Alice Cary

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The Christmas Book Flood

Winter arrives in all its glory in The Christmas Book Flood. Dating back to World War II, Jólabókaflóð (which translates to “Yule book flood”) is the Icelandic tradition of giving books to loved ones on December 24.

Author Emily Kilgore’s prose is expressive and poetic. As the book opens, she describes how the “northern lights dance and curtsy across a cold, black sky.” Later, she captures the thrill of searching for the perfect book as “shoppers glide through the aisles of towering shelves.”

Though Kilgore’s text speaks in general terms, illustrator Kitty Moss’ artwork tells the story of a biracial family, focusing on the wide-eyed oldest child as she sets off on her bike to find books for her family. She explores the nooks and crannies of a bustling bookstore, and her shopping expedition becomes an enchanted adventure. Frogs jump out of a book, which transforms into an owl that flies her to a fantastical world full of castles, hot air balloons and more magical creatures.

Moss creates glowing scenes—those northern lights, a snow-covered village, a dreamy bookshop, families reading by the fire—set against dark nighttime backdrops. She incorporates scraps of paper and newsprint into her collage-style art, offering further reminders of the transportive power of reading.

Bibliophiles will revel in this stunning celebration of the written word. The Christmas Book Flood sparkles with bookish excitement on every page.

Twelve Dinging Doorbells

A girl observes the growing number of visitors who gleefully fill her home as her family celebrates the holidays in Tameka Fryer Brown and Ebony Glenn’s Twelve Dinging Doorbells, a delightfully raucous riff on “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Things begin calmly as the first dinging doorbell reveals a grandmotherly woman with “a sweet potato pie just for me.” Spread by spread, more friends and family arrive, and Fryer Brown’s clever variations on the cumulative rhyme will have young readers readily chiming in: “At the fifth ringing doorbell this holiday I see: BAKED MACARONI AND CHEEEEEESE! Four pounds of chitlins, three posh sibs, two selfie queens and a sweet potato pie just for me.”

Glenn’s illustrations draw readers into the festivities by playing with perspectives. Many spreads depict rooms through a bird’s-eye view as the house bursts at the seams, while other scenes allow the reader to feel as though they’re seated at the long yellow table, surrounded by plates of food. There’s so much to discover in these images, and Glenn captures plenty of action and an amusing variety of facial expressions, from sheer joy to utter annoyance.

The book follows the natural rhythm of any celebration. As the crowd of partiers begin to tire, the rhymes shift slightly; for instance, “seven brothers repping, six toddlers squealing” becomes “seven goofy men, six screeching babies.” At the 11th doorbell ding, the narrator notices with dismay that only crumbs are left on the sweet potato pie plate. Thankfully, the baker comes to her rescue in a lovely final scene. Twelve Dinging Doorbells is a stellar ode to rollicking family gatherings at any time of the year. 

Through the North Pole Snow

A white fox digging in a snowdrift falls through Santa’s roof in Through the North Pole Snow, a lovely tale whose mixed-media illustrations and quiet, wondrous tone bring to mind Eric Carle’s Dream Snow and Jan Brett’s holiday tales. Polly Faber’s text doesn’t name the white-bearded, red-sweatered man until the very end of the book, instead offering a garland of clues that start with the man’s first comment when he frees the fox from his living room ceiling: “Stuck? Now that’s a problem I understand!” 

Faber’s Santa lives a peaceful life alone in a cabin, marvelously free from all of the holiday hullabaloo. Fox watches him as the seasons change, slowly building up to Christmas Eve. The result provides children with an insider’s look at a year spent with Santa, from his long post-Christmas nap, his months of careful toy making, a flurry of wish-filled letters that fill the sky like snowflakes, the arrival of the reindeer and, at last, the loading of the sleigh. 

Richard Jones’ exquisite illustrations underscore the subdued nature of this tale, with nary a “ho ho ho” to be heard and no elves in sight. Instead, this Santa is a lone, studious worker, surrounded by nature. He even chops his own wood. And yet there’s plenty of magic in the making as his shelves fill up with handmade treasures and the reindeer are decked out in brightly colored harnesses. Families feeling overwhelmed by seasonal excess will find Through the North Pole Snow a welcome respite.

Latkes and Applesauce

“Long ago in a village far away,” the Menashe family is ready to celebrate Hanukkah, but their plans are foiled by a blizzard so big it seems “as if all heaven’s featherbeds had burst.” Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story updates the text of a charming wintry tale originally published in 1989, replacing Robin Spowart’s illustrations with new artwork by Kris Easlier. 

Mama, Papa and little Rebecca and Ezra usually dig up potatoes from their garden to make latkes and pick apples from their trees for applesauce. This year, Mama notes, “the blizzard has swallowed our feast.” As the days pass, the family’s food supply dwindles, yet they continue to celebrate as best they can. 

Author Fran Manushkin’s evocative prose moves the narrative along, heightening the tension yet keeping the mood upbeat and reassuring. Excitement arrives in the form of two unexpected visitors, a stray cat and dog who delight the children but also mean more mouths to feed. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” Papa repeatedly reminds his family. 

Kris Easler’s illustrations lend a contemporary vibe to this “long ago” family. Every spread is bathed in warmth, the glow emanating from the Menashes’ home contrasting with the deep blue of the falling snow. The family’s faces are expressive as their occasional worried glances interrupt their optimism. The kindness they show the stray animals leads to a solution to the family’s dilemma that’s a bit predictable but still rewarding. Cheerful and cozy, this edition of Latkes and Applesauce has the makings of a new classic. 

As long, dark winter nights set in, snuggle up with these sparkling festive tales.
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“Get in. Get out, No drama. Focus forward.” That’s the motto guiding Avery Anderson at the beginning of her senior year of high school, when she and her parents move from Washington, D.C., to Bardell, Georgia, in order to care for Avery’s estranged, dying grandmother. Yet Avery soon finds herself surrounded by drama in Jas Hammonds’ superb debut novel, We Deserve Monuments.

Avery’s life isn’t just in limbo from the move; she’s also fresh off a breakup with her girlfriend back home. Avery’s relationship with her grandmother, Mama Letty, isn’t all smooth sailing either. The first time they meet, Mama Letty tells Avery that her lip piercing makes her look “like a fish caught on a hook.” Avery’s mother, a renowned astrophysicist, grapples with her own relationship with Letty, who was often drunk and abusive during Zora’s childhood, while Avery and Letty eventually form a close bond.

Meanwhile, Avery gets to know the town of Bardell, where “every corner [holds] a story,” with the help of two new friends: next-door neighbor Simone, who is Black, and Jade, whose wealthy white family lives on a former plantation and owns a posh hotel in town. Yet her new knowledge only inspires more questions for Avery, including what happened to her late grandfather, Ray, whom neither Zora nor Letty will discuss. 

In We Deserve Monuments, Hammonds takes on two challenges—exploring the ugly legacy of racism in a small town and telling a moving love story—and succeeds at both. The author blends these two plot strands in a wonderfully organic fashion, and their prose is sure-footed every step of the way, with snappy dialogue so fresh that readers will feel as though they’re eavesdropping on real conversations.

Avery is an engaging, appealing narrator whose story is occasionally supplemented by short chapters of omniscient narration that efficiently fill in gaps from the past. As Avery navigates a seemingly forbidden new romance and drifts from her intention of following in her mother’s professional footsteps, readers are rewarded with a number of startling plot twists and a host of tender moments between Avery and her love interest. Just as rich are the relationships among the members of Avery’s family, especially the magnificently complex Letty.

Life, identity, love, death—it’s all here. We Deserve Monuments marks a noteworthy debut from a writer paving her own literary future. 

In We Deserve Monuments, author Jas Hammonds takes on two challenges—exploring the legacy of racism and telling a moving love story—and succeeds at both.
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“What an amazing world we live in today,” Laura Baanstra said. She was speaking at a 2018 press conference to announce the scientific process that had been used to solve the 1987 murders of her brother and his girlfriend. The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder details this brutal crime, the failed efforts to solve it and how its eventual unraveling led to the first genetic genealogy murder trial. Fans of Michelle McNamara’s acclaimed I’ll Be Gone in the Dark should clear their schedules, because Edward Humes’ riveting account is nearly impossible to put down.

Pulitzer Prize winner Humes is no stranger to true crime writing. His 16 books include Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia and Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t. In The Forever Witness, he takes on the murders of 20-year-old Jay Cook and 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg, who set out by van from Victoria Island, Canada, to Seattle, Washington, to pick up a furnace for Jay’s father. Baanstra vividly remembers waving goodbye to her brother as he drove away in the family van for what was meant to be a quick overnight trip. Instead, Tanya’s body was dumped alongside a lonely road in Washington, Jay’s body was tossed over a bridge, and the van was abandoned. There were no eyewitnesses, no way of knowing what happened and little physical evidence, except for semen and a palm print on one of the van’s rear doors.

