Cas and his mother just moved to a new town. They move around pretty often, so Cas knows the routine: find a house, find a school, find the popular crowd, and get them to share the local ghost story. Chances are, if Cas has done his research well, the ghost everybody thinks is just a story will turn out to be real. That’s why he and his mom moved to town in the first place. Cas is a ghost hunter.
His current case is the titular Anna Dressed in Blood. She was murdered while walking to a school dance in 1958 and her killer was never found. Anna now haunts her former home, killing anyone who enters, until the day Cas comes to call. Cas is the first person to enter Anna’s home and make it out alive. In fact, not only is he alive, but he is entirely unharmed. He is the first person to enter Anna’s home who could actually cause her harm, could even destroy her, and still she chooses to let him go. Now Cas is driven to solve both Anna’s murder and the mystery of her sudden change of heart. In Cas’s experience, a ghost with a track record like Anna’s doesn’t just turn over a new leaf. But then Anna isn’t quite like any ghost Cas has ever hunted before.
Check the WRL catalog for Anna Dressed in Blood
Bear Snores On features “a great brown bear” who sleeps on through winter while many of his animal friends visit, share food, and make a ruckus. Finally he wakes up with a loud sneeze and he complains that all his friends have been having fun without him! So the bear and company eat more food, tell stories, and have a good time. But soon his friends fall asleep and the bear is the only one left awake!
Karma Wilson’s Bear Snores On is a great storytime pick for ages 2-6 because it is fairly short and will easily grab their short attention spans with its witty rhymes. One feature of this book is the repetition of the phrase “and the bear snores on” which kids will love saying aloud with you. In addition, it has onomatopoeia, including many different animal noises (every kid’s favorite), on nearly every page which kids will love echoing during storytime. A prominent theme of sharing between friends is also noteworthy about Bear Snores On. Finally, Jane Chapman’s colorful illustrations perfectly complement the story and will help reinforce it for younger readers, and are large enough for kids to see even at bigger storytimes.
Check the WRL catalog for Bear Snores On.
Humorist Allie Brosh has been blogging at Hyperbole and a Half since 2009. Her posts, a combination of written anecdote and quirky illustrations drawn in Paintbrush, chronicle the sort of everyday topics that only work in the hands of a really good storyteller: hijinks from when she was a hyperactive five-year-old, weird dogs, that time a goose got into the house. Brosh, of course, is a really good storyteller, and this book, which collects some of her classic posts along with new material, is a great opportunity to curl up in a chair and just giggle. And giggle some more. And snort in an unladylike manner.
Brosh has said that she thinks of her pieces as stand-up comedy, with the illustrations as punch lines. Her drawings may look like a preschooler’s, but they communicate a lot of raw emotion, whether she’s talking about being a procrastinating twenty-something stuck in a guilt spiral or a kid on a monomaniacal quest for forbidden cake.
My favorites are the stories about her pets, Simple Dog and Helper Dog. Whether they are not understanding basic concepts, like moving, or snow, or “sit,” or whether they’re having an epic running-away adventure, I recognize the thought balloons that float over their heads. I can picture them floating over the head of my own Helper Dog.
Hyperbole and a Half isn’t all madcap humor, neurotic animals, and kindergarteners on a sugar high, though. Brosh’s blog went dark for a year and a half, during which she was both constructing this book and dealing with major depression (and my hat goes off to anyone who can do both of those things at the same time). The most painful pieces in the book—and yet still, somehow, funny—talk about what it feels like to feel nothing at all.
Check it out if you need to explain depression to someone, but with cartoons; if you worry that your dog is too stupid; or if you just need a good laugh.
Check the WRL catalog for Hyperbole and a Half.
Corduroy is a classic children’s book that some children may have read before but they are still enraptured by it every time. Corduroy is a teddy bear who lives in a department store and desperately wants someone to take him home. One day a young girl named Lisa comes in to the store and wants to buy Corduroy but her mother says no because he is missing a button. Corduroy searches the department store for a button because he thinks he needs one to get taken home by Lisa. Before he attaches the button, he is found by security and put back on his shelf. Luckily, Lisa comes in again to purchase Corduroy with her own money and tells him that she likes him just the way he is. Corduroy and Lisa become friends and Corduroy finally feels like he has found a home.
