Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella by Jan Brett; G.P. Putnam’s Sons ($17.99). Ages 3 to 5.
Beloved children’s book creator Jan Brett offers a charming, most unusual picture book version of the fairy tale inspired by her love of chickens and set in 18th century Russia. (According to the publisher, Brett, who has more than 38 million books in print, is an award-winning breeder of fancy chickens, with a flock of more than 75 birds.) Her intricate illustrations are delightful, a gorgeous array of snowy backdrops featuring the architecture, uniforms and ball gowns of 18th century Russia. (Brett traveled to Russia to research the backgrounds for her story; Prince Cockerel’s Ice Palace was inspired by the onion-domed wooden architecture in the ancient city of Novgorod.) She brings chicken personalities to life, from bossy biddy Largessa (the stepmother), her daughters Pecky and Bossy and especially the beautiful Silkie hen (the fairy godmother), and Prince Cockerel complete with purple robe, sword and pointed boots. Brett finds a practical way to frame her fanciful tale: a little girl, fond of a plain hen who gets picked on by the other birds, takes shelter from a blizzard in the old tower where the chickens are kept and falls asleep; at the end the child’s father arrives with a handsome cockerel. Brett’s tour bus, wrapped in artwork from her new book, will stop at Clarence Middle School, 10150 Greiner Road, at 4 p.m. Nov. 8 in advance of a book signing at 5 p.m. in a visit hosted by Monkey See, Monkey Do Children’s Bookstore.
– Jean Westmoore
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis; Twelve, 384 pages ($19.59)
“Dallas 1963” provides a chilling portrait of a city terrified by the election of a young leader viewed by many as a threat to their way of life.
It stays clear of conspiracy theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and takes a “just the facts” approach in painting a vivid picture of a volatile city. The book tracks Dallas from early 1960 to late 1963 and introduces a colorful cast of Texas characters from the Rev. W.A. Criswell, who ranted about communism and integration, to Congressman Bruce Alger, who sang the praises of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the floor of Congress, to the rich oilman H.L. Hunt, who passionately agreed with both of them. Among the most dynamic of these was Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a daring military leader relieved of duty by Kennedy because of his increasingly outspoken views that “the enemy” was taking over the country.
That cast of Dallas characters included a strip club owner named Jack Ruby and eventually a confused young communist sympathizer named Lee Harvey Oswald.
Late in 1960, it became clear Texas was going to be a pivotal state in a close presidential election, and Sen. Lyndon Johnson and his wife visited Dallas on a campaign trip. Congressman Alger whipped his legions of women supporters into a “mink coat mob,” who descended on the Johnsons at a top Dallas hotel, trapping them briefly. The scene backfired with negative publicity about the protesters, and may have contributed to a narrow Kennedy-Johnson win in the state.
The irony was almost unbearable for the conservative powerbrokers in Texas. “The November attempt to crush Kennedy in Dallas has catapulted him to the presidency of the United States,” the authors write.
– Will Lester, Associated Press
Lowcountry Bombshell by Susan M. Boyer; Henery Press (248 pages, $15.95)
Eccentric characters go together in Southern mysteries like, well, shrimp and grits. But Susan M. Boyer deftly shapes characters with just enough idiosyncrasies without succumbing to cliches in her engaging second novel.
“Lowcountry Bombshell” surprises at every twist as Boyer infuses her lighthearted plot with a look at obsession with celebrity, unadulterated greed and an affectionate look at South Carolina.
Private detective Liz Talbot pretty much has her feet on the ground with a practical view of the world, despite her rather complicated love life. It’s the clients who come to her P.I. firm who are the odd ones. At least that’s often how it appears on the surface. Her latest client is Calista McQueen, who glides into Liz’s office looking like a picture-perfect likeness of actress Marilyn Monroe. A recent transplant to Stella Maris, a fictional island adjacent to Charleston, S.C., Calista is convinced that someone wants to kill her and that it will occur on the anniversary of Monroe’s death.
Liz is intrigued by her client. She’s also a little skeptical of Calista’s alleged similarities to the famous actress, from the names of her client’s former husbands to her celebrity-obsessed family. But there may be a more realistic reason for Calista’s fears than the Monroe resemblance — Calista is a rich woman, wealthy beyond comprehension.
Boyer keeps “Lowcountry Bombshell” moving on a steady course, with bits of humor enhancing the plot. In small towns, the diners often double as a town square and Boyer makes the most of the Cracked Pot, where gossip is as much a part of the menu as the chicken pot pie. And in a time in which “Toddlers and Tiaras” show just how desperate parents can be, the idea of a family modeling their daughter to be Marilyn Monroe’s doppelganger doesn’t seem out of line.
The setting of Charleston and environs enhances the story as Boyer mixes in real restaurants such as the historic Blind Tiger Pub and critically acclaimed Anson.
A light mystery melded with the private detective genre has proved to be a winner for Boyer, whose debut last year “Lowcountry Boil” landed on a couple of best-selling lists and earned her the Agatha and the Daphne du Maurier awards.
– Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel