Snails & Monkey Tails by Michael Arndt

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Snails & Monkey Tails is a lively masterpiece of graphic design but I don’t think you need to be a design or language nerd like me to enjoy it. In clever layouts presented in bold red, black and white, Michael Arndt offers up history and fun facts for punctuation and symbols that we overlook every day. In some ways the topic is pretty niche (I noticed I didn’t have a whole lot of competition on the hold list for this brand new book) but in other ways it is so universal–everyone uses punctuation but most are not privy to how the symbols evolved into our current use of them. The downside to reading this book is that I am now quite disappointed in our culture for referring to “@” as the “at symbol” when we could be calling it a monkey’s tail (German), a little mouse (Taiwanese) or a cinnamon bun (Swedish).

Available through the Bridges Library System

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narvaez Varela

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Academically-driven Anamaria is an awkward, earnest 13-year-old with homework and friend drama, supportive parents, and all the truths she thinks she knows about her life and the world. When a woman shows up claiming to be her 30-year-old self, Anamaria does not welcome the woman’s cryptic advice from the future, especially her advice to “just love you.”

Everything about the 1990s Mexico setting and vibrant characters came to life in the author’s rich verse, but the conversations between Anamaria and Thirty were my favorite part. They had such an interesting dynamic and it made me think about having conversations with my past or future selves. I’m happy to report that I found the unique premise to be deftly executed in this novel in verse.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC NARVAEZ-VARELA)

The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

A cross between a novel and a picture book, this illustrated 145-page retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is such a delight. I picked it up after finishing the author’s recent book, Medusa (also lavishly illustrated), looking for more elegant, lyrical writing and I was not disappointed. Burton reimagines my favorite fairy tale with humor and compassion, bringing us strong characters and a fabulous updated ending that literally had me grinning. You won’t regret dancing the night away with this one.

Available through the Bridges Library System

A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

A Forgery of Roses is a gothic mystery featuring an intriguing magic system in which certain people can alter reality by painting portraits.

After the disappearance of her parents, Myra Whitlock is unexpectedly offered a secret commission to paint the recently deceased son of the mayor and bring him back to life. Although Myra has never attempted such a feat and does not even know if it is possible, the sizable payment the mayor’s wife is offering makes the commission irresistible.

Myra’s portrait magic won’t work without knowing the death circumstances but some details the family offer simply don’t add up so Myra begins investigating on her own within the sprawling mansion of the mayor, uncovering a web of family secrets and even a taste of romance.

The compelling mystery kept me guessing and I especially loved how the flawed characters learned to both find and embrace their unique strengths.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC OLSON)

I Begin with Spring: The Life and Seasons of Henry David Thoreau by Julie Dunlap & Megan Elizabeth Baratta

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

I found this biography of Henry David Thoreau to be absolutely phenomenal.

Organized as a journey through the 4 seasons, beginning with spring and concluding with winter, this book is assembled as a pseudo-sketchbook, saturated with illustrations, handwritten notes, and historical ephemera.

The biographical information is segmented into easily digestible paragraphs flowing alongside nature facts, observations, and soft drawings, mirroring the way in which Thoreau’s life was deeply intertwined with the natural world.

A treasure for enthusiasts of nature, art, and writing.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Mina by Matthew Forsythe

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

It has been a while since I’ve discovered a picture book so hilarious and heartwarming that I am compelled to read it aloud, unsolicited, to all of my friends, family, and co-workers. Well, I’ve been carrying Mina around for the past week, reading it out loud to everyone, and laughing every single time.

Mina tells the story of the titular bookish mouse who is extremely content with her cozy life until her father brings home a surprise that changes everything. Despite the simplified shapes of the characters, Matthew Forsythe is a master at conveying thoughts and feelings in each facial expression.

As a fan of his previous picture book, Pokko and the Drum, I had an idea of the lush, earthy art style and zany story I was probably getting into, but I did not know that the pacing would be so perfect, the page-turns so dramatic, and the characters quite so brave and loveable.

I brought my copy back today for you to check out but, now that I think of it, I haven’t had a chance to read it to the mailman yet…

Available through the Bridges Library System

Madly Marvelous: The Costumes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel by Donna Zakowska

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

I checked out this oversized book thinking I would flip through the pictures and take in the details of the gorgeous clothes from Amazon’s brilliant comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. However, to my surprise, I ended up reading every single riveting word of it.

I found it fascinating to see Donna Zakowska’s process and point of view for creating each look. It opened my eyes to the nuanced story she’s telling with color throughout the series, the external representation of each character’s mental landscape, and the impressive attention to detail paid to countless extras.

The concise text is balanced nicely with glossy images of initial sketches, fabric swatches, cast fittings, and final shots of the clothing onscreen. If you’ve enjoyed watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this is a must-read. (Oh, but make sure you’ve watched through the end of season 3 first as there are many spoilers throughout.)

Available through the Bridges Library System

The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Marnie takes up tea leaf reading as a way of embracing her family’s weirdness instead of pretending it isn’t there. However, what started out as a harmless statement of individuality takes a menacing turn when the symbols begin leading Marnie deep within the mystery of a classmate who disappeared one year prior.

The seedy mystery kept me guessing and the October atmosphere added a welcome chill. Pairs well with a steaming cup of tea, although your tea might go cold as you’re swept into the unraveling secrets.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC ARSENAULT)

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

With the very first lines (“In the valley of the Red River, / where the soil was as rich / as most folks were poor”) I knew I could trust Stephen Costanza to lead the way through the uplifting story of ragtime legend Scott Joplin.

Throughout the book, he paints Joplin’s rise to the ragtime throne using a patchwork of perfect words and heaps of hues in each image. The sophisticated folk art style expertly reflects how Joplin pieced scraps of music into original compositions – “He’d patch in a riff from a work song, / a thread of gospel here, a string of ring shout there– / sewing together new tunes”.

The large spreads of undulating images and dynamic text make you feel the ragtime rhythm, even though you cannot hear it. A toe-tapping treat.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

When I first flipped through this book, I had no idea who it was written for. Children? Adults? Mystery readers? Breakfast enthusiasts? Having a keen interest in breakfast myself and a history of enjoying Lemony Snicket’s writing, I thought it’d be worth taking a chance on.

Part mystery, part philosophy, this meandering little book follows the author through a one-day investigation prompted by a note he receives in the morning which reads “You had poison for breakfast.” Liberally sprinkled with humorous statements and sage observations, it is classic Snicket–he still tells you what words mean but also makes you think deeply about ordinary subjects.

I laughed out loud more than once and was delighted by the Notes section at the end where the author gives titles to books and movies he described (which I assumed were fictitious) and credits quotes he referenced throughout. Plus, the mystery is resolved in a clever and surprising manner (though I’m not sure why I would expect anything less).

After having read the whole book, I still have no idea who it was written for, except to say with certainty that it WAS written at least a little for me, as I enjoyed it very much.

Available through the Bridges Library System

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