Mr. Toppit

Charles Elton


Other Press: 388 pp., $15.95 paper

How would you like to be the real-life

Harry Potter

, but just slogging along, failing tests and struggling with acne while your father or mother wrote bestselling books based on a fictitious, heroic you? Luke Hayman's childhood is all too often confused with that of the protagonist of his father's famous series: "The Hayseed Chronicles." There are three Lukes, he writes: me, the child drawn by the book's illustrator and the character played by a boy actor in the TV series. Luke's sister Rachel, on the other hand, was never mentioned in her father's books, and she spends her days in various mental institutions staring out of windows. The five books in the Hayseed series become something more than famous when their author is suddenly hit and killed by a cement truck on a London street. Mr. Toppit of the Darkwood is the evil force who terrorizes children, fictional Luke's literary enemy. His father's readers are everywhere and ready with their opinions about the books. .But this is a story of family dysfunction and the perils of celebrity. Told in several voices and all of them are high-pitched. , "Mr. Toppit" is a high-jinks combination of Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, Madeline, "The Secret Garden," "The Simpsons" and "

Arrested Development


The Year of the Hare

Arto Paasilinna, translated from the Finnish by Herbert Lomas

Penguin: 194 pp., $14

A journalist and a photographer are on an assignment: "Two dissatisfied, cynical men, approaching middle age. The hopes of their youth had not been realized, far from it." Suddenly, they hit a hare that had been frolicking in the road, "tipsy with summer … framed by the red sun." The hare's left hind leg has been broken; the journalist, Vatanen, scoops it up and sits, immobilized by the side of the road, while the impatient photographer drives off. So begins Vatanen's escape from the driven world; from that moment, each decision, each movement is fresh and natural, as close to the animals as a human can get. "The Year of the Hare" was first published in Finland in 1975. It has been translated into 13 languages and made into at least two movies. Readers root for Vatanen as he leaps off the mad merry-go-round. The hare and the journalist begin their adventures: They sleep in a lovely old meadow, and Vatanen swims in a brook and decides not to return to his unloving wife and the weekly magazine he works for. "Anyone could live this life, he reflected, provided they had the sense to give up the other way of life." Arto Paasilinna's style is all Finn — a sly sense of humor, a simplicity, a moral compass that points firmly north and out of doors, away from cities.

Life Recipes From My Mother

Timeless Lessons for Living a Contented Life


Jamie Chung

Haven Books: 252 pp., $15 paper

This is a tribute from a daughter to her mother — a compendium of the small moments and efforts that Betty Jamie Chung's mother, who was born in Canton, China, and died in 1978 when Chung was 35, wove around her family to preserve the sweetness in their hectic lives. Chung divides her mother's wisdom into three categories: improving the self (recipes for the soul), behavior toward others (recipes for successful relationships) and behavior in specific situations (recipes for agreeable living). These recipes lack the aggression of so many traditional self-help books; they are gentle, gracious, time-tested ideas on how to age gracefully, how to stay broad-minded, how to act appropriately even in unfair situations, how to teach respect, how to be honest with oneself and careful with our choice of words. "I adopted her optimism," Chung writes lovingly, "and acquired her realism."

Salter Reynolds is a Los Angeles writer.