Corduroy is an adorable story that is perfect for storytime because it warms the hearts of children and adults alike. It is also a great storytime choice because of its large and colorful yet simple illustrations by the author Don Freeman. Corduroy also features onomatopoeia such as “POP” which kids will love sounding out at storytime. In addition, most children have a special stuffed animal in their lives so this book is especially relatable. Corduroy’s primary message of acceptance and being okay with who you are is one particularly important for children and further enhances the quality of this lovely book.
Check the WRL catalog for Corduroy.
Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is trying to escape an abusive boyfriend and a criminal past. Following a train ride home, she finds herself alone on the platform with a distraught woman who sets her purse down before taking off a pair of stylish high heels. The woman turns and stares at Sarah, who is struck by the uncanny resemblance between her and the stranger. The woman then walks off the edge of the platform and into the path of an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the stranger’s suicide, Sarah makes a split-second decision that puts her in the center of a mystery. With emergency personnel focused on the stranger, Sarah sees an opportunity for a quick score, and she walks away with the woman’s purse. Sarah learns her doppelgänger’s name is Elizabeth (Beth) Childs. Beth shares an expensive house with her boyfriend. She also has a large sum of money in the bank. Sarah decides to use her resemblance to Beth to her advantage and assume Beth’s identity. Once she has emptied Beth’s bank account, she’ll use the money to start a new life with her daughter, Kira, and foster brother, Felix.
Sarah believes she will be able to pull off the scam and quietly slip out of town; however, Beth’s life is far more complicated than she originally thought. First, there are calls from a man named Art and texts from an unknown number. There is also the matter of a safety deposit box containing copies of the birth certificates and photographs of other women who bear a striking resemblance to both Sarah and Beth. As additional secrets from Beth’s life surface, Sarah learns that the women—Beth, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and Katja Obinger (also Tatiana Maslany)—are all clones and she is a clone as well. This discovery is the gateway to a mystery involving a scientific movement called Neolution, led by the charismatic Dr. Aldous Leekie. Will the women unlock the secret of their connection to this group before they become the next victims of a killer who’s on a mission to eliminate the clones?
Orphan Black is a thoughtful and complex show that deftly balances questions of personal freedom and what it means to be an individual with a delightful streak of dark humor. The acting is first-rate. Tatiana Maslany succeeds at giving each clone her own distinct personality and unique set of characteristics. My favorite clone is Alison Hendrix, a conservative wife and mother whose sense of self is completely upended by the discovery she is a clone. The fine supporting cast includes Kevin Hanchard as Beth’s partner Detective Art Bell; Maria Doyle Kennedy as Sarah’s foster mother Mrs. S; Dylan Bruce as Beth’s boyfriend Paul Dierden; and Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s foster brother Felix Dawkins. In a clever bit of casting, Dr. Aldous Leekie is played by Matt Frewer, who became famous in the mid-‘80s playing a character named Max Headroom.
Fast-paced and well-plotted, Orphan Black quickly builds momentum and maintains it throughout the season. Now is a good time to catch up with the show—or discover it—before the second season starts in April.
Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Black.
The best fantasy writing makes you believe completely in the validity of the story, and by that criteria, Maggie Stiefvater’s young adult novel The Scorpio Races is certainly a winner.
The story is set on Thisby, a mythical island off Ireland or Scotland in an otherwise normal world. Thisby is a misty, Brigadoon-like mecca for horse lovers because it’s the place where the capaill uisce, the beautiful, terrifying water horses, emerge from the sea. For unclear reasons, they come ashore every November, when some of the most daring locals dare to capture and ride them in the annual Scorpio Races. The races are both thrilling and horrifying, a bloody spectacle in which some riders are inevitably killed as the capaill uisce charge along the beach, bite each other and anything else in reach, and frequently resist their riders to plunge back into the ocean.
The atmospheric island has little else to recommend it. Sure, it’s scenic, but it’s also a difficult place to make a life, with wild weather, little food, entrenched ways and only a few wealthy landlords who dominate the other locals. Most young people leave the island for adventures on the mainland or in America, and as the novel opens, Puck Connolly’s older brother Gabe announces that he plans to leave as well. That’s a problem because Puck, her somewhat compulsive younger brother Finn, and Gabe are orphans left behind after their parents were killed by the water horses and Gabe has been supporting them. To stall Gabe’s departure and perhaps to win enough money to save their home, Puck decides to ride in the Scorpio Races, although a woman has never competed and she’ll have to ride her speedy but undersized mare Dove instead of a capaill uisce.
