Two outstanding new children’s books are sure to delight young readers and are destined to achieve contemporary classic status. These novels capture the best of children’s literature with appealing stories, engaging characters and unforgettable adventures.
Settle back and enjoy an old fashioned tall tale in the latest from Newbery Honor-winning author Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a rollicking story told from the perspectives of human and animal residents of the Sugar Man Swamp. Rich in local color, with a quirky cast of characters, Appelt’s masterful storytelling will immediately engage readers. Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’Miah, 12-year-old Chap Brayburn and the Sugar Man (who just might be a distant relative of Bigfoot!) join forces to prevent the development of the swamp by greedy bad guys. The short chapters create a sense of urgency and add to the fast-paced storytelling while lessons about conservation and development are delivered gently. This entertaining story is perfect for reading aloud as demonstrated by Lyle Lovett, whose impeccable narration on the audio edition is unforgettable.
The Doll Bones by Holly Black wraps themes of friendship, storytelling and growing up in a deliciously spooky quest story. For years, Zach, Poppy and Alice have played an intricate game involving pirates, mermaids and warriors in an imaginary land ruled by the Great Queen — a bone-china doll who resides in Poppy’s family china cabinet. But Zach’s dad thinks a 12-year-old boy should only be playing sports and forces Zach to quit the game. Then Poppy removes the Great Queen from the cabinet and unleashes the ghost of a girl named Eleanor whose ashes were used to make the doll. Eleanor’s ghost demands a proper burial for the doll, and Poppy convinces the others to help execute this request. The three embark on an epic journey and must face percolating issues, including conflicts at home and their own changing relationships, all while dodging danger and staving off the supernatural. Thrills and chills enough to satisfy any scary movie fan!
If losing weight and getting in shape top your New Year’s resolutions, three new books will help you maximize success. One celebrity chef and two fitness superstars offer diverse plans which all share the foundations of healthy eating and exercise and promise an end result of melting pounds away.
Super Shred: The Big Results Diet by Dr. Ian Smith is a more concentrated program utilizing the principles and building blocks behind Smith’s previous bestseller, Shred. Diet confusion, meal replacement, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day will keep metabolism stoked and reduce hunger pangs. This is the program for those looking to get lean fast or those who have had past success on other programs and need a quick refresher. Smith, a co-host of The Doctors, and medical contributor to the Rachael Ray Show, has a strong social media presence and stays connected with his Shredder Nation via Facebook and Twitter.
Celebrity New York chef Rocco DeSpirito offers a lifestyle plan for dieters to lose up to five pounds every five days in The Pound a Day Diet. This Mediterranean style program allows enjoyment of favorite foods while still losing weight. DeSpirito provides alternatives for weekday and weekend dining with healthy recipes for 28 days. He also shares alternatives for those with no time or inclination to cook. The menus are complemented by his 13-week exercise program which outlines calories lost during various exercises.
One of The Biggest Loser’s trainers, Dolvett Quince, reveals his method of losing pounds fast without feeling deprived in The 3-1-2-1 Diet: Eat and Cheat Your Way to Weight Loss. Quince focuses on mental fitness so the physical transformation can follow. His clean eating plan must be adhered to for three days, but then it’s cheat day! Pizza, ice cream or a glass of wine are all permissible indulgences and these cheat days help satisfy physical and psychological cravings while upping metabolism. Quince’s detailed workout regime is all part of his straightforward plan which takes dieters from inception through maintenance.
Oprah’s newest selection for her Book Club 2.0 is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. Kidd, who’s The Secret Life of Bees remains a perennial book club favorite, is “thrilled and honored that Oprah Winfrey chose my novel as her new book club selection." The title, due out in early January, is sure to be a favorite among book clubs with Oprah calling it “layered and gripping.”
Inspired by the life of early 19th century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimk, Kidd writes in her author’s note that her aim was to write “a thickly imagined story inspired by her life.” The result is this beautifully written novel with the dual portrait of two women bound by the horrors of slavery as its centerpiece. Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy Charleston plantation owner is desperate to break free from the confines of her time. She is denied the opportunity to pursue her passion of a legal career and struggles to find outlets for her creativity, intelligence and convictions. Hetty, nicknamed “Handful,” a slave in the household, is also keenly intelligent, brave and brandish a strong rebellious streak. Told in first person, the chapters alternate between these women’s perspectives as the reader follows them and their unique relationship from childhood through middle age.
