Book Bites: Middle Grade, Mystery, & More
As we turn the calendar to October, new books continue to fall onto our shelves fast and thick. Here, we highlight some of the new releases we’re most excited to share with you — from picture books by staff favorites Kevin Henkes and Bob Shea, to new middle grade novels from Kate diCamillo and RJ Palacio, to Anthony Doerr and the latest exploits of the Thursday Murder Club. Grab your favorite comfy chair and settle in — there’s great reading ahead.
A House by Kevin Henkes
What makes a house? Henkes' simple prose makes this a new classic read-aloud for the very young set. And ends it sweetly with what makes a home: the family within it.
READ because this is gentle, fun, and sweet… and because it’s by Kevin Henkes!
PASS if you’re looking for a picture book that’s dark, gritty, and full of foreboding.
Chez Bob by Bob Shea
Bob the alligator decides to start a birdseed restaurant on his snout so he can catch and eat birds. As his restaurant grows more and more popular and a town develops around Bob, he struggles with his plans to consume his customers. Hilarious illustrations and Bob's curmudgeonly attitude make this picture book vintage Bob Shea and an utter delight.
READ because it doesn’t get much better than “vintage Bob Shea.”
PASS if you hate laughter.
Audrey L and Audrey W: Best Friends-ish by Carter Higgins; illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
Audrey loves second grade but sometimes she feels like she's not quite good enough or smart enough or funny enough. And THEN, another Audrey joins the class and Audrey becomes Audrey L., which makes her feel worse than ever. This charming book about a week in a second grade classroom is perfect for fans of Ramona and Dory Fantasmagory.
READ because who *isn’t* a fan of Ramona and Dory Fantasmagory
PASS if you were once betrayed by an Audrey.
The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate diCamillo; with illustrations by Sophie Blackall
A mysterious girl appears in the barn at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, holding the ear of Answelica the goat, who torments everyone. The monks soon learn that the child is Beatryce, who has been prophesied to bring great change to the kingdom. So begins this novel of bravery, love, truth and the power of story. It is not to be missed.
READ because this might be our favorite middle grade book of the year, from two of our favorite creators ever.
PASS if you want to miss out on this beautiful collaboration between a two-time Newbery medalist and a two-time Caldecott medalist.
Ages 10 & up
Pony by RJ Palacio
Ohio, 1860. In the dead of night, three armed henchmen arrive at the remote cabin of Martin Bird and his twelve-year-old son Silas, addressing the father by a different name and insisting they return with them to “do a job” for their boss. Mr. Bird goes with them once they’ve agreed he’ll return in a week and Silas will remain at home. When the bald-faced pony that the outlaws had been leading the previous night appears at the cabin the following morning, Silas is convinced it is a sign.
And so Silas sets off astride this mysterious animal, accompanied by a reluctant Mittenwool, his longtime ghost friend, eventually meeting up with a cantankerous US marshal, a sheriff, a deputy, and a host of other characters, some living, some ghosts. Family secrets are revealed.
Magical realism meets True Grit, best for 5th graders and above.
READ if you’ve ever heard of a little book called Wonder.
PASS if you can't bear to read about ponies while you’re still mourning Li’l Sebastian.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
This is a story within a story within a story. An ancient manuscript survives through the Crusades and beyond. In the present day, children are preparing to revive the story in the Lakeport library when Seymour, a troubled youth, enters the library with the intent of blowing it up. He thinks the library is empty as he watched Marian (yes, I know) leave the building. We follow the story from the 1400s in Constantinople to the Korean War to the future on a spaceship escaping a failed earth. The original thread weaves well with all the stories. It's love, loss, humor, and more.
READ because this is a big-time release by a big-time author during a big-time publishing season. In other words, it’s good.
PASS if you thought this was a detailed technical manuscript about the inner workings of cuckoo clocks.
The Survivors by Alex Schulman
Meticulously detailed, The Survivors tells about three brothers who gather shortly after their mom’s death to leave her ashes near the lake of their summer cottage. The idyllic setting is a perfect backdrop for wonderful family memories; instead, you glimpse the fragmented relationships that exist between the characters while there each summer. Benjamin, the middle son, is the most observant one, while Nils, the oldest, is slightly removed. Pierre, the youngest brother, is both vulnerable and intense. It seems that their parents are only partially present most of the time. In snitches of memories told in dual storylines, a buried incident surfaces that shapes them all. Expansively concise, this is an emotional, beautifully written novel.
READ if you’re looking for some character-driven ~feels~.
PASS if you’re pining for one last light-hearted summer read.
An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Turnsten
The second book after An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good shows Maud reminiscing while traveling back to South Africa from her home in Sweden. She's taking a luxury tour over Christmas, convenient timing as the detectives that were investigating her past murders are getting a little too close for her comfort. She remembers people who passed through her life, and she meets others on her trip. Through her stories and experiences, we see that Maud is more a caring person than she would have others believe, even though her caring sometimes results in her 'removing' some of the people that cause her inconvenience.
Bonus: Maud's Christmas Gingerbread cookie recipe included at the end!
READ because Maud is the blithely grim octogenarian criminal you didn’t know your mystery shelf was missing.
PASS the cookie jar!
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
The four friends are at it again! Elizabeth (ex-MI5 agent extraordinaire) is pulled into a mystery of stolen diamonds by her ex husband. Joyce, former nurse and Elizabeth's astute and hilarious friend, helps out while guilelessly handing out her odd, homemade knitted friendship bracelets to every new person they meet. Ron, their rough and ready friend, is trying to care for Ibrahim, their friend and former psychiatrist, after a street attacker puts him in hospital. Along with their police contacts, Chris and Donna, this foursome is an interesting group of sleuths.
They take care of the mystery, the murder and even manage to settle a score or two while cementing their friendship.
READ because this is as witty and fun as book one.
PASS if, instead of reading about octagenarian murderers or septuagenarian sleuths, you’re holding out for a series about nonagenarian arsonists or something.
Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef
In 2002, the author and two other women opened a bookstore, Diwan, in central Cairo. With a vision rather than business experience, and apparently no shortage of capital to invest, their venture had its ups and downs. The bookstore carried books in Arabic, English, French and German and catered to mostly those Cairenes who could afford what many considered to be a luxury. The author describes the different strengths of the three founders and how they worked together in buying, marketing and handling employees and customers. Within ten years, Diwan expanded to ten stores in Cairo and beyond. Although the author gave up her involvement in the business operations of the bookstore and moved to London, the company continues to exist. There are very good descriptions of contemporary Cairo and the Egyptian ways of doing business, which the bookstore owners as women found challenging. The author writes engagingly, and includes lots of good stories.
READ because books about bookstores are always good—and this one’s no exception.
PASS if this will only make you miss carefree travel!
Smile by Sarah Ruhl
Sarah Ruhl, award winning playwright and essayist, was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy after the birth of her twins. It is a surprisingly not uncommon affliction. With fine writing, she delves into life with more than one medical condition—but none that slow her down. She works hard to overcome these issues so she can lead a vibrant life with her family, her profession, and at peace with herself.
READ because this is a gorgeously-written, affecting memoir.
PASS if you’re looking for a book you’ll forget about ten minutes after you finish it.