One of her competitors is Sean Kendrick, a young man who has won more Scorpio Races than any other rider, but who has been trapped by Terence Malvern (the same man who is foreclosing on Puck’s house) into working in his stables. Sean loves riding Corr–the fierce red water horse on which he’s won so many races–more than anything else, but Malvern owns Corr and keeps Sean in line by refusing to sell him. Sean’s tenth share of his race winnings have made him wealthy by island standards, but not compared to Malvern who still controls the only thing Sean wants. Sean’s life is further complicated by the jealousy of Malvern’s horrible son, Mutt.
The lives of these two riders become entwined as the book continues and they rise from mutual frustration to grudging respect to romance, but their survival is constantly threatened, their personal problems seem insurmountable, and their final goals are in conflict. Surrounding them with quirky islanders, a mysterious American visitor, and the sometimes thrilling, sometimes terrifying water horses, Stiefvater weaves a tale that will keep you enthralled from start to finish. I felt like I’d run in my own Scorpio Race by the time I was done, and I certainly came away a winner.
Check the WRL catalog for The Scorpio Races
Or try The Scorpio Races as an audiobook
This was a lovely book to spend an afternoon reading. I was sorry to leave the small English town where Cleo and her friends live. Nicely woven plot lines kept the story amusing and moving between the main characters.
Cleo is pretty happy with her lot in life. She has an interesting job as a chauffeur and has recently started seeing Will, who is showing potential of being “The One” for her. He has a good job, is good looking, and best of all, came to a funeral so she could show up the boy who tormented her all through school. You’d think after 13 years the resentment would fade, but Johnny LaVentura just pushes all her buttons the wrong way. It doesn’t help that Johnny is now a famous sculptor and dates super-models.
Unfortunately, Will turns out to be much less than she had hoped. His wife, Fia, didn’t think he was all that great either—after finding out about the affair! Despite the odds, Cleo and Fia become friends. And it turns out that Johnny isn’t so bad either…
Then there’s Cleo’s sister, Abbie. Her world is turned upside down when she finds out that her husband fathered a child many years ago. Georgia is now a young woman wanting to develop a relationship with her dad—and Abbie feels like a third wheel in her own home.
The conflicts are nicely resolved by the end of the book. And there’s plenty of happily ever after to put a smile on your face!
Check the WRL catalog for Take a Chance on Me.
This book is for anyone who has experienced a child’s consuming love of a favorite color. Little Annie love, love, loves purple. Her latest must have is a lovely purple hat. The emotional elements in this book make it an endearing story. It is perfect for children who are learning to understand longing and disappointment. The young reader will relate to Annie’s loss
and everyone’s desire to help her feel better. Of course the best emotion of all is Annie’s joy in the surprise ending of this sweet story.
Check the WRL catalog for The Purple Hat.
Three’s the charm for the novella-length short stories in this young adult collection, centered around three kisses. Some kisses are promises and some are threats; some could make you lose your soul, and others might help you get it back again.
In “Goblin Fruit,” the handsome new boy in school has eyes only for Kizzy, which would be a good thing, if he were human. (Kizzy ought to know better: her grandmother gave her a stiletto for occasions just like this.) A contemporary take on Christina Rossetti’s creepy poem, “Goblin Market,” which you certainly don’t need to know to enjoy it, this story ends in an unsettling place… or makes you want to start writing the next chapter.
“Spicy Little Curses Such as These,” set in India at the height of the British empire, was my favorite of the three stories. An elderly woman, “with a stare that could shoot laughter from the air like game birds,” serves as an ambassador to hell, taking tea with demons to ransom souls back to the living. (I notice that most summaries of this story focus on the beautiful young girl, cursed with silence lest she kill anyone who hears her voice, and the young man who falls in love with her. But young couples in love always get the headlines. Old ladies who take tea in hell: that’s what I’m talking about.)
In “Hatchling,” a brown-eyed girl wakes up with one blue eye and her mother freaks. Taylor unfurls the story of the mother’s past in a fantastically-detailed mountain eyrie court, ruled by a heartless queen who keeps children as pets and feeds her cats to bridge trolls. This involving story is something like watching Narnia’s White Witch get a second chance.
Taylor’s prose is lushly descriptive, but among her poetic similes are also short, pointed, painful sentences, like thorns among roses. She’s a fantastic storyteller. Readers of folk and fairy tales will recognize elements of Orpheus, Sleeping Beauty, Andersen’s Little Mermaid and other motifs. These stories incline to the darker side, full of blood and menace, and will appeal to older teens. Each of the stories is introduced by a wordless mini-graphic-novel by illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, setting the scene in fine gothic style.
Check the WRL catalog for Lips Touch: Three Times.
The 1930s crime fiction of Friedrich Glauser seems to me to be the dark bedrock from which the immensely popular body of Scandinavian crime fiction springs. In four years, Glauser, a depressive, morphine-addicted writer, who was once committed to an insane asylum, and who died at the age of forty two, published five detective novels featuring the Swiss Sergeant Studer.
Now being published for the first time in English by Bitter Lemon Press, Glauser’s novels will appeal to a wide range of crime fiction readers. Glauser is often referred to as the “Swiss Simenon,” and like Simenon, his novels focus more on the psychology of both the detective and the criminal than on fast-paced action. There is a lot of talking here, and the Austrian-born Swiss Glauser seems to share an interest in psychology with his compatriots, Freud and Jung. It is through conversation that Sgt. Studer most frequently comes to the solution of the crime. Glauser’s novels explore the dark side of human nature as it is played out in families, schools, and in one case, an asylum.
Glauser also shares with Simenon an interest in food, and there is a lot of eating and drinking going on in these stories. Sgt. Studer is a fascinating character. Once a promising detective, Studer was somehow compromised in a bank investigation, and his career was derailed. He now finds himself a pariah to most of his colleagues and supervisors, and he is the man who is sent out on hopeless cases. While Studer is not always quick to see connections, his relentlessness and his commitment to the truth eventually lead him to the solution.
Fans of Simenon should find these novels interesting, but they will also appeal to readers who enjoy more contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction. Thumbprint is a good starting point for exploring this forgotten master of police fiction.
Check the WRL catalog for Thumbprint.
This story begins with one little bee minding its own business. When he discovers a brown bear is following him, he knows it will be trouble. I thought of the book Rosie’s Walk while enjoying the antics of brown bear. He soon has a following of animals with their own agendas. When yellow bee arrives home, things become very interesting for brown bear and company. Readers will enjoy the comical animal and nature pictures in this book. Young children will love the onomatopoeiac element as well.
Check the WRL catalog for Where There’s a Bear, There’s Trouble!
Those six words were all it took to bump this science fiction debut to the top of my list. Also, although I try not to read detailed reviews of books until I’ve finished them myself, I couldn’t help but notice that the reviews I wasn’t reading had lots of ALL CAPS and exclamation marks.
So, One Esk—sometimes she calls herself Breq—used to be a ship. The narrator of this twisty space opera is an ancillary: one body, one segment, of a twenty-bodied corps of soldiers that share a single consciousness, tied into the artificial intelligence of an orbiting warship. Her life as a troop carrier, the Justice of Toren, unfolds in flashbacks to the military government of the latest planet annexed by the Radchaii empire and the events that provoke One Esk’s present-day mission of single-minded, and single-bodied, revenge. Who is she now, without her ship or a captain or the other 19 ancillaries, and what is she up to on a frozen backwater planet, following her own agenda?
The narrator’s unusual point of view(s), sometimes individual, sometimes corporate, is (are) the first cool thing about this book. Like a janissary, One Esk serves now in the military of the empire that conquered her people. Her body(ies) are human, but her awareness is not; she judges human emotions by temperature and heartbeat fluctuations and has a lot of trouble figuring out gender. The second cool thing about this book is trying to figure out who is actually male or female and who is referred to as “she” just because One Esk doesn’t feel like dealing with pronouns.
For all her dispassionate narration and history of shooting people, One Esk is a thoughtful and sympathetic character. Deliberately paced and well worth the attention you have to pay, her story reminded me strongly of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. Leckie creates a fascinating universe, layered with convincing details of different cultures, classes, and religions, and leaving plenty of big ideas to play with in the next books of what is planned to be a loose trilogy.