Kidd will not disappoint her legions of fans with this masterly told story of fascinating women striving for liberation and empowerment during a devastating historical time. Check out Oprah’s announcement here to find out more about this exciting literary pick.
Acclaimed writer Ned Vizzini died Thursday at age 32 in Brooklyn. Vizzini was a successful young adult author, television screenwriter and essayist. His first novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, was published in 2006 and is the semi-autobiographical account of a high school student dealing with depression. Vizzini’s account of this high achiever who spends time in a mental hospital following a suicide attempt has become a contemporary classic in teen literature. In 2010, it was adapted for the big screen as a feature film starring Zach Galifianakis.
Vizzini’s other novels include Be More Chill and The Other Normals which also focus on outsiders and their struggles. His most recent project was a middle-grade series he co-authored with film director Chris Columbus. House of Secrets, an electrifying adventure, is the first in this series which reads like a movie. Vizzini also wrote for television, including the shows The Last Resort, Teen Wolf and Believe, the new show from J.J. Abrams premiering in March. His essays have appeared in a wide variety of outlets such as The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Daily Beast.
Two new visually stunning picture books capture the essence and energy of the train, a holiday staple and year-round hit with kids of all ages. Celebrated author/illustrators Brian Floca and Elisha Cooper each tackle this transportation wonder and provide entertainment and facts sure to entice readers again and again.
Floca explores America’s early railroads in Locomotive. Illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page. Using the travels of a mother and her two children on the newly constructed Transcontinental Railroad as a framework, Floca masterfully succeeds in presenting the history of the magnificent train and capturing the impact this new mode of travel had on shaping America. Free verse, heavy with alliteration and onomatopoeia, along with frequent changes in font and typeface capture the movement and splendor of the train. The nuanced paintings complement the text and detail the mechanics of the train as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Endpapers and an author’s note offer enlightening details. Every page offers facts which will delight and educate even the most ardent train aficionado.
Fast forward 150 years and board a variety of trains in Elisha Cooper’s Train. Cooper invites the reader to join him on an adventurous trip as he examines today’s train travel. The action starts with a commuter train heading west and switches to a passenger train rolling through the Midwest. A freight train loads its cargo and rumbles toward its destination past an overnight train climbing the Rocky Mountains. Finally, there’s the dramatic high-speed train, a bullet-shaped beauty. Cooper’s fluid language and dappled watercolors capture nature’s grandeur and the movement, speed and power of these mighty trains. Further reading is provided with a glossary, facts section and brief author’s note. Readers will want to punch multiple tickets and take repeat rides on this journey of discovery.
Hobbit fans rejoice! The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug premiered in Los Angeles on December 2, and will be opening nationwide on December 13. This grand fantasy was co-written, produced and directed by Peter Jackson and is the second installment of a planned trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkein’s novel, The Hobbit. The storyline follows the events of last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Orlando Bloom are just a few of the featured stars. An epic film demands companion guides, and fans of the series and movie buffs alike will enjoy the following sumptuous titles.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Official Movie Guide is a behind-the-scenes guide to the making of the film, and features interviews with key cast and crew. Enjoy exclusive interviews with Peter Jackson and other filmmakers who share production insights. The rich illustrations take readers deeper into the world of Bilbo Baggins with an abundance of photos of the actors, creatures, costumes and special effects.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion offers background into the world of Middle Earth, and includes character profiles and notes on various landmarks. This lavishly illustrated companion follows The Company of Thorin Oakenshield as they embark on a dangerous journey to Erebor, where the dragon Smaug awaits. Introduced by Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, and complemented with beautiful illustrations, the Visual Companion offers an impeccable narrative of the Company’s passage to Erebor.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design celebrates the creative vision behind this movie. Readers will enjoy the unrestrained exploration into the design and development of the environments, cultures, creatures and artifacts encountered by the characters during their epic journey. Filled with hundreds of images, including conceptual art and supplementary photographs, the comprehensive commentary provided by the film’s cast and crew is enlightening and informative.
