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Holly

New Christmas Books

posted by: December 11, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Gingerbread Man Loose at ChristmasIf you’ve read every rendition of The Night Before Christmas and you know every line of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express, you might be looking for something different this holiday season. Here are just a few new picture books featuring some familiar characters. 

 

In his third adventure, The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas written by Laura Murray and illustrated by Mike Lowery, the Gingerbread Man and his classmates prepare songs, cards and treats to show their appreciation for their neighbors and community helpers. Drama ensues during the delivery of gifts when the weather suddenly turns windy and snowy and the class returns to school…without the Gingerbread Man! With his icing dripping and his legs doughy, will he still be able to deliver his Christmas gift to a very special person?Cover art for The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

 

In The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish written by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna, the pout-pout fish is gloomy because he has procrastinated his holiday shopping, and still needs to find gifts for all his friends. The gifts must be perfect in every way— big, bright and meaningful, with a little bit of bling. First, he is overwhelmed by choices, and then all the stores close, leaving Mr. Fish wondering how he will find all his just-right gifts before the Christmas party. This holiday-under-the-sea is a beautifully illustrated variation of the typical White Christmas setting.

 

When Santa Claus arrives at the castle with presents on Christmas Eve, three knights mistake him for an intruder and are determined to keep him out in The Knights Before Christmas written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Scott Magoon. Santa Claus is just as determined to reward the knights for their chivalrous deeds, and launches their goodies over the castle wall using a Christmas tree as a catapult. This book is a fresh and enjoyable take on the original poem, and the detailed illustrations filled with speech bubbles and puns will require several re-reads to appreciate all the humor.


 
 

A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

posted by: December 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total GeniusA Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius by Stacey Matson is the story of aspiring writer Arthur Bean. If you had to pick just one word to describe our young hero, that word would NOT be “humble.” Told largely through school writing assignments, journal entries, and emails, many of the laughs come from Arthur’s pompous and defiant attitude.

 

Arthur has no doubt that he will handily win this year’s short story competition — in addition to writing for the school newspaper, starring in the school play, and just generally being a seventh grader. His attention is further diverted by his crush on his writing partner Kennedy, and being forced to tutor his nemesis Robbie. On top of all that, his mother died recently, his father isn’t handling it well, and Arthur feels isolated from their extended family. It’s certainly not an easy time to be Arthur Bean. And it’s not surprising that he develops a crippling case of writer’s block.

 

Arthur’s confidence doesn’t waver despite never writing a single word of his short story. When he makes a choice that is even more duplicitous than usual, readers will wonder how he will justify his actions and get himself out of this tricky situation.

 

Fans of Gordon Korman’s Swindle and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series will enjoy Arthur’s antics. A sequel has already been published in the author’s native Canada.


 
 

Two Hours

posted by: November 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Two HoursIn Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, Ed Caesar discusses what it would take for a man to complete the arbitrary distance of 26.2 miles under the arbitrary time limit of two hours.

 

Why 26.2 miles? Every runner knows the story of Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles to request help from the Spartan army when the Persians landed in Greece. He then ran 25 miles from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens where he announced the Greek victory, and promptly died on the spot from exhaustion. When the modern Olympics began in 1896, it included a “marathon” race inspired by Pheidippides’ (likely fictional) journey. Marathon distances were approximately 25 miles until 1921, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation set the distance to match the course of the 1908 London Olympic marathon. The 1908 marathon route began at Windsor Castle and finished with a lap around the track inside White City Stadium, ending in front of the Royal Box. Any runner who makes it to mile 25 of a marathon and doesn’t think he can run another 1.2 can thank the British royal family for their viewing preferences.

 

And why two hours? In 1991, Mike Joyner concluded that the ideal runner under ideal conditions could complete a marathon in 1 hour, 57 minutes and 58 seconds, and published his findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology. At the time, the world record was 02:06:50. The current world record, set 23 years later by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, is nearly four minutes faster at 02:02:57.
Whether it’s likely that we will see a sub-two hour marathon in the near future is hotly debated. Caesar discusses issues of science, technology, psychology and economics that affect the “ideal runner” and “ideal conditions.” He considers everything from advancements in road pavement, to the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs, to why the Western Rift Valley of Kenya produces such amazing distance runners. Caesar writes extensively about the training and career of accomplished Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai to put a face to the challenge.

 

Two Hours is the perfect book to relax with over the winter, perhaps in anticipation of training for your own spring marathon. Fans of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall will definitely enjoy this as well.


 
 

New Thanksgiving Picture Books

posted by: November 23, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving StoryCover art for Little Critter: Just a Special ThanksgivingDuring that lull between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football games, before your home fills up with family and you fill your bellies with food, here are a few new Thanksgiving-themed picture books to share with the kids.

 

Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jill McElmurry depicts a 19th century family preparing their Thanksgiving feast. Everyone has their own special job — Daddy tends the fire, Grandma bakes her pumpkin pie, the baby sleeps as quietly as a mouse. Short, simple rhymes make for an enjoyable read aloud about the love, hard work and synergy that go into a holiday meal.

