Current Picks: Book Reviews

Katie

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)

scytheConfession time: Out of all of the Abraham Lincoln 2019 award nominees, this was the one I was least looking forward to. Teenagers forced to kill? Grim Reaper death person on the cover? Morality? Not another dystopian! I was so, so, so wrong.

Scythe on audio was a bit of a slow start, but I was soon waking up ten minutes earlier to have more time in the car in the morning. I needed to know what was happening to Citra and Rowan.

I gasped out loud. I shouted at the car stereo. I cackled. I sent all-caps text messages to two friends who were reading it at the same time. (If you stop by the Kids & Teens Ask Us Desk, I would be happy to re-enact some of these text conversations.)

The world building is phenomenal, the characters are fully developed -- and they grow throughout the book. I would have a hard time trying to find fault with Scythe...which is probably why it won a Printz Honor in 2017.

This would be my vote for the Abes (PDF), if I were a teen and allowed to vote. Instead, I'll just be sitting here watching Neal Shusterman's Twitter account, waiting impatiently for the announcement of book three in the series.

[Word to the wise, the sequel to Scythe -- 2018's Thunderhead -- leaves you thrown off a cliff hurtling towards Earth. You might want to wait until that third boo has a publication date before diving into Thunderhead.]
Lora

The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker (2018)

shortestThirty-year-old Hannah is just about to graduate from business school and has landed a coveted job in New York. But when she and her boyfriend, Ethan, spend the weekend in Sonoma, Hannah finds herself under the spell of the area, specifically the small, historic winery of Bellosguardo—so much so that she decides to stay in town and take a job at the winery while Ethan goes to New York without her. Hannah immerses herself in life at Bellosguardo, getting to know how the wines are made and connecting with the owners, Everett and Linda and their dog, Tannen. Sparks also fly when Hannah meets their son, William, but he is headed to New York himself for graduate school.

The Shortest Way Home is a charming novel about one woman's journey to discovering herself and what really makes her happy. A great readalike for Judith Ryan Hendricks and Christina Baker Kline's The Way Life Should Be. Miriam Parker’s debut is absolutely one of the most satisfying books I've read this year.
Hugh

Blood Truth by Matt Coyle (2017)

bloodtruthA good detective mystery about present day murders possibly connected to an unsolved murder from 25 years ago involving Rick Cahill’s father. Rick, the principal character in Blood Truth, is a private eye hired by an old girlfriend to investigate her husband’s secretive behavior involving another woman. Rick finds the other woman dead in her own car trunk and does his best to protect his old girlfriend over protests from her husband. Secrets from the past found in a safety deposit box compound the mystery, but author Matt Coyle, an English major graduate, leads the reader through all the twists and turns for an enjoyable read.

 

Jennifer

Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce (2018)

dearmrsbirdIn 1940 London, 22-year-old Emmy Lake dreams of becoming a journalist to contribute to the war effort. Quite by accident, she accepts a job as a typist for a women's magazine... that soon has Emmy secretly answering letters written to an advice column. Debut author A. J. Pearce creates strong, charming characters and friendships along with a solid sense of place with London under frequent raids during the Blitz.

Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Dear Mrs. Bird is a cheerful, bittersweet, and heartwarming tale of making a difference in the world in the midst of war. We’ve created a list of novels that take place on the home front during World War II.
Heather

Ugly by Robert Hoge (2016)

uglyhogeIn this real-life Wonder story, Robert Hoge describes his early life being born with not only a large tumor on his face affecting the placement of his facial features, but also legs which were underdeveloped. While he addresses some of the surgeries he underwent as baby up through high school, this autobiography centers around his family life and his determined spirit, despite challenges with his physical appearance and abilities along the way. I highly suggest the audiobook, read by the author himself.

Check out Ugly and other titles on this year's 2019 Bluestem nominee list targeted for grades 3-5.
IPPL Staff

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (2017)

indexAll Emma Gladstone wants is to be paid for the wedding dress she was commissioned to create, and all the Duke of Ashbury wants is an heir for his title. In a match of wits, they come to a deal—Emma and the Duke will marry, but she only has to live with him until she can produce an heir.

Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal is a fun, playful romp that goes by far too quickly. For readers who love fast-paced banter, well-developed characters, and sensuously steamy situations (and book 2 of the Girl Meets Duke series—The Governess Game—is available now). Readers of Nalini Singh will definitely enjoy this as well.
Katie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

51v55l2fxflWhen I checked out Born a Crime, I knew vaguely that Trevor Noah was a comedian. I even remembered sharing a post of his on social media since I thought it was funny. Yet somehow, I did not expect to have to pull my car over to the shoulder to finish listening to one of Noah's stories. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

And if that's not a ringing endorsement of an audiobook, I don't know what is.

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book because you hear Noah speaking the different South African languages with accuracy. And you get to hear Noah's voice imitation of his mother, among other people in his memoir.