Hume’s account brings the young victims alive: Tanya, a photography buff planning to head to Europe as an au pair, and Jay, a kindhearted soul toying with becoming a marine biologist. Their families’ ongoing anguish is palpable, and details of the police investigation offer sharp reminders of how difficult such cases were to solve before the advent of technology such as cell phones and surveillance cameras, not to mention widespread DNA processing. 

Deputy Sheriff James Scharf had been working the graveyard shift in Snohomish County, Washington, when he got an alert to be on the lookout for the missing Canadian couple. Decades later, after becoming a cold case investigator, he would take the case to CeCe Moore, a self-taught genetic genealogist featured on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” Her amazing detective work—done in just two hours from her couch—led the authorities to William Earl Talbott II, a truck driver with no criminal convictions or known connection to the victims. Along the way, Hume explains the advent of DNA technology and databases in highly readable terms and examines the continuing debate about their use.

With over 30 years separating the crime from the arrest and trial, Hume does an exceptional job of navigating the vast time frame and re-creating the victims’ last journey. The results are heartbreaking as well as heart pounding. The Forever Witness has earned a well-deserved place among top-notch true crime reads.

Fans of Michelle McNamara’s acclaimed I’ll Be Gone in the Dark should clear their schedules, because Edward Humes’ The Forever Witness is nearly impossible to put down.
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★ Berry Song

A reverent and joyful celebration of berry picking, Berry Song is the stunning authorial debut of Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade, an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. 

As a girl and her grandmother pick berries in the Tongass National Forest, located not far from the author-illustrator’s home in Sitka, Alaska, Goade poetically describes nature’s many bounties and conveys the need for humans to be Earth’s stewards. All the while, she never loses sight of those yummy berries! Choral litanies of berry names (“Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry. / Huckleberry, Soapberry, Strawberry, Crowberry.”) keep the tone light and playful. 

Once the pair return home, they transform their harvest into treats such as huckleberry pie and nagoonberry jam. The book ends by depicting how its wisdom continues to pass from generation to generation as the narrator, now an adult, leads her younger sister into the forest. “I have so much to show you,” she says. 

Goade’s energetic artwork imbues the book’s natural setting with an enchanting, otherworldly beauty. The poster-worthy first spread welcomes readers with a spirit of adventure as the young narrator, arms outstretched in the wind, rides with her grandmother in a motorboat over a “wide, wild sea” toward the forest. Bright blue and red berries “glowing like little jewels” provide a striking contrast to the deep and verdant woods that teem with wildlife. In several illustrations, human and flora appear to merge, with leaves sprouting from hair or tree limbs extending from arms or hands, reflecting a call and response exchange between the girl and her grandmother: “‘We are a part of the land . . .’ ‘As the land is a part of us.’” 

Excellent backmatter includes photos of some of the berries mentioned in the book, information about the role that berries play in the lives and culture of the Tlingit people and Goade’s personal reflections on some of the book’s key concepts including gunalchéesh, a Tlingit word spoken to express gratitude.


A modern-day Wampanoag grandmother tells her grandchildren the story of the first Thanksgiving from a new perspective in Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story. “Here’s what really happened,” she says. 

Co-authors Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry and Alexis Bunten set the stage effectively through two sections of text, titled “Before you begin” and “Important words to know,” placed between the book’s title page and the beginning of the narrative. They explain that the Wampanoag people lived in their ancestral homeland for 12,000 years, which is why they are referred to as “the First Peoples” throughout the book. 

The grandmother narrates the story of the Three Sisters (Beans, Squash and Weeâchumun, or Corn), whom illustrator Garry Meeches Sr. portrays as spectral elders. When Seagull announces that newcomers have arrived, Weeâchumun asks Fox to watch them and report back. Fox relays that the starving newcomers have found corn seeds but don’t know what to do with them, so the sisters converse with Deer, Rabbit and Turkey about the best course of action. “We will send the First Peoples to help the newcomers,” Weeâchumun concludes. 

After a Wampanoag man named Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, teaches the newcomers how to grow crops, they invite the First Peoples to celebrate Keepunumuk, the harvest. “That meal changed both our lives and theirs forever,” the grandmother explains to her young listeners. “Many Americans call it a day of thanksgiving. Many of our people call it a day of mourning.” “That’s different from what we learn in school,” one of the children replies. 

Meeches’ illustrations incorporate familiar images of the Wampanoag people’s early encounters with the Plymouth settlers but stay focused on the First Peoples, their beliefs and the land itself. Many scenes unfold against deep blue skies and natural landscapes, and when the Three Sisters appear, they’re often accompanied by lovely curling, twining tendrils. A somber page that depicts the silhouettes of the First Peoples who were “taken by sickness” is particularly striking. 

With a skillful balance of detail and simplicity that’s just right for young readers, Keepunumuk offers a vital viewpoint on the national Thanksgiving holiday. 

Still This Love Goes On

To create Still This Love Goes On, acclaimed Cree Métis artist Julie Flett faced an unusual challenge: to illustrate a song from Canadian American musician Buffy Sainte-Marie’s 2009 album, Running for the Drum.

In an author’s note, Sainte-Marie explains that the images she describes in her song’s lyrics were “like taking photos with my heart of all that I see on the reserve.” As she wrote, she wanted to express her love “for it all, day after day, year after year—especially the people and our Cree ways, precious like the fragrance of sweetgrass.” The book’s backmatter includes complete lyrics and sheet music.

Flett’s vibrant presentation celebrates the power of family and the immense beauty of open spaces. In the first spread, a mother and child sit together, surrounded by a vast expanse of ice tinged with blue and pink, and watch “the winter grow.” Subsequent spreads evoke changing seasons and the passage of time amid wonderful vistas: A woman and child gaze at the ocean as a whale breaches the surface of the water; a child runs through a mountain meadow filled with yellow flowers; a herd of buffalo gallops toward a distant rainbow. A series of images that depict a drum circle, two jingle dancers and a girl singing and playing her guitar are almost audible as they echo both Sainte-Marie’s lyrics and the feelings evoked by her music. 

Still This Love Goes On transforms a memorable song into a moving and heartfelt visual poem. A worthy homage to Cree people, lands and traditions, it’s a reassuring read-aloud that will encourage young readers to reflect on the places and people they love.

Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade's Berry Song leads a trio of picture books that convey stories written and illustrated by Indigenous North Americans, offering insights into cultural practices, history and heritage.
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Oh, Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton Abbey! We feel as though we already know you, with those twinkling eyes and deep, reassuring voice. In Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru, stage and screen actor Hugh Bonneville shares what he calls “a series of snapshots I’ve taken along the way,” allowing us to know him more truly. As you might expect, his account is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect and humor. It’s also a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names, including Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Laurence Olivier, Celia Imrie, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

The memoir is divided into sections discussing Bonneville’s childhood, theater years and film roles. His father was a urologist and his mother a nurse—or so he thought before learning after her death that her second job was with MI6, the British Secret Service. “I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I realised I had a nice set of crockery compared to so many others,” he writes. Early on, he began thinking of the theater as a “magic toybox,” although he originally thought he would become a lawyer and also contemplated theology until drama school beckoned.

There’s no mean-spirited gossip in this memoir, just plenty of humorous self-deprecation and some laugh-out-loud anecdotes—like the time an actor in a live theater performance was popping peanuts while making a confession and ended up choking and passing out. Or the time Judi Dench dropped a note that said “Fancy a shag?” in the lap of an audience member she thought was a friend. Turns out, the man was not her pal.

Bonneville’s years of rich stage, television and film performances are nicely detailed, including amusing audition mishaps and disappointments. Although he offers a number of anecdotes about his parents, siblings, wife and son, he remains largely private about his personal life. But the “Downton Abbey” stories are wonderful, even if rabid fans like myself will wish for more. We shouldn’t complain though, given tidbits like Shirley MacLaine’s comment, “I had lovers all over the world. Overseas was fun. This one time, three in a day.” To which Maggie Smith responded, “Oh darling, you have been busy.”

Playing Under the Piano is a must-read for Bonneville fans, as well as an excellent look at the ups and downs of being an actor. Now excuse me while I go watch Paddington again.

Hugh Bonneville’s memoir is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect, a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.
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Two words occupy the central focus of Cassandra Williams’ existence: “Where’s Wayne?” While seeking the answer to this question, readers of The Furrows: An Elegy, Namwali Serpell’s mesmerizing and endlessly thought-provoking second novel, should keep the book’s opening lines in mind: “I don’t want to tell you what happened. I want to tell you how it felt.” 

Narrator Cassandra, or Cee, describes how her 7-year-old brother, Wayne, drowned in her care while at the beach when she was 12. His body was never recovered. As an adult looking back on the event, Cee admits that her initial account of the tragedy “must have been incoherent, inconsistent, perhaps self-contradictory.” That statement becomes an understatement as the novel progresses.

True to the subtitle, this elegy laments not only Wayne’s death but also the end of Cee’s life as she knew it, and ultimately the dissolution of her family. Cee’s mother, who remains convinced that Wayne is alive despite Cee’s insistence that he is dead, starts a nonprofit for missing children called Vigil. Eventually, Cee’s father moves away to start a new family. 

As Cee speaks with different therapists, the details of her story begin to vary: Wayne was hit by a car; no, he fell off a carousel. “I’ve been trained my whole life to tell stories to strangers,” Cee reveals, describing how she rearranges her “abacus beads of memories.” She believes she encounters an adult Wayne more than once, and she even has a sizzling affair with a mysterious man who calls himself Wayne Williams. Despite the story’s blurred but precisely chiseled layers of reality, The Furrows remains sharply focused, even when, midway through, this new Wayne suddenly takes over as narrator. 

Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift (2019), was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting second novel will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent. Serpell, who was born in Zambia and raised in a Baltimore suburb, is a Harvard professor whose book of essays, Stranger Faces, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Having lost an older sister when she was a teenager, she writes convincingly about undulating waves of grief, with intriguing nods to such literary forebears as Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston and Edgar Allan Poe. 

​​True to her opening lines, Serpell lets readers know exactly how Cee feels as she mourns, as grief “tugs [her] back into the scooped water, the furrows, those relentless grooves. This is the incomplete, repeated shape of it: sail into the brim of life, sink back into the cave of death, again and again.” Turbulent, poetic and haunting, The Furrows is a stellar achievement.

Namwali Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift, was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting follow-up will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent.
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Billington, Texas, might be a small town, but readers of Bobby Finger’s exquisite debut novel, The Old Place, will quickly fall in love with this boondock burg and its make-you-laugh, break-your-heart characters.

“Even a town in decline never really stops growing,” writes Finger early in the novel. “People may leave, but their stories remain, reverberating in the bones of all those left behind.” That’s certainly the case in Billington, where generations of comings and goings pulsate with bitter secrets, old hurts and unresolved feelings—in other words, small-town drama at its best.

Reminiscent of Alice Elliott Dark’s novel Fellowship Point (a tale of two New England dowagers), The Old Place focuses on best friends and neighbors Mary Alice and Ellie and their deeply intertwined past and present. Both lost their sons immediately after the boys’ high school graduation, and Finger artfully doles out just enough tidbits from the neighbors’ pasts to keep tension high.

Mary Alice has been forced to retire from teaching math at Billington High, and she hardly knows what to do beyond having Ellie over for coffee every morning. Their new routine is upended when Mary Alice’s sister, Katherine, unexpectedly arrives from Atlanta, delivering bombshell news that Mary Alice has desperately been trying to avoid. The big reveal gradually builds toward an explosive conclusion at the much-anticipated annual church picnic.

One of the most remarkable things about The Old Place is how Finger, a 30-something Texas native and Brooklyn podcaster (“Who? Weekly”), has so superbly captured the hearts and souls of this trio of 60-ish women. The novel is an extended meditation on the great joys and enduring heartaches of long-term relationships—and the hard work that’s required to maintain these bonds. Finger is fully cognizant of his characters’ many flaws, noting, for instance, that stubborn Mary Alice has at times been capable of raising “so much hell they almost had to call in an exorcist.” His portrayal of Mary Alice and Katherine’s love-hate relationship over the years is particularly poignant.

A broad supporting cast adds depth, drama and even romance to the mix. There’s also plenty of humor, with lines like “And then something wonderful happened: he sawed his damn finger off.” Mary Alice’s teaching replacement, Josie Kerr, is a newcomer to Billington, and she provides an outsider’s point of view. (She also seems like an intriguing candidate to anchor a sequel.)

Finger has created his own kind of Lake Wobegon: a vibrant literary locale that readers will be loath to leave. Here’s hoping for more tantalizing, tempestuous tales.

