Books in Brief: Dear Yeti by James Kwan, Book: My Autobiography by John Agard - The Buffalo News
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Books in Brief: Dear Yeti by James Kwan, Book: My Autobiography by John Agard

Picture Book

Dear Yeti by James Kwan; Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99

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Two young hikers set off into the wilderness on a search for Yeti in this charming picture-book take on the quest to find the abominable snowman, told through a series of “Dear Yeti” notes. (“Dear Yeti … We’re calling your name. You are one hard beast to find! We are wild, but friendly, men …” or, even more amusing: “We found some tracks, poops, and hairs so you must be close.”) Kwan’s stylized illustrations offer an imaginative depiction of a wild but not terrifying terrain (tall mountains, easily scaled; trees with foliage shaped like ice cream pops) and are the perfect complement to his engaging tale of a reclusive, friendly fur-covered beast – with a human face – who keeps watch over the hikers and comes to the rescue more than once.

– Jean Westmoore

CHILDREN’s

My Autobiography transcribed by John Agard; illustrated by Neil Packer; Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 10 and up.

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The wonder of books, and how they came to be, from clay tablet to parchment to e-book, comes alive in this slim volume, a collaboration between a leading English poet and a gifted illustrator. It’s in turns funny and wise and covers an amazing amount of ground, told in Book’s own eccentric voice. “My name is Book and I’ll tell you the story of my life. In good time you’ll be hearing about clay tablets, the invention of the alphabet, parchment, manuscripts that light up, libraries, and all that kind of stuff …” The memorable narrative is sprinkled with proverbs and quotes from philosophers, other writers. Packer’s clever illustrations (letters cavorting on a trampoline, Buddhist sacred texts of birch bark –“I’d lie spineless in my pigeonhole”– with titles on dangling tags, a step-by-step guide to making papyrus; a mathematical equation of 200 sheep equals 1 Bible for the chapter on parchment - Agard’s chapter title: “How Sheep Entered My Life”) are perfect.

– Jean Westmoore

THRILLER

House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke, Simon & Schuster, 448 pages ($27.99)

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James Lee Burke is best known for his novels about Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, books in which he brings the bayou country and New Orleans to vivid life.

But Burke was born and raised in Houston. He has written eight previous novels about three members of the Holland family – cousins Weldon, Billy Bob and Hackberry Holland – with Texas settings ranging from the Depression to the current day.

Burke, who took the Holland surname and some parts of these stories from his own mother’s family, takes his fictional family saga back even further in time with “House of the Rising Sun,” which is about the grandfather of Weldon, Billy Bob and Hackberry. Also named Hackberry Holland, he appeared briefly in Burke’s last book, the excellent “Wayfaring Stranger,” as an aging but legendary former Texas Ranger.

He’s the main character in “House of the Rising Sun,” which is set mostly in the years just after World War I. Hack is a fearless 6-foot-8 giant who crosses a desert on horseback with no water after a battle with Pancho Villa’s soldiers, is captured by Mexican troops who waterboard him, then shoots his way out with the help of a mysterious woman, stopping to set fire to a hearse loaded with munitions and taking with him a peculiar artifact he finds in the car.

A couple of decades before, Hack fell in love with a young union organizer named Ruby Dansen. They had a son, Ishmael. Hack hoped to spend his life with them, but things went wrong and he hasn’t seen them in years.

Hack is trying to find Ishmael, who has served bravely in the war as a white officer in command of black troops, surviving the horrific Battle of the Marne, which Burke describes in nightmarish detail.

Burke, who began his writing life as a poet, often employs supernatural elements and religious symbolism in his fiction. In “House of the Rising Sun” he brings the Holy Grail, with its echoes of both Christian iconography and Arthurian legend, into a modern world where an arms dealer makes a vast fortune from supplying the means for slaughter, stoking everything from global warfare to the fears of private citizens for his own gain.

– Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times book editor

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