Books

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28 Apr Liar’s Bench

Liar's Bench by Kim Michele Richardson

I’ve known Kim Michele Richardson for quite a few years now—I love her Facebook feed with its gorgeous pictures and lovely stories of her family, her animals, and her beloved Kentucky countryside. I loved her amazing memoir, The Unbreakable Child. So I’ve been waiting impatiently for her first novel, called Liar’s Bench.

 

Well, Liar’s Bench was published today, so my wait is over. I’m trying not to inhale the book in huge gulps, because I want it to last. I love books like this, with such a strong sense of place that one can go there and sit a spell (even if really bad things happen there sometimes). Can you resist this?

 

“And in western Kentucky, a good cornerstone was the strength of any town, tale, or courtship just as sure as the bench’s weathered planks of oak and wrought-iron arms and legs cradling it were the support for its tale spinners and sinners.”

 

Tale spinners and sinners. Generations of them, over the course of a hundred years and more. I’m loving Liar’s Bench.

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21 Feb Inspiration

Felbrigge Psalter

 

You just never know when something is going to drop a seed into your subconscious, and then when you least expect it, burst forth with an idea. For example, a while ago I came across some articles on a 13th-century psalter with an embroidered cover, which is in fact the oldest known English embroidery on a book. The book still exists, in the British Library. Here are some more details:

 

The Felbrigge Psalter

 

What if, though, such a book had not found its way into a museum, but had instead been passed down secretly from woman to woman. lovingly preserved, added to and un-written and re-written through the centuries? What if…

 

Well, there are more what-ifs. Lots of them. Next week sometime I’ll post an actual snippet from my work-in-progress, describing my fictional version of the Felbrigge Psalter.

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10 Feb Books Can Be Characters, Too

Photo Credit: Sandwich Town Council.

Photo Credit: Sandwich Town Council.

A central “character” in the new novel I’m working on is a 700-year-old psalter/scrapbook that has been passed down lovingly and carefully through twenty-four generations of (not always related) women. So you can imagine my fascination and delight to read this morning that researchers have found a 700-year-old copy of the Magna Carta stuck in a Victorian scrapbook in the county of Kent, England. So papers, and by extension even a whole book, can survive (if in a somewhat tattered condition) for hundreds of years outside museums! This lovely, quirky story has made my day.

 

Amazing! Original Magna Carta Copy Found in Scrapbook

 

Will share more about my own wonderful old (fictional) book later on.

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11 Dec Advance Copies…

…of The Red Lily Crown have gone out, and we’ve been priveleged to receive some of the loveliest and most amazing comments in return. I can’t possibly express sufficient gratitude to the writers who’ve taken the time from their own busy lives to read and comment. Alphabetical thanks to the wonderful Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Marina Fiorato, C.W. Gortner, Sophie Perinot, and Kate Quinn, all of whose books I myself have gobbled up and loved.

You can see what they had to say here, on the page for The Red Lily Crown. And if you haven’t already read their books, well, Christmas is coming! Books by all these fabulous authors are perfect additions to your gift lists.

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21 Nov The Girl with the Painted Face

boowithgirlCongratulations to Gabrielle Kimm on the publication day of her new novel, The Girl with the Painted Face! I was fortunate enough to receive a pre-publication review copy from the publishers, which is no small thing, considering that they’re in the UK and I’m in Texas.

Now Gaby is a dear friend, but even so—I adored this book. I love anything with a theatrical background (see “Playacting on Paper”) and The Girl with the Painted Face combines mystery, adventure, delicious romance and murder most foul, with sixteenth-century Italy and the gritty, colorful glamour of a traveling Commedia dell’ Arte troupe. It made me want to go try out for a play somewhere—once I’d finished the book, of course.

Boudin liked it excessively as well, as you can see—just look at the dreamy look on his face—and says his favorite character is little Ippo, the dog. Of course….

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06 Aug Kate Quinn and the Carrot

Carrot

Why is Kate Quinn like a carrot?

Because her new book The Serpent and the Pearl has been released today, and I love Kate Quinn’s work, and I want to read it so badly. But I have to finish my revisions of The Red Lily Crown. I really have to. So there Kate’s beautiful book sits, on my bookshelf, waving at me gently like a carrot on the end of the stick, luring me on and promising me the most delicious of rewards when I am finished…

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14 Sep The Dark Enquiry

Well, Boudin does have cherry eye in his right eye, unfortunately–but it’s a mild case and the vet showed me how to massage his eye (through the lids, of course, with the eye closed) to coax the third eyelid back into place. We also have some eyedrops that are supposed to help. As you can see, Boo is not letting a little thing like cherry eye interfere with his reading.

