When the Iowa weather is gray and bleak, it can be a relief to enter the colorful world of picture books! Here are a few books that have thrilled me lately from the “E” section:

  • beware of the frogBeware of the Frog by William Bee: vividly colored illustrations and a sinister frog make this twisted fairy tale unforgettable.
  • And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano: more lovely illustrations from Caldecott winner Erin E. Stead of A Sick Day For Amos McGee. Here, the story is about seeds planted at the beginning of a long gray spring and the anticipation that follows. A gradual increase in color and warmth marks the passage from winter to spring, and as in Amos, touches of humor are added in the illustrations that aren’t part of the  text.
  • oliviaOlivia and the Fairy Princesses: Ian Falconer’s beloved pig is NOT just going to be a pink frilly fairy princess like all the other girls (and some of the boys)! Olivia is at her feisty finest in this tale of individuality and being true to yourself. I adore the contrast of turquoise and pink on the cover, too!
  • Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters: Of the picture books I’ve written about, this is the only one in which the text was more memorable than the illustrations (although the pictures are great too). For example: “Cousin Clara’s cottage was consumed by a crocodile…[Lester] added crocodiles to his list of Suspicious Stuff Starting with C.” Thus, cousin Clara comes to live with Lester and his family, and as a “curiously speedy knitter,” Lester’s wardrobe is soon bursting with hideous handmade creations that he is forced to wear to school, leading to the inevitable humiliation and eventual sweater-murdering. Lester is a brainy, neurotic young man, and the way he squirms out of this pickle is satisfying.
  • this is not my hatThis Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: Klassen’s second book exactly mirrors the plot of his first, but from the point of view of a thief, rather than a victim. Also, it’s fish instead of woodland critters. Just as beautiful, just as funny, just as appealing as I Want My Hat Back.

whathappensinlondonThe Good: What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

This is the perfect Regency romance. It’s funny (actually funny, not just peppered with lines that the characters laugh at but the reader never would), heartwarming (but not schlocky), and steamy (but not gratuitous). There’s a fussy, arrogant Russian prince, a heroine who scorns novels and reads every word of the Times, and a dashing hero who wears funny hats. It’s historically accurate (mostly), but it never gets boring by slogging through too much detail. I devoured this in just two very enjoyable sittings. (Available via WILBOR)

The Bad: A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Gray

aladyneverlies

Oh, dear. This is the kind of book that always made me hate romance novels. It’s nonsensical, it’s boring, its characters have no substance, and the romantic moments are gratuitous and badly written. Gray tries to heighten the drama by having everyone be cagey about their pasts/financial situations/parentage but honestly, it goes over like a lead balloon. Three single young women and three single young men accidentally rent the same Tuscan castle for the summer! They decide to keep both leases and stay in separate wings! They make a wager not to interact with one another to prove some bologna 21st-century-argument that the author has needlessly inserted into an allegedly historical novel! I wonder what will happen!!!???

soullessThe Awesome: Soulless by Gail Carriger

I never thought I’d like a book about vampires, werewolves, and parasols, but I was deeply mistaken. Soulless is a steampunk novel (steampunk: a sub-genre of SF in which the industrial revolution of Victorian times has gone into hyperdrive, producing steam powered dirigibles and other retro-futuristic contraptions and necessitating a lot of metal eyewear with round lenses). Alexia Tarabotti is half Italian and half an orphan, hardly a favorite in London society, but her appearance and parentage aren’t her only problems: in the middle of a ball, she has just been attacked by a vampire. The encounter breaks all the rules of supernatural etiquette AND destroys her plate of treacle tart! Miss Tarabotti soon finds herself in the thick of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences for the supernatural vampires and werewolves she befriends and for herself. Alexia is fierce, fun, and generally unforgettable. The romance is well balanced against the world building and it makes sense for the characters, all of which are interesting, exciting, and well written. Brava, Ms. Carriger! I can’t wait to read the other four books in this series. (Available via WILBOR)

seraphinaRachel Hartman’s Seraphina is my new favorite book of dragon fantasy. In it, dragons – an unfeeling, coldly mathematical species which can fold themselves into human shape – have shared an uneasy peace with Seraphina’s homeland of Goredd for 40 years. Prejudice and naked hatred between the two races exists everywhere, and on the eve of the peace treaty’s fortieth anniversary, tensions are running high. Add to this mix a murdered prince (whose missing head strongly suggests dragon involvement) and a smart, curious young woman with a unique ability to understand dragon culture and you have a recipe for intrigue. Seraphina is a gifted musician and the assistant to the court composer, which makes her a minor member of the royal court. Her talent is making her famous, but she has secrets to keep; preserving those secrets while at the same time investigating a royal murder and befriending the presumptive heirs (Princess Glisselda and her fiancé, the bastard Prince Lucian) puts Seraphina in a lot of tight spots. Her friends; her life; her sanity; her secrets – what will Seraphina sacrifice to protect the peace?

