Monthly Archives: March 2020

Favorite New Picture Books

We always have new picture books pouring into the libraries. Here are two of my favorites.

In a Jar

In a Jar, by Deborah Marcero

Llewellyn was a sentimental young rabbit, saving up his memories in jars: leaves, feathers, and pretty rocks. When Llewellyn made a new friend in Evelyn, his collecting became magical. He handed her a jar full of the sunset on the sea, which glowed all night on her dresser. Together, they collected laughter, skating adventures, and the wind just before snow falls in jars that came to fill Llewellyn’s house. When Evelyn had to move away, they were afraid that their treasured times had come to an end. One day, however, Evelyn found a way to continue to share their friendship— in jars.

Llewellyn and Evelyn are drawn in almost cartoon style, with square heads and ears that shoot straight up on the sides. There are no parents to be seen, but when Evelyn waves goodbye from the back of her family car, there are white tips of ears peeking up over the front seats. The illustrations reflect Llewellyn’s emotions: sometimes light and breezy, other times deep and vibrant, and, once, even gray. These are pictures that will have children poring over the details, full of new objects to discover with each repeated reading. Sensitive children and those struggling with changes will love this story and its hopeful ending.

Cowie

Cowie, by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Cowie was a donkey who wanted to be a cow. He loved everything about them: their soft ears, their kind eyes, and the that way the grass was always greener on their side of the fence. Cows were the very picture of contentment, and Cowie was the epitome of discontent. He tried standing with the cows and acting like a cow, but he could not be a cow. His friends Duckie and Mousie tried to help out, telling Cowie to moo like a cow, but when he took a deep breath, it came out, “Ooooom.” The silliness continues as the friends try one scheme after another to get the sound to turn out right.

Our church women’s group is currently following a book study on the topic of contentment, so I shared the first half of this book with them. We have all been Cowie at one time or another! Stanton’s illustrations are large, soft, and sweet, with a generous amount of white space. Children will laugh at the animals’ attempts to help this donkey to turn into a cow, showing the dedication and loyalty of true friends. I have a slight quibble with the ending, since the animals solve the problem of the “Moo,” but not—in my mind, at least—the original problem of discontent. Children will probably not see this, but rather will be charmed and amused by the lovely animals and their bumbling adventures.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix

Southern Book ClubPatricia has ninety minutes before she has to lead the discussion of Cry, the Beloved Country for the Mount Pleasant women’s book club. She had worked so hard to get into the exclusive little group, and now, for her very first discussion, she hadn’t had time to read the book. She had read the first sentence several times, but something always happened, such as when her daughter had to be driven to one of her many practices or the time her son had to be rushed to the emergency room because he had stuffed 24 raisins up his nose. Despite all of her excuses, she was tossed out of the club. Walking back to her car, she heard, “Pssst!” from the darkness. Some of the other women had decided to start a club of their own, and to Patricia’s shock and dismay, they were going to read true crime novels. Within days, though, she knew that she had found her tribe.

Taking out the trash a few nights later, Patricia was startled to find her unpleasant elderly neighbor rummaging through the cans and snacking on a raccoon. When she heard Patricia, she turned and attacked her, biting off part of her earlobe. The old woman died in the hospital, and her only known relative was her great-nephew James, who had recently shown up to care for her. Patricia thought it would only be proper to bring James a casserole—it was the Southern thing to do. So, with the stitches still adorning her ear, Patricia walked down the street with a taco dish in hand. James didn’t answer the door, so she pushed it open and found James lying down, not breathing. Patricia’s nurse training kicked in, and she immediately started to administer the CPR that he so obviously needed. Except he didn’t.

I am not a reader of horror books, but after the historical fiction novel I had just finished, I was looking for something light. The cover of this book is irresistible: peaches, one with two puncture marks dribbling blood. Furthermore, it’s 1) Southern (check), 2) book club (check), 3) vampires (um…). I don’t know a lot about Grady Hendrix, but he has absolutely nailed the culture—and especially the women—of 1990 Charleston, SC. We lived there for five years in just about the same time period in which this novel is set, and the excruciating correctness is spot on. Although all of the members of the book club are individuals, they display various facets of Southern women of a certain class. Their homes are perfect, their children are in all the right activities, and their world is amazingly narrow. The husbands are in authority, controlling their wives’ choice of friends, activities, and books. This would be a horror novel if only for the husbands.

Hendrix’s writing is absolutely hilarious. He skewers upscale Southern culture with a fondness that reveals an intimate acquaintance. On the other hand, he also scared the daylights out of me. A friend warned me that some of the scenes were gory— and they were— but the scenes of psychological tension were the best. I have had nightmares before where I am running around the house, trying to get all of the doors and windows locked before someone outside gets to them first—or pops up in the glass right in front of me. Yeah, that was in there. I don’t think I breathed for page after page, terrified for Patricia and her children. There were other such scenes that fill the reader with such creeping dread that you can’t turn the pages fast enough.

The tension builds throughout this delicious novel right up to the horrible, disgusting, and totally well-deserved ending. Even though the plot is all about ridding the old-money neighborhood of monsters and McMansions, Patricia is actually finding out about real friendship, women who will show up for you even when it means ruining their shoes and their manicures.

If you have a strong stomach and don’t mind a couple of weirdly sexual scenes, y’all, this book is a hoot.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which will be available on April 7th. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. #LibraryReads

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A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Long Petal of the SeaVictor was not the handsome Dalmau brother; that was Guillem, a charmer who had fallen in love with Roser, the young woman his family had rescued. No, Victor was consumed by his desire to be a doctor. His studies were interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, but he received plenty of on-the-job training on the battlefield. The day that he reached into a young man’s open chest and massaged his heart back to life, his reputation as a miracle-working cardiologist began.

But the war churned on. Victor, Roser, and his mother were driven from their homes by Franco’s Fascist forces, and they joined the sea of starving refugees pouring toward the French border. Guillem was killed in battle, his mother despaired, and Roser was pregnant. The famous poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda had chartered a ship to bring Spanish refugees to his home country of Chile, the “long petal of the sea,” but he had a limited number of spaces, and only married couples were welcomed.

The refugees were surprised to find a warm welcome in Chile, but their hearts longed for their home in Spain. For years, Victor hoped to return, but instead found himself running, decades later, to Venezuela to escape the Chilean revolution. New friends and family entered his life, and his definition of “home” began to change.

Spanning generations, this intense and enthralling novel weaves fictional and historic characters together in an unforgettable story. Each chapter opens with a few lines of Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and he is portrayed in the book as a friend and confidant of Victor. Isabel Allende’s second cousin and godfather, Salvador Allende, was president of Chile just before the revolution, and he plays a minor role in the story, as well.

Allende observes how huge, worldwide events affect obscure people in life-altering ways, and yet, the slow, invisible workings of the human heart can also change the world forever. She explores the meaning and nature of love, the necessity of courage, and the obstinance of hope. Unlike her novels of magical realism, this is a work of historical fiction that will keep you busy researching South American history and political movements, and it is woven into the author’s own story, as well. Victor and Roser are unforgettable. You will ache for them, hope for them, and be so proud of them.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which is now available to all. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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