Check the WRL catalog for Ancillary Justice.
You can read the first chapter online at Orbit Books.
Michael has experienced a lot of stressful changes. His sister was born prematurely. Although she was released from the hospital, she isn’t doing well at home. Everyone is worried about her health, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for Michael. Additionally the family has recently moved to a new house, which needs a lot of work. Once his dad gets a chance to get the rooms painted and the garden cleaned up, it should be great for their growing family. But now… all Michael can think about is how far away he is from his friends.
One of the features of the property is a dilapidated garage that Michael is not supposed to go near for fear it will collapse—but of course, he does. There he discovers a strange-looking old man hiding behind a tea chest in the corner. Michael is scared, but instead of telling an adult about his discovery, he goes back a second time to get a better look. Then a third time to bring the man food and aspirin. At last he decides to confide in his neighbor, Mina, and brings her to meet Skellig.
As Michael’s sister returns to the hospital for another surgery, he and Mina move Skellig to a safer place. They agree that he is an extraordinary being, but is he a man, angel, owl or ghost? And is there any chance he can save Michael’s sister?
I found this to be a great story about friendship for all ages. Mina is wise beyond her years and the lessons in the book will stick with me for a long time.
Check the WRL catalog for Skellig
Almond also recently released Mina’s story in My Name is Mina.
If I say that this young adult novel was on my radar because the cover was designed by Gingerhaze, who I follow on Tumblr, because someone linked me to her fanart for Avengers and Lord of the Rings… then I guess it’s safe to say I’m a fangirl. And I’m not alone!
Cath is a college freshman and an extreme introvert. Her first year at university is complicated by the fact that she’s generally more comfortable with her laptop, sitting up until the wee hours of the morning writing fanfiction, than with actual people. Online, she’s a BNF, a Big Name Fan, the author of an epic work-in-progress set in the World of Mages, a thinly-veiled homage to the Harry Potter-verse, if Draco Malfoy were a vampire, or maybe Loki went to Hogwarts. In “real” life, she’s worried about her dad’s mental health, increasingly estranged from her more outgoing, frat-partying twin, and she suspects her roommate hates her. And her fanfiction about mages Simon and Baz isn’t going to help her through writing class, where she’s supposed to find a narrative voice of her own.
Author Rainbow Rowell is having a good year: both Fangirl and her other 2013 novel, Eleanor and Park, are on “best of the year” lists for teens at Amazon and the New York Times. As in Eleanor and Park, Rowell writes with empathy for a wide range of characters. I particularly liked Cath’s roommate, who is abrasive and sarcastic and still a good friend. Hanger-about Levi is a welcome contrast to high-strung Cath, having perfected the art of being laid back. (“He looked like he was leaning on something even when he wasn’t. He made standing look like vertical lying down.”)
As a bonus, it cheered me to see the love for Harry Potter still percolating through pop culture a generation later. Reading about Cath’s fannish enthusiasms brought back fond memories of the midnight release for Book 8. This is a light, quick read with a sweet romance (a much sweeter and easier romance than in Eleanor and Park). Readers who enjoy books by John Green or Sarah Dessen should give it a try.
Check the WRL catalog for Fangirl.
It’s Christmastime in New York City, and both Dash and Lily are spending the holiday without their families. Being a bit of a Scrooge, Dash is on his own by choice, as he tricked each of his divorced parents into believing he is spending Christmas with the other parent. Lily, however, loves everything about Christmas. She was left at home with her older brother (who is at first too busy to be festive, and then too sick) while her parents and grandfather vacation in warmer climates.
Needing something to occupy her time, Lily leaves a red Moleskin notebook in the Salinger section of the Strand, a used bookstore. The notebook contains instructions for the finder to follow, if he is a teenage boy, with clues leading around the store and perhaps into Lily’s heart. Dash finds the notebook and, after following Lily’s clues, decides to continue the game. Rather than leaving his phone number for Lily to find, he leaves instructions to travel to a nearby pizzeria.
The game continues past Christmas and into New Year’s as Lily and Dash send each other to a variety of well-known New York locations. They use the notebook not only to leave each other clues, but to get to know one another. They write about how they are spending the holidays, what they want for Christmas (“No, really, don’t be a smart aleck. What do you really really really supercalifragiwant?”), and their best and worst Christmas memories. They do hit some roadblocks along the way, such as when Lily misses her opportunity to pass the book on to Dash and when they unexpectedly meet under less than ideal circumstances. But surely everything must come out alright in the end, right? After all, it is Christmas.
