Current Picks: Book Reviews

Elizabeth

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena (2017)

strangerinthehouseTom Krupp thought he had the perfect marriage. He is very much in love with his wife Karen. But does he really know her? Why did she speed away from a murder scene one night and drive so recklessly that she crashes her car into a utility pole? Why does she continue to say she remembers nothing about that night?

Throw in the obsessed neighbor from across the street and you have a very entertaining thriller by Shari Lapena. Check out A Stranger in the House today.
IPPL Staff

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (2013)

testingJoelle Charbonneau’s dystopian novel takes place in the far future and depicts the aftereffects of a nuclear fallout. It asks the question of what makes a good leader. How does a people choose leaders that will act in the best interest of everyone? Leaders who won’t abuse the power they’ve been given and instead help the country flourish under their guidance? The Test that the title refers to hopes to be a solution to this question.

There hasn’t been a candidate chosen for the Testing in Cia Vale’s small town in a very long, long time. It’s why it comes as such a surprise that after graduating, she was chosen. Why was it her and not her brothers who were just as qualified (if not more so)?

The Testing is action-packed with decent pacing that keeps you wondering what will happen next. There is also some romance without it overwhelming the main plot (and no love triangle!). Journey with Cia Vale as she proceeds through a Test of her own.

Part of a trilogy, The Testing is followed by Independent Study and Graduation Day.
Denise

Without Warning by Joel Rosenberg (2017)

withoutwarningA true page-turner. I highly recommend Without Warning for anyone who enjoys political thrillers or has any interest in the Middle East. It is fast-paced, suspenseful, thought provoking, and has a cast of fascinating characters, some likable and some deplorable. The intricately plotted storyline focuses on one man’s determination to capture or kill the leader of the ISIS terrorist group. Very relevant to today’s situation in the Middle East. Author Joel Rosenberg portrays radical Islamic terrorism in a realistic, and often disturbing, manner.

This book is the third in the J.B. Collins series, although I didn’t know that, so had not read the first two. That certainly didn’t take any enjoyment away from this book (but if you prefer to start at the beginning of a series, book one is The Third Target).
Jez

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare (2014)

romancingthedukeIzzy Goodnight, once a main character in her father’s highly popular fairytales, but now close to penniless, has inherited a castle. The problem? It’s in terrible shape: ransacked by looters, missing windows, full of vermin, and, oh, yeah, it’s still housing its former master—and he didn’t know about the sale. The surly and rakish Duke of Rochester took up residence after losing his sight and pride in a sword fight and now refuses to leave...but so does Izzy. The two are forced to share until the ownership battle is settled and might find themselves in closer quarters than they imagined.

Check out Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare to cuddle up with a humorous and steamy romance that will warm up your winter nights.
Jennifer

Big Mushy Happy Lumpy by Sarah Andersen (2017)

bighappymushyAfter reading Heather’s review of Adulthood is a Myth, I immediately whipped through the first in the “Sarah Scribbles” collection. Sarah Andersen’s comic strips offer sparse drawings and humorous relatable insights. Big Mushy Happy Lumpy, the second book in the collection, is also a quick and enjoyable read—but it takes a different turn, highlighting struggles with social anxiety. This shift in tone brings to mind Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

I can’t wait to read Herding Cats, a new collection out next month.
IPPL Staff

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).

 
Mary S.

Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig (2015)

lastbustowisdomInspired by a cross-country trip Ivan Doig took as a young boy in the summer of 1951, Last Bus to Wisdom is about Donal, an 11-year-old boy, being raised by his grandmother on the Double W Ranch in Montana. When his grandmother requires surgery, Donal is sent to live with his bossy, rule-driven great-aunt Kate in Wisconsin. When Kate reaches her wit’s end, she sends Donal back to Montana. Her husband, Herman, joins Donal on the greyhound for the summer of a lifetime, using their wits to survive.

Along the way, Donal asks characters to sign his memory book, which opens him up to all kinds of people on the road, from hobos and villains to soldiers and kind-hearted travelers, with a few recognizable faces, such as Jack Kerouac. Doig is a great storyteller, whose character-driven novel has a strong sense of place, keeping readers anticipating where the story will go next and who they will meet along the way. In Last Bus to Wisdom, it’s not about the destination, but the journey.
Lora

The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (2017)

libraryedgeofworldHanna, a librarian in the small town of Lissbeg, on the west coast of Ireland, determines that she must renovate the cottage left to her by her Aunt Maggie, because she cannot stand to live with her mother, Mary, anymore. Hanna and her daughter, Jazz, now living in France, had moved back to the area from London three years ago after Hanna discovered her husband, Malcolm, had been cheating on her.

