Books: Holiday Gift Guide

Photo courtesy of BigStock/DLeonis
Photo courtesy of BigStock/DLeonis

Songs of Irie  
Asha Ashati Bromfield
Wednesday Books

Jamaica; 1976; warring political factions are coming to violence pre-election around the lives of Irie, whose Daddy runs a record shop in an impoverished area of Kingston, and Jilly, privileged daughter of a wealthy politician living in a mansion on the heights of the capital city. They’ve just graduated a posh girl’s school, where Irie was a scholarship student, and neither one knows the depths–or heights of the other’s life. Irie’s school days are over, while Jilly has been summarily told she’s been betrothed. Jilly has not told her parents of her university rejection. Though underage, Irie, musically talented, plans to sneak into a prestigious reggae competition, and Jilly insists on accompanying. Brimfield builds tension adroitly, though clearly, not all hopes can prevail.

A Dirty Guide to A  Clean Home: Housekeeping Hacks You Can’t Live Without
Melissa Dilkes Pateras with Carla Sosenko
The Dial Press

The Laundry Lesbian of TikTok is the first to say, “It’s not every day that a heavily tattooed, middle-aged lesbian mother of three is presented as a lifestyle guru. But here I am…” Juvenile, risqué jokes and all, but she’s  got the goods: Whatever plagues be on your house, she’s got the remedy. I, for example, moved into nice digs with water hard enough to support Biblical walking upon. Her cure? Vinegar–and how to apply it effectively. A broken zipper? Stains? Installing a new shower head, sewing on a button, reanimating a shrunken sweater, rethreading a hoodie or sweatpants drawstring? LL explains it clearly, lists tools you’ll need, illustrations to guide. With a wrap-up on cleaning and maintaining all your expensive household machinery. Painlessly.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds
Illustrated Edition; Abridged by Author

Merlin Sheldrake
Random House

Fungi; so beautiful and so ubiquitous, down into our very bodies. Sheldrake has abridged his original edition to offer this art presentation of over 100 color plates of these little-known beings without brains, limbs, or appurtenances we generally label “human,” or “intelligent,” nevertheless thread mazes, communicate over distance, and make “deals” with other forms of life, including human. Sheldrake once flew to Italy, joined two humans and dogs to ferret out white truffles whose fungi had excreted scent to lure them to come pick their fruiting bodies and spread their spores afar. Entranced by what you find, you can buy the original, equally entrancing volume with 51 pages of Notes, 43 of  Bibliography and 25 of Index. Like the Truffle, Sheldrake has compelling lures.

Wild Spaces
S. L. Coney
Tor Publishing Group

Idyll to nightmare – a beautifully written horror tale that ensnares the reader without as grippingly as it does those trapped within. Somewhere on the South Carolina coast, a mother, father, their eleven-year-old son and his dog, Teach – the only named character, and a newcomer, arrived only about a month ago. Theirs is a simple life – mother writes about pirates, father’s a biologist, probing swamplands. One day, mother’s father rolls up in a battered Woodie; life in their saltwater Eden is over. The reader’s first outraged; this old reprobate obviously enjoys sowing dissention, disturbing his daughter, and wonders how he’ll be overthrown, until  feeling the tightening net themselves. The hairs on their neck rise, they finally understand this is not the story they were expecting…that there is no way out.

The Puppets of Spelhorst: A Norendy Tale
Kate D. Camillo and Julie Morstad
Candlewick Press

The first in Newberry Medalist Kate DiCamillo’s Norendy fairy tales embraces death and danger, love and loss, regret and redemption, penned without a hint of condescension or adult preachment. In fact, this tale of an elderly, remorseful, dying sea captain, five puppets with dreams of glory, two little girls with a script for said puppets, and a housemaid yearning to ride a camel, is crafted to stir the spirit of reader or listener of any age. The wooden king, young maiden, archer youth, toothy wolf and plumed owl pass on through the old seaman’s hands to achieve their heart’s desires in a little girl’s story, then travel beyond, joining maid Jane’s flight to far lands on camel-back, all rendered poignantly in Julie Morstad’s black-and-white illustrations.

Daniel Clowes

A fantastic read to shake you up right down to the endpapers, then have you flipping back for clarity. Not that Monica herself offers any tearful Gish-sister optimism, toiling stoically through (most of) these nine chapters before turning one last metaphoric door-knob, an opening into the … well, go there and discover yourself; maybe ask the friend for whom this was  wrapped and gifted. Monica, beyond the primordial soup-to-Jed-Clampett-runup to Chapter One, was, we learn, to have been the offspring of Pretty Penny mom and fiancé Johnny, but for his presence in Vietnam-hell, while she frolicked in bed with another. The whole brings Monica from zygote to grey-hair while ceaselessly searching. For? A multitude of things; Penny, Johnny, love… Spoiler: She does find a multitude.

You Need to Chill!
Juno Dawson, Ill. By Laura Hughes
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (ages 4 and up)

Breezy, light and sets a firm boundary for a possibly thorny question: “What happened to your older brother Bill?” Classmates query; “Is he lost in the park?” “Is he scared of the dark?” “Is he doing his homework still?” She stands straight admonishing, “Hey, you need to chill.” Their queries are not unkind, but inevitably escalate: “Was he eaten by a WHALE or SHARK? Was he munched up just like krill?” “That simply isn’t true I say.  And hey, you need to chill.” Finally, still direct and smiling, our narrator explains, “There are no hungry whales…NO little green men… Your hysteria is silly. The Truth is that my brother Bill…is now my sister Lily.” Just out a few months ago, we’d best heed her “Chill!”

The Monster Mac and Cheese Party
Todd Parr
Megan Tingley Books   (ages 4-8)
Little, Brown and Company

All color, all flair! What would you bring and what would you wear? NYTimes bestselling author Todd Parr undoubtedly had as much fun ringing the rhymes and splashing color– any brighter, they’d singe gift wrap–as your young’un will have deciding what to bring to this Mac and Cheese fest! Not just drab out of the box? Monsters are very creative, and Mac and Cheese are among their very favorite things–perhaps with a sprinkling of stinky socks or Mme. Spider monster’s flies. Humans can boring, but they’re welcome nonetheless. (Among Parr’s sixty-some books is The Joyful Book, The Kindness Book.) So all are are welcome, for sharing makes the world go round! In case you run out of ideas, two (human-style) recipes are included.

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