Check the WRL catalog for Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares.
Neil Numberman does a terrific job with his debut picture book, Do Not Build a Frankenstein! In this tale, a new kid gathers up the local children to warn them of the perils of building a Frankenstein, and the largest peril is that the Frankenstein is “pretty annoying.” Once the Frankenstein says he is going away, the narrator hurries to a new town to warn his peers, but at the very end, someone big and green shows up to play monster tag.
Upper-elementary children will enjoy this silly story and bright illustrations. This is also a good book to read if they have a friend who wants to play all of the time, because they may be able to relate to the narrator. Numberman writes, “Even when you try to ignore him, he keeps bothering you. ‘Can we play now?’” This unique monster story does not need to be saved for Halloween, but should be enjoyed any time of year.
Check the WRL catalog for Do Not Build a Frankenstein!
“Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.”
Ever since the Problem began (in Kent), no one goes out at night, not unless they’re armed with iron and salt to guard against spirits. For the last fifty years, nighttime is when ghostly Visitors come out to lament or avenge their untimely deaths, terrorize the living, drive down real estate assessments, etc. Because the young are particularly sensitive to paranormal energies, children and teens with psychic talents are prized as field operatives for the best ghost-investigating agencies.
Lucy Carlyle, age 15, is the newest hire at a not-so-reputable agency, Lockwood and Co., a small-time outfit run without adult supervisors by “old enough and young enough” Anthony Lockwood and his colleague George. Lockwood, proprietor, can see the residual death-glows where someone has died; Lucy can hear their voices, if she gets close enough; and George does research and cooks.
When their latest case results in not only failing to rid the premises of a ghost, but also burning the house down, Lockwood’s only chance at keeping the agency afloat is to land a really lucrative client. Say, the CEO of Fairfax Iron, owner of the most haunted private house in England, epicenter of dozens of rumored hauntings along its Screaming Staircase and in its sinister library, the Red Room. All the agents have to do is spend one night in the manor… and live.
This first book in a new series from the author of the Bartimaeus books has well-paced action and good old-fashioned swashbuckling with silver-tipped rapiers. Lockwood is dashing and cheeky, a Sherlock Holmes with two Watsons who, while inspiring his cohorts to their best work, never lets them in on his thoughts or his plan. He and Lucy and George are a camaraderie-in-the-making, if only they didn’t get on one another’s nerves quite so often.
“I’m being ironic. Or is it sarcastic? I can never remember.”
“Irony’s cleverer, so you’re probably being sarcastic.”
Fast moving, witty, and nicely creepy, the series is written for a middle grade audience, but entertaining enough for any age that appreciates a good ghost story.
Check the WRL catalog for The Screaming Staircase.
You can read the first chapter online at the author’s Tumblr.
Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, painted to adorn the altar of a Belgian cathedral in the 1400s, is the most frequently stolen painting in the history of art. This is an especially neat trick considering it weighs around two tons.
Opened only on special occasions, the wood panels of the altarpiece portray a host of saints, martyrs, angels, and patrons, a showpiece for the kind of minute detail the layering of newfangled oil paints could achieve, and a transition from the art of the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Its central panel, a cryptic, symbolic scene called the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, furnishes the title of this fast-paced, entertaining art history read.
Art historian Noah Charney describes the painting’s 500-plus-year history to great effect, incorporating the little we know about Van Eyck along with art criticism, war stories, true crime, artists who may have been secret agents, and enough farfetched but entertaining conspiracy theories to fuel Dan Brown’s next novel. From Napoleon to the Treaty of Versailles to the salt mines of Alt Aussee, Charney describes how bits and pieces of the altarpiece have been looted, defaced, confiscated, stolen, ransomed, and coveted by Nazis. Is the painting also a coded map to lost Catholic treasures, studied by Hitler’s Ahnenerbe for its clues to finding supernatural weaponry? Cue the Raiders of the Lost Ark music…
If you’ve read Robert Edsel’s Monuments Men, the chapters detailing the painting’s WWII history will be quite familiar (actually, I think Charney tells the story a little better). Officers Posey and Kirstein, an unlikely duo from the Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit careen around the Austrian Alps in search of a treasure trove of paintings looted from throughout Europe, including the Altarpiece, while SS officers caught in the last days of a lost war are bringing in aircraft bombs to blow these same paintings to kingdom come…
And then there’s the mystery of the Righteous Judges, a long-missing panel that may have been replaced with a copy… or by a copy painted over the original in a diabolically byzantine plot to disguise the return of the panel without admitting to its theft in the first place. Unsolved to this day, this cold case comes complete with ransom notes and deathbed confessions: “armoire… key… [dies].”
