Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee; Alfred A. Knopf, 224 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Australian author Karen Foxlee offers a beautifully crafted, poignant reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” in this marvelous tale of unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, an unathletic child who wears glasses, carries her asthma inhaler at all times and believes only in science. Ophelia and her older sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father gets a job preparing a sword exhibit at a strange museum in a far-off city. Ophelia discovers a boy locked in a room in an out-of-the-way part of the museum, and must defy the museum’s beautiful, terrifying curator in her quest to free him, find his sword – and save the world. Foxlee takes the frame of Anderson’s story, altering and updating it to create something entirely original, a tale of evil and good, of love and redemption, of bravery and of healing from deepest sorrow. The wintry setting, the colorful details of the spooky museum (including a machine that sucks the soul of young girls), the emotional resonance of a little girl remembering her mother’s love beautifully come together in a thrilling finale. This is storytelling at its finest. Foxlee’s “The Anatomy of Wings,” winner of the Common wealth Writer’s Prize and a Parents’ Choice Gold winner.
– Jean Westmoore
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan; Ballantine, 496 pages ($26)
It’s hard to believe it’s been 6½ years since the publication of Nancy Horan’s best-selling debut, “Loving Frank,” a riveting tale centered on Frank Lloyd Wright’s lover and muse, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In her new novel, Horan once again takes a deep, discerning dive into a famous man’s life by focusing on a significant love interest.
Horan aims her authorial laser at Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his lover and eventual wife, American Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. As the story begins, Fanny, a married woman with three young children, is fleeing her cheating husband to study art in Europe. Both Fanny and her daughter are talented painters, and Fanny also aspires to a writing career.
Denied admission to their chosen school in Antwerp because they are women, Fanny and Belle (and Fanny’s two sons) move to Paris and study art. Then the youngest child, preschooler Hervey, dies of scrofulous tuberculosis. Overcome with grief and needing a cheap escape, the family moves to Grez-sur-Loing, a Bohemian riverside colony.
There Fanny meets not one but two Scots named Stevenson: Bob (Robert Louis’ cousin), introduced as wearing “trousers that ended at the knees, stockings with red and white horizontal stripes, and a smirk.” Robert Louis – called Louis or Lou – makes an even more remarkable entrance: Wearing a black velvet jacket, an embroidered felt smoking cap, a red sash, white linen pants and high boots, “He walked quickly to the house, pausing to consider each of the two doors. Rejecting both, he chose the open window. With the grace of a high jumper, he threw one long leg and then the other over the windowsill and hurled himself into the dining room.”
The admiration is mutual, but their love builds slowly. Once the sparks rise to flames, Fanny divorces Evil Husband and marries Louis, who begins tinkering with “Treasure Island” when Fanny’s son Sammy asks him to “tell me a pirate story.”
Horan’s prose is gorgeous enough to keep a reader transfixed, even if the story itself weren’t so compelling.– Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News
Glitter And Glue by Kelly Corrigan; Ballantine Books, 224 pages ($26)
Mothers are characters by nature. We all love to quote Mom’s pet phrases, describe her peeves and peculiarities and recall her ways of doing this and that, whether we religiously follow her example or define ourselves in opposition. The idiosyncrasies converge: reading about Kelly Corrigan’s frugal, tough-love Irish-Catholic Philadelphia mother reminded me of the Jersey Jewish one I lost five years ago. In her case, the first drink was Beefeater gin, two fingers, in a Baccarat highball glass, with a capful of vermouth, over ice, three olives, then fill the glass with water. And aren’t you now remembering your mom’s drink, too?
“Glitter and Glue” (“Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue,” Mary Corrigan told her children) opens in 2012, when the author learns she has an ovarian cyst requiring surgery. When her mother arrives to help, Kelly – now the mother of two herself – confesses her greatest fear: that she will wind up like Ellen Tanner, whom she never met, but whose children she cared for.
In 1992, young Kelly was on a world tour with her best friend Tracy Tuttle. They ran out of cash in Sydney, Australia, and got jobs. Kelly was hired as a nanny by John Tanner, whose wife had died of cancer. Five-year-old Martin took immediately to “Keely,” while 7-year-old Milly was stiff and distant.
Kelly’s journal is put to use as she recounts the daily life of this wounded family, her bar tours with Tracy and her reactions while reading Willa Cather’s “My Antonía.” – Marion Winik, Newsday