Oh? And the story I had to pull over to finish on the road? I've been telling it to everyone, convincing them to read the book. If you do read Born a Crime, stop by the K&T desk upstairs and see if you can guess which story made me laugh so hard I cried.
Hugh

The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer (2007)

311980A secret society, guided by the teachings of Plato-ordained guardians, administers organ transfers in Michael Palmer’s The Fifth Vial. Unfortunately, there are more patients in need than supply to fulfill and matches are difficult to find, thus the guardians must take hard steps to provide adequate supply. A medical student, a physician in need of an organ transfer, and a private investigator all find themselves strongly affected by the activities of this arrogant society. The reader can follow the action throughout the world and may be surprised and disappointed by the outcome.
Lora

The Necklace by Claire McMillan (2017)

The NecklaceWhen Nell's Aunt Loulou passes away, Nell heads to the Quincy estate in Cleveland from her home in Oregon. Nell's mother (now deceased) and father moved out west years ago, because they found being around the wealthy Quincy family too stifling. At the reading of the will, Nell is named executor of the estate and is bequeathed a necklace that is unaccounted for. Then, in cleaning out Loulou's bedroom, Nell finds a necklace containing a giant sapphire with nine other jewels. Feeling that this is the necklace mentioned in the will, Nell goes about finding out its history, but other family members attempt to control what happens to it.

Told in alternating chapters, the reader follows the contemporary story of Nell and her relatives, along with the 1920s tale of brothers Ethan and Ambrose Quincy and the woman they both loved, May. The Necklace by Claire McMillan is an engaging story filled with details of old wealth and of times gone by. Give to readers who enjoy Lauren Willig's standalone novels.
Denise

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni (2018)

samhellOne of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I became so attached to the characters that I didn’t want the book to end. The main character and narrator, Sam Hill, was born in 1957 with a condition called ocular albinism, which made his eyes red. In school, he was ostracized and given the nickname “Devil Boy.” Sam takes us back and forth between his childhood and 1989, and then into the present. A significant aspect of his journey depicts the lifelong friendships he develops with two other outcast students, Ernie and Mickie. His Catholic school experiences were all too familiar and cringe-worthy, and at times, I felt like I was reading someone’s memoir. That’s how realistic and compelling I found the characters and storyline in The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.

I experienced a whole range of emotions: sympathy for Sam’s childhood struggles, anger and heartbreak at the bullying, admiration for his mother’s undying faith and encouragement, revulsion at the acts of a particularly vile character, and hopefulness due to his relationships with Ernie and Mickie. Highly recommend this Robert Dugoni novel for anyone who loves books with a great cast of interesting characters that are part of an emotional journey.
Jennifer

1356 by Bernard Cornwell (2013)

1356A gripping historical adventure filled with compelling characters, 1356 details another segment of the fight for supremacy among England, France, and the church. While this is Bernard Cornwell’s fourth novel featuring Thomas of Hookton, you can jump right in to this standalone story.

1356 is an action-packed tale of intrigue, political machinations, and a quest culminating with the Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years’ War. Thomas and his band of mercenaries adhere to strong moral code, often putting them at odds with others in medieval France.

For fans of history and historical fiction, military and war stories, quests, and compelling characters. Just a warning: this novel features several battles, so includes some graphic (though not gory) violence.

Pro tip: Listen to the dramatic narration by Jack Hawkins for distinctly voiced characters, gritty battle scenes, and intense adventure.

 
Heather

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (2008)

diamondwillowHelen Frost tells the story of 12-year-old Diamond Willow, named after diamond willow sticks, which when carved and polished, have beautiful diamond-shaped designs. These designs are the forms that Frost's poems take in the book, each containing a hidden message.

Willow struggles interacting with other humans; however, she loves dogs and has a special connection with her family's favorite sled dog, Roxy. While attempting to save Roxy's life, an unexpected snowstorm ends up landing Willow in a harrowing predicament. Ultimately, though, this adventure leads to the reveal of a family secret kept hidden Willow's entire life.

A quick read and a creative format, Diamond Willow is on the Bluestem nominee list for 2019 for grades 3-5.
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Kathy

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)

manhattanbeachJennifer Egan’s epic novel Manhattan Beach is set in the Brooklyn Naval Yards during World War II. This coming-of-age novel features Anna Kerrigan as a fiercely independent young woman who longs to serve the war effort as a diver, an occupation reserved solely for men in 1940s America. Anna’s underwater training takes her deep into the murky waters of New York Harbor, while her quest to uncover the mystery that has torn her family apart leads her into the dark underworld of organized crime.

Manhattan Beach was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2017. I recommend giving this one a listen — the audiobook narration by Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire adds the perfect touch of noir to this historic novel.
Katie

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (2017)

hellouniversekellyHello, Universe was one book that I had to read in a single sitting because I was so enthralled with the story telling. Told by four very different characters, their storylines intertwine and meet throughout . The adventure is high-stakes (at least for a claustrophobic like me!), and I loved watching the characters develop and progress through their actions and thoughts.

My favorite character was Virgil Salinas. I loved his relationship with his pet, Gulliver, and with his lola (grandmother). He feels out of place in his family since he's not interested in sports. He's also the character who I felt the most concerned for, in terms of the adventure that he takes.

But I think what really made this a special read for me is that I read it the week before I heard Erin Entrada Kelly give her acceptance speech for winning the Newbery Award. The combination of book and speech is unforgettable and I'm so looking forward to anything Kelly writes next...including the Golden Valley High series. Ha!
Hugh

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham (2017)

roosterbarThree third-year law students at a for-profit law school are discouraged that only about half its graduates pass the bar and even fewer find jobs. After a bipolar friend commits suicide, the three lose any motivation to finish their studies and hang around the courts and hospitals trying to find clients to help. Yes, they accept fees and represent themselves as practicing lawyers, so the misadventures begin. Can John Grisham possibly find a soft landing for these three? Read The Rooster Bar to find out.