 

 

I loved The Dark Enquiry, the fifth adventure of Lady Julia Grey (now Lady Julia Brisbane, of course), by Deanna Raybourn. Not only do we get to spend more time with Lady Julia herself, her deliciously enigmatic husband Nicholas Brisbane, and her eccentric family–we get to delve into the Victorian craze for spiritualism, with side trips to a gypsy camp (and what you will learn there will astound you!)  and the intricacies of Her Majesty’s secret intelligence offices. Muchly recommended!

 

 

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10 Sep Choosing a Winner

Sadly, Boudin is on injured reserve this morning, with an inflamed nictitating membrane (the third eyelid) in his right eye. He has an appointment with the aptly-named Dr. Clawson at ten, and we’re hoping it’s just a passing thing. Beagles are prone to something called cherry eye, which is more serious. So fingers crossed for our Boo!

Cressie, however, happily took up the slack as a lone honorary wolf. Here’s how it worked: since we had five commenters, I laid out five kibbles in a row.

 

 

I then manned (womaned?) the camera as the Broadcasting Legend™ carefully positioned Cressie in the exact center of the row, about five feet away. He then released the wolf beagle and I snapped the picture.

 

 

She made a beeline for Kibble Number Two, so Liz Michalski, as the second commenter, you are our winner! You will be hearing from Dee.

Thanks to everyone who visited and commented, and all our best to Dee Garretson and Wolf Storm.

 

 

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05 Sep Please Welcome Dee Garretson

…author of Wolf Storm, a brand new middle-grade/young teen book from HarperCollins, who is just as obsessed with research as any historical fiction writer. Take it away, Dee! (And readers, don’t miss the chance to win a copy of Wolf Storm–info at bottom of post!)

“Castles in Slovakia, plum dumplings, Peter O’Toole, Gregory Peck. These were some of my research topics while I was writing my second middle-grade adventure novel Wolf Storm. To me, research is the most fun part of writing. In fact, I can get obsessive about it, to the point where I have to force myself to stop researching and start writing.

I’m a very visual person, so I spend quite a bit of time searching out pictures of my settings. I love coffee table travel books and check out as many as I can from the library, to surround myself with while I write. It can be tough to walk around in my writing space because open books end up everywhere. I’ve found it’s useful to visit the children’s section of the library for materials, because it’s much easier to find books full of pictures.

Since Wolf Storm is set in the remote mountains of Slovakia, I knew there wouldn’t be houses around, except for the old mountain lodge where most of the story takes place. I love castles though, and really wanted to work a castle into the story, so I searched out real estate sites listing castles and mansions for sale. I found Slovakia did have a number of small castles, so I was excited  I could fit one in. When I came to write the story, the castle ended up as a ruin for plot purposes, but at least I knew it could have been there.

I write in third person close point of view, so I want everything I describe to be what the character sees and observes. That means before I even start writing, I have to decide what my character is interested in, what he or she thinks about, and much knowledge he or she has of the world.  Writing from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old boy means I had to decide what he would care about, besides girls.  Food!  When boys are going through that locust phase of growth and food consumption, hunger weighs on their minds, so my character, Stefan, thinks about food a lot, particularly when it isn’t readily available.

That’s where the plum dumplings came into story. If I haven’t tasted a food, I don’t want to use it in a story, so I experiment with recipes. While I was searching I out recipes, I learned one interesting fact—it is not correct to say “Slovakian” food; instead it’s referred to as Slovak food. I made a batch of dumplings, and while they didn’t turn out pretty, they were delicious. The main problem is that the plums we can get in the U.S. are apparently plums on steroids, much bigger than the plums used in Eastern Europe, so it was hard to get the dough wrapping to stick. The dumplings I made were baseball-sized, when they should have been much smaller.  Here’s the site where I got the recipe:

http://www.slovakcooking.com/2009/recipes/pasta/plum-dumplings/

I’m planning a fun book release party and all the food will be Eastern European-influenced, so I’m busy searching out additional recipes.

I know you all might be wondering how Gregory Peck and Peter O’Toole worked into the research.  One of the important characters in the story is an elderly British actor. I’ve never met an elderly British actor, so I based the character on Peter O’Toole in his later years. It helped me get the dialogue right by imagining what Peter O’Toole would say in each situation. A Gregory Peck reference didn’t have to be in the book, but I needed an excuse to gaze upon Gregory’s image. In the story, Stefan’s mother is an old movie fan, and the boy himself is very good at imitating characters from movies. The movie director knows this and uses a reference to a Gregory Peck movie called The Keys of the Kingdom to get the performance he wants from Stefan. For me to use that reference, I had to watch several different Gregory Peck movies to pick the right one.

