Current Picks: Book Reviews

Kathy

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry with a dark twist—one of the sisters happens to be a serial killer. In its darkly humorous telling, this book explores universal questions about the relationship between two sisters and how their lives intertwine in ways that can never be undone. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a character study, a love story, and a family drama all rolled into one. Oh, and given that one of the sisters can't seem to avoid murdering any man that shows interest in her, it's also a bit of a crime drama too.

This is a book about love and loyalty that asks the question: How do you choose between doing the right thing and doing what you know to be right?



Hugh

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (1994)

In the first entry in Laurie R. King's series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes, the reader is introduced to 15-year-old Mary as she encounters the retired Sherlock at his country home where he tends to his honeybee hives. Sherlock is amazed at the intelligence of this young girl and soon brings her in as an apprentice for disguise and deduction. Soon the game is afoot as the two work together to find a kidnapped daughter of an American senator and then encounter a descendant of an old foe eager for revenge.

Start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and check back later this month for my review of the latest entry in the series.



Jez

How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings by Sarah Cooper (2018)

Comedian and comedy writer Sarah Cooper is at it again, this time with a book of "non-threatening leadership strategies for women." This faux guide is comprised of infographic-style comics, lists, matching games, and emergency mustaches. Filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and sarcasm, How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings can teach you how to carefully maneuver the office, allow men to get credit for your ideas, and be seen as a boss, but not bossy; confident, but not arrogant. This book is a must-read for feminists and women in business and is the perfect way to end a bad day at work.




Denise

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018)

An unforgettable, haunting, and especially inspirational memoir by Anthony "Ray" Hinton, an innocent man who spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. What makes The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row so powerful is his enduring faith, hope, and compassion while living in the depths of "hell."

His friendships, family, and capacity to forgive are on display in this compelling work. His best friend, Lester, visited him every week for 30 years! Ray adopted the other death row inmates as his new family. He brought inspiration, laughter, and faith to them, and started a book club, which encouraged many of them to read.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, eventually became Ray's lawyer and was instrumental in getting his release. I especially appreciate Stevenson's quote: "I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." Listen to his TED Talk to get an inspiring and personal glimpse into his motivation for his life work. 

There are many disturbing and heartbreaking elements to this story as well – deep-seated racism and discrimination, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and our damaged, and often corrupt, judicial system, to name a few. However, Hinton's positive inspiration definitely outweighs the negative details. I highly recommend this book, which was also one of Oprah's Book Club Picks.




Catherine T.

Golden Child by Claire Adam (2019)

In her debut novel, Claire Adam takes us on a tragic, thought-provoking journey to rural Trinidad. The Deyalsingh family struggles financially, but father, Clyde, finds it hard to accept help and feels suffocated by his wife's extended family. Their twin sons, Peter and Paul, are at the difficult age of 13. Peter is the 'golden child,' both academic and diligent, while Paul has always been deemed mentally challenged due to complications at birth.

The story revolves around the sudden disappearance of Paul when Clyde is faced with a parent's worst nightmare. Claire Adam's Golden Child is an emotional roller coaster of a book!



Elizabeth

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018)

Whether your personal beliefs are pro-life, pro-choice, or undecided, you will find this book captivating, heartbreaking, and impossible to put down. A Spark of Light is told in reverse chronological order. A distraught father storms into an abortion clinic in Mississippi, opens fire, and takes everyone inside hostage. Hostage negotiator Hugh McElroy is called in to try to defuse the situation. He quickly finds out, via text, that his own daughter is inside.

The strong bond between fathers and their daughters is a constant theme throughout this book. Also, expect a few surprises at the end. A very good read. Jodi Picoult has once again done extensive research in preparation for writing this thought-provoking novel.



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Heather

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)

Trevor Noah has a gift for storytelling (which makes it no surprise that he is now a comedian). I would have liked this book more if it were told in chronological order, but ultimately, I assume the order in which it is presented goes back to the fact that he's a comedian and likely thinks anecdotally vs. chronologically. That said, Noah tells such fascinating stories of his childhood, teen years, and young adult life, all while intertwining the cultural setting of South Africa while he was growing up. I highly recommend the audio to fully appreciate both the variety of languages Noah references and the emotion and humor in his storytelling.

Check out Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood and other titles on this year's 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF): Illinois Teen Readers' Choice nominee list.

Lora

No Exit by Taylor Adams (2019)

College student Darby is heading home to Utah for Christmas to see her dying mother when she's caught in a blizzard. Forced to get off the road by the bad weather, she ends up at a rest stop thinking she can wait out the storm and then be back on the highway. When she sees a girl locked in a cage in one of the other cars at the rest stop, she wonders which of the other four people trapped there are responsible. Soon, Darby finds herself fighting for both her life and the girl's in order to see justice done.

No Exit by Taylor Adams is a white-knuckled thriller that's hard to put down, but it's not for the squeamish. Try this novel if you enjoyed Harlan Coben books or Greg Iles' 24 Hours.



Jez

The Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar (2018)

In 2017, Meik Wiking introduced us to Hygge (and later Lykke) and helped us bring more happiness and comfort to our lives and launching a trend of books on Scandinavian wisdom. Sweden's answer to the Danish hygge was Lagom by Niki Brantmark, focused on simplicity, and now we complete the trifecta with the Finnish.

Like its neighbors, Finland experiences winters with little sunlight (some areas like Lapland seeing as many as 47 days where the sun never makes it above the horizon), creating a serious concern for Seasonal Affect Disorder and depression among its residents. Yet in 2018, Finland ranked #1 on the world happiness index. What's their secret? According to Katja Pantzar, it's the concept of "sisu," which can be roughly translated as "everyday courage."

In her book The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness through the Power of Sisu, Pantzar describes many aspects of life in Finland, including biking everywhere (even in winter), getting out into nature, seeing movement as a kind of medicine, arctic swimming, and, naturally, using the sauna regularly. Together these traits form the type of sturdiness and courage the Finns need to face endless night and any challenge that comes their way.

Hugh

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (2018)

greatErnt, a former POW in Vietnam, takes his family to Alaska in an effort to make a new start after losing job after job in the lower 48. The long summer days and the helpfulness of neighbors allow the family to adapt to their new wilderness home, but as winter and darkness descend, the father’s demons begin to show.

His teenage daughter, Leni, makes friends with her desk-mate at school, but he is the son of a longtime resident with whom her father has issues. As time passes, darkness descends as both the days shorten and the family’s troubles multiply.

Kristin Hannah follows up her WWII blockbuster The Nightingale with the 1970s-set The Great Alone.
Jennifer

The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren (2018)

onesDon’t be alarmed by the premise: this second-chance romance is a story worth reading. The protagonists of The Ones Who Got Away survived a school shooting twelve years ago. Finn and Liv reconnect after participating in a documentary about the tragedy. Yes, there’s grief—but there’s also hope and healing in this moody and engaging novel.

Named a best romance of 2018 by Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, and Kirkus, this is book one in the series by Roni Loren. If you enjoy reading about strong groups of friends, continue with the subsequent titles: The One You Can’t Forget and The One You Fight For.
Katie

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz (2016)

inqThe Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (on the Rebecca Caudill 2019 nominees list) was thoroughly surprising and delightful. I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened this book, complete with the drawings of an illuminated manuscript, but I was completed unprepared to fall in love with it.

The three children (William, Jacob, and Jeanne) absolutely won me over and I cheered for them and their friendship. I found myself looking forward to the twists and turns of the story, especially when different travelers took over as the narrator.

I think this would make a fantastic family read, although there are small bits of violence (a village is burned, a dog is killed -- but comes back, and capture) to be aware of.

I can't imagine how Adam Gidwitz could possibly write a sequel, but I would love to follow another adventure in this same style!
Heather

All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (2016)

all_weThe September 11 terrorist attacks are one of those significant moments in history where you remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened. This novel is told from two teen girls' perspectives, fifteen years apart: Alia in 2001 and Jesse in 2016. Alia, a Muslim, going to the North Tower to see her father when the plane hit, and Jesse, whose older brother somehow ended up at the Twin Towers that day and lost his life, significantly altering her family in the process.

The two stories eventually intertwine, and if you are like me, All We Have Left will have you on the edge of your seat as piece by piece you learn how Alia's and Jesse's experiences are connected. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills is a nominee for the 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF), the Illinois teen readers' choice award.
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Jez

Astrology: Using the Wisdom of the Stars in Your Everyday Life (2018)

astroPerhaps due to so much stress and uncertainty in the world today, astrology is seeing a huge burst in popularity, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. DK Publishing’s new book, Astrology: Using the Wisdom of the Stars in Your Everyday Life, is a great introduction for those who want to move beyond their star sign. With beautiful infographics on each page, this guide walks readers through sun, moon, and rising signs; planetary placements; and the historical significance of astrology.

The part I found most helpful was the straightforward way this book explains how to create and read a natal chart and what the significance of each house is—and how all of these aspects work together to create a tool to help readers understand themselves better and potentially better inform decisions for the future.

Interested in astrology or just want to learn enough to understand the memes? Hang out with us next Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m. for our #LibSocial program for ages 18-39: Astrology 101: What Planet Can I Blame for This?
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Judy

Series Spotlight: Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green

friend2Sophie Mouse, her family and friends live in Pine Needles Grove. Her mom owns a bakery, her dad is an architect, Mrs. Owl is her teacher – families gather for parties, children play together, everyone knows each other. In each book, along with her friends Hattie Frog and Owen Snake, Sophie has an adventure and a problem to solve. She gets lost in the forest, has to figure out what to do about a ruined dessert, and tries to find her lost scarf. With good thinking and the help of others, Sophie always figures out what to do.

The series should interest children who are ready for more complex, longer stories that relate to their lives. Fans of the Adventures of Sophie Mouse series are going to know exactly what books in the series they have read, what book they want to read, and probably will read many books in the series until they move on…to another series.

Do talk with readers about Sophie’s adventures. Sometimes things happen in Pine Needles Grove that probably a child living in the real world should not do – such as going into the home of a stranger to get help.

A New Friend is the first book in the series by Poppy Green. Each series title has 117 pages, 10 chapters, and black/white illustrations on most pages. Lexile varies between 430 and 600.
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