Current Picks: Book Reviews

Crimson Lake

Full of suspense, suspicions, and mystery, Crimson Lake is a contemporary crime thriller set in a small town in Queensland, Australia. The complicated characters and thrilling storyline had me hooked.

This is the first in a series by Candice Fox. After I read Crimson Lake (2018), I picked up Redemption Point (2019), which did not disappoint. The third book, Gone By Midnight (2020), is next on my list.

Listen to the audiobooks of the Crimson Lake series via Hoopla today.




Series Spotlight: Owl Diaries

The Wingdale owl family (Mom, Dad, Eva, Humphrey and Baby Mo) live in a tree in, of course, Treetopolis. When Eva receives a new diary, she faithfully records all her adventures, concerns, problems, triumphs, and sadness in the diary.

Each of the 13 books (so far) in this series focus on one big event in Eva's world. The plots feature a mystery that Eva solves and most readers of this series will solve. Friendships, working together, and solving problems are what Eva and her friends do.

The digital illustrations are a major part of the storytelling. There are collage-like illustrations are on each page. The connection between image and words is very clear. It would be easy to extend activities by encouraging art projects.

The author uses clever references to owls: "What a hoot," "Anyhoot," "sticking her beak into my business," and Owliverse."Readers will enjoy searching for connections. Speech bubbles are used for dialog between characters.

These books by Rebecca Elliott have gentle plots, interesting characters, and are for readers beginning "easy readers." The first book is Eva's Treetop Festival (2015). Each book has 74 pages (Lexile 530-620). At the end of each book is, "How much do you know about…?" Questions follow and a final suggestion of further activities.

Many of the books in this series are available as e-books on Overdrive.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)

Mindy Kaling (star of The Mindy Project and numerous other TV and film credits) gives us a hilarious inside look at her life. Kaling not only shares stories of what it is like being a strong woman in Hollywood, she also dishes on her childhood, including what it was like for her growing up with immigrant parents. She also invites us to take an in-depth look at her personal life, which includes dating anecdotes, buying her first house, and admirable and envious work ethic.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) (2011) is a well written, laugh out loud book that moves with seamless transitions and is the perfect way to bring your spirits up. Borrow it today from Overdrive—read or listen.

Also check out our list of Celebrity Memoirs Read by the Author for inside peeks into the lives of other stars.



The Client

A street smart 11-year-old boy steals the scene in this classic legal thriller. Mark Sway witnesses the suicide of mob lawyer Jerome Clifford. What did Jerome confess to this child? That's what all of the adults are trying to figure out in this fast-paced adventure. Mark hires Reggie Love, a 50ish woman who has been practicing law for four years. A fierce advocate, Reggie is strong, smart, and protective.

If you enjoy child narrators, strong female leads, gripping thrillers, or any combination of those, pick up this 1993 novel by John Grisham. The Client has aged well. I couldn't put this one down.

Check out our list of legal thrillers for more books in this genre. Also, you can judge the movie adaptation: The Client was released in 1994, starring Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones.

Read or listen to the book today via Overdrive.



Hair Love

Enjoy this story inspired by the Academy Award winning short film that shows the love a father has for his daughter by learning how to take care of her natural hair. "My hair is mommy, daddy, and me. It's hair love!" Delightful!

Hair Love (2019) was written by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. Listen to the audiobook on Hoopla, read the ebook on Overdrive, and watch the Oscar winning film on YouTube.

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Sadie

If you're as obsessed with true crime as I am, you'll love Sadie. It's the perfect marriage of gritty, true crime and a coming of age story with a first person narrative. Told in separate timelines, we follow our titular Sadie as she sets out for revenge following the murder of her younger sister, and West McCray, the radio personality, who picks up her story. Sadie's story will keep you on the edge of your seat. We see her story unfold through her own narration, while West struggles to put together her mysterious journey through interviews and podcasts. This Courtney Summers book (2018) is an Illinois Teen Readers' Choice Lincoln Award (Abe) nominee for 2020.

Check out this title on Overdrive -- find both the eBook and eAudio

Series Spotlight: Winternight

If you grew up on fairy tales and want to rediscover that magic as an adult, then the Winternight trilogy (start with The Bear and the Nightingale, 2017) is for you. Katherine Arden brings to life Russian folklore and spirits you away to the forests of medieval Russia in this lyrical tale.

Vasya is born into a time when the old beliefs are being threatened by the introduction of modern religion, but she is one of the few who can still see and talk to the household and forest spirits. Struggling to keep the old traditions alive to protect her family, Vasya is drawn into an age-old battle between the frost-king and his brother. The action continues from the frozen forests to the capital, Moscow, and through the fantastical Midnight Lands, home to the mythical witch Baba Yaga.

Beautifully written with a strong female lead and a captivating portrayal of 14th century Russia, the Winternight trilogy (book 2: The Girl in the Tower, 2018 and book 3: The Winter of the Witch, 2019) interweaves historical moments with old world fantasy to create a wonderful epic fairy tale. This trilogy would appeal to readers of Neil Gaiman and Kiersten White.


Ask Again, Yes

In 1973, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are in training together to be New York City police officers. A couple of years later, they turn out to be next-door neighbors in the town of Gillam. However, Francis and Brian are not really friends. Still, Francis' youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian's son, Peter, have been close since they were born and share a deep bond. Eventually, a terrible act changes the relationships of the families forever, especially impacting Kate's and Peter's lives.

Ask Again, Yes (2019) tells the story of two families over many decades. Mary Beth Keane's book is a great read for book clubs and those who enjoy novels about family relationships. Looking for the next book to discuss with your group? Check out our lists.


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A Madness of Sunshine

Anahera returns home to a small New Zealand village after she is widowed. Will, a police officer new to town, is struggling with his own demons. They are prickly with each other.

When a local girl with a bright future disappears after going for a run, Will and Anahera team up along with the whole town to search for her. In the course of his investigation Will uncovers rumors and evidence of previous runners disappearing. He relies on Anahera for local insight, and the pair dig up crimes of the past.

A Madness of Sunshine (2019) by Nalini Singh is a gripping romantic suspense novel in a lushly described New Zealand setting. The story is filled with lots of red herrings and a shocking ending.

Discover more romantic suspense.



The Queens of Animation

In this eye-opening, fascinating, and heartbreaking account, author Nathalia Holt takes readers through the history of female animators at the storied Walt Disney Company. Women faced great obstacles personally and professionally (harassment, intimidation, abuse), making this story difficult to read at times. And yet, it's gripping. The stories of Mary Blair, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, and Bianca Majolie intertwined with the detailed history of the studio and the larger world make for a compelling read. While the focus is on the early years, the author takes readers through the studio's renaissance of the early 90s and the 2013 blockbuster Frozen. Warning: life at Disney wasn't always a fairy tale.

If you enjoy hidden histories (such as Hidden Figures), you'll appreciate The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History (2019). The engrossing story is well worth a listen, thanks to the fantastic performance by Saskia Maarleveld.



Series Spotlight: Eerie Elementary

Strange events are happening at Eerie Elementary School (note the name of the school). Third graders Sam, Lucy, and Antonio find themselves in very scary situations as they work together to keep the school safe from the evil Orson Eerie. Their job as hall monitors is to protect the students of Eerie Elementary School by using their magic sashes. Mr. Nekobi, the janitor, knows what is happening and why, and aids the children with clever ideas. Illustrations of Orson Eerie show that obviously he is a scary, evil man!

Children who can suspend disbelief, believe that the physical Eerie Elementary School is alive, who likes "scary" books, and who are ready for unusual adventures will enjoy this series. Start with The School is Alive! (2014).

Each of the 10 books in the Eerie Elementary series by Jack Chabert is 90 pages with black and white drawings on each page. It is clear from the covers that the books are scary, strange, unusual…for sure. The final page of each book has discussion questions and sometimes craft ideas. Lexile range is 430-600.



The Family Upstairs

Libby Jones has long known that when she turns 25, she inherits something from her birth parents' trust, but she is stunned to discover that it turns out a be a decaying mansion in one of the most expensive areas of London. It also is where her birth parents, Henry and Martina Lamb, died in a cult-like situation when she was ten months old.

The Family Upstairs (2019) recounts Libby's journey of discovering what happened in the family home all those years ago, interspersed with Henry Jr.'s retelling of the years when his family's status went from wealth and privilege to being prisoners in their own home. In the novel, the reader also meets Lucy, who lives a meager existence in France with her two children, but longs to get back to Britain, now that the baby (aka Libby) is now 25. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is a creepily unputdownable read. Perfect for those who love Ruth Rendell's psychological novels, Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent, and the books of Erin Kelly.

The Poppy Wife

A hauntingly beautiful book dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. Set in 1921 with flashbacks to the war years, The Poppy Wife follows the story of war widow, Edie and her brother-in-law Harry, the only surviving brother of three. Edie's husband, Francis, was an avid photographer during the war, faithfully documenting his wartime experience. But when Edie is sent a photo of him with no note attached, 3 years after he was reported missing in action, she latches on to the possibility that he may still be alive somewhere in France and recruits his brother Harry to help look for any sign of him.

Harry's job is as a photographer, taking photos of graves or places of import for bereaved families who are in need of closure. It takes him back to all the places he was stationed throughout the war, villages that have been wiped out or are struggling to rebuild, locals attempting to come to terms with all their loss, and widows searching for any information about their lost husbands. The Poppy Wife (2019) delivers vivid imagery and raw emotion as it follows both Edie and Harry's travels across France.

Caroline Scott is an historian specializing in WWI and The Poppy Wife is an expertly rendered portrayal of the postwar period. Her writing is beautifully atmospheric and the characters are well-drawn, evoking strong emotions.


The Worst Best Man

Wedding planner Carolina (Lina) Santos doesn't advertise the fact that she was left at the altar three years ago. So when she walks into the biggest meeting of her career and sees her ex-fiancé and his brother Max, she impulsively pretends she doesn't know them. When she must work with Max to pitch to a potential boss, the forced proximity makes them see each other in a new light.

The Worst Best Man (2020) is a romantic comedy full of heart, humor, and awkward situations. It also has fabulous characters: Lina's strong Brazilian family plays a large role, as do her girlfriends. If you enjoyed Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet (start with Vision in White) or Lauren Layne's Wedding Belles (start with To Have and To Hold), you'll enjoy Mia Sosa's story of weddings, family, and friendships. For another romance featuring strong family ties, try His Perfect Partner by Priscilla Oliveras.

Find more romantic comedies (we made a list!).

Join us on Tuesday, February 18 at 7pm to Celebrate Romance Reads. Hear about recent releases, books into movies/TV shows, and more. Whether you're a voracious reader or a romance newbie, there will be something for you.



A Single Thread

In 1932 England, Violet is considered a surplus woman, a 38-year-old doomed to spinsterhood after the Great War. She doesn't accept her fate and tries to live her life despite her mother's constant harping. She leaves home and moves to Winchester to work as a typist.

While attending church services, Violet discovers a group of women who embroider seat cushions and kneelers. She joins this group of broderers, learning the stitches and the meaning behind the designs. She meets Arthur, who rings bells at the cathedral.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (2019) features a strong female character with an unapologetic approach to life. She defies convention and charts her own course. While there is a feeling of despondency, the reader learns that not all women accepted their fate. Violet builds a meaningful life. Chevalier provides a great sense of place with her setting in a small English village.