With his debut novel, Bobby Finger has created his own kind of Lake Wobegon: a vibrant literary locale that readers will be loath to leave. Here's hoping for more tantalizing, tempestuous tales.
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How would a middle schooler navigate an unspeakable tragedy? That’s the subject Liz Garton Scanlon beautifully explores in Lolo’s Light, her second middle grade novel. 

Twelve-year-old Millie is thrilled when she gets her first babysitting job. Her older sister isn’t available, so Millie gets to watch their neighbors’ 4-month-old baby, Lolo. The Acostas make the job easy, putting Lolo to bed before they leave so Millie just needs to check on her. As Millie revels in her new responsibility, she feels “something shift, like that exact moment [is] the end of her being a kid and the beginning of her being real, full-grown Millie.” The night goes swimmingly and the Acostas return home to find that all is well. But the next morning, the world turns upside down, because overnight, Lolo dies of SIDS. 

Garton Scanlon clearly establishes that no one is to blame for this tragedy while also conveying Millie’s ongoing feelings of shock and anguish. As Millie grieves, she is also haunted—and comforted—by a light that seems to emanate from Lolo’s bedroom window whenever Millie walks past the Acostas’ house, which Millie believes is Lolo’s presence. 

Author Liz Garton Scanlon discusses how she captured the hard work of healing in ‘Lolo’s Light.’

Millie receives support from numerous caring adults, including her parents, her teacher, her school librarian and a therapist, as well as the Acostas. Garton Scanlon makes superb use of Millie’s seventh grade science project, hatching chicken eggs, as a focal point for Millie’s sorrow, depression and growing anxiety. As Millie’s teacher tells her, “You are trying to make sense of something very big and ancient and scary. You’re trying to process how unbelievably fragile life can be.” 

Despite its heavy topic, Lolo’s Light is ultimately a hopeful book about healing that captures how much hard work, along with time, the process can require. Garton Scanlon infuses the story with perfect moments of humor, too, such as the many puns that arise during the science project scenes. (Millie’s science project group’s name, “the Egg-ceptionals,” is only the beginning.) 

In writing Lolo’s Light, Garton Scanlon undertook a monumental challenge. The result is a compelling novel that glows with understanding and empathy.

Read our Q&A with ‘Lolo’s Light’ author Liz Garton Scanlon.

Author Liz Garton Scanlon undertakes a monumental challenge in Lolo's Light. The result is a compelling novel that glows with empathy and understanding.
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American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics reveals a hidden slice of history about the emergency services that we all depend on but largely take for granted. Kevin Hazzard (A Thousand Naked Strangers), a print and television writer who worked as a paramedic in Atlanta for nearly a decade, does an excellent job of transforming his exhaustive research into a compelling narrative suitable to its gripping subject.

While the book is replete with white-knuckle medical emergencies, the real story here is the inspiring saga of how the paramedic profession was born. Before the 1970s, emergency services were “slapdash and chaotic,” with ambulance runs “treated like a Frankenstein limb rather than a full-fledged arm of public safety.” Hospital transportation might have been provided by the police, firefighters or a funeral home, with little regulation involved and a shocking absence of training. As Hazzard writes, “On any given day, the patient in an ambulance may have been better qualified to handle their own emergency than the person paid to save them.”

In 1966, medical pioneer Peter Safar, known as the father of CPR, lost his 11-year-old daughter to an asthma-induced coma while he and his wife were away at a medical conference. He channeled his grief into designing and implementing an entirely new model of ambulance care, partnering with Freedom House, a grassroots organization in the Black, immigrant neighborhood of Hill District in Pittsburgh, to train ordinary people to administer lifesaving techniques. After intensive training, a group of Black paramedics took their first call on July 15, 1968, and went on to respond to nearly 6,000 calls in the Hill District that year, saving more than 200 lives. Their response abilities got better and better under the direction of Safar and medical director Nancy Caroline, and their curriculum was eventually chosen by the Department of Transportation to serve as the model for standardized EMS training.

Astoundingly, Freedom House’s achievements were met with “the city’s unyielding resistance,” and their groundbreaking program was eventually turned over to Pittsburgh’s local government. A crew of lesser trained white men took over in 1975. Meanwhile, the longtime Freedom House paramedics who knew how to intubate in the field were asked to carry the bags.

American Sirens is a stirring, ultimately heartbreaking story in which jaw-dropping medical innovation meets racial prejudice. After finishing Hazzard’s memorable account, readers will never hear an ambulance siren the same way again.