Much of the research I do leads me off into finding things I don’t end up using in a particular book. It’s all good though. Knowledge is never bad, and you never know when a particular bit of information will come in useful in another book!”

Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson was released August 30, 2011 by HarperCollins:

This is teen actor Stefan’s big break. He’s on location in the mountains far from home for his first movie role, filming a blockbuster sci fi adventure. The props, the spaceships, and the trained wolves on set should add up to a dream job, but acting turns out to be much tougher than he ever imagined. When a blizzard strikes, isolating him with his  young co-stars and bringing hungry feral wolves into the open, Stefan must take on his biggest role yet—working together with his co-stars to survive. With no second takes, they only have one chance to get it right…

If you buy books for middle-grade and young-teen kids (if you add up all my step-grandkids and great-nephews in that age group, I have five on my personal list), this is a great choice! Buy it now at bookstores everywhere or from your favorite online bookseller.

Or… and this is the exciting part… WIN a copy for your favorite tweener! Leave a comment (click on “(Number) Comments” under the title above) by Friday, September 9th, and the beagles–acting as honorary wolves, of course–will choose a winner on Saturday, September 10th.

 

 

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23 Mar I’m Here, Really…

…I’m just so wrapped up in finishing The Flower Reader that I’m trying to stay offline as much as possible. Here are some pictures from my wonderful signing at Houston’s Murder by the Book, to round out the month until I can take a breath and really write a coherent post.

Books and beagles--I am in heaven!

I love talking about the sixteenth century, Ferrara, Barbara and Alfonso! Ask me anything!

Readers are the best!

Little Dulcie is a star!

Baby Rosie is a star, too!

I had to snuggle Dulcie.

Rosie--that wonderful clean-puppy smell!

When you share an event with beagle puppies, you find out who has the real fans!

Thank you for coming! Buy lots of books! And adopt us, please!

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22 Jan List of the Week

  • Excerpt-a-ganza! The first chapter of The Second Duchess is now available here.
  • The Second Duchess‘s giveaway at Goodreads continues! Sign up! And check back here for an international giveaway of a couple of advance reader copies. I think I’m going to wait until the Goodreads giveaway gets to 1,000 entries, so sign up now.
  • Cressie News: all bandages, cones, and protective collars are off. She is once again romping free in the back yard and doing her Snoopy dance under the Squirrel Tree. I think we can declare her officially healed, and we are so grateful for all the good thoughts and prayers you sent her way.
  • Congratulations to Karen Harper on Down River’s nomination for the 2011 Mary Higgins Clark Award, announced with the Edgar nominations this past week and presented each year by the Mystery Writers of America.
  • Writing-related link of the week: Jan O’Hara’s Tartitude. Great reviews, thoughtful essays on the writing life, and really good comments. Get your vitamin C every day!
  • Fun link of the week: All-Star Puzzles. Fun and free! I particularly like the mini-crostics and the picture puzzles. My way of starting my day.
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29 Aug The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici

A patch of sun and a good book—who could ask for more?

First I just have to say that C.W. Gortner’s The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici is a physically gorgeous book—a stunning cover, a satisfying heft in the hands, an elegant layout of the pages. Even if I didn’t know Christopher (which I do, in the interests of full disclosure, albeit very slightly) I would have picked up this book for the sheer beauty of it.

So I was ready to sit down in my own patch of sun with a bowl of popcorn and a beagle (or two) at my feet and utterly lose myself in sixteenth-century France.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The fictionalized memoir is a law unto itself. That’s the fun of it—it doesn’t necessarily have to follow recorded history. After all, historians—and particularly those writing in a polarized era like that of the religious wars in France—have their axes to grind. And none of them could really know what was in one woman’s heart.

So Gortner imagines us into what only Catherine de’ Medici herself might have seen and done and known. Do I always agree with the version of history his Catherine recounts? No. But that’s the whole point—it’s history from Catherine’s own point of view. It wasn’t “history” when she lived it, after all. It was her life, her fears and loves and longings and insecurities and triumphs and failures. Her secrets. Her confessions. However much outsiders may have called her Madame la Serpente, from the inside she was a human woman like any human woman today, seeing the world in her own unique way, fighting keep her place (and are we all not fighting to keep our jobs today, in today’s polarized world?) and see her family achieve success.

A satisfying read, and—highest of accolades for historical fiction—one that led me to delve into nonfiction sources (more than I already had) on Catherine de’ Medici and her world.

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28 Aug Realer than Real

If I thought the book looked real when I got the page proofs (which are finished, yay!) (well, finished but for one last pass which I’ll do this weekend, but still yay!), imagine how I felt when this box arrived:

Advance Reader Copies!

As I was swooning with delight, Boo inspected the box thoroughly and declared “Aroo roo rooooo arooo roo roo.” I think that means, “Whoo-hoo, Mama, you did good, now what’s for dinner?”

Watch this space for information on how to win one for your very own! (The book, not the beagle.)

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04 Aug “Think The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca…”

Huge thanks to C.S. Harris, author of the fantastic Sebastian St. Cyr regency mysteries, for a new pre-release comment on The Second Duchess:

“Rich in historical detail and all the dangerous grandeur of court life in Renaissance Italy. Think The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca.” –C. S. Harris, author of the Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery series.

I love the phrase “dangerous grandeur.”

The paperback of Harris’s wonderful What Remains of Heaven came out yesterday, so run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore (or favorite book-buying website) and buy it today. I blogged about it back in December, as one of my Christmas gift picks for 2009, and I promise you, if you haven’t read this yet you have a rich and engrossing experience in store. And then of course there are the first four books in this terrific series. And coming up next March, the sixth installment, Where Shadows Dance. Mark your calendar. I know I have.

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02 Aug Meet Miss Lestrange…

I love Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey (and Lady Julia will be back soon, thank goodness, in Dark Road to Darjeeling), and so I approached The Dead Travel Fast with some trepidation—would I be as intrigued by a second Victorian heroine? Would the gothic Transylvanian setting work for me?

Well, the answers are yes and yes. Miss Theodora Lestrange, orphan, bluestocking (although she denies it) and spinster of Edinburgh, could not be more different from aristocratic Lady Julia Grey of the quirky-but-charming (usually) Bellmonts. Theo, in fact, reminded me of Jo March, and like Jo she’s pragmatic, pretty much penniless and determined to earn her living writing fantastical stories. When an old school friend invites her to a castle in the Carpathians, of course she jumps at the chance. She’s prepared for the ancient mountains, the eerie crumbling castle, the fragile dowager countess, the eccentric family retainers. She’s even prepared for her friend to be—well—different than she was when they were schoolgirls together. What she’s not prepared for is the mesmerizing Count Andrei, master of Castle Dragulescu.

The Dead Travel Fast is an atmospheric 21st-century take on the Victorian gothic romance, which began with The Castle of Otranto, wended its way through my own beloved Pre-Raphaelites, and reached its height with the Brontes, Byron and Bram Stoker. Cressie awards five aroos to The Dead Travel Fast!

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07 Jul The Unbreakable Child

Mark October 1, 2010, on your calendar. That’s the day Behler Publications is bringing out the expanded second edition of The Unbreakable Child, Kim Michele Richardson’s powerful and ultimately uplifting memoir. Kim is a friend of mine and we talked about her book:

Elizabeth: Kim, your book juxtaposes two narrative threads—your terrible experiences as a child and your experience as an adult with joining the lawsuit and opening up your memories to the world. What happened in between? How did you manage as a teenager? What were your ambitions, your vision of your adult life, in those years? Did you follow that vision, or end up in an entirely different place?

Kim: As expected, when I left the orphanage life did not get better. Frying pan to fire. I went from eating gruel to living off toothpaste. My mother was simply incapable/not suited to caring for children. This coupled with the culture shock of moving out of the orphan asylum and into the ‘real world’ was overwhelming. I had not been prepared. However, as a very young child, I’d always felt I possessed a strongly adult sense of survival and I knew I would be okay—if not someday ‘great’ in the sense of emotional healing and moving forward and reaching positive goals. No easy feat, with many setbacks—stumbles along the way, but I was determined to carve a decent life out of the rubble, mud and muck I’d been given. With The Unbreakable Child’s 2nd Edition I explain and dig deeper on the subjects.

Elizabeth: Tell us a little about your life today, post-lawsuit and post-publication of your book. Have you felt the catharsis you hoped for? How might the world have been the poorer if you had not been an unbreakable child?

Kim: I feel anytime you can express your emotions with pen and pad, it is a catharsis. The healing also deepens and multiplies when you can help others. I’ve been honored and rewarded by the countless readers who’ve read my work and reached out to me. The Unbreakable Child has also become a valuable resource tool for teens, medical professionals, advocate groups and students entering the field of social work and or law. The Unbreakable Child is still, yet, the first book of its kind to be released in the US traditional publishing world, and one many feel is needed so that history never repeats itself. And with the 2nd and better detailed edition of The Unbreakable Child due out this fall, it will gain a wider audience and continue to help others emotionally and because a percentage of all proceeds go to a child advocate group; financially as well.

Elizabeth: I know you love animals. Do you think your connection with animals and compassion for animals in trouble is related to your own experiences as a child? How?

Kim: I do love animals. But just as equally, I’m passionate about senior citizens, children and those who are in need of an advocate—a voice.

And Kim is a voice—an unforgettable voice. The expanded second edition of The Unbreakable Child is available for pre-order now. Make sure you choose the second edition, from Behler Publications!

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02 Jun I Do Love Books

“Lord! when you sell a [reader] a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell [the reader] a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night [and intrigue and death and wild adventure and passionate obsession in the Scotland of Mary Stuart]—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.”

—Christopher Morley (with interpolations)

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24 May The Bones of Copernicus

This past weekend, Nicolaus Copernicus’ remains were re-buried with great honor in a cathedral in Frombork, Poland, after spending over 460 years under the floor of the same cathedral in an unmarked grave.

This is all very well and it’s excellent to see Copernicus vindicated at last, but if his body was buried in 1543 in an unmarked grave—how did they know they had the right person?

It turns out scientists began looking for Copernicus back in 2004—they knew he’d been buried under the floor of the cathedral but didn’t know where. They found the skull and bones of a man of about the right age, and did a computer reconstruction of the face (hello, Bones) that resembled a portrait Copernicus drew of himself. Suggestive, but not conclusive.

Then the most amazing thing happened. They leafed through a book known to have belonged to Copernicus and found hairs. (I also pull my hair out over books from time to time, so I can relate.) They extracted DNA from the bones they’d found and from the hairs and eureka! A match.

So now Copernicus lies under a black granite tombstone identifying him as the founder of the heliocentric theory (well, not really, but the first to model it in full mathematical detail) and a canon of the Roman Catholic church. The stone is inlaid with a design representing the solar system, a golden sun encircled by six planets (the only ones they’d discovered at the time Copernicus lived).

One of the most poignant things about the whole story is that Copernicus published his masterwork De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in the last year of his life. Supposedly the first printed copy was placed in his hands the day he died. One can only imagine what he felt.

Rest well, Master Nicolaus.

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22 Mar Book Monday


What I just finished reading (actually for the umpteenth time): my tattered, treasured copy of Zelda, Nancy Milford’s wonderful, terrible, mesmerizing biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. This is the book I return to whenever I’m struggling with my own writing—Zelda and Scott’s struggles are always so much more heartbreaking and heartrending than my own.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


What I’m going to read next: a crisp new copy of Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. I loved Rome on HBO (Thirteeeeeeen!) and this looks like it pretty much picks up where Rome left off. I do wish they had kept Max Pirkis as Octavian. He’s certainly the Octavian I’m going to be visualizing as I read this.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx

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24 Dec Book Shopping, Day Twenty-Four

It’s Christmas Eve at last, and this wonderful book is a celebration of the charming 19th-century poem we all learn as children:

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

First published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” (more commonly known from its first line, as “The Night Before Christmas”) is credited with pretty much single-handedly (or single-footedly—a little poetry humor there) creating the American conception of Santa Claus. It was much reprinted and, as we would say today, “went viral.” Some years later, in 1844, Clement Clarke Moore, a Bible scholar and professor of Oriental and Greek literature at Columbia College, modestly took credit for writing it. This has recently been disputed by Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and a scholar of authorial attribution, with some very interesting bits of literary forensics.

But it doesn’t really matter who wrote the text. This gorgeous pop-up book is a perfectly delightful way to re-read it every year, and introduce it to tiny young readers. Robert Sabuda is a master of intricate paper engineering, and as Paul Hughes writes in the Amazon.com review:

“Santa pops in and out of the chimney, beds fold out, a window shade rises and falls, and, in a clever nod to Moore’s not-a-creature-was-stirring text, it’s a family of mice who are receiving Santa’s nighttime visit. A pull-out tab even lets readers interact, when Santa’s sleigh glides out on the clouds and over an intricately realized village. It’s hard to pick a favorite scene here, but you can bet that kids will love the book’s pop de résistance, in which Santa’s lead reindeer nearly fly right up your nose (if they don’t knock you out of your chair first).”

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore and Robert Sabuda is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. You may not have it in time for tonight, but it will be a wonderful addition to all your nights-before-Christmas to come.

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