Current Picks: Book Reviews

Jennifer

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (2019)

This uplifting novel got me out of my reading slump! The Flatshare features a perfect blend of delightfully quirky humor and lovable characters. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Leon and Tiffy, who share an apartment but haven't met (Leon works overnight and is home from 9am to 6pm; Tiffy has an opposite schedule). The pair begin a correspondence via post-it notes and slowly are drawn into each other's lives.

Beth O'Leary's charming debut is my favorite read of 2019. It's perfect for fans of romantic comedies, Sophie Kinsella, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and One Plus One by Jojo Moyes.

Lora

Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019)

Marianne and Connell begin a secret relationship when they are seniors in high school. Connell is popular and outgoing, but at times feels insecure since his mother, Lorraine, cleans houses for a living. Marianne, meanwhile, is wealthy, and a loner in part because of her abusive family background. Normal People recounts their relationship over the next four years as they go to college and decide what to do with their lives. It a story of two people finding their way to adulthood and the strong bond they develop with each other. Sally Rooney's latest novel is a great pick for book clubs.




Mary P.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn (2019)

Nina dreams of flying to escape her dreary life. When Germany invades the Soviet Union, she joins the Night Witches, an all-female night bomber squadron that wreaks havoc on the German invasion. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, she becomes the prey of the Nazi murderer known as the Huntress. She survives because of her bravery and fierce cunning.

A correspondent during WWII, Ian Graham becomes a Nazi hunter after the war. The target that has eluded him is the Huntress. He joins forces with bold, brazen Nina to track her down.

17-year-old Jordan McBride wants to be a photographer and leave Boston to travel the world. She is happy when her widowed father meets a woman, but something about his soft-spoken German fiancé bothers her. As Jordan becomes closer to her stepmother, the search for the Huntress intensifies.

This compelling story of a Russian pilot, a Nazi hunter, and a young Bostonian woman leaves the reader completely spellbound, hoping for good to triumph over evil. The Huntress is an exciting, suspenseful tale that is hard to put down. It is Kate Quinn's sophomore novel, following The Alice Network.

For more WWII fiction, check out our lists of Novels of World War II and Women in the Resistance.


Emily

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

Kvothe is a legend, a man whose tales have grown bigger than himself. He's Kvothe the bloodless, slayer of kings, master swordsman, caller of the wind, and most recently, Kvothe the innkeeper. Hiding in a small town, he's given up his life for reasons unknown. When the Chronicler finds him and realizes his true identity, he manages to convince Kvothe to let him collect his story to separate fact from myth. Kvothe agrees and begins his three-day retelling of his life.

Told through his perspective, The Name of the Wind is a tale of a small nomadic boy who becomes the most powerful Arcanist the world has ever known. We follow him from his childhood with the nomadic Edema Ruh to his eventual arrival at the university for Arcanists. His tale is full of struggle, triumph, and personal folly that will have you rooting for him while simultaneously cursing his stupidity.

Patrick Rothfuss' writing is poetic and descriptive, allowing for elaborate world building and thought provoking passages. Some may find his writing to be slow, but if you can get through the first few chapters, the payoff is worth it. This is the first book of a trilogy. The second title is The Wise Man's Fear and the third still forthcoming.


Hugh

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly (2018)

Renee Ballard, first introduced in Michael Connelly's Late Show, joins forces with longtime detective Harry Bosch to work on the unsolved murder of a 15-year-old runaway girl on the sad streets of Los Angeles. The two officers from different police forces work on the case only when their other duties allow.

Renee is surprised to find the mother of the murdered girl living in Harry's home. Then the mother disappears, adding to the mysteries the officers want to solve. Harry's regular duties crash down on him and he is suspended and then kidnapped.

In Dark Sacred Night, you'll find a compelling police procedural featuring the beginning of a strong partnership. 


Judy

Series Spotlight: Peachy and Keen by Jason Tharp

The cat, Peachy, and the dog, Keen, are best friends. The series, Peachy and Keen, feature the two friends in stories of their school adventures at Happy Trails School.

In the first book, A School Tail (2018), Peachy wants to work on the school newspaper but discovers there is no longer a print newspaper. Peachy has the idea to replace the newspaper with an online magazine. With Keen's help, Peachy finds four classmates to work on the PURRFECT9: Rue, the high fashion kitty, Connie the octopus, Nanner the monkey, and Gertie the unicorn. Of course, they need a faculty sponsor and recruit Rocco the llama, who is the janitor. Principal Trunx, an elephant, is not helpful to Peachy but in the end… the PURRFECT9 staff wins him over.

These books by Jason Tharp are full of puns. To enjoy the stories, a reader will need to understand (and enjoy) puns. Even the title – Peachy Keen – is a pun.

Each book is 96 pages. There are full color, cartoon-style illustrations on each page and these add to the story and are fun in themselves. There is a significant amount of text, which makes the books look harder than they are. The Lexile is 590-770.



Denise

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2019)

One of my favorite books of the past year: the writing is beautiful; the characters are superbly drawn; the storyline takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions; and the atmospheric descriptions of nature and wildlife in the marsh, as well as Kya's interactions with them, are extraordinary.

The main character, Kya, known as "Marsh Girl" to the townspeople, is haunting and unforgettable. Her life story is relayed from age 5 through her twenties, as she grows up alone in a shack in the marsh after being abandoned by her family at age 8. Her strength, courage, intelligence, and resiliency are captivating. The mystery of the young man found dead at the bottom of a tower in the nearby town provides an additional element of intrigue.

It's impossible to capture the true essence of this amazing story in a review. You must read Where the Crawdads Sing to understand. I can't wait to read more books by Delia Owens


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Mary P.

