A child imagines ways to make his mother’s sadness go away in this touching picture book by debut author Williams and featuring illustrations by Ark.
Mama can heal with a kiss and cure sadness, and her child sees her as being full of magic. Together, the two pretend to be superheroes or fairies or wizards. But sometimes Mama can’t smile; it’s as though a dark cloud is hovering over her, sapping her magic. The child wants to help; to do so, the youngster becomes a fairy, a wizard, a fan dancer, a superhero, an inventor, the sun, and a unicorn. But imagining only takes the child so far: “I’m only me,” the young one admits. Ultimately, a hug helps the mother, if only a little, giving the story a hopeful ending. The poetic, child-friendly text tackles hard-to-discuss ideas about mental health and depression, acknowledging that it’s not the child’s job to fix it and embracing the hope that one can help just by being oneself. Ark’s gorgeous digital illustrations are informed by her watercolor experience, and the merging of the child’s sunny magic and the mother’s dark cloud is beautiful.
A touching, useful way to approach a difficult issue that should find a home among families, in libraries, and in school counselors’ offices.
In the second installment of Westbay’s (Revelations, 2018) fantasy series, an angel defies God and traverses multiple universes to save the mortal woman he loves.
Though angelic Alex Prescott knows that human Gwen Adams is not his destined soul mate, he has finally stopped denying his love for her. Unfortunately, it may be too late; someone has infected Gwen with a poison that’s slowly killing her. He believes her salvation is the Tree of Life, which can turn her immortal. But on the journey to the tree, Alex is unknowingly getting help from his and Gwen’s mutual friend, Jasper Mills, who initially hides from Alex that he’s a fellow angel. He partially heals Gwen, but he can’t completely cure her sickness. What Jasper truly wants is revenge against Alex, whom he blames for a transgression that happened long ago. Meanwhile, getting to the tree necessitates traveling through portals to other universes. Alex will need to find three gatekeepers, each with a key that can be obtained by fulfilling a quest or demand. Gwen, who knows Alex is an angel, isn’t certain that she can trust him. He had hurt her when he suddenly ignored Gwen after learning she was someone else’s soul mate. But the multiverse excursion is filled with surprises: Other angels enlighten Gwen about the histories of both Alex and Jasper, namely Alex’s former angelic love, Eva. While Alex is envious of Gwen and Jasper’s closeness (Jasper’s healing requires skin-to-skin contact), Gwen has reason to believe that Alex’s love for Eva continues to smolder after millennia.
Westbay’s novel hums with sexual tension. Gwen, for one, is clearly attracted to Alex and Jasper, and Jasper exacerbates her conflict by openly flirting with her (primarily to upset Alex). These scenes showcase the author’s ability to illustrate sexual tension without forgoing subtlety: “Something inside me, something greedy and lustful, had clawed its way to the surface….It wanted the heat that sizzled off of him, and it wanted it now.” The three main characters are complex individuals; though the narrative calls back events from the preceding book, it also continues to develop the cast with convincing backstories. Nevertheless, Jasper is a standout. He’s done something villainous (from the earlier installment, though it’s not the poisoning), but as the story progresses, he develops new feelings: guilt over his deed and genuine compassion for Gwen. At the same time, Gwen and Alex occasionally appear fickle, each of them endlessly going back and forth on whether they want to be together. There is, however, a later twist that, at least in part, explains their emotional discord. The final act entails a few other twists as well, all of which hold water, even if they’re sometimes predictable. There’s also copious suspense (Gwen’s in perpetual jeopardy), including encounters with creatures in other universes and one particularly dangerous quest. This book, like the first installment, ends with a sensational cliffhanger that may prompt readers to add Volume 3 to their reading lists.
Characters continually evolve and astonish in this exceptional supernatural tale.
In this prequel, readers discover where a feisty, chain-smoking, elderly flapper got her start—in Chicago in the Roaring ’20s with all of its frenetic craziness.
Seventeen-year-old Kathleen McPherson comes from a staid, upper-middle-class family in Minneapolis, but she is a rebel at heart. When a young classmate is murdered in the park right across from her house one night in 1923, she begins to sense danger. She decides she will absolutely not attend the women’s college that her family has picked out for her. A talented dancer, she and her gifted singer pal, Sophie Dagget, run off to Chicago. Amazingly, they both find work, but that just pulls them deeper into danger. Madcap characters proliferate. Some are good and protective, but others are as dangerous as rattlesnakes. In fact, people from Kathleen’s past in Minneapolis are more treacherous than the notorious gangsters in Chicago. Did her almost lover Chester Davidson fake his death, and is he now trying to kill her? What about wacky Ivy Schrader? Is Mrs. Vivian Davidson to be trusted? And who is this rather creepy Pritchard fellow who nonetheless seems to be a kind of guardian angel? The action never stops, and the girls—the annoying Dolly, a former classmate, also shows up—get into one scrape after another. Kathleen falls for a married man who is not really the cad that he seems. The imposter is finally revealed, and readers can have their choice of stalkers, depending on the quarry. Dietz (The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, 2016), whose preceding novel featured Aunt Kathleen McPherson as an aging flapper and spirited amateur detective, has a wonderful time with all of it. The chapters are quite short, with each one featuring an epigraph and an appropriate cliffhanger or semicliffhanger. The author’s prose deftly captures her protagonist’s gutsiness and insouciance. Here Kathleen steals a gangster’s car left idling: “She floor boarded it down the street, howling in delight, taking the corner on two wheels.…Her face hurt from grinning.” It is hard to believe that the teenage flapper could be so savvy, so smart, such a survivor, but Dietz makes readers believe as the pages turn. The author is also a master of suspense. Not until the final pages is the stalker (or stalkers) revealed.
A fast-paced historical novel that is both scary and witty, a wonderful combination.
