Reviewed by Kenny Brechner

1. The Soothing Soak: A Bathtub Reader, edited by Duncan Bock
We are all duty bound to appreciate really great gags, particularly if they are carried off with style. The Soothing Soak: A Bathtub Reader is a completely waterproof book, a great gag by any standard. It handles well and reads well. Most striking, however, is that it is an excellent, and varied anthology of stories, poems and essays. Selected authors include, Barry Lopez, Pablo Neruda, A.S. Byatt, Rumi, Basho, and Mary Oliver. Selections, such as The Nude Swim, Bilbo’s Bath Song, and Frost’s Neither Out Far Or In Deep, are apropos not only for bathing, but scuba diving decompression, and dish washing as well, provided one isn’t overly concerned with the results.

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
The timeless pleasures of reading a great novel may be found in Clarke’s superb literary, fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The book recounts the resurgence of English magic at the dawn of the Nineteenth century, a tradition whose practical application had been lost for two hundred years. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has deep roots, and its blend of authentic and fictional history, compelling and insightful characters, and a style which shifts smoothly from charming dialogue to deeply atmospheric passages, makes the book the right gift for fiction and fantasy lovers.

3. The Travel Book; A Journey Through Every Country in the World, by The Lonely Planet Staff
This amazing coffee table book features a full page spread, alphabetically arranged, on every country in the world. The spreads feature great photos and interesting categories such as, Best time to visit, Essential experiences, Getting under the Skin, In a word, Trademarks and Surprises. How this magnificent, oversized gift book was produced for only $39.99 one is at a loss to explain.

4. Wild About Books, by Judy Sierra, Illustrated by Marc Brown
“It started the summer of 2002, When Springfield librarian, Molly McGrew, By mistake drove her bookmobile into the zoo. Molly opened her door, and she let down the stair, Turned on the computer, and sat in her chair. At first the animals watched from a distance. But Molly could conquer the strongest resistance.” Indeed Molly’s efforts are such a success that, with the animals’ help, she ends up founding a full fledge “Zoobrary.” An absolute delight in both rhyme and illustration, Children will ask Wild About Books to be read to them over and over again. It is also a very nice tribute to Dr. Seuss. Seuss fans will recognize the reference to Seuss’ hometown, Springfield.

5. Dog’s Life, by Boo Ott
No one need wonder what to get your dog this holiday season, not when Dog’s Life: the magazine for today’s dog, is available. With articles like, Why Table Legs Turn Us On, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Beggars, and Leash-Less in Seattle, and advertisements for car chase videos and mail carrier parts, Dog’s Life covers a lot of territory. More than just a funny idea, Dog’s Life is consistently entertaining from cover to cover.

6. The Little Book of Snowflakes, by Kenneth Libbrecht
There is a great deal to be said for small gift books. Coffee table books are taken in small doses, after all, and a beautiful volume that may be consumed in one sitting, a truffle as opposed to a four layer cake, has a great deal to offer if it is a well orchestrated balance between evocative images, and engaging text. The Little Book of Snowflakes is a case in point. Libbrecht, a California Poytech Physicist with a passion for snowflakes, frames striking images, with well chosen quotations and occasional, informative, droplets of text.

7. Egyptology, by Emily Sands.
Dragons may be a little bit cooler than Ancient Egypt as a subject for interactive children’s books, but Egyptology, the follow-up to last year’s hit, Dragonology, is every bit as good as it’s predecessor. Set in 1926 Egyptology purports to be the journal of an archeologist who disappeared along with her crew on a quest to find the tomb of Osiris. The journal contains all manner of samples, foldout maps, and other three dimensional documentation, sure to delight young readers.