Like Edward Dolnick’s The Forger’s Spell, this is a fascinating read for folks who are interested in the intersection of art and war.
Check the WRL catalog for Stealing the Mystic Lamb.
This timeless story by the author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Moose a Muffin, is all about chain reactions. Readers follow pig and the little girl narrating the story from a breakfast of pancakes and syrup to tap dancing and tree house building. The narrator grants the pig’s every request until they end up with the pig enjoying more pancakes and syrup and the little girl asleep at the table. Elementary-aged children will enjoy the circular story, and Felicia Bond’s illustrations are bright and playful.
Children will like inferring the ending. Laura Numeroff writes, “Feeling sticky will remind her of your favorite maple syrup. She’ll probably ask you for some. And chances are, if she asks you for some syrup, she’ll want a pancake to go with it.” If you like If You Give a Pig a Pancake, check out If You Give a Pig a Party for more of pig’s shenanigans.
Check the WRL catalog for If You Give a Pig a Pancake.
This is a great set of wintery short stories. Set at Christmas, during the worst snowstorm in fifty years, these stories are as light and fluffy as the snow itself. John Green, author of Paper Towns (another great book), Maureen Johnson, author of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Lauren Myracle, author of Bliss and Rhymes with Witches (which I also enjoyed) offer three short stories with overlapping settings, characters, and events.
In “Jubilee Express”, a Christmas Eve train derailment leads Jubliee (“Julie” when she doesn’t feel like explaining her name) to take a harrowing trek through the snow to find shelter at a nearby Waffle House. The presence of fourteen over-enthusiastic, over-caffeinated cheerleaders in the Waffle House prompts her to trudge through even more snow and across a frozen river to find shelter at the home of her new friend, Stuart. She may well not make it through the holiday alive, and all because her parents were arrested while waiting in line to buy the latest limited edition house for their Flobie Santa Village collection.
In “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle,” the presence of the aforementioned cheerleaders at the Waffle House results in a race through the ice and snow to deliver a game of Twister. Friends Tobin, JP, and the Duke (real name – Angie) were enjoying an evening of James Bond movies, when their plans for Christmas Eve changed. Waffle House employee Don-Keun makes a late night call to Tobin’s house and makes the following announcement:
“The greatest night of my life has just begun. And I am inviting you to join me, because I am the best friend ever. But here’s the catch: after I get off the phone with you, Mitchell and Billy will be calling their friends. And we’ve agreed in advance that there’s only room here for one more carful of guys. I cannot further dilute the cheerleader-to-guy ratio. Now, I am making the first call, because I’m acting assistant manager. So you have a head start. I know you will not fail. I know I can count on you to deliver the Twister. Gentlemen, may you travel safely and swiftly. But if you die tonight, die in the comfort that you have sacrificed your lives for that noblest of human causes. The pursuit of cheerleaders.”
Tobin and JP manage to persuade the Duke to accompany them with the promise of hash browns, as the Duke is a girl, and therefore not particularly interested in seeing cheerleaders. But the night doesn’t quite go as expected.
In “The Patron Saint of Pigs,” it’s the day after Christmas, and Addie reports to work at Starbucks at 4:30 am. She’s been miserable since Christmas Eve, when her boyfriend Jeb failed to meet her at the coffee shop. His absence sends a clear message; he doesn’t forgive her for the “Charlie Thing.” To make matters worse, the sink breaks and causes a flood, she forgets a very important errand she was supposed to run for a friend, and another friend accuses her of being completely self-involved. Not a very Merry Christmas. Luckily, Addie has a Christmas angel who changes her perspective on the universe, and the day begins to look up.
Check the WRL catalog for Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances.