Heather Seggel

Delight the teenager on your holiday list with a fabulous graphic novel or gripping true story guaranteed to make them swoon, giggle or gasp.

The Girl From the Sea

For the reader who longs to be carried away on the waves of a fantastical story

In The Girl From the Sea, author-illustrator Molly Knox Ostertag blends myth and realism to create a story about the things we’d rather keep submerged—and what happens when they surface with a splash.

Morgan Kwon is 15 and part of a power clique at her high school that serves as a frothy diversion from her unhappy family life. She’s just biding her time until she can move away from her small island town and finally come out as gay. 

One rainy night at the rocky seaside cliffs that are her favorite place to sit and think, Morgan slips on the wet stones and falls into the water. She’s rescued by a mysterious girl named Keltie, who is kind of cute, really, and an awfully powerful swimmer, but the instant connection between them threatens all the secrets that Morgan’s been carefully concealing from her friends and family. 

Ostertag (The Witch Boy) is an expert at conveying complex emotions and subtly shifting the mood from one panel to the next. Morgan is part of a group text message thread with her friends, which  includes numerous invitations that Morgan declines, at first because of her feelings of loneliness and depression, and later because Keltie is clearly not welcome among the group, even as she and Morgan are tentatively falling for each other. Ostertag initially depicts Morgan’s home life with her stressed mom and angry little brother in stark, silent scenes, but as secrets come to light and Morgan’s family reach out to one another, there’s a warmth to their time together that lifts off the page.

This graphic novel’s narrative flows so smoothly that you might find yourself reading it in one big gulp, and its resolution is bittersweet but hopeful. The Girl From the Sea is a wistful romance that will catch readers by the heart.

—Heather Seggel

Passport

For the reader who has always suspected there was more to their parents than meets the eye

“¿Qué está pasando?” Early in her graphic memoir, Passport, author-illustrator Sophia Glock writes that this phrase—which means “what is going on?”—is her mantra at the Spanish-language immersion high school she attends in Central America. The phrase is a lifeline as Glock navigates the usual challenges of teenage life, but it takes on another meaning when Glock discovers that she is the daughter of CIA agents who have been keeping her in the dark. 

Growing up, Glock lived all over the world because of her parents’ ambiguous “work.” What work is that, exactly? She has no idea. The more questions she asks, the fewer answers she receives. Just keep your head down, her parents tell her. Stay safe, and if you can, why don’t you let us know what your friends’ parents do for a living?

When Glock reads a letter that her older sister, away at college, wrote to their parents, the blanks in her life begin to fill in, though she is too afraid to confront her parents directly. Instead, like any frustrated teen, she exercises her autonomy and starts telling lies of her own. Boys, girls, drinking and partying abound while Glock travels through the gauntlet of adolescence and the tension between her ever-accumulating little lies versus her parents’ one big lie threatens to boil over.

Glock’s depictions of quiet yet consequential moments, such as when she ponders the choices her parents have made, are especially spellbinding. Her sparse, restrained art style evokes the feeling of a memory play, a recollection both real and ethereal. She renders the entire book in only three colors: shades of a reddish pink, a cold blue and white. Her characters aren’t always easily distinguishable from one another, and while that can cause some confusion in the story, the overall effect is satisfying. After all, how much does Glock really know about the people around her? ¿Qué está pasando? In her author’s note, Glock concedes as much. ”These stories are as true as I remember them,” she writes. The CIA’s publication review board nixed some of the particulars of Passport before it was published, which makes the details that did end up in the book all the more dramatic.

A deceptively spare graphic novel chock-full of depth and beauty, Passport is an unusual coming-of-age memoir that’s totally worth the trip. 

—Luis G. Rendon

★ The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor

For the reader who loves spooky castles and fears no gothic terror, not even marauding zombie bunnies

Haley is so exuberantly dedicated to gothic romances that her exasperated teacher orders her to stop writing book reports on Wuthering Heights (and no, she cannot do an interpretive dance about it instead!). After school, Haley sets out for home in the rain, and lo! As she stands on a bridge, dramatically sighing, she sees a man struggling in the dark waters below. She dives in to rescue the floundering fellow, conks out after her exertions and awakens abed in Willowweep Manor, attended by a dour housekeeper named Wilhelmina. Have Haley’s period-piece dreams come true? 

Turns out, Haley has indeed been inadvertently catapulted into a world much like those in her beloved books. There’s a castle (complete with “baleful catacombs” and an on-site ghost) and verdant moors, as well as three handsome brothers—stoic Laurence, brooding Montague and vacuous Cuthbert—who took her in after she saved Montague from drowning.

But Haley soon discovers another side to Willowweep. It’s a gasket universe, a liminal space between Earth and an evil dimension laden with a substance called bile that destroys everything in its globby, neon green path. Can Haley help the brothers fend off the encroaching forces of darkness before it’s too late? 

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor is a hoot right from the get-go, but when everyone bands together to defend the manor, author Shaenon K. Garrity’s tale becomes ever more hilarious and exciting. Humorous metafictional quips fly hither and yon as the characters take up arms, squabble over strategy and realize they’ve got to break a few rules (and defy a few tropes) if they want to prevail. 

Christopher Baldwin’s art is full-bore appealing. He has an excellent command of color: Brooding browns underlie characters’ stress while sky blues highlight Haley’s growing confidence. Facial expressions are little comedies unto themselves, including horses who side-eye Cuthbert’s silliness, and slack-faced bile-addled bunnies who adorably chant “Destroy.” 

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor celebrates and satirizes a beloved genre while encouraging readers to defy the rules and become the heroes of their own stories.

—Linda M. Castellitto

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Looking for something to please a choosy teen reader? Look no further than these gripping graphic tales.
Feature by

For some readers, summer means enough time to tackle a serious work of history. Other readers relish the vicarious thrills of true crime and courtroom drama, while armchair travelers settle in for an exciting new journey (and save a bundle on luggage fees). These books share one trait vital to any summer read: unputdownability.
 

BATTLE BETWEEN OLD AND NEW
If you know anything about the Crimean War, it’s likely a story told from the British point of view. In The Crimean War, historian Orlando Figes consulted Turkish, Russian, French and Ottoman sources as well, to create a broader picture of “the major conflict of the nineteenth century.”

This battle, both religious and territorial in nature, was the first truly modern war. Steamships and railways were crucial, as well as technology like the telegraph, field hospitals and medical triage. It was also the first to have war reporters and photographers directly on the scene. Yet older traditions such as truces to allow each side to collect their dead from the battlefield were still observed, and “war tourists” traveled from all over the world, opera glasses and picnic baskets in hand, to observe the fighting. Some soldiers were hampered by enforced adherence to traditional dress codes that barely allowed them freedom of movement and didn’t keep out the elements; the war killed almost a million soldiers, but many of those deaths were from cholera and exposure.

It’s fascinating to see a young Leo Tolstoy appear in the story, reporting on the fighting in Sevastopol to Tsar Nicholas and finding his voice as an author in a setting that inspired some classic literature. The Crimean War takes readers through the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, but also well beyond and deeper, in a bold re-examination of this 150-year-old war.

CORRUPTION ON THE CAPE
On January 6, 2002, Christa Worthington’s body was found on the floor of her Cape Cod cottage, stabbed, beaten and half-naked, her two-year-old daughter clinging to her side. Who could have done such a thing? Reasonable Doubt follows the investigation, the trial and its aftermath, and reaches a disturbing conclusion: An innocent man is now in jail for life, and Christa’s real killer is free.

Journalist Peter Manso intended to write a quickie “trial book,” but once he started researching the story, things turned ugly. Christopher McCowen, an African-American garbage collector with an IQ bordering on mental retardation, was interrogated for hours but no recording was made, and his statements were condensed and edited by the investigating officer. Now in jail for life, he maintains his innocence, and can point to a more likely suspect whose connections in law enforcement may have granted him a pass. Manso finds corruption in every corner of Cape Cod law enforcement, possibly even in the presiding judge’s decision to deny appeals for a retrial that would have hurt his chances for promotion. Entrenched racism in the affluent white community made it easy to sell the story of a black murderer, and many believed that a possible sexual liaison between McCowen and Worthington could only have been rape.

It’s a grim tale from any angle, and Manso balances a straightforward accounting of the investigation and trial with a more inflammatory section at the end of the book, listing the missteps by DA Michael O’Keefe along with a Q&A designed to explain the fallibility of DNA evidence and many other pieces of information that were kept out of the trial (but were, in Manso’s opinion, crucial to an understanding of what really happened). Readers will of course draw their own conclusions, but Reasonable Doubt raises potent questions about our courts and the true beneficiaries of justice.

WHEN IN SIENA
Robert Rodi fell so in love with one part of Tuscan culture, it bordered on obsession. Seven Seasons in Siena chronicles the author’s multiple trips to Siena, home of the Palio, a bareback horse race around the town’s central piazza. Seventeen independent societies, known as contrade, compete in the race, and Rodi is determined to find acceptance in the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. It’s not a simple matter of asking permission: The culture is insular and macho, while Rodi is a gay American writer who’s just getting a handle on conversational Italian. But he doesn’t give up.

Rodi has been compared to Bill Bryson, and rightly so; Seven Seasons in Siena is packed full of history, trivia and details about Siena, yet reads like a breezy travelogue. It’s also frequently hilarious. When a native indulges Rodi’s rudimentary language skills, “He grins widely, as though listening to a parakeet try to speak Latin.” Seconds after tasting some proffered homemade grappa, Rodi says, “I can feel all the hair on my chest just quietly drop off.” You may decide to spend a season in Siena yourself after reading this love letter to a passionate people and their beautiful corner of the world.

For some readers, summer means enough time to tackle a serious work of history. Other readers relish the vicarious thrills of true crime and courtroom drama, while armchair travelers settle in for an exciting new journey (and save a bundle on luggage fees). These books share one trait vital to any summer read: unputdownability.  BATTLE […]
Feature by

April 14, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and several new books are being published to both mark the centennial and shed new light on the famous disaster. The selections featured here range from straight historical analysis of the event to fiction that uses the sinking ship as a starting place for its characters.

SOULS ON BOARD

Voyagers of the Titanic focuses on the ship’s passengers, from first class and its posh surroundings down to those in steerage, some of whom helped to build the ship. Biographer and historian Richard Davenport-Hines finds stories even in the items recovered from the dead: John Jacob Astor IV, the ship’s wealthiest passenger, died with $4,000 cash on his person, while Greek farmworker Vassilios Katavelas carried just a mirror, comb, 10 cents and a train ticket. A gripping chapter dedicated to plotting out the ship’s collision and sinking is where such attention to detail pays off—having come to know and care about the people on board in a new way makes the poignancy of losing them fresh again.

DISSECTING A DISASTER

Maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham begins Titanic Tragedy with biographical sketches of Guglielmo Marconi and Samuel Morse, whose inventions enabled wireless communication between ships. (They seemingly foresaw instant messaging, too: Busy radio operators would dismiss interruptions with “GTH” rather than type “Go to Hell.”) While there were failings in radio communication during the wreck, without it everyone on board would have perished while awaiting rescue. Maxtone-Graham then shifts focus to bring us inside the shipyard and the building of the ocean liner everyone thought unsinkable, and captures the drama of its untimely end without injecting his opinion. There are no broadly drawn heroes and villains here, just people thrown into a desperate situation for which they are horribly unprepared. He reserves his ire for those who have turned historically relevant sites into tourist attractions or housing developments; those locations contain stories yet untold that may never be known to us.

There are no broadly drawn heroes and villains here, just people thrown into a desperate situation for which they are horribly unprepared.

THOSE LEFT BEHIND

Andrew Wilson’s Shadow of the Titanic looks for meaning in the aftermath of the disaster, following up on survivors “after the glare of attention had dimmed.” It’s both dishy and speculative, and as such very entertaining. White Star Lines Captain Bruce Ismay, long despised for taking a seat in a lifeboat rather than going down with the ship (a scenario eerily relived in the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia), is casually labeled a “masochist” on rather scant evidence. The nervous chatter among some first-class passengers while awaiting rescue is parsed for damning evidence of self-involvement among the idle rich. Shadow of the Titanic nevertheless gives us an interesting new view of the tragedy, including the fact that among survivors, some felt the four days aboard the rescue ship Carpathia were more traumatic than the accident that led them there.

LOVE AMONG THE RUINS

Shifting gears, we find a novel that sets sail just in time to crash, at which point things really get interesting. In The Dressmaker, novelist Kate Alcott invents a plucky maid for the very real Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, fashion designer and inventor of the runway show. The story opens with Tess Collins spontaneously hiring on with “Madame” and boarding the doomed ocean liner. By the time boat meets iceberg, she’s already attracted two suitors and begun to assume an inappropriate degree of familiarity with her cruel and capricious new boss. The love triangle plays out as public hearings threaten the Duff Gordon name, and Tess quickly trades in her tea tray for needle and thread as she moves up in the rag trade. The historical backdrop includes a look at the burgeoning movement for women’s suffrage, and some of the dialogue from the hearings is lifted verbatim from Lady Duff Gordon’s actual testimony in a British inquiry. The Dressmaker is a Titanic story, but more than that, a finely stitched work about love and loyalty.

April 14, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and several new books are being published to both mark the centennial and shed new light on the famous disaster. The selections featured here range from straight historical analysis of the event to fiction that uses the sinking ship as a starting […]
Feature by

These three books about Christmas have little in common, which should come as no surprise. We each observe the season in different ways. There is one common thread between these books, though, and it’s not jolly old Saint Nick: Each features an absolutely hair-raising drive through a holiday blizzard. Read, enjoy—and don’t forget your snow chains.

Julia Romp’s The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas gives away the story’s end in the title, but once you’ve met single mother Julia and her son George you’ll still cheer. For years, neighbors and teachers complained about George’s disengaged and combative behavior, but nobody knew what was wrong or how to fix it. One day mother and son took a stray cat to the vet. When they came to check on the animal, George began to open up to it, speaking in a high voice, making eye contact and almost instantly warming up. They adopted “Ben,” and he became a lifeline for George, who by now had been diagnosed with autism. When Ben runs away, George regresses, turning his rage on his mother. But Julia applies the same persistence to finding Ben that she had to caring for George, and things end well. Romp tells a hard story, and it’s easy to sympathize when she asks for help repeatedly and is instead viewed as a potential child abuser. Her love for her family—son and cat both—shines through, and if you’ve put off microchipping your pet, this story will encourage you to make that appointment.

BEHIND THE BEARD

Sal Lizard was just a working stiff with a bushy white beard when someone asked him to play Santa as a one-time gig. Being Santa Claus details Lizard’s journey into work as a full-time Santa, working in malls, making home and hospital visits, and loving the job. As one might expect, bringing cheer to terminally ill children is heart-wrenching work, and the hospitals he worked at had designated areas where employees could cry without the patients seeing. The hard times were offset by a job that let him bring joy to old and young alike, and Lizard seems made for the task. He’s playful with older kids who doubt Santa is real, and willing to get on the floor and play with younger kids who are scared by him (to the consternation of mall staff). Lizard tells his story with the help of Jonathan Lane, who interviewed him extensively and collected his best stories here. It works well; reading the book feels like being entertained, possibly over milk and cookies, by a relative overflowing with heartwarming anecdotes.

THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON

Joseph Bottum’s The Christmas Plains is considered a memoir, but it’s as much about Christmas, language and landscape as it is his personal history. Moving his family to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where he lived as a boy, to reclaim a sense of fixed geography for his daughter, Bottum muses about his childhood holidays and considers the works of Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton and Dylan Thomas, and the ways in which they have influenced our experiences and recollections of Christmas. Bottum has a fresh take on the perennial complaint that Christmas is too commercial, pointing out that the inflatable snowmen and profusions of tinsel come from a knowledge that “a real thing comes toward us in December, and they layer it over with whatever fake or genuine finery they can find—not to hide it but to honor it.” His spare descriptions of the desolate Western plains alongside the hustle and bustle of New York City at Christmas are lovely, and his gentle insistence on the spiritual amid the commercial is a welcome tonic.

These three books about Christmas have little in common, which should come as no surprise. We each observe the season in different ways. There is one common thread between these books, though, and it’s not jolly old Saint Nick: Each features an absolutely hair-raising drive through a holiday blizzard. Read, enjoy—and don’t forget your snow […]
Feature by

As we greet the new year, many of us are not where we’d like to be in life. Whether that means personal relationships that could be improved or bad habits that need to be broken, progress begins when we lace up our shoes and take the first step. A handful of new books each have a different subject in mind, but share a common endorsement of mindfulness as the key to a happier, healthier life.

FRIENDS FOR LIFE

Bette Midler’s signature song used to be “You’ve Gotta Have Friends,” back before she got all wind-beneath-my-wings-y. Carlin Flora’s Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are seconds that emotion, noting the enormous health benefits of friendship along with the idea that our friends shape our personality and choices even more than families do. Flora, formerly the features editor for Psychology Today, discovers that one unexpected benefit of friendship is that it allows us to be altruistic and care about others. This may be why the kids who make friends most easily are those who can quickly change gears and empathize with a wide variety of personality types. (It also helps if their names are easy to pronounce.) If you’ve been thinking of starting a book club with your BFFs, here’s your first assignment.

COMPASSION IN ACTION

A professional relationship with a religious leader led to a great friendship for Victor Chan. He traveled with the Dalai Lama for many years, recording talks and meetings with everyone from sick children to two men on either side of the long-standing “troubles” in Northern Ireland. In The Wisdom of Compassion, Chan recounts a variety of these encounters as they relate to “Overcoming Adversity,” “Educating the Heart” and “Compassion in Action.” We get a good sense of what Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader experiences on a typical day, and his personality, which can be fiery but is more often full of effusive giggling, comes through nicely. Chan inserts himself into the narrative more than is warranted, but the overall message of the book is uplifting and inspiring: If we generate compassion within ourselves, then extend it to all people (not just the ones we like most), we hold the potential to alleviate much of the world’s suffering.

BOOST YOUR BRAINPOWER

If you think attention and mindfulness are just for the spiritually inclined, you may be shortchanging your own intelligence. Sandra Bond Chapman’s Make Your Brain Smarter leads with the advice to stop multitasking and utilize what she calls the “brainpower of none,” emptying the mind to allow your thoughts to sort and settle. From there, focusing on just one thing intently or working only on your top two priorities lead to increased productivity and a healthier brain. While it’s disappointing to learn that crosswords and sudoku do less for brain health than previously thought, Chapman’s program encourages thinking broadly and creatively to stimulate the frontal lobe. Considering that she created a program designed to sharpen the minds of Navy SEALs in the same way their elite training hones their bodies, you may want to toss the crosswords and give this a try.

FOCUS ON SUCCESS

The new year is when we often resolve to take up better fitness habits and put down some of our vices; after all, if you can stick with it for three weeks it locks in, right? Actually, no, says PsyBlog creator Jeremy Dean. In Making Habits, Breaking Habits he argues that one of the keys to changing a habit is—don’t say you weren’t warned—mindfulness. Despite the slew of books raving about the power of intention as the key to personal success, research finds that intention creates false expectations and leads more often to disappointment than to thin thighs or an Aston Martin. Instead, the practice of mindfulness helps us act on our intentions consciously, which reinforces new habits and makes it easier to break old ones despite the social cues that can trigger them. Thinking both abstractly and analytically can also develop the mind’s capacity and flexibility. Begin with the mind, then get on the treadmill, and you’re well on your way to self-improvement.

A PATH THROUGH THE DARK

Sometimes the urge to care for ourselves is slow in coming. When Katrina Kenison’s second son left home, she was confronted with an overwhelming sense of loss. It wasn’t just the empty nest or uncertainties of middle age, but also the shifting terrain of her marriage and the long shadow cast by the death of a friend that weighted her days. Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment follows Kenison for a year in which she gently plumbs her intuition to find new purpose and resilience in the face of sorrow. When her life seems most empty, she realizes, “I do at least know this: . . . I can either run away from my loneliness, or I can practice tolerating myself as I am.” Yoga proves central to her healing, and its focus on mindfulness helps even the darkest places to reveal their beauty.

DOWN TO THE ROOTS

Garden blogger (and Kenison’s writing partner) Margaret Roach pulls together the scientific and spiritual in The Backyard Parables: A Meditation on Gardening, but it doesn’t feel like work when you’re out getting your hands dirty. A year spent in her garden includes a glimpse of her “new spiritual practice—a moving meditation aimed specifically at dandelions, a ritual that brings me into touch with my own powerlessness, and also my own power.” By turns wise and witty, the book is also jam-packed with practical tips for gardeners, from the basics of succession sowing to winning a showdown with chipmunks. Roach, former editorial director for Martha Stewart, followed a passion, cultivated it devoutly and turned it into a career. She doesn’t need to discuss the how-to of mindfulness; her life is the best example of the way love and attention will make things bloom.

As we greet the new year, many of us are not where we’d like to be in life. Whether that means personal relationships that could be improved or bad habits that need to be broken, progress begins when we lace up our shoes and take the first step. A handful of new books each have […]
Feature by

A popular bumper sticker theorizes that well-behaved women rarely make history. While it’s true that sometimes swimming against the current is the only way to get where you’re headed, three new books show women making history in a variety of ways, from globetrotting, to taking on mysterious jobs, to smashing through political barriers—even if their behavior was sometimes less than ladylike.

ALL ABOARD

In 1889, Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days was hot stuff. So hot, in fact, that two New York publications sent female reporters on trips around the world to try and beat fictional character Phileas Fogg’s time. Matthew Goodman’s Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World recreates the race and shows how it shaped the women’s lives afterward. It’s also a dazzling tour of the world at a time when travel routes were just opening up; a look at sensationalist journalism and pop culture in pre-Kardashian America; and a testimony to how hard women had to fight to get work and achieve respect as journalists.

Bly perfected the art of traveling light for the sake of convenience, then went on a shopping spree in Singapore, after which she was saddled with a cantankerous monkey she named McGinty. Bisland, who agreed to race against Bly with less than one day’s notice, didn’t like the publicity that came with the challenge and squirmed at being hauled in rickshaws and sedan chairs, but she was otherwise a fearless competitor who continued to travel for the rest of her life. Their stories should inspire both writers and travelers today: If you finish this without laying out your own version of Nellie Bly’s one-bag, no-hassles travel case, don’t complain the next time you’re dinged $25 for an extra suitcase. She was vastly ahead of her time.

WOMEN’S WORK

The Girls of Atomic City details a story that seems impossible yet was true. Author Denise Kiernan brings a novelist’s voice to her thoroughly researched look at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a small city that housed 75,000 people, used as much power as New York City, yet didn’t exist on any map. During World War II, numerous women were recruited to work in Oak Ridge but were never told what their jobs were; each job was isolated from the others so a complete picture couldn’t be formed. All they knew was that they were working to help bring a swift end to the war. By the time anyone had figured it out, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been decimated and the war was over.

The story of the town is impressive and occasionally funny: Women disembarking from cars for the first time sank to their knees in mud, since there were no sidewalks built, and one resident persuaded a worker to make her contraband biscuit tins from scrap metal so as to avoid the cafeteria’s sub-par chow. There was camaraderie among the workers, yet everyone felt ambivalent about what they created and how it was ultimately used. Kiernan gives no easy answers, but the stories of the women will resonate with readers. If someone offered you double what you’re making now, would you jump on a train with no further information? That took guts.

HIGHEST CALLING

It’s great to look back and find undiscovered stories in our past, but the experiences of those who are still with us have much to offer as we go forward. Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice is Mary Robinson’s memoir. The first female president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights traces her political roots back to an early and radical questioning of her Catholic upbringing. Continually working and fighting for full inclusion on behalf of the poor and marginalized, she became a vocal opponent of U.S. President George W. Bush’s policies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When journalists questioned her outspoken stance and willingness to jeopardize her U.N. job, she writes, “I replied that this was the job; it was better to do the job than try to keep it.”

Robinson is unsparing about mistakes she’s made in her political career, and unfailingly gracious and grateful to her friends and family in these pages, which puts her tougher stances in perspective. A critical thinker and fine writer, her life story is a pleasure to read, and one that will certainly inspire generations of leaders to come.

A popular bumper sticker theorizes that well-behaved women rarely make history. While it’s true that sometimes swimming against the current is the only way to get where you’re headed, three new books show women making history in a variety of ways, from globetrotting, to taking on mysterious jobs, to smashing through political barriers—even if their […]
Feature by

Will you be vacationing at an exotic locale this year or staycationing in your own backyard? If your journey is limited to armchair explorations, consider these four travel memoirs, reviewed with tips to help you find the perfect read, be it a dip into history or a high-speed adventure.

FUN ON TWO WHEELS

Amsterdam is widely known for its relaxed laws where drugs and prostitution are concerned, but it’s also heaven on earth for cyclists. In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist recalls Pete Jordan’s simple plan to spend a semester abroad, which immediately gets complicated when he falls in love with the city and its bike-friendly ways. Instead of returning to his wife, Amy Joy, he convinces her to move to Amsterdam and they work at building a life and starting a family. While Pete enjoys their freewheeling moves from one sublet to the next, Amy Joy discovers an aptitude for bike repair that leads first to a job, then a place to stay, and ultimately a family business.

Travel Tip: The memoir is at most 10 percent of the story here; this is really a meticulously researched history of cycling, in both Amsterdam and the U.S. Dig in for the stories of bike theft (even Anne Frank wasn’t exempt from having her bike stolen) and the wartime use of bikes to ferry the injured to safety. Before long you’ll be dusting off your Schwinn and trying to “dink” your sweetheart on the back (that is, carry her seated sidesaddle behind you). Just watch out for fire hydrants.

GLOBAL ROAD TRIP

When Dina Bennett felt the intimacy fading from her marriage, it seemed like throwing herself into a project with her husband, Bernard, would be the perfect fix. Some couples take up swing dancing, some study gourmet cooking; these two chose to participate in an 8,000-mile road race from behind the wheel of a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle. Peking to Paris: Life and Love on a Short Drive Around Half the World follows the pair as they break down and rebuild not just the car, but their ideas about one another. Bennett agrees to the rally despite having no mechanical aptitude and a propensity for carsickness. When it’s all over, she misses the cramped quarters of their beloved Cadillac (nicknamed Roxanne) so much that they take to the road again—this time in a rental car. The camaraderie between participants in the race is a secondary character: “I look around the table and note Americans, Swiss, French, Dutch, Greek. And the one nationality we now have in common: Rally.”

Travel Tip: Start at the end. The book’s glossary and numerous appendices spoil nothing, but give you a clear sense of what goes into a project like this, which only enhances the fun once you actually hit the road. And get out a world map, just to put one finger on Peking (Beijing) and one on Paris to visualize the distance these cars crossed, often over no road whatsoever.

A PERSONAL JOURNEY

As the author of the Frugal Traveler column in the New York Times for four years, Matt Gross focused on getting where you want to go as cheaply as possible. In The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World, his concerns are more philosophical as he examines why we travel and what our travel experiences can tell us about ourselves. The narrative gathers stories from his stops all around the globe, but strings them along a continuous thread: the tale of his first solo sojourn after college, a trip to Vietnam where he lived for a year and began to eke out a living as a writer.

Travel Tip: While this book makes more far-flung stops than any other here, it’s less about any of the people and places Gross visits than about how they shaped his growth as a man, a writer and a traveler. What has kept him on the go for so long? “I want to be uncomfortable, to be an outsider not just in my own mind but in the eyes of everyone who glances at my awkward, bumbling self,” he writes. His accounts here bear much of that out, from engaging the services of a Southeast Asian prostitute to suffering through numerous bouts of giardia, a vicious intestinal parasite. There are sweet moments as well, as when the Turk of the title refers to the author as both friend and brother after their brief time together. After confirming the meaning of the second word by consulting his phrasebook, Gross is suitably wowed.

ONCE MORE TO AFRICA

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari follows noted travel writer Paul Theroux on a final tour of the African continent, winding north from Cape Town into Botswana, Namibia and Angola, often despite warnings not to bother. At the age of 70, Theroux reflects on changes he’s seen in Africa—for every improvement in one area, the poverty and pain seem to have grown elsewhere—while also taking stock of himself and his fitness for further travel. Initially dismissive of travelers who go “animal watching in the early morning, busybodying in the afternoon,” he revises his view after visiting Tsumkwe, an outpost long ignored by the Namibian government, whose language and oral history would not have been preserved but for the efforts of outsiders.

Travel Tip: Theroux is a master storyteller; his prose seems workaday, but every scene is alive on the page, and he delivers travel and memoir in a near-perfect balance. Read this book if you enjoy getting lost in language as much as scenery. You’ll hate coming to the end, but it’ll be a beautiful journey.

Will you be vacationing at an exotic locale this year or staycationing in your own backyard? If your journey is limited to armchair explorations, consider these four travel memoirs, reviewed with tips to help you find the perfect read, be it a dip into history or a high-speed adventure. FUN ON TWO WHEELS Amsterdam is […]
Feature by

If you’re reading BookPage, it’s a safe bet that at least someone on your holiday shopping list will be unwrapping a book this season, but it can be hard to match the perfect selection to its ideal reader. For your consideration, here are a few fascinating and quirky books that are sure to delight the right recipient.

Photographer Christopher Boffoli places tiny human statues amid food and creates a world unlike any other in Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food. Each photo is offset by a caption that’s funny, thoughtful or both. The cover shot of a woman using a push mower to cut lengthy strings of peel from an orange takes on emotional zing inside the book: “It was so like Patty: right idea, wrong execution.” On other pages, impatient commuters wait for a late bus on a stalk of celery, and tourists marvel at a Stonehenge made of Rice Krispies treats. Organized into six courses, from breakfast through dessert plus drinks and a snack, Big Appetites blends the creative spark of single-panel comics with sculpture and photography to create something new and lively. You’ll have cause to laugh and think, and almost surely do a double-take the next time you open the fridge.

