenage trauma.
This character driven account of one woman's desire to get all she's ever wanted is disturbingly candid. As you follow the bread crumbs through the story, you slowly gather more details of what TifAni went through as a troubled teen – and just when you think you've figured her out, she throws you a curve.
The Golden Age of Hollywood introduced us to luminary icons of the 20th century whose influence radiates to this day; perhaps none more than Audrey Hepburn. Edward Epstein’s new biography Audrey and Bill focuses on Hepburn’s brief affair with the “Golden Boy” of Hollywood, William “Bill” Holden.
Unlike today when we are inundated with facts about celebrities every time we turn on our TV’s, computers or phones, the publicists of the 1950s worked overtime to insure the personal lives of the studio’s stars did not invade the public consciousness. And while Audrey and Bill’s whirlwind romance that blossomed when they met on the set of the Billy Wilder classic Sabrina was well-known in Hollywood circles, it was kept largely out of the public eye.
Epstein sheds light on the fact that their affair, though brief, shaped many of both Audrey and Bill’s relationships and marriages moving forward in their lives. Both actors, however, never really turned out to be very happy in love despite their tremendous professional successes.
There’s plenty more gossip about some of the biggest names of the 20th century in this book that will not disappoint the curious: Humphrey Bogart hated both of his costars! Nancy Reagan tattled to Bill’s wife about his numerous affairs! Bill dated Grace Kelly! Audrey sang to JFK on his last birthday to take away from the intense scrutiny from the Marilyn Monroe version the year before!
At times, the book reads like two separate biographies, following each actor through their career missteps and triumphs, through other relationships, children and illnesses. Holden’s death in 1980 due to liver disease and Hepburn’s death in 1993 due to cancer are also chronicled.
Perfect beach reading for those who are fans of either star, or just interested in the Hollywood glamour of a bygone era, will find this story of Audrey and Bill a compelling look into the romantic lives of two of Hollywood’s greatest stars.