 

In Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer, Little Critter enjoys the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in typicalCover art for A Short History of Thanksgiving Little Critter fashion — from forgetting his lines during the school play and singing an impromptu song instead, to hitching a ride on a parade float when he’s tired of walking. The illustrations are what make the book so special, adding an additional layer to the narrative by filling in the details that he neglects to mention or showing how his version of events diverges slightly from reality.

 

If you’re just looking for a quick refresher on the holiday’s roots and customers, Sally Lee delivers A Short History of Thanksgiving. The simple text, illustrated with both drawings and photographs, is perfect for beginning readers and includes details on the tradition of fall festivals, the meaning of thankfulness and also touches on modern ways of celebrating the holiday.


 
 

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss

posted by: November 2, 2015 - 6:00am

Cover art for The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max WirestoneThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss have resulted in a familiar premise in this debut novel by Max Wirestone: Girl graduates from college with crippling debt and zero job prospects. Girl’s boyfriend has left her for another woman, forcing her to mooch room and board off the kindness of a friend.

 

But then Dahlia is randomly offered a lucrative job as a private detective. All she has to do is find and recover a virtual sword stolen in a video game. She is given the suspected culprit’s name, the time he will be meeting her for dinner and the assurance that he will turn over the sword. Dahlia Moss is no seasoned PI, but this sounds like easy money.

 

Of course the job ends up being more complicated than expected, especially after the man who hired her turns up dead—impaled by a real-life replica of the stolen sword. And he still owes her $1,000! Dahlia can’t help but wonder who killed him… and why did he even hire her in the first place? Soon Dahlia finds herself investigating multiple mysteries and enduring uncomfortable encounters with homicide detectives, the dead man’s former friends and guild mates, not to mention her own ex-boyfriend.

 

Fans of The Big Bang Theory and The Guild will enjoy the MMORPG setting and the nerdy humor. A former librarian, Wirestone got the idea for the Dahlia Moss series after noticing that many of his geeky customers were also his mystery lovers. He has created a lovable, unexpected heroine in Dahlia Moss. She is funny, she is sassy, she is an amateur Veronica Mars in a Jigglypuff hat.


 
 

Big Magic

posted by: October 22, 2015 - 7:00am

Big Magic coverIf you’re an artist of any kind, if you aspire to live a life driven by curiosity, if you believe that inspiration and creativity are literal magic, then you will find a kindred spirit in Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

 

Gilbert is best known for her 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love about her life-changing travels to Italy, India and Indonesia. But Gilbert advises that it’s not necessary to pack up and travel the world for the sake of your art—you can and should make room for creativity and magic in your everyday life, and Big Magic provides the roadmap. She also warns against putting unnecessary pressure on your creativity or burdening it by asking it to financially support you. This advice could feel inauthentic coming from a writer who does support herself with her art, but Gilbert is so earnest in her beliefs, it’s impossible to begrudge her success.

 

Instead of advocating fearlessness, Gilbert says that we should allow plenty of room for our fear, but realize that it should not control our creative lives. She also dismisses the popular stereotype of the tormented artist. Instead, she suggests that your work should be a positive collaboration between you and your creativity. Gilbert theorizes that ideas are incorporeal entities longing to be brought into existence and that if we aren’t receptive to them, they will knock at the next artist’s door. She relates an anecdote about a novel she failed to write, only to discover years later that a very similar idea had magically found Ann Patchett.

 

After writing Big Magic, Gilbert didn’t feel like she was finished with the subject of creativity and began a podcast called Magic Lessons where she and guests, including Patchett and Cheryl Strayed counsel writers and artists who are having issues in their creative lives.

 

Beautifully written and full of fresh ideas on the nature of creativity, Big Magic is sure to become recommended reading along with classics like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.


 
 

Failing Bravely

posted by: October 7, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fail, Fail Again, Fail BetterCover art for Brave EnoughWhether you’re a recent graduate cautiously beginning your post-college existence or someone who has been fumbling through adulthood for years, you will find something to inspire you in these two new books about living a brave and compassionate life. 

 
Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chödrön was originally a commencement address made at Naropa University to the graduating class of 2014 — which included Chödrön’s granddaughter — on the “fine art of failing.” Chödrön, an American-born Buddhist nun, has written extensively about the themes she touches on in her speech, and her message resonates at any stage of life: Prepare for the inevitability of failure, and welcome the unwelcome. This slim volume with its simple brushstroke illustrations also includes an interview with the author where she addresses a variety of real-life situations, including what to do when your failure is so great that it results in another person’s death. 

 
Memoirist and novelist Cheryl Strayed gives us Brave Enough, a compilation of quotes from her previous books, including Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and her “Dear Sugar” advice column. Rather than recounting anecdotes from 18th century Tibet, Strayed uses metaphors and imagery more grounded in the contemporary experience. “Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar,” she writes. “Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill”. Devoted readers will enjoy revisiting Strayed’s most memorable and favorite bits of advice, but new readers will also find sagacity in her straightforward yet gentle voice.   

 


 
 

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