VINTAGE PLAYTHINGS

As a kid did you obsessively save your allowance to spend it on My Little Pony accessories? Crack open a Magic 8-Ball to see if the fluid inside was Windex? Or were you obsessed with the board game Mousetrap and its infuriatingly breakdown-prone 3-D board? If any of this rings a bell, you’re going to love Toy Time!. Author Christopher “The Toy Guy” Byrne highlights toys from the 1950s through the ’80s, looking at how they worked, what drove their popularity, and where they ended up. Many, from Crayola crayons to Play-Doh, LEGO blocks and Silly Putty, have endured and are still beloved. Some toys fell out of favor due to user injuries that may have been real, but might also have been the stuff of urban legend. While plastic “clackers” likely did cause a number of bruises, Byrne notes that there are still places to buy them online. (He covers himself by adding, “If you go there, you’re on your own.”) The gorgeous layout and glossy photos on retro pastel backdrops make every page pop, and Byrne’s thorough research and gum-snapping take on these treasures make for a fun time. Read it to your G.I. Joes on a frosty afternoon while baking something tiny in your Easy-Bake Oven.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

The Secret Museum takes readers into museums the world over, but not the parts that are open to the public. The treasures on display here are archived out of public view, but author Molly Oldfield gained access and got the skinny on these “secret” items. A Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum (calfskin) in New York City’s Morgan Library & Museum seems a sensible thing to keep out of harm’s way, but why is the New York Public Library bogarting a letter opener made from the paw of Charles Dickens’ cat? Oldfield, host of the BBC program “QI” (Quite Interesting), turns to the experts to place these items in historical context. As a result, The Secret Museum is chockablock with fun facts and trivia about everything from native Brazilian religious customs to Queen Victoria’s dental fetish. It’s a world tour and gazetteer in one, and a fine place to get lost for a day or two.

BURNING QUESTIONS

Would you rather read a book that educates and entertains, or one that provokes serious contemplation? If the latter is your cup of tea, here’s good news: The Book of Questions is back, in a revised and updated edition. The basic format’s the same—it’s literally a book with a question on each page—but the ethics and morals probed now reflect the impact technology has had in the 25 years since the book’s first appearance. Author Gregory Stock includes follow-ups below some questions for deeper rumination; after asking about the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done, there’s this: “Do you wish you’d been more or less cautious in your life?” The Book of Questions is a quick icebreaker when passed among new friends, but it can also take established relationships much deeper. You can read the book in order, tackling a question each day, or simply open at random and see where it leads you.

If you’re reading BookPage, it’s a safe bet that at least someone on your holiday shopping list will be unwrapping a book this season, but it can be hard to match the perfect selection to its ideal reader. For your consideration, here are a few fascinating and quirky books that are sure to delight the […]
Feature by

Looking for unique and inspiring gifts for friends or family? This bouquet of motivational books has something for everyone close to your heart.

When Candy Chang covered an abandoned house with chalkboard paint and stenciled “Before I Die I Want To . . .” on the wall, she had no idea what, if anything, would happen. Not only did her New Orleans neighborhood become a safer place (her project brought people outside and together), she spawned an international art movement. Oh, and the house was saved and is once again a home. Before I Die features photos from the original wall and its spin-offs, and collects a global sample of people’s dreams, which range from practical (“grow a salad”) to dreamy (“eat a salad with an alien”). Taking your bucket list public connects you with your neighbors, who are there dreaming alongside you, and may inspire you to live your fantasy sooner. The book also includes a breakdown of materials needed to create your own wall, so if that’s your dream, you’ve got no excuses.

WHAT JULIA SAID

You could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t a single jot of marrow left to be mined from the legacy of Julia Child. We’ve read her letters, watched her cook on TV and cooked along or done so vicariously via blogger Julie Powell. Along comes Karen Karbo with Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, and it’s as if we’re meeting Child for the first time. This collection of biographical tidbits and advice endorses a life of adventure and indulgence within reason, hard work coupled with as much play as possible, and self-acceptance with face-lifts as needed. Nothing came easy to Child except money—she used roughly 300 pounds of flour while adapting French bread to the American kitchen, and often worked tireless 12-hour days. But she loved the journey as much as the end result, in every area of her life. So stick to it, whatever your “it” is, and enjoy the learning process.

TIMELESS ADVICE

In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, longtime Golden Books editorial director Diane Muldrow pairs adages for adults with illustrations from the classic children’s series. The book extols the virtues of simple pleasures, but the cautionary messages are a riot. After “Work hard” (a man in a foundry) and “Play hard” (dogs, cats and a rabbit running riot) comes the warning, “But not too hard,” along with a two-page spread of animals who have invaded a picnic and popped a cork or two: A boa constrictor is eating a galosh, a stork pours pink liquid from a can into the pouch of a pelican, and there’s some inter-species snuggling going on in the background. With illustrations by Margaret Wise Brown, Richard Scarry and other titans of kiddie lit, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book reminds us that nothing recommended here has ever gone out of style. It’s hip and wholesome, and a great deal of fun.

