Current Picks: Book Reviews

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon (2018)

iwasanastasiaLong fascinated by the Romanovs, I jumped at the chance to read a new historical novel featuring the doomed Russian royals. Did Anastasia survive the firing squad? In alternating timelines, Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson share their stories. Whether you think you know what happened, you’ll be drawn into the dual narratives—Anastasia’s story starts in 1917 and moves forward, while Anna’s narration starts in 1970 and goes backwards in time.

I was Anastasia is a richly detailed and moving tale. Try listening to Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel—narrators Jane Collingwood and Sian Thomas do an excellent job bringing the fascinating story to life.

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (2018)

dukebydefaultAnother unique and delightful romance from Alyssa Cole featuring realistic, sympathetic, and charming characters. In contemporary Scotland, Tavish is a traditional swordmaker struggling to keep his business afloat. American socialite Phoebe sees this apprenticeship as a chance to turn her life around. Sparks fly. You'll root for this pair as they navigate social issues, family challenges, and an unexpected dukedom in A Duke by Default.

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.

 

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.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017)

amerstreetFabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti and coming to live in Detroit. But when Fabiola's mother is detained in New Jersey, Fabiola is left to travel onward to her aunt and cousins's home.

I fell into the world that Ibi Zoboi created; blending an American city with Haitian Vodou. Where the average person might see a homeless man on the corner, Fabiola sees Papa Legba.

Fabiola's struggles immediately draw you into the story and when she is presented with an opportunity to help her mother by spying on her cousin's boyfriend, readers will feel for Fabiola.

It's been several months since I've listened to American Street, and I can hear Robin Miles's beautiful narration when I think of the story and the characters.

This Abe Lincoln nominee (PDF) will possibly break your heart (it did for me), and everyone should read it.

 
 
 
 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostGhost is the first book in the Track series by Jason Reynolds. It's currently on the Rebecca Caudill 2019 nominees list.

I absolutely adored this book (and its sequels: Patina, Sunny, and Lu).

Ghost may appear to be a simply sports-themed book, but it's not. It has a deep backstory, and I loved watching Ghost – the main character – develop and grow as his story unfurled.

While the series is definitely linked by the track team, each character really shines in their own book. I think Patina is my favorite of all four.

Definitely add this to your reading list and don't forget to vote for the Rebecca Caudills (PDF) starting in February!

Author's Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014)

alltheboysLara Jean Song Covey has written a love letter to every boy she's ever loved. The letters are in her room, in a hatbox, hidden. Until suddenly they are mailed out...

Lara Jean is a fantastic protagonist. She's incredibly family-oriented, with very tight bonds to her father and both of her sisters.

One of my favorite things about this book series is that while Lara Jean may have a romance, her entire story isn't a romance. She has friends, goals, aspirations, and hobbies besides dating.

Both of the romantic possibilities are fleshed-out, and I could see Lara Jean with either of them -- which made it all the more realistic.

All three books in the series are out now, so there's no waiting to find out how Lara Jean's story ends. Start with To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved by Jenny Han, then check out P.S. I Still Love You (book 2) and Always and Forever, Lara Jean (book 3).

 

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

simon-vs-agenda-homo-sapiensSimon Spier has a crush on a guy he's never met, his friend group is undergoing major changes, and he's being blackmailed. Junior year is way more complicated than he thought it would be.

I absolutely adore this book. I listened to the audiobook version of this early last year and it remains one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Becky Albertalli balances humor, teen angst, and romance to create a fabulous first novel.

And if you like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, there's another book in the Simonverse: The Upside of Unrequited. (A third book, Leah on the Offbeat, comes out later this year.)

And—Simon is being made into a movie! It was renamed Love, Simon and hit theaters last week. Now's your chance to read the book before you see the movie.

 

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (2017)

wishtreeRed, a wishtree, has been around her community for a long time. She's seen people come together and now she is seeing her community torn apart by a single word carved into her trunk: LEAVE. Red—and her residents, which include owls, skunks, possums, raccoons, and a crow—work to bring their community back together.

Wishtree was recommended to me by one of the K&T librarians, Monica, and it did NOT disappoint!

Katherine Applegate's writing style is accessible and natural. Her words flow and easily tell the story. I was utterly captivated by the history of the wishtree and all that Red has seen in her life. And I love the idea of bringing a community together, so needless to say, I was rooting for everyone!

I listened to this book on audio and it would make a great car trip read for families. I think that fans of Erin Hunter's Warriors series or of Applegate's Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan would absolutely enjoy this title as well.

 

Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me by Lorina Mapa (2017)

When Rina learns that her beloved father has passed away unexpectedly, she flies to Manila to attend his funeral. This graphic novel memoir is told in flashbacks as Rina recalls aspects of her childhood growing up in the Philippines.

Lorina Mapa skillfully illustrates emotion in her panels which change between grief and humor, always with love for her family, friends, and country. I laughed out loud more than once as I recalled some of my own memories of growing up -- who didn't have a pop culture inspired haircut that didn't quite work out? (Mine was the bangs from The Secret World of Alex Mack.)

I would recommend Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me for fans of Lucy Knisley, Ramsay Beyer, and Alison Bechdel.

 
 

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (2018)

princedressmakerWhen Frances creates an outrageous new dress for a client, her talent is noticed by the royal palace. But her position isn't what she originally expected...it turns out that Prince Sebastian wants her to design dresses for him to wear as the wonderful Lady Crystallia.

Frances and Sebastian strike up an understanding immediately, with Frances designing the most extravagant dresses, making Lady Crystallia a fashion icon in Paris.

Jen Wang's illustrations are a thing of beauty. I adored this graphic novel that features acceptance, fabulous dresses, and love. (No, seriously, I hugged it after finishing it. I didn't want to bring it back to the library!) Lucky for all our patrons, I did. The Prince and the Dressmaker is available to check out in our Teen Lounge.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (2017)

aminasvoiceAmina loves music and especially loves to sing. But whenever she stands on stage, words never come out. And Amina has more than just stage fright to worry about: friends, family visiting from Pakistan, and her parents have signed her for a Quran recitation competition! Can Amina find her voice in time?

Hena Khan writes a realistic, relatable character in Amina. Readers will cheer for Amina throughout the book; even when Amina makes some mistakes, she is quick to make amends.

I thought that the story was fast-paced and very engaging for readers. I had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen to Amina.

Amina’s Voice is currently on the Bluestem 2019 Nominees list for grades 3-5. Make sure to pick up a copy of our challenge log when you check out a copy in the K&T Department.

 

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!

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.

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.]