8. The Eye of the Golem, by Jonathan Stroud, and The Edge Chronicles, by Paul Stewart
Young adult fantasy has been the most dynamic genre in literature for years now, and parents wondering what titles are the most worthy to feed the noble flame, need look no further than The Eye of the Golem, by Jonathan Stroud, and The Edge Chronicles, by Paul Stewart. The Eye of the Golem, is the second book in the Bartimaeus trilogy, and is easily as inventive and as much fun as The Amulet of Samrkand. Stroud adds a third narrative perspective, Kitty, a young member of the resistance, which helps the story maintain the breadth it had established earlier. The Edge Chronicles, appreciated in Britain for some time, have landed here in very attractive new editions. The Chronicles have a breathless flow of action and invention that speaks strongly to young readers. Stewart’s fine prose is set off by Chris Riddell’s peerless line drawings. The chronicles are in fact much more highly illustrated than other books of their level of sophistication, making for an unusual reading experience.

9. Holiday Books
Room For A Little One, by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, is a beautifully rendered account of the nativity. The story is told from the perspective of animals finding shelter in a barn on a cold winter night. Each animal is welcomed and told that there is always room for a little one in the barn. First Noel, by pop-up artist Jan Pienkowski, is a giant ornament of a book, a complete fold around pop-up that laces together, with all the artistry and intricacy one expects from Pienkowski. The Only One Club, by local writer Jane Naliboff, is a charming story following a first grader who, during the holiday season, discovers that she is the only Jewish student in her class. Jennifer enjoys the sense of being special and creates the Only One Club, to celebrate her uniqueness. Her classmates, however, all want to join the club. The Legend of Holly Claus, by Brittney Ryan, is an unusual holiday book, a young adult fantasy surrounding Santa Claus’ daughter Holly, and her quest to undo a curse put upon her which has imprisoned her people. Well crafted and engaging, The Legend of Holly Claus offers an exceptionally original Christmas story for young adult fantasy lovers.

10. Sea Struck, by William H. Bunting
Sea Struck, is founded on three first hand accounts of naval voyages kept by three bright and engaging young men during the latter end of the square rigged sailing world, 1880-1905. Bunting prints the journals at great length, giving them an unimpeded narrative flow, supported by a wealth of historical photographs, and his own supporting narrative. Of particular interest to local readers is that Walter Mallett, the Uncle of distinguished local historian Richard Mallett, is a central figure of the book. Sea Struck brings the past to life with a gripping immediacy that makes for an exceptional reading experience.

11. Ten Little Elvi, by Laura J. Henson & Duffy Grooms, illustrated by Dean Gorissen.
Some books really do need to be seen to be appreciated. Ten Little Elvi, an Elvis counting book for children which “includes 10 hot numbers!” is, improbably, a complete triumph. The simple, and funny Elvis themed rhymes, “Four little Elvi playing Memphis, Tennesseee...One chased her hound dog and then there were three.”, are perfectly set off by the vibrant colors, and all around visual fun of Gorissen’s illustrations.

12 Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the 2004 Season, by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King.
O’Nan and King, friends, famous authors, and die hard Red Sox fans, decided in the spring to chronicle the 2004 season from beginning to end. Beating the Yankees from 0-3 down to win the pennant, sweeping the World Series, Stephen King, how much more could any Red Sox fan want.

13.The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl
According to editor Ruth Reichl “Our goal was to give you every recipe you would ever want.” Culled from sixty years of Gourmet magazine, subjected to an exhaustive series of cookoffs by Reichl, author of the best selling food memoir, Tender at the Bones, and her staff, more than 50,000 recipes were narrowed down to the 1,000+ recipes featured in this book. Broad in every aspect of culture and cuisine, the Gourmet Cookbook features superb accessibility and layout, helpful cook’s notes and technical illustrations. Any serious cook will want this book, and thank its giver many times over the years.

14. When I heard the learn’d astronomer, by Walt Whitman, illustrated by Loren Long.
The blending of word and picture in a Children’s book, when focused on a single strong theme, powerfully expressed and rendered, can move the reader in a uniquely poignant manner. With When I heard the learn’d astronomer, Loren Long has taken Whitman’s poem and cast the narrator as a young boy, escaping from an adult astronomy lecture to wander outside and look “up in the perfect silence at the stars.” Long has so imaginatively captured Whitman’s celebration of imagination that the effect is truly sublime.

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