Book Bites: Feeling Festive

The sun is setting at 5:30, there's what passes for a chill in the air, and H-E-B has already switched over to their 24/7 Christmas station... Could it be that the holidays are here already? One look at our display of new releases confirms it — this week, our staff picks include a twisty Christmas mystery, a future Christmas classic, and a beautiful middle grade retelling of Swan Lake. There's plenty more, too, if you're not feeling festive — including a great read for Veteran's Day weekend and one of our favorite debuts of the year. Dig in! 

Ages 7-10

The Apartment House on Poppy Hill by Nina LaCour; illustrated by Sònia Albert 

Ella can't wait to meet her new neighbors and show them all the quirky characteristics about their apartment building. She knows everyone in the building — except for the Robinsons, who live on the top floor. Will these new residents help Ella solve that mystery? Such a charming early chapter book!
— Cathy

Read if you're a fan of Ivy + Bean!
Pass if you try to avoid lighthearted fun.
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Ages 8-12

Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer; illustrated by Pauliina Hannuniemi 

Christmas Magic has disappeared and Santa Claus hasn’t delivered presents for nine years. Children barely remember him. Juniper Lane does. Her father began the Santa Vigil. But he is gone, and now Juniper’s mother is missing. With help from her friends, Juniper searches for Santa to find her mom and bring back the magic of Christmas. But someone else wants to capture that magic and do evil things with it. Complete with a Duchess, magic reindeer, elves, and a reluctant Santa, this charming book is destined to become a Christmas classic.
— Melanie

Read if you're looking for a new book to enjoy every holiday.
Pass if you refuse to get into the Christmas mood until after Thanksgiving.
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Song of the Swan by Karah Sutton; illustrated by Pauliina Hannuniemi 

Beautiful mythical fairytale, a blending of two ballets, Swan Lake and Giselle, and Slavic folklore in this middle grade read with black and white illustrations. We are introduced to the story by a spider, who weaves the story throughout the book. Once upon a time, in a land far away, a magical spider gave a heartstring to a mortal man, a magical string that he could draw on if he needed. The magic was passed down through generations until we get to our main characters — orphaned Olga, and her protector Pavel, who enter a long forgotten castle in hopes to find and steal the heart stone — a jewel that will allow them to leave their life of thievery on the road and finally be comfortable. They wake in the castle to find a ball is held every night, but Olga realizes the fair maidens at the ball turn back into swans during the day, and she sets out to solve the mystery behind the magic. A sweet and fun fairytale for elementary school readers.
— Aerie

Read because this is a clever, fun retelling of the classic story.
Pass if Barbie Swan Lake is the only Swan Lake retelling you accept.
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Ages 12 & up

Courage to Dream by Neal Shusterman; illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez 

Part history book exploring the Holocaust and part fantasy/superhero book exploring Jewish folklore, five short stories comprise this graphic novel, each exploring a different myth and the hope it could have delivered during the darkest of times. Each story also ends with a look at the real brave individuals working to help save Jewish lives during WWII. Striking narrative and excellent introduction to a hard topic for kids, plus a great exploration of Jewish folklore.
— Aerie

Read because this is a gripping story of hope.
Pass if you have just discovered Shusterman and want to dive into his many other bestsellers first.
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Adult Fiction

Christmas Presents by Lisa Unger

Madeline Martin is a bookshop owner in a small town, the survivor of an attack that left one friend dead, two more missing, and her former boyfriend sentenced to life in prison for the crimes after a dark night at a Christmas party when they were all teenagers in high school. One of her favorite authors and true crime podcasters, Harley Granger, comes to town, and she knows he is there to peel back the layers of what happened in the past, even though she wants nothing more than to keep the door firmly shut on those memories. But other girls have gone missing over the years, and with a new girl missing, Madeline is forced to confront the memories and figure out what really happened before it is too late to find the most recent victim. A solid, twisty Christmas-set thriller.
— Aerie

Read if you're in the mood to be spooked this Christmas.
Pass if you're looking for a heartwarming story to dive into during the holidays.
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Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord by Celeste Connally