After finishing Kevin Hazzard’s memorable account of America’s first paramedics, readers will never hear an ambulance siren the same way again.
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“I can’t imagine another disease on the planet where if somebody didn’t get better, everybody in their life would abandon them,” said Chris Schaffner, director of a harm-reduction program in Peoria, Illinois. And yet, that’s the attitude many of us have toward people with addictions, thanks to America’s long-standing war on drugs mentality. After tackling the origins of the opioid crisis in Dopesick, along with its devastating effects on families near her adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, Beth Macy continues this essential conversation in Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis. Her fourth book zeroes in on why this crisis continues and how things can change, and the facts she presents will enlighten you and likely change your opinions on many important overdose-related issues.

Beth Macy shares some of her reasons for feeling hopeful about the future of the opioid crisis.

Once again, Macy’s up close and personal reporting is riveting as she weaves together multiple storylines. She profiles numerous front-line heroes like Tim Nolan, who, after his full-time job is done, works as a traveling nurse practitioner in North Carolina, delivering harm-reduction supplies out of his Prius. Nolan works alongside the Reverend Michelle Mathis, co-founder of Olive Branch Ministries, which offers addiction triage, counseling, food and hygiene supplies in 10 western North Carolina counties. “I’m like the grandma that does syringe exchange and delivers biscuits,” Mathis said. In West Virginia, there’s 30-year-old Lill Prosperino, who puts their 4’10”, 125-pound frame to work helping about 800 people who use drugs. These activists share many admirable qualities, including the ability to greet substance users with “unconditional positive regard,” as one mental health counselor advises.

Macy also follows the diverse, dedicated group that brought the OxyContin-pushing Sackler family to court, including the renowned photographer Nan Goldin, who staged a series of “die-ins” and other protests at museums around the world to pressure them into removing the Sackler name from their halls and galleries. Commenting on Goldin’s success, Macy writes, “That it had taken a famous artist, of all people, to finally get under the Sacklers’ skin said as much about what captures Americans’ attention as it does about corporate influence-peddling.”

The genius of Macy’s writing is that she makes readers care, on every page, as she bears witness. This is heartfelt, informed writing at its best, and always personal. With Dopesick and now Raising Lazarus, Macy is a social historian and change-maker at the top of her game.

Raising Lazarus, Beth Macy’s follow-up to Dopesick, will radically change your opinions on the opioid crisis.
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“Why is that new girl on our new horse?” Norrie asks her best friend, Hazel, as the two arrive at Edgewood Stables, where they ride and help out around the barn along with their friend, Sam. It turns out that the new girl is Vic, who used to ride at tony Waverly Stables. The four preteens form the heart of the wonderful ensemble cast in graphic novelist Faith Erin Hicks’ Ride On, a lively tale of horses and friendship.

Vic has begun riding at Edgewood after falling out with her best friend at Waverly, and she and Norrie get off to a dramatically rocky start. Passionate Norrie reacts to the newcomer with a short fuse, declaring that Waverly is Edgewood’s rival (an opinion that no one else, particularly shy, reserved Hazel, seems to share). Vic, meanwhile, tells Norrie she’s not looking to make friends at Edgewood; she just wants to be left alone to ride. 

The story of Vic and Norrie’s relationship includes twists, turns and plenty of emotional fireworks that feel immediate and authentic. Hicks captures the angst and confusion that so often characterize the early teen years as interests change and friendships blossom and wane.

Hicks’ sharp, focused illustrations enliven character interactions by zeroing in on facial expressions, especially Norrie’s cavalcade of wide-eyed, accusatory looks as she feels increasingly threatened by Vic. Onomatopoeia punctuates various scenes, such as a large, bright yellow “FWUMP!” when Vic falls onto her bed in frustration. Hicks skillfully uses color to spotlight characters within panels: Vic’s blue-tinged braids, Norrie’s pink polo shirt and Sam’s blue and gray hoodie all stand out against the browns and blacks of Edgewood Stables and its horses.  

Of course, those horses are also at the center of the story. Ride On contains plenty of riding action informed by Hicks’ childhood as a “horse girl,” as she explains in an author’s note. Hicks movingly conveys the love between riders and horses, as well as the nerves and challenges experienced by both during competitions. 

Ride On will leave readers eager for more of Hicks’ animated tales and ready to jump in the saddle themselves.

Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novel is a love letter to “horse crazy” kids and a lively portrait of how friendships can blossom and wane during early adolescence.

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