I have no complaints about this novel; it’s perfectly paced, gorgeously written, and well imagined, all of which shines through a multi-layered and complicated plot that never gets out of Hartman’s control. The characters are inspirational in their intelligence and bravery yet relatable in their worries and failures. There’s intrigue and mystery as well as philosophy and breathless action, and even a bit of romance. Seraphina’s romance with Lucian is wonderfully subtle and genuine – a true meeting of the minds. Hartman is so busy writing about their meaningful conversations and compatible personalities that I’m not even sure I know what Lucian looks like! Seraphina has more important things to think about than the color of his eyes.

Here are some of the new releases from popular authors that are coming out in January. Reserve your favorites today!

hit me

power tripred velvet cupcake murdertouch and godeadly stakesLawrence Block – Hit Me

Jackie Collins – The Power Trip

Joanne Fluke – Red Velvet Cupcake Murder

Lisa Gardner – Touch & Go

J.A. Jance – Deadly Stakes

guilt

alex cross runstorytellercalculated in deathbad blood

 

 

 

Jonathan Kellerman – Guilt: an Alex Delaware Novel

James Patterson – Alex Cross, Run

Jodi Picoult – The Storyteller

J.D. Robb – Calculated in Death

Dana Stabenow – Bad Blood

For more new titles, be sure to check out Upcoming Releases on the Davenport Public Library webpage!

code name verityThe less said about the plot of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, the better. “Careless talk costs lives,” say our heroines, and in a tightly plotted and breathlessly suspenseful book like this, you won’t doubt it. Verity is a prisoner of the Gestapo in occupied France, writing out her confession. Maddie, a young woman pilot, is a part of that confession. As Verity writes, she confronts and examines her beliefs and her fears.

And that’s about all I can tell you.

I am not (usually) a lover of war stories or YA novels, but this one is just too good to miss. The characters are vivid, the plotting is superb, and the immersion in wartime Europe is complete. I loved reading about women in war – active, brave, brilliant women – instead of men. It’s more than a story of torture and war and espionage: it’s about life-changing friendship, love, incredible bravery, and the difficult choices we face (whether our lives are ordinary or extraordinary). Everything about this book was refreshing, surprising, exhilarating, and beautiful (even when it was terrifying). I wanted to reread it as soon as I turned the last page!

Here are some of the new releases from popular authors that are coming out in December. Reserve your favorites today!

 

 

 

Tom Clancy – Threat Vector

Joy Fielding – Shadow Creek

Aaron Elkins – Dying on the Vine

Earlene Fowler – The Road to Cardinal Valley

W.E.B. Griffin – Empire and Honor

 

 

 

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles – Blood Never Dies

Greg Iles – The Bone Tree

James Patterson – Private London

Douglas Preston – Two Graves

Karen Robards – Shiver

Barbara Vine – The Child’s Child

For more new titles, be sure to check out Upcoming Releases on the Davenport Public Library webpage!

If the slowly lengthening nights and cooling winds have you longing for the perfect title to take with you under the covers, check out any one of these lush, engrossing novels.

In Amanda Coplin’s dense debut novel The Orchardist, an orchard farmer called Talmadge has been tending the same grove of fruit trees in the foothills of the Cascades for half a century. His life is changed forever by the appearance of two young sisters and the violent men who trail them. This turn-of-the-century America is as wild as it can be: a nation where solitude is genuine and there truly are places that the law just doesn’t reach.

The Crimson Petal and the White offers a lurid, intoxicating look at the oft-visited streetwalkers, orphans, and gentle ladies of Victorian England. From the high to the low, the people who make up this fabled society are brought together through the dreams of a surprisingly well-read young prostitute named Sugar. Author Michael Faber invokes the gas-lit ambiance of that era but tinges his narrative with an irresistible modernity that makes this novel unique.

Margaret Atwood is my favorite author. You probably know her for her famous dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale, but forget all about that and read The Blind Assassin instead. In this Booker Prize winner, Atwood traces the history of two sisters: Laura Chase, a novelist who dies mysteriously in her twenties, and Iris Chase, who recounts their story as an octegenarian. There is a novel within this novel, written by Laura; within Laura’s novel, there’s a novel within a novel within a novel: a science fiction tale called “The Blind Assassin” as told to Laura by her lover. It sounds impossibly convoluted, but it just works – Atwood’s genius isn’t just plotting, but stunning language: years later, sentences from this gorgeous book will still be rattling around in your brain. It’s unforgettable.

Here are some of the new releases from popular authors that are coming out in October. Reserve your favorites today!

 

 

 

Jennifer Chiaverini – The Giving Quilt

Patricia Cornwell – Bone Bed

Nelson DeMille – The Panther

Louise Erdrich – The Round House

Richard Paul Evans – A Winter Dream

W. Michael Gear – People of the Black Sun

John Grisham – The Racketeer

Carolyn Hart – What the Cat Saw

Mark Helprin – In Sunlight and in Shadow

 

 

 

Susan Isaacs – The Goldberg Variations

Iris Johansen – Sleep No More

Karen Kingsbury – The Bridge

Debbie Macomber – Angels at the Table

James Patterson – NYPD Red

John Sandford – Mad River

Alexander McCall Smith – The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

Danielle Steel – The Sins of the Mother

Tom Wolfe – Back to Blood

For more new titles, be sure to check out Upcoming Releases on the Davenport Public Library webpage!

