Portico Book Picks
When it comes to smart gifts, a book really does fit all. A gift book, with a thoughtful inscription from you, speaks volumes. Many of our local bookstores have signed copies available from nationally known authors as well as regional writers. Just ask. Meanwhile, here are some books worth wrapping:
The remarkably perceptive and beautifully written words of Irene Nemirovsky live on in her new, posthumous novel. Written in 1941, the manuscript for this book was left (in pieces) with family and friends when the author was deported from Paris to Auschwitz, where she died. Recently assembled into the novel it was meant to be, it's an intimate look at an insular French village before the war. Wrap up this book with Suite Francaise, Nemirovsky's other lost (and luckily found) manuscript, which is now an international bestseller. Your literary friends will thank you.
The Box of Delights by John Masefield (New York Review Children's Collection)
This classic of children's literature has long been a favorite in Britain and is now re-issued in America in time for the holidays. That's fitting because it's up to Kay Harker to rescue an entire church staff (including the choir and clergy) in time for the Christmas service. A magic box from a mysterious old man lets Kay travel through time and space, but this fantasy also is firmly grounded with legends from the English countryside. Masefield was poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until his death in 1976. The Box of Delights (perfect for youngsters ages 9 to 14) is the most popular of his many cherished children's novels.
The Goddess Guide by Gisele Scanlon (HarperCollins)
This book, with its rich, black velvety flocking on a shockingly pink background, doesn't even need wrapping-it already looks like a gift. What's inside is just as delightful. A "writer, illustrator and seeker of all things stylish and eclectic," Scanlon gets down to the nitty-gritty (surely it glitters) of being a girl. From where to stay in Barcelona (and how to score hand-made espadrilles) to the secret of perfectly toned arms, she tells all in a lively, funny and conversational way. Her many and varied tips were gathered from experts around the world-famous designers, literary icons and ultra-hip street kids contributed interviews and handwritten notes. Laura Mercier talks makeup, chef Heston Blumenthal reveals the mouth-popping surprise of his chocolate cake, street artist D*Face shares his art and Miss Piggy dishes on beauty. It's a how-to book with lots of flair. XOXO
Grace and Marie's Little Farm on the Hill written by Leah Webb, illustrated by Maud Coirier Belser (WebbWorks)
The inspiration for this delightful tale came from a visit to the village of Bogéve, Haute Savoie, France. While buying eggs, fresh apple cider and cheese on the slopes of the Alps, the author and illustrator met Marie-France Pinget. Inspired by the loving respect she gave her animals (and that the animals seemed to return), they decided to write a book about the acceptance and peace they found in those mountains that day. Ms. Webb, a noted sculptor, is a Birmingham native who now lives in Mobile County.
Ms. Coirier-Belser is well known in Europe for her animal portraits in pencil. Although a native of Geneva, Switzerland, she and her husband have lived in Mountain Brook for more than forty years. This lovely, gentle book is perfect for children in pre-school through third grade.
Service Included: Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch (William Morrow)
Skip the cookbooks for your foodie friends, and let them devour this charming and witty memoir from a former waiter at Thomas Keller's exclusive New York restaurant Per Se. (This is a place that uses a particular type of butter made by a woman in Vermont with only a handful of cows-whose names the wait staff must know.) There are many books about chefs and their kitchens, but this view from the server station takes readers to the heart of this special restaurant-at far less than $250 per person. If the book makes you hungry for a visit, reservations are taken exactly 60 days in advance only.
The Pirate's Daughter
By Margaret Cezair-Thompson (Unbridled Books)
Cezair-Thompson cleverly draws upon her own experiences growing up in Jamaica and, writing what she knows, has the keen ability transport her readers to another time and place. From the Blue Mountains crisscrossed with donkey trails to the tourist beaches and their swanky hotels to the lush, green hills and sleepy blue harbors elsewhere, you can almost feel the sweet, tropical breezes. You hear Jamaica in this book, too. The reggae music, the lilting patois of the native people, the gunshots of violent political upheaval during the '70s.
While there are no actual pirates sailing through The Pirate's Daughter, there are tales and even ghosts of those who roamed these West Indian seas centuries before. There is treasure, though, in addition to the compelling story. And one buccaneer is central to the tale.
The author drew on the real-life passion that Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn had for the Caribbean. Beginning with the fact that the film star's yacht did indeed wash ashore in Jamaica during bad weather, Cezair-Thompson mixes the glamour of Old Hollywood with the local West Indian society and puts it all in an exotic, flower-scented setting.
Cezair-Thompson's page-turning what-if has the film star meeting and later seducing the lovely teenaged daughter of a local man who had become Flynn's friend. The daughter, Ida, has a daughter of her own, May. And May grows up as Flynn's "outside child." With the aging actor on the periphery (his selfish choice), the novel mostly follows the lives of Ida and May, who share equally strong and life-altering connections with both Flynn (and the wider world he represents) and their own cherished island-the novel's most beautiful character