With limited funds, since she took no divorce settlement from wealthy Malcolm, Hanna wonders if she has enough money to get the home in shape. Builder Fury O'Shea just might come through for her, despite his unorthodox methods. Hanna also finds herself involved in local government affairs when it appears that some would like to divert money and resources from the Lissbeg area towards touristy areas like Ballyfin and Carrick. Will they succeed in their plan? Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s The Library at the Edge of the World is a cozy story that will appeal to readers of Maeve Binchy, Jenny Colgan, and Gil McNeil.
Jez

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark (2017)

lagomDespite living a few months of the year without sunlight, Sweden regularly appears highly on the Happiness Index. Almost everything, from their friendly, welcoming communities (which take in more refugees than any other country) to eco-friendly construction to their trademark interior decorating can be traced back to the Swedish philosophy of lagom. Roughly translating to “not too little, not too much,” lagom is all about taking life in moderation.

In Lagom, Niki Brantmark explains Swedish culture through the eyes of an adopter, discussing how to balance life in a large number of ways. You don’t need to deny yourself pleasures, nor do you need to ignore responsibilities—you just have to find the right amount of each. With tips on crafts, holidays, decoration, health, relationships, diet, and more, Lagom is the perfect whole-life introduction to living like a Swede, wherever you are.
Heather

Dash by Kirby Larson (2014)

dashI knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.
Jennifer

The Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson (2017)

runninginheelsRachel Gibson sparkles in her return to sports romance. Lexie Kowalsky (daughter of the characters of 1998's Simply Irresistible) flees her wedding to a groom she met on a reality TV show. Her escape comes via a floatplane heading from Seattle to a remote town in Canada. Also aboard is hockey star Sean Knox, who decides Lexie doesn’t need to know who he is just yet. When they return to Seattle, Lexie concocts a plan to deal with her recent notoriety—and keeps Sean involved by bombarding him with detailed lists and memos.

The Art of Running in Heels, a sweet and sassy contemporary romance with witty banter, is perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, and Julie James.
IPPL Staff

Spotlight: Calvin and Hobbes

calvinhobbesWhy do we care so much about an egotistical, obnoxious, bratty kid, and his stuffed cat?  I know that I—along with billions of other fans— love Calvin and Hobbes, but I have to ask myself why.  Calvin is certainly not admirable in any way, other than maybe the expert use of his imagination, and his undying devotion to his tiger.  Mostly he can be counted on to be more intent on mischief than on doing good, taking an almost disturbing sense of pride in this. And when he isn’t “up to no good,” he can be found doing something totally unproductive, like watching bad television.

And yet we do love Calvin and Hobbes, because they’re undeniably charming and childlike, with that sense of abandon that we wish we still had. Plus, Hobbes is the voice of reason, after all—a good foil to Calvin’s enthusiastic hedonism and reckless sense of adventure. Though, most of the time, we have to admit Hobbes doesn’t put up much of a fight…

Check out Bill Watterson’s work.
Mary P.

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor (2017)

lastchristmasparisEvie Eliott is a wealthy young woman in England in August 1914. Her brother Will and his best friend, Tom, have just enlisted in the Great War. In the beginning, their letters home are filled with excitement and confidence, with promises that the war will be over by Christmas. The war rages on, however, with the death toll rising by hundreds each day and the fighting quickly changing from bayonets to chemical bombs.

Evie feels like she’s not doing enough for the war effort, so in addition to the letters she writes, she begins delivering mail and starts writing a column in Tom’s father’s newspaper that addresses the women left behind as the men are away on the front, focusing on their personal and emotional experiences. She writes to the women of Britain to reassure and encourage them in their war efforts and to help reaffirm their emotions. As the years go by, the news becomes censored and Evie doesn’t know who to believe or who to trust and doesn’t know how to help out in a war she can’t fight.

Written entirely in letters, The Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor is absorbing and touching, portraying the emotions of both soldiers and those on the home front. If you enjoy novels written in letters, check out our list of epistolary novels.
Lora

Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman (2017)

gonetodust2Private detective Nils Shapiro is hired to assist the Edina Police Department with a murder investigation. Maggie Somerville has been found dead in her home with bags of vacuum cleaner dust surrounding her, which has ruined the chance of getting any decent evidence from the crime scene. Nils delves into Maggie's personal life--including her ex-husband, boyfriend, and a secret from her past that possibly has a connection to the crime. With a very likable main character that the reader enjoys following as he pursues the case, this is a promising new mystery series from Matt Goldman. I’d suggest Gone to Dust to readers who like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books.
Jez

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (2017)

turtlesallthewaydownBestselling author John Green is finally back with a new book, five years after his international blockbuster hit The Fault in Our Stars. His newest work Turtles All the Way Down focuses on a teenage girl named Aza who is tortured by her own anxieties. Even the smallest events in life are full of panic, worrying about saying the wrong thing, catching an infection, or letting her own dark thoughts overtake her. Things only get more complicated when Aza is dragged along by her best friend Daisy to search for a missing billionaire to claim the reward, in the process reuniting Aza with a childhood crush.

Turtles has everything Green fans want: believable teens, love, family, loss, heartbreak, hope, and friendship—plus a tuatara and plenty of Star Wars fanfiction. This is a must-read for not only die-hard fans of the author, but also for anyone who has struggled with mental health or been unable to understand the day-to-day pain of their affected loved ones.
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