Book Bites: Book Dazzled

If you’re anything like us, 2021 is already shaping up to be a great year of reading. With big releases already on the shelf from favorites like Angie Thomas, Liese O'Halloran Schwarz, and George Saunders, how could it not be? Here, we collect seven of our favorite new reads, ranging from a tender and important picture book to a literary master class on reading and writing. In between, you’ll find charming love stories, searing historical fiction, and more. Clear some room on your nightstand and dig in.

 Ages 4-8

Nicky and Vera by Peter Sís

Sir Nicholas Winton quietly saved more than 600 Jewish children during the Holocaust. His actions did not become public until 1988, when his wife found records of his actions. Peter Sis effectively weaves Nicholas's story with that of Vera Gissing, one of the children he rescued. A beautifully told biography that serves as an introduction to the Holocaust for young readers.
— Cathy

READ because this is a beautiful tribute to a little-known hero.
PASS for now if you’re looking to read something silly.
Attend our virtual event with Peter Sís on January 27!
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Ages 13-17

Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Be Dazzled is a fun, extravagant, and vibrant contemporary novel, full of humor, romance, and explorations of family pressures and learning how to express your true self. This book goes all out—it is full of colorful details and will completely immerse the reader in the fascinating world of cosplay.
— Charis, Teen Advisory Board

READ because this is a heartfelt and hilarious story about finding one’s path.
PASS if your fingers are covered in rhinestones and hot glue—you won’t be able to turn the pages.
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Time Travel for Love and Profit by Sarah Lariviere

Nephele’s freshman year is a disaster. Her best friend leaves her in the first week, and by the end of the year she has been labeled “aggressively weird.” She decides that what she needs is a do-over so, being a math genius, she spends the summer inventing a time machine app. Trouble is, when she goes back in time to the first day of freshman year she is the only person who has gone back and only her parents remember her. She keeps looping back, trying to perfect the app and fix the problem until, the tenth time, her now-habitual survival routine becomes impossible. Nephele is forced to look up from her quest to interact with others her age again, finding acceptance and friendship in the process. Anyone who has discovered the joy in asking important questions and gathering knowledge will particularly enjoy this book.
— Caroline 

READ this delightful love story for its thoughtful themes and Groundhog Day humor.
PASS if even the thought of math class makes you anxious.
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Adult Fiction

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Shay has worked at a Seattle public radio station for more then ten years and can't hide her annoyance when Dominic joins the staff fresh out of grad school. This enemies-to-lovers trope has a unique twist when Shay and Dominic feign a past relationship in order to deliver a new radio show that gives on the air relationship advice. It's a cute novel that public radio/rom-com fans are sure to enjoy!
— Cathy 

READ if you’re in the mood for banter and charm.
PASS if you’re a charm-impervious banter-hater who only reads 900-page biographies of problematic historical figures.
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Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

Born a plantation slave in Virginia but promised freedom by her 18th birthday, Pheby, the daughter of a medicine woman, lives her younger years somewhat sheltered from the harshest treatment of slavery. She is educated and has had privileges since her mom is a favorite of the master of the plantation. Upon the untimely death of Pheby’s mom and the master, her reality crashes to halt. Because of her beauty and lighter skin, she earns certain freedoms; yet, the outward treatments are a front for the brutal reality of forced degradation she must endure. One of Pheby’s main jobs, aside from parenting the children she and the horrid jailer have, is to dress the girl slaves that are to be sold. Secretly, Pheby uses these brief moments to record the girl’s family histories and tries to tell each that she is always free in her own mind. This lesson of self-preservation resonates throughout the book as Pheby witnesses and endures great misery and pain in this captivating historical novel. 
— Liz

READ because this is heartbreaking, engrossing, and beautifully written.
PASS if you’re after some cheerful escapism right now.
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The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams

Peter and Mallory both work at compiling Swansby's Encyclopaedic Dictionary—Peter in 1899 in a room full of other lexicographers and Mallory in today's severely down-sized two-person office. Peter takes out his frustrations with his life by creating some fake definitions ("mountweazels") that find their way into the files that Mallory is reviewing for possible digitization of the dictionary. It's a word lover's paradise, an entertaining examination of words, both real and made up. It's also a warm-hearted story of two people who are trying to figure out where they fit in their worlds. Though it's mostly about words, there is some action (Heimlich maneuver on a pelican? bomb threats?) that move the two stories forward in an amusing way.
— Alice

READ because this is a charming debut that revels in the joy of language.
PASS if you… don’t like… books? We don’t know.
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Adult Nonfiction

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

While teaching a MFA class at Syracuse, George Saunders created a class construct: read seven short stories by Russian authors Chekhov, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev and then dissect in discussion to better assist his students’ reading and writing skills. How fortunate we are because his thoughts and those of his students over the years have been put into book form, allowing the reader a front row seat  to not only Saunders’ gentle, occasionally sly humor, but his engineer-trained mind leading us through careful dissections of each work. His honest and genuine appreciation for the masters and their works is heartwarming, as is his humility in understanding his own limitations as a writer. It’s as though we are taking a master class without paying the tuition. 
— Raquel 

READ because “by George Saunders” is always a great reason to read something.
PASS if you’ve never read Saunders before—you have some serious catching up to do before you get to this one.
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