Looking for unique and inspiring gifts for friends or family? This bouquet of motivational books has something for everyone close to your heart. When Candy Chang covered an abandoned house with chalkboard paint and stenciled “Before I Die I Want To . . .” on the wall, she had no idea what, if anything, would […]
Feature by

National Poetry Month begins with April Fools’ Day. Coincidence? Perhaps not. These three books for young readers goof, spoof and are rarely, if ever, aloof. They make poetry and reading as easy as breathing, and also a lot of fun.

“My sister likes to sing a lot, / but some, like me, prefer she not.” Outside the Box (ages 7 to 10) dots comical couplets like this one among longer works, covering such topics as school, holidays, superstitions and how great salad would taste if you could just leave out all the vegetables (so true!). Author Karma Wilson’s verses are illustrated with black-and-white art from Diane Goode, and the pictures grace the words with additional humor. (In one illustration, a Good Samaritan certificate is drawn to indicate it was a free Internet download.) Outside the Box is dedicated to Shel Silverstein, and a streak of gentle subversion—much like in his poems—runs through it. Thoughtful, funny and sometimes gross, these poems have solid kid appeal.

A PANDA’S YEAR
Jon J Muth’s Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons (ages 4 to 8) is a beautiful introduction to haiku, following a panda and two human friends through the four seasons. From outdoor play to spending the winter watching too much TV (“my eyes are square”), each poem is accompanied by a watercolor illustration of Koo or his friends. The images are largely joyful, but there are pensive moments as well (“killing a bug / afterward / feeling alone and Sad”), which allow for discussion of difficult emotions. Muth capitalizes one letter in each poem, so there’s an A-to-Z sequence readers can follow. The calming sounds, short poems and paintings set in nature make this an ideal bedtime book.

VROOM VROOM
“You thought the dinosaurs were dead?! / The cars behind our school / Are big Tyrannosaurus wrecks / That run on fossil fuel.” The wild rides in Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems (ages 4 to 8) include a rubber band car, an egg car and a hot dog car with the value-added feature that it runs on sauerkraut and “when you’re done / You simply eat it.” That sure saves on parking. J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian wrote the lively and humorous poems, and artist Jeremy Holmes brings them to vibrant life with paintings full of visual puns, lush colors and retro styling. Read the poems aloud—they’re snappy as bubblegum—then spend 10 minutes spotting all the visual treats that accompany them. Poem-mobiles will win over any reluctant reader who lights up at the sound of an engine, after which they’ll delight in dreaming up new cars from the stuff of daily life. It’s a clever way to jump-start young imaginations.

National Poetry Month begins with April Fools’ Day. Coincidence? Perhaps not. These three books for young readers goof, spoof and are rarely, if ever, aloof. They make poetry and reading as easy as breathing, and also a lot of fun.

Feature by

Three picture books about racing use the excitement of competition to introduce themes of cooperation, collaboration and sharing.

AND THEY’RE OFF!
Jamie Harper’s Miles to the Finish finds Miles and his buddy Otto polishing their wheels for the preschool Grand Prix when trouble arrives in the form of a woman. Well, a girl—Indie’s a racer, too, with a much faster car. Miles is determined to beat her, but cooperation and friendship win the day. The book’s brightly colored mixed media art and dialogue-driven story make it perfect for reading aloud, right down to the big “ERRRRRH!” when Miles slams on the brakes. Such drama!

FRIENDLY COMPETITION
Miles and his friends are human, but Number One Sam is a dashing dog who’s used to being number one on the track. When he loses a race, his confidence is shaken, and he neglects his best friend. Another race looks like it’s in the bag, but when a crisis arises, Sam does the right thing and is able to enjoy a different kind of victory. Author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli uses bold colors and simple designs here, so the little things stand out: When Sam loses, his car’s big red “1” is crossed out and a blue “2” is handwritten beside it; when he stops to help some birds, their chatter includes one asking him to slow down and another declaring, “You are my idol.” He’ll be yours, too.

WINNER’S CIRCLE
Chisato Tashiro’s Five Nice Mice series hits the road with Five Nice Mice & the Great Car Race. It’s the most visually complex book here, but has the simplest story: The mice compete in an auto race whose prize is the biggest piece of cheese imaginable! Inspired to succeed, they design a car from an empty can (of Red Bull) with a battery-powered motor and a secret weapon to help them reach the finish line. The race takes the competitors through an outdoor market and public park, past curious children, dogs and mice lining the race path with directional flags. Tashiro gives each mouse a distinct look and personality, and kids will have fun picking them out of the crowd. The moral here is simple—an edible prize is best shared with friends—and who can argue with that? These mice really are nice.

 

Heather Seggel reads too much and writes all about it in Northern California.

Three picture books about racing use the excitement of competition to introduce themes of cooperation, collaboration and sharing.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!