The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber (2019)

In the 1880s, Deborah lives an unusual life in a small town in the Utah territory. Her husband Samuel, who travels as a wheelwright repairperson, is long overdue. She is part of a community of eight families who live apart from other Mormons because they do not carry the same beliefs.

When a stranger arrives on her doorstep looking for shelter from a federal marshal, it sets in motion a series of events that threatens not only her future, but that of her entire town. Fear and mistrust feature prominently among the community and of outsiders. The Glovemaker provides an interesting look at early pioneers, Mormon settlers, and survival in the 19th century.

Try this Ann Weisgarber novel if you enjoyed News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Both compelling, descriptive novels feature the early West and people overcoming challenging circumstances.



Megan

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julia Denos (2016)

In this story, we follow a free spirit who can't help but want to tame all of the beautiful colors she sees. We join her wild and wonderful world and hunt for colors along with her. Swatch soon encounters an ethical challenge and we see how our heroine resolves her dilemma.

As picture books go, I think Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color is a perfect example of the power of illustrations and how beautifully and creatively they help tell a lovely story. Additionally, the overall layout and design of the book is great and helps capture the energy of it all.

This is the first book both written and illustrated by Julia Denos. She also wrote and illustrated Windows.


Lora

Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall (2019)

Grace is devastated when her partner Henry dies in a bicycle accident. She keeps thinking she sees him as she goes around Dublin, and her only solace is remembering their times together and visiting the cemetery where he's buried. One day she's stunned to discover that Henry had an identical twin brother, Andy, that he didn't know about (both men were adopted by different people). When Grace is with Andy, it feels as if Henry is still with her--but is having Andy in her life the best way to move forward and heal?

Grace After Henry is a warm, emotional, at times humorous tale of moving on after loss. Eithne Shortall's novel is a great readalike for Jojo Moyes.



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Jennifer

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (2014)

Set in 1974 Atlanta, Cop Town follows rookie police officer Kate Murphy and her partner Maggie Lawson. In this gritty suspense, the women investigate The Shooter—a marksman picking off police officers—despite not being detectives because of their gender. Karin Slaughter's standalone novel is not for the faint of heart, featuring derogatory language and violence (along with racism, sexism, and homophobia). With flawed yet sympathetic main characters and a compelling story, you'll keep reading to solve the case alongside Kate and Maggie.

The novel won the 2015 Ian Fleming Steel Award from the British Crime Writers' Association.



Kathy

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

I first read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in fifth grade, so when my son, now a fifth-grader himself, said he needed a Newbery Prize winner for his book report, I was quick to suggest it to him. The adventures of Claudia and her younger brother Jamie are what childhood dreams are made of. After running away from home, the siblings live on their own in a strange and wonderful new city. They uncover a mystery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they're determined to solve. Their clever sleuthing leads them to discover much more than clues however — it leads them back home.

I enjoyed reading this classic children's book by E. L. Konigsburg just as much as an adult as I had as a child. The audiobook would be great to listen to on a family road trip as well. Check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine for a glimpse behind the story and its author. 


Denise

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (2014)

There are several layers to this novel. It starts with the Rivera family, who moves to the U.S. to get help for their teenage daughter, Maribel; she suffered a traumatic brain injury in Mexico. They settle in Delaware, in an apartment complex that houses many other immigrant families from Latin American countries. They befriend the Toro family from Panama. Narration alternates between Alma, the mother of the Rivera family and Mayor Toro, a teenager who develops a close relationship with Maribel. This storyline is inspiring and heartbreaking, with engaging characters and plot twists.

The other layer provides an insightful exploration into the immigrant experience. Interspersed throughout the book are brief chapters narrated by other immigrants, who live in the same complex. They relate their experiences, including the reasons for leaving their home countries and the many struggles they endure after arriving in the US.

The Book of Unknown Americans is an eye-opening tale of the challenges and barriers people often face when coming to America with hopes and dreams for a better life. And there's a local connection—author Cristina Henriquez wrote part of the book at the Hinsdale Public Library.



Hugh

The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Igguldon (2019)

More than 100 years before Alexander, Greek mercenaries from Athens and Sparta join Cyrus, younger brother to the Persian ruler Artaxerxes in an attempt to gain Cyrus' rightful place in the Kingdom. Events do not go well for Cyrus nor the mercenaries and they are left with only Xenophon, a young Greek officer to lead them away from the Persian hordes seeking their destruction. Xenophon reminisces about his earlier conversations with Socrates as he leads the remnants of his army out of reach of the Persians and into the mountains controlled by savage tribes. During their flight, both the Persians and mountain tribes gain great respect for the skill and ferocity of the Spartan warriors.

In his latest epic historical adventure, The Falcon of Sparta, Conn Igguldon explores war in ancient Persia. Readers may also enjoy novels from Bernard Cornwell.



Mary P.

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander (2019)

In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is given a Blüthner piano. She brings this beautiful instrument with her when she later marries an engineering student and settles in California with their young son. Katya's life is difficult and her marriage brutal, but her piano remains an escape throughout it all.

Clara receives a Blüthner from her father for her 12th birthday. Her parents die in a tragic fire soon after, but she clings to the piano, even though she cannot play it. As an adult, she impulsively rents the piano to Greg. Then, she has second thoughts, causing her to follow him and the piano to Death Valley, where he is using it in a series of photographs.

Their time together results in the unburdening of their family stories and links them in ways they never dreamed. It's a compelling story that features a piano as both a gift and a burden. You'll want to keep reading to see how the parallel stories connect in Chris Cander's The Weight of a Piano.



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