Three strong new picture books are sure to bring smiles to young readers and their caregivers. Debut author/illustrator Andrew Prahin brings us Brimsby’s Hats, wherein the title character owns and operates a small mail-order hat business out of his cozy home. Each day, his badger friend comes to help design and box the millinery, until one day when it is time for the striped one to set off on a new adventure. Lonely Brimsby must find new friends and a new purpose. Soft digital pastels and engaging characters lift this fine tale that covers the well-worn topic of adjusting to change.
In Sparky!, by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans, a young girl is desperate to have a pet. Her mother declines the pleas, citing the amount of work that is required. Undaunted, she has a sloth sent from Brazil, and instantly (and, as it turns out, ironically) calls him Sparky. The young girl attempts to teach him the sorts of tricks that she expects him to learn, to no avail. He prefers to be a sloth-like sloth! Cool watercolors, hand-drawn lettering and touches of humor for kids and adults are all present in this story of measured expectations.
Some Bugs, by Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan Wenzel, is a raucous introduction to many insects and related crawlers. In simple verse, countless attributes of some bugs are relayed. Each double-page spread brings much to look for, as the young reader may want to try to identify which bugs are depicted. Wenzel’s collage-like, mixed-media illustrations are entomologically accurate but with exaggerated bug eyes. At the end, all of the creatures are identified, including a cat that makes multiple appearances during the proceedings. This picture book is a bright, fun reminder of the insects that soon will again be upon our backyards.
Forty-four books were recently selected to the longlist for consideration for the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. That list has now been narrowed to six strong finalists representing the best in fiction and nonfiction published last year.
The fiction finalists include Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, focusing on a Nigerian immigrant’s experience in America; Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat, a series of beautifully written interconnected stories set in a small fishing town in Haiti; and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a magnetic story told from the point of view of a smart 13-year-old coping with extreme circumstances and upheaval.
Nonfiction finalists are On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History by Nicholas A. Basbanes, a history of one of civilization’s staples; Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink, a remarkable account of Hurricane Katrina and what happened at Memorial Hospital before, during and after the storm; and finally, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism dissects the complex relationship between Presidents Taft and Roosevelt and their roles in the Progressive movement.
The Carnegie Medals were established in 2012 to recognize the best books for adult readers published in the United States in the previous year. These awards honor the 19th-century American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in recognition of his deep belief in the power of books and learning to change the world. The award is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and administered by the American Library Association (ALA). These are the first single book awards for adults given by the American Library Association and reflect the insight and expertise of library professionals. Librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl serves as chair of the selection committee. The winners will be announced in June with the winning authors receiving a medal and a $5,000 cash award.
The Mangle Street Murders is the first in the Gower Street Detective series by M. R. C. Kasasian. London before the turn of the century could be a dismal place. Luckily, London has personal detective Sidney Grice. Grice is pompous, arrogant, irascible and overly fond of drinking a perfectly brewed cup of tea. He will take anyone’s case for a price. March Middleton has lost her immediate family and is sent to live with Sidney Grice as his ward. March is kinder and gentler than the great detective and is keen on getting involved in his cases. When a woman of limited means comes to Sidney’s office to hire him to clear the name of her son-in-law, Sidney and March find themselves with a curious mystery that becomes more complicated at every turn. Sidney is unwilling to allow a woman to take part in an investigation, but March holds fast and quickly begins to assist with the case. Will March’s kind demeanor be able to withstand the arrogance held by Sidney Grice?
Grice is an even ruder version of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Kasasian pokes fun at the famous detective with this similar character. March becomes the female Watson and, as the story is told through her narrative, she holds her own as an interesting and compelling character. The mystery itself is well thought out and complex enough to keep any mystery lover guessing. Kasasian is good at detailing life in 1880s London, and readers who enjoy a mystery rich in historical detail will not be disappointed.
Lisa Scottoline’s new novel, Keep Quiet, is a tension-filled thriller that will also spark great conversation at your next book club meeting. In an attempt to repair his strained relationship with his teenage son Ryan, Jake Whitmore reluctantly agrees to let Ryan drive home, despite the fact that it’s late and Ryan has a restricted learner’s permit. While Ryan is driving, he hits a pedestrian, and Jake finds himself forced to make a difficult choice to protect his son from the life-altering consequences of a moment of distraction. When they are blackmailed by a witness, their secret begins to unravel. Jake desperately tries to protect his family from the fall-out of the accident as the situation careens out of control. Like William Landay’s Defending Jacob, the story hinges on a parent’s love for his son and how far he will go to protect his child.