Want to dress for success? Confused by your closet? Two new titles from fashion experts will solve all your design dilemmas, including just what in the world to wear to that holiday party!
Gretta Monahan, Rachael Ray’s style guru, successfully tackles universal style questions with accessible answers in Style and the Successful Girl: Transform Your Look, Transform Your Life. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Monahan has built a multi-million dollar fashion and beauty empire that includes swanky boutiques and spas. Her chic approach is embraced by Hollywood A-listers, but also works for the average woman of any age and any style. The lessons, tips and transformations are beautifully presented in this exceptionally illustrated guide that is guaranteed to help women achieve a fun and functional wardrobe without losing personal flair. From head to toe, readers will come away with makeover suggestions which will also serve to empower and attract success.
America’s favorite frugal fashionista, Lilliana Vazquez, has been providing tips and tricks since 2008 on the popular CheapChicas.com. Now, Vazquez offers her advice on shopping smart in The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style. With hundreds of appearances on national shows where she shares her thrifty point of view, Vazquez is a recognized style savant. In her fun guide, she approaches fashion from a practical point of view. Light quizzes help readers determine their style and budget. Once those critical elements are defined, readers can take Vazquez’s advice on creating individual panache, copying designer favorites and finding the best places to shop. One quick pointer: your own closet is a super source of bargain shopping! This attractive volume is an indispensable accessory for the New Year.
In the spring of 1885, New York socialite Beret Osmundsen is devastated to learn of the death of her estranged younger sister, Lillie. In Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas, Beret’s investigation into her sister’s death takes her from New York to Denver, from dazzling penthouses to seamy brothels.
Beret’s aunt and uncle share the news of Lillie’s death, but not the tragic details of her last days. Upon arriving in Denver, Beret learns that Lillie was working as a prostitute in a high-end brothel – the site of her murder. Beret is focused on tracking down Lillie’s murderer and avenging her sister’s death. She quickly encounters Detective Mick McCauley who is assigned to the case and looks to work with him in solving this tragedy. Mick, however, doesn’t need any assistance and initially tries to quell her involvement. But never underestimate the power of a sister’s love or the thirst for justice.
As Beret and Mick are forced together, they develop a mutual respect. Their growing bond will intrigue readers as the duo find themselves transported from the seedy tenderloin district to a high society peopled with the wealthiest and most influential. As she forges ahead in her determination to see the truth uncovered, Beret must deal with uncooperative and suspicious relatives, cope with the incivility of high society and come to terms with the fact that she never really knew her sister. Complicating things further are another murder and a growing number of potential suspects. Dallas does an excellent job of recreating nineteenth century Denver, crafting a well-paced mystery and creating a promising chemistry between Mick and Beret, which will have readers looking forward to their next rendezvous.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the legions of Jane Austen fans are devoted to the woman and protective of her literary canon. The Austen Project is treading into this revered territory with the unveiling of a major new series of six authors reimagining all six of Austen’s major works. The project launches with Joanna Trollope, often favorably compared with Austen, and her retelling of Austen’s first published work, Sense and Sensibility.
Trollope presents the Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, who, along with their mother, are all coping with grief and a dramatic reversal of fortunes following the death of their father. They have been removed from the family estate by the nefarious schemes of their brother’s wife, Fanny. A relative offers a small home on his estate, but they still must adjust to life with no money, no inheritance and no beloved father. As they slowly come to terms with their new situation, the two elder girls embark on relationships. Sensible Elinor is enamored with Edward, Fanny’s brother, who may be playing the field. Beautiful Marianne falls for local hottie and bad boy John Willoughby. While the storylines remain the same, Trollope successfully uses modern accoutrements to give weight to the girls’ struggles. Tidbits of gossip are texted and scandals are revealed via viral videos adding contemporary realism to this timeless coming-of-age story. Another universal truth – when it comes to money and love, some things never change. This comedy of manners will appeal to Trollope fans, Austen devotees and romance readers.
Look for future titles in this exciting series to include Val McDermid’s reworking of Northanger Abbey and Curtis Sittenfeld’s take on Pride and Prejudice, both scheduled for publication in 2014. Learn more about the Austen Project here.