In Sundt’s (My Helsingfors: Andreas Larsson Bengstrom, 2014) Depression-era story, an adult orphan takes care of a younger one, and together, they take a trip to delve into their pasts.
Eleven-year-old John Culbertson’s father dies of a heart attack on their bleak farm in southern Illinois. Traumatized, the boy, who’s known as “Cully,” blindly and aimlessly hits the road. Along the way, Gunnar Anderson, known to all simply as “Doc,” stops his car and convinces the lad to come with him. Before long, they’re acting like father and son. Doc is a lonely widower, and Cully fills a void in his heart. Thirty years ago, when he was a child, Doc was sent west on an “orphan train”—part of a movement that aimed to relocate orphans in Eastern cities to Midwestern foster homes—and by hard work, he eventually got a college education and became a veterinarian. He has virtually no memory of his life before he was put on the train. Cully’s mother, Anna, left her husband and son and returned to her Connecticut hometown years ago. Now, she writes a long letter to both of them—not knowing that her husband’s dead. It contains a mysterious reference to the long-ago disappearance of her youngest brother, Augustus Jared. Doc sees Cully’s photo of Anna and begins to fall in love with her—but for various reasons, he soon begins to suspect that he might, in fact, be her long-lost brother. Fatefully, he says to Cully, “I think we need to go find your mother.” They finally track her down, and, of course, the boy is overjoyed at the reunion; meanwhile, Doc wrestles with his feelings while trying to discover the truth about his past.
Sundt is a very impressive writer, and he doesn’t miss a step as he evokes the story’s time and place with vivid descriptions. Doc, in particular, is a wonderful creation who’s worth the price of admission all by himself; his care for Cully is simple and strong, and he also shows deep sensitivity. The book is structured as the two complementary diaries of Doc and Cully, and as a result, the text approaches metafiction at times, as when Doc writes, “There are things that happen beyond all intention and planning….If it were in a book, the reader would scoff at it.” Often, Doc’s and Cully’s entries will observe the same turn of events from their very different perspectives—Doc with maturity, and Cully with precocity. The narrative is bookended by commentaries by Augustus Strong II, Cully’s son, writing in the present day. It’s revealed that Augustus is a veterinarian—just like Doc was. The final mystery involves the Strong family graveyard, but Sundt has Augustus Strong II provide the envoi: “Some mysteries are not meant to be solved.” That said, the climax turns out to be a real shocker, leaving readers to ponder a lack of resolution.
A cleverly plotted and deeply moving work that will likely have readers recommending it to their friends.
In this stunning debut memoir, Hong (Special Education/Brigham Young Univ.-Hawaii) recounts her exceptional transformation from floundering student to flourishing professor.
Born in Singapore to an uneducated mother and an alcoholic, abusive father, Hong grew up in severe poverty. She attended school against her parents’ wishes. Despite her intellectual curiosity, she consistently failed her subjects because she couldn’t keep up with the fast-paced, competitive, shame-inducing educational style. Flunking her 10th-grade finals just about extinguished her academic hopes. But one act of kindness radically changed her trajectory when an inspired acquaintance convinced her to redo the grade. Her new teacher—who was passionate and caring—taught students instead of subjects. A friend from her church gave her the finest tutoring, much-needed friendship, and even an example of a loving home and family. After completing 10th grade with top marks, she spent her remaining school years working tirelessly, eventually earning the Best All-Round Student award. Her passion for learning expanded into a passion for teaching; she pursued post-secondary degrees in America and began an influential career as a professor of education and international education consultant. Hong’s eloquent present-tense narration animates scenes of family strife and academic struggle and evokes an astounding range of emotions—commiseration, frustration, and eventually elation. Something is always developing, whether it’s the narrator herself or the plot. Though the memoir charts the author’s intellectual growth, it also considers complex family relationships, poverty, Southeast Asian culture and education, disability, and determination. Hong demonstrates, through her own experiences, the pleasures and rewards of scholarship and effective teaching, and her account underscores how ordinary people can have life-changing effects on others.
An absorbing, eye-opening narrative about the value of grit and education, sure to inspire a wide audience.
A nonagenarian inventor and operative recounts a dramatic life.
In this debut memoir, co-written with Prodger (Luftwaffe vs. RAF, 1998, etc.), Cellini leads readers through the globe-spanning series of adventures that made up his life. Born in New York and raised in Italy, Cellini was something of a juvenile delinquent before being drafted into the Italian army. He soon deserted and joined a partisan unit, taking part in their guerilla warfare until Italy was liberated. He then went to work for the Office of Strategic Services, helping to fight the black market that arose during World War II while also taking part in illicit transactions of his own. After the war, Cellini returned to the United States, accompanied by his cousin Franci, whom he married soon after arriving. As he moved from one factory job to another, his innate mechanical aptitude allowed him to create inventions and develop improvements, and Cellini ended up with more than a dozen patents to his name. He also formed connections around the world, leading him to work for the Nicaraguan government in the 1970s, carry out negotiations with Italian organized crime in the ’80s, and design a gun stabilizer for the U.S. military. The book is illustrated with both historical photographs and contemporary images. The author’s exploits sometimes verge on the picaresque, but the reader is always left with a clear sense of the danger Cellini often found himself facing, and even in the book’s most intimate scenes, violence is never far away. Cellini and Prodger have an eye for the small moments that make up this wide-ranging narrative (“Franci has left them alone with their grappa and their memories but with her impeccable sense of timing she recognizes the need to interrupt with espresso”), and although Cellini’s recollections make up the bulk of the story, it is also well-researched, with plenty of substantiating detail and further information about the many well-known figures he encountered. Cellini tells a fascinating story and keeps the reader enthralled and engaged despite the book’s length.
A wide-ranging memoir of an active and momentous life.