Scottoline recently agreed to answer some questions for Between the Covers readers. She shares more about her inspiration and demystifies her writing process.
Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Keep Quiet?
Many authors are inspired by what-if questions, and that’s what inspired this book. I live in the suburbs, and like everybody else, I drive around way too much and there's always one street that I drive down that has a blind curve, which drives me crazy. Sometimes I grumble that somebody should fix this, but most of the time I worry that if I turn the corner I could hit somebody if I'm not careful, [or my daughter could]. And there you have it!
One of the central questions in the novel is how far a parent will go to keep his child safe. What is it about that idea that makes it so compelling?
I'm a single mother, and being a parent is the most important and best part of my life, even in a life as blessed as mine. I adore my daughter Francesca. Raising her has always been a question of trying to strike a balance between letting her find her own wings, but at the same time being a loving and responsible parent, which can often mean protecting her–perhaps too much. This theme is the beating heart of Keep Quiet. I love it as a theme because it's a question that every parent has no matter what the age of their child. It's the kind of question that keeps moms, like me, up at night, so I knew it would make for a compelling novel.
Was it a challenge for you to write about this complex father-son relationship?
It was something of a challenge because the main character is a father, not a mother, but I think it's really important for writers to stretch and go out of their comfort zone sometimes. I was extremely close to my late father. I can tell you at any point in the day what he would have been thinking about, so I channeled his good heart and poured that into the character of the great father in this novel.
Will you share a little about your writing process? Do you write every day? Who is your sounding board?
I'm happy to talk about the creative process because I want to demystify it and perhaps encourage others to take a shot at their own writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. My personal motto is one that I borrowed from Nike, which is “just do it,” because I don't think you need a degree to become a writer, but in many cases, you just need to overcome your own self-doubts and insecurities. So just do it. That's what I do, for over 20 books now, and over 20 years. I write 2,000 words a day, sometimes I'm lucky enough to finish that by 6 o'clock at night, yet other times I won't finish until midnight. I don't have an outline, I just go with whatever the characters would logically do next. I happen to think that is what gives my novels a fast pace and logical narrative as well as, I hope, being hard to put down!
Some of your fiction readers may not realize that you also co-author the “Chick Wit” column in the Philadelphia Inquirer with your daughter Francesca Serritella. Have a Nice Guilt Trip, the fifth collection of those essays, will be released this summer. What are the best and worst parts of working with your daughter?
I love working with my daughter, and there are no worst parts. It's important to note, however, that I do not edit her in any fashion for those humorous essays, nor does she edit me. We both write about whatever topic we want, which, I think, are topics that relate to women of all ages. Then we put them together in a book. I love it because the reviews of these books are so wonderful, many calling them reminiscent of Erma Bombeck, which is, I think, a huge honor and compliment.
What was the last book that you stayed up late at night to read?
I really enjoyed Delia Ephron's Sister Mother Husband Dog, which is a moving and charming memoir.
An inspiring coming-of-age story about the pursuit of a better life in the United States is the 2014 One Maryland One Book selection. The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande describes her perilous journey of illegally emigrating from one of the poorest states in Mexico to a Los Angeles Latino neighborhood. Read the entire Between the Covers blog review here.
Upon learning of her selection, the Mexican-born author and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist said, “I'm humbled that my immigrant story was chosen to be the springboard for lively conversations on what the American Dream means today.” The Los Angeles Times called her book “the Angela’s Ashes of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”
Now in its seventh year, the Maryland Humanities Council program brings people from diverse communities together from across the state through a shared reading experience, book-centered discussions and other programming. A calendar of free public events will be available on the MHC website this summer. Last year’s book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels, attracted thousands of readers to Maryland’s statewide book club. The 2014 theme is “the American Dream.”
Melissa Kantor’s Maybe One Day is a heartbreaking story that shows the importance of friendship, especially in the light of tragedy. Olivia and Zoe have been friends since they were young children and have trained at the elite New York Ballet Company since they were 9. When they are told that they can no longer train there during their sophomore year of high school, Zoe thinks that it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. A year later, when she finds out Olivia is sick, she realizes how wrong she was.