A fun and refreshing mystery, full of twists that kept the plot going at a quick pace. The story follows Lady Petra Forsyth, who has announced that she will never marry after her fiancé's untimely death. She soon uncovers shocking truths among England's upperclass, including those who disagree with her decision to remain unmarried. This Regency-era story balances romance, mystery, and more; it will keep you guessing until the very end!
— Lucy

Read if you've been waiting for an Agatha Christie-Bridgerton crossover.
Pass if you like your lead characters boring and simple.
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Baumgartner by Paul Auster

This is a beautiful chronicle of aging, loss of spouse, and finding hope to move forward with one's life. Baumgartner, a 73-year-old Princeton philosophy professor on the verge of retiring, is still coping with the drowning death of his wife Anna nine years earlier. He wanders from room to room, often forgetting why amidst constant distractions and reliving memories. He is supposed to be finishing his final book, but keeps thinking about Anna's largely unpublished collection of poetry. A short, atmospheric novel that quietly impresses.

Read because this a smart and deep story of love and grief.
Pass if you're looking for a forgettable read.
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The Good Part by Sophie Cousens

Do you wish that you could skip to the good parts of life? When Lucy makes this wish, she doesn't actually expect to wake up sixteen years later, let alone without her memories. A fun, feel-good book!
— Ayah

Read because you love 13 Going on 30, like anyone with exceptional taste.
Pass if you dislike whimsy and/or are a fun-hating six chick.
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The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters

I gulped down this perfectly ripe novel! A four-year-old Indigenous girl vanishes mid-summer in the blueberry fields of Maine in the early 1960s. Her well-respected Mi'kmaq family travels each year from Nova Scotia for the picking season, and this unexplained loss fractures them. Little Ruthie's disappearance and other frightful events shape this tight knit family and push them to retreat back to their homeland. Norma, a native from Maine, grows up as an only child in a well-off family. She lives hesitantly, never knowing if a shattering nightmare will edge its way close or if her mother's quiet, overbearing nature will crush her. For fifty years, secrets loom as the stories of both families are embedded with loss, guilt, and love. A stunning debut by Amanda Peters!
— Liz

Read if you enjoyed The Vanishing Half and Woman of Light.
Pass if you're jealous that someone's debut novel could be this good.
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The Madstone by Elizabeth Crook

Told in a letter to a now grown man, Benjamin Shreve observes a momentous confrontation in a small town in Texas in 1868. He is compelled to help a young mother and son escape a situation with bandits or more characters on the road between Comfort and San Antonio. There is humor and pathos. A wretched gang of brothers are out to kill after a situation during a river crossing. A talkative passenger has stories of glory and treasure (a particular necklace from Mexican royalty of great value). Follow their trail to get to Matagorda, where all might escape to New Orleans. Crook wonderfully uses the landscape of 19th century Texas to provide a backdrop to an adventure story

Read if you're looking to be taken along on a thrilling (and well-written) adventure.
Pass if you're saving this read for a future book club pick.
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Adult Nonfiction

Invisible Generals by Doug Melville

Our nation's history is full of courageous people. We just don't learn all of it. Melville's uncle and grandfather were among the vaunted Tuskegee airmen. Ollie Davis and Ben O. Davis, Jr. served with honor during multiple wars. But as Black men, they suffered great injustices. Melville tells their story in a very personal way. The last part of the book is a call to action and reflection. This is our history. We need to own it and help spotlight it when we can.
— Valerie

Read because this is a powerful read about an often-forgotten part of history.
Pass if you thought the invisible general was a new Marvel character.
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When We Walk By by Kevin Adler and Donald Burnes with Amanda Banh and Andrijana Bilbija

It is known that the United States has a large population of homeless individuals. What we don't know are their stories; instead, many believe they choose homelessness because they are lazy, addicts, mentally ill, or criminals. In this eye-opening read consisting of research and stories from current and past homeless individuals, readers learn that these preconceived notions are very far from the truth. A must read!
— Ayah

Read because this is an important guide to understanding homelessness.
Pass if you're nervous to unlearn your own biases. (Not a good reason.)
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