Book Bites: Lucy in the Sky with Lies, Ladders, Libraries, a Texan, a Cat, and Thomas Cromwell

The holiday season is fast approaching! Around here, that means that there are more new books coming in every week than we can shake a stick at. Still, you know us: We always make plenty of time for reading. Take a peek at some of our recent favorites below, which run the gamut from a side-splitting picture book to a weighty biography—with plenty of thrills, tears, adventure, and some exquisitely written prose in between.

Ages 4-8

Lucy Fell Down the Mountain by Kevin Cornell

Lucy falls down a mountain and encounters an unhelpful mountaineer, a bright red duck, and a pack of bears. One calamity follows another in this hilarious journey down the mountain. Julia and I howled with laughter!

READ for a slapstick series of mishaps sure to brighten any mood.
PASS if you’re in a public library—you won’t be able to keep quiet while reading this one.
Order your copy on our website. 

Ages 13-17

Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Mechanic Sawyer Brown is doing just fine, thank you very much, taking care of herself and her mom and trying to make ends meet. One day, her grandmother, Lillian Taft, appears with a contract for $500,000 and a chance to determine who her father really is. The catch? She has to participate in the upcoming debutante season in her mother's hometown. What follows is a society mystery, full of suspicions and some very dark secrets. Barnes again delivers a clever mystery full of devious, likable characters and whip smart dialogue. A great read for grades 9 and up!

READ if you’re a fan of E. Lockhart, Maureen Johnson, or that subplot in Gilmore girls where Emily convinced Rory to make her debut.
PASS if you think that solving mysteries if very unbecoming for a debutante.
Order your copy on our website. 
Meet the author when she visits us on November 10. Bonus: Meet the wonderful Ally Carter, too!

Adult Fiction

A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne

The subject of Boyne's newest novel is Maurice Swift, a handsome, clever, and, above all, ambitious would-be author, whose skill at manipulating people who can help him climb the ladder of success is at once deplorable and fascinating. Maurice's story is narrated in the first person by the two people he hurts the most, and finally by Maurice himself. Boyne's way of dealing with questions of Maurice's morality will make the reader flinch and then start wondering if this anti-hero will fall off the ladder before he manipulates us into thinking that what he has done is somehow justifiable. The novel is also a look at the world of writing and publishing and raises questions about the ownership of ideas. Highly recommended. 

READ for a captivating psychological saga from a writer at the top of his game.
PASS if you think we’re just manipulating you with this great review in order to make a sale.
Pre-order your copy on our website. 

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa; translated by Philip Gabriel

A cat and his master travel across Japan in an old silver van. As the narrative unfolds across changing landscapes and seasons, and the purpose of the trip is revealed, Arikawa gently works in themes of love, loss, kindness, and joy. This charming tale, told through the cat’s eyes, is a paean to the extraordinary power of a loyal friendship—even those that transcend species lines. Whimsical, poignant, and occasionally quite funny, it’s a book for anyone who’s ever enjoyed the love of a pet. Recommended.

READ this lovely book and fall under its spell for a few hours.
PASS if you’re fresh out of tissues—you’ll need a few.
Order your copy on our website. 

Adult Nonfiction

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

In 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library burned. The fire raged for more than seven hours; over one million books were damaged or destroyed. The Library Book starts off like a gripping true crime investigation into the arson, then transforms. As the narrative picks up steam, Orlean weaves a skein of diverging threads into the plot. Some are personal—parts of the book read like a memoir. Some are told chronologically, others in bits and pieces. And some are there just for the hell of it. Along the way, Orlean dabbles in investigative journalism, packs in plenty of cameos by larger-than-life historical figures, and waxes poetic on the importance of shared public space. In the end, The Library Book emerges as much more than the story of a fire. It’s an ode to librarians, a celebration of stories, and a history of LA through the lens of its libraries. Orlean writes with catching enthusiasm—you'll be engrossed before you know it. Highly recommended.

READ because it’s a smart, fun, and layered story (stories, really), told by a modern master.
PASS if you don’t like books about history, books about crime, or just books in general.
Order your copy on our website. 

Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch

I was a history major, so that partly explains why I enjoyed this new biography of Thomas Cromwell. But anyone who enjoyed Hilary Mantel's books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, or watched the Wolf Hall series on PBS will appreciate this unstuffy look at one of Great Britain's most significant historical figures. It's a thoroughly researched and accessible history of the workings of the British government during the reign of Henry VIII and the man who was the driving force in bringing the Protestant Reformation to England. Yes, there are a lot of names to keep track of, no end of political machinations that are sometimes difficult for us to follow (though we have had some practice lately), and erratic royal behavior (that, too), but all of it serves to create a well-described context for the rise and fall of Cromwell.

MacCulloch is a professor of Church History, so his focus is on Cromwell's evangelicalism in addition to his administrative genius. And it's 500+ pages, but it's a fascinating read. Recommended. 

READ if you’re a fan of Wolf Hall, of course—and be sure to check out the new exhibit at the MFAH!
PASS if you’re still filled with revolutionary, anti-monarchy fervor all these years later. Down with the crown! 
Order your copy on our website. 

The Man Who Walked Backward by Ben Montgomery

When the Great Depression hits his hometown of Abilene, Texas, Plennie Wingo must close his restaurant and find a new way to support his family. Times are desperate and with no jobs available, people will do anything in a quest for fame and fortune. Sitting on flagpoles becomes popular and a man pushes a peanut up Pike's Peak with his nose. Plennie decides to walk backwards around the world, supporting himself with sponsors and postcard sales. He leaves his family and begins his journey on April 15, 1931 with little more than a cane, a journal, and a pair of sunglasses with mirrors allowing him to see backwards.

The book follows Plennie across a country suffering the Great Depression and Europe on the brink of war. In an almost Forrest Gump way, Plennie finds himself in amazing places at key moments in history. Famous events and people are mentioned: the destruction of the buffalo as part of Native American genocide; lynching and the Klan; Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone; the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby; the rise of Hoovervilles and the Dust Bowl; the growth of the beer industry and Prohibition. Plennie arrives in Europe as Hitler is beginning to rise to power in Germany. It is a fascinating look at history through the eyes of a man just trying to make his way. Recommend.

READ for a fascinating look at a true Texas original.
PASS if you’re walking around the world and don’t have room for books in your knapsack.
Order your copy on our website.