Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters (Scholastic)
My tween-age daughter and I agree that Standiford’s debut book, How to Say Goodbye in Robot, was one of the most satisfying young adult novels in recent memory. An evocative story about a couple of offbeat teens forging a deep friendship, it eschewed cliché in favor of something more nuanced and meaningful. The Baltimore native’s second effort is almost as satisfying, though it’s a much different book. In it, the Sullivan sisters’ super-wealthy grandmother (whom everyone calls “Almighty”) announces on Christmas Day that one of them has offended her, and she’s cutting the entire family out of her will—unless she receives a “proper” confession before New Year’s Day. Almighty doesn’t identify the offending party, so each sister—Norrie, Jane, and Sassy—writes a lengthy apology in hopes of placating her, and their admissions of guilt make up the bulk of the book (which is recommended for ages 13 and up). The girls’ misdeeds include a debutante ball gone horribly wrong, the spilling of Sullivan family secrets, and possibly even murder. With Baltimore as a colorful backdrop—older readers will appreciate references to spots like Martick’s and the Peabody Library—Standiford skillfully weaves the confessions together to craft another quirky narrative populated by memorable characters. And the surprise ending got a chuckle out of me.
The American Dog at Home: The Dog Portraits of Christine Merrill (ACC Editions)
This coffee table book collects the work of local painter Christine Merrill, who’s described on the jacket flap as “America’s premier pet portraitist.” A Schuler School of Fine Arts grad, she does commissions for the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and other celebs and socialites who want idealized portraits of their pets lounging in a gorgeous natural setting or on the lawn of some regal estate. Merrill’s well-executed portraits speak to the canine’s lofty “man’s best friend” status, as they evoke Gilded-Age splendor and make “a dog’s life” look pretty ideal.