When Olivia’s doctors discover that she has leukemia, the girls’ lives change forever. Olivia begins missing school, and Zoe must learn to make other friends and exist without her best friend constantly by her side. After Olivia’s diagnosis, Zoe agrees to start teaching her dance class at the local community center, despite having given up ballet after she left the New York Ballet Company. All the while she becomes closer with Calvin, the boy Olivia has always liked. Zoe must deal with the guilt she feels living her life, while Olivia is sick and unable to live hers.
Ultimately a book about best friends and the importance of friendship, Maybe One Day is a touching novel that fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy. Olivia and Zoe are relatable characters, their problems and dramas going beyond the cancer that comes to affect their friendship.
Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
When A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo opens, the main character, Michael, is an old man trying to discover the place in Belgium where his grandfather died during World War I. As he wanders the peaceful countryside where a battle once raged, he thinks back to his childhood in London and the events that led him to this spot.
Called “Poodle” by his classmates due to his curly hair and his French mother, Michael quickly discovers ways to deal with the taunts and prejudices that he encounters throughout his childhood.
Although his father died when Michael was a baby, his mother stays in touch with his father’s family, which consists of two rather eccentric, elderly aunts. Michael wonders about his father and wants to know more about him, but no one is willing to tell him much. However, one day, Michael receives a package from one of the aunts that contains a small notebook that reveals secrets about his father and grandfather that he could have never imagined.
Morpurgo is a masterful storyteller whose past work includes the best-seller War Horse, and he is at his best when writing historical fiction. His plot for A Medal for Leroy is loosely based on the life of Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British Army. This book is a rare one for me: Not only was it suspenseful and poignant, but I could not put it down, and I read it in one sitting.
Easter Quillby is a caregiver despite her tender age of 12. She takes care of her little sister Ruby as well as her pill-addicted mother, who mostly wanders around in a fog when she’s not passed out. Brady Weller is a disgraced ex-police detective who works for his ex-brother-in-law installing home security systems. Mostly alienated from his ex-wife and daughter, Weller volunteers as a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Finally, meet Pruitt: He’s a bodybuilding, former minor league baseball player recently released from prison, and he’s also a facially disfigured psychotic contract killer. (Is there any other kind?) Easter, Brady and Pruitt take turns narrating author Wiley Cash’s new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy.
Easter and Ruby end up in a children’s group home after their mother dies from an overdose. Weller is assigned to look after the girls’ interests. Easter’s master plan for life, which is college and a career as an FBI agent all the while raising her sister, is at risk when she overhears her foster mother discussing the sisters’ maternal grandparents’ plan to move the girls to Alaska to live with them. When Wade, the girls’ sad sack estranged father, himself a washed-out pitcher, shows up in the middle of the night toting a gym bag filled with ill-gotten gains, Easter impulsively grabs her sister and they take off with not-so-dear-old Dad ... only to find that Weller, Pruitt and the FBI are all in hot pursuit.
Set against the backdrop of the 1998 Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire race to break Roger Maris’ home run record, Cash explores the unbreakable ties of family and the sins from the past, just as he did in his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home. Easter’s voice is especially engaging as she tells her story with a clear-eyed realism. This Dark Road to Mercy will leave the reader rooting for the Quillby sisters and hoping for a grand slam ending.
Maisie’s middle name is Danger because her parents thought it would be funny, but she embraces her middle name when she goes on the adventure of her life. Dangerous, a new novel by award-winning author Shannon Hale, is fraught with adventure and gripping storylines, a combination that makes it hard to put down.
Maisie has always dreamed of becoming an astronaut, and even though she’s never heard of a one-armed astronaut, she’s not going to let that stop her from trying. It’s no surprise that when she spots a contest for astronaut camp on a box of cereal she enters immediately, but winning the contest changes her life more drastically than she could have ever anticipated.
After arriving at astronaut camp, Maisie is assigned a fire team to work with. Her team excels, and because it finishes in the top spot, it is given an opportunity to visit a launch site owned by the sponsors. Upon arriving, each member of her team is unexpectedly given a token beyond anything from this world, and it’s a gift they can’t give back.
With these tokens comes a new sense of purpose and responsibility. The group must learn how to use its gifts and work together to accomplish a common goal. The goal is at first ambiguous, causing the fire team to slowly weaken as a group and its members to go their own way. However, the team leader must learn how to reunite the group in an effort to have a positive global impact.