 

When you reach a certain level of notoriety and authorial success, your books stop being a publishing gamble and start being a given. Without even trying, Little, Brown &Co. are going to make a mint on Rowling’s newest offering, and they knew it from the day the contract was inked. In the same way that any book with James Patterson’s name on the cover will top all the charts (even if it’s mostly written by someone else), any book Rowling published was fated to succeed, no matter how dull it was. It sounds a little cynical, and it is – but there’s a silver lining, too. These blockbusters pave the way for publishers to take a risk on newer authors with smaller print runs and no guaranteed successes; for every book like The Casual Vacancy, you get a crack at a few dozen unknowns, little unlikely gems like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The other privilege – or perhaps curse – about this level of fame is the relationship you have with your editor. When you are a bona fide brilliant author with millions upon millions of your books in print, when you are a household name, when a character of your invention is shorthand for an entire cultural movement, who’s going to read your manuscript and tell you it’s just TOO DARN LONG? Certainly, nobody had that conversation with Joanne Rowling, whose first novel for adults uses 500 pages to tell the story of…a city council election. (Do you remember what other incredible feats of storytelling she’s managed to shoehorn into 500 pages, or even less? I do.) She has a lot of talent, especially for humor and dialog and characterization; she can inhabit and bring to life many different personalities and create unique, interesting, multi-dimensional characters. She’s just let her talent and her vision run away with her.

Pagford is a small English town; one of its city councillors has just died young and unexpectedly. Rowling tells us what follows through the eyes of no less than seventeen independent characters (and those are just the ones I could remember off the top of my head). That viewpoint is always in flux; in one paragraph you see the inner turmoil of teenaged Gaia, and in the next the thoughts belong to her mother Kay; on the next page of the same chapter, you’re in the head of a totally different person in a different family. It’s not easy to follow; I was halfway through before I could confidently tell Miles apart from Colin and Tessa apart from Kay. This constant shifting and the wide variety of inner monologues does provide the sturdiest backbone of the novel in showing how, no matter how petty or inconsiderate or mean or low our actions may seem, all people are virtuous in their own eyes, or are merely held hostage to their circumstances.

The jacket copy describes this election as a  “war,” but I wouldn’t apply that term to sullen teenagers playing pranks and old women ramping up their catty gossip and a few hundred people voting in a city council election. I’d just call it everyday life, and I don’t think everyday life needs this many point of view characters or this many pages. If this 500 page novel were half that long, it could be brilliant and beautiful – instead it’s bloated and boring.

I checked out this kindle book via WILBOR after a friend described reading it as “entering a bliss-coma.” Perfect for a vacation book, I expected. And if you want an unapologetically romantic, milquetoast, white bread – er, white cake – wish fulfillment fantasy with little and less conflict, Savor the Moment is perfect for you! Laurel McBane is the co-founder and executive pastry chef at Vows, an all-inclusive wedding planning service. Her best friends Mac (photographer), Parker (wedding coordinator), and Emma (florist and decorator) are her co-founders, and the four of them live together in the country mansion where they also host (and cook for) dozens of weddings every summer. Also living and working in their enclave are the soon-to-be husbands of Mac and Emma (see books one and two for their Happily Ever Afters) and Parker’s brother Delaney – the suitably handsome, rich, and dashing hero that Laurel has been in love with half her life.

Among a blur of other people’s weddings, and entirely too closely surrounded by friends and a woman called Mrs. G. who acts as nanny and short-order cook for reasons not made totally clear (is she an employee? a relative? a servant? does she owe them a debt!?), Laurel and Del begin dating. You know the rest. Since they’re already friends, there’s no getting-to-know-you phase. Their whole journey is about negotiating the way their friends and relatives will see them once they’ve transitioned from buddies to bedfellows. This thin love story isn’t a very sturdy backbone for the novel, but it doesn’t really need to be, surrounded as it is by love stories big and small, glorious descriptions of gowns and cakes and desserts and wedding ceremonies, and a lot of meaningful female friendships.

The business side of Vows is pretty interesting; I like reading about women who are smart and talented, and making this business run smoothly – coordinating dozens of vendors and hundreds of guests for almost daily events – requires the characters to be brainy and focused. It’s a tough job, and Roberts’ characters are good at it. It’s great to see an author really understand and illustrate the way weddings work instead of glossing over the details, but reading about those details – the stressed out brides, the last-minute changes, the groomsmen who show up late – can walk the line between boring (if you’re not interested in weddings) and stressful (if you remember these things too clearly from your own wedding). If you adore weddings, brides, cakes, and comforting, easy love stories, this series is the right choice for you.