Current Picks: Book Reviews

Mary S.

Betty Ford by Lisa McCubbin (2018)

bettyFormer First Lady Betty Ford thought her husband Gerald Ford was going to retire after his time in the U. S. House of Representatives, but instead he moved to a higher office, taking over the Vice Presidency when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign. He became president when Richard Nixon resigned, setting her husband up as one of the most powerful men in the world without even running for office. His demanding job made him a largely absent husband, forcing Betty to raise her four children almost as a single mother.

While her husband was in the White House, Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, it was like receiving a death sentence. She also suffered from an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. In 1978, her family staged an intervention. Ford was open with the American public about her health issues and would go on to co-found the Betty Ford Center. Her outspokenness about her personal experiences put the focus on women’s health issues, alcoholism, and addiction, prompting many to seek treatment themselves.

You don’t need to be a fan of President Ford or Betty Ford’s politics to enjoy Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer by Lisa McCubbin. This is an inspirational and sympathetic portrait of a woman dealing with many issues while living in the political arena.
Natalie

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry (2018)

becomingThis is a great book for anyone who enjoys a good love story—and for anyone who is fascinated by C. S. Lewis. Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis is full of the real-life details and writings of C. S. Lewis and his wife and published author Joy Davidman. The book introduces two strangers, both independently seeking and growing in faith and in curiosity, who become pen pals, then cherished friends, and then fall deeply in love.

Patti Callahan Henry has clearly done her research on the characters and put a lot of thought into this book in order to weave their documented words – their poetry, essays, and speeches – together to illustrate their relationship. The author also demonstrates the idea that behind many great figures, there is often another overlooked figure who has helped to shape and grow the other so that they can have the kind of impact that Lewis did.
Kathy

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

hauntingA short, spooky novel that will have you sleeping with the lights on, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House brings together four strangers to investigate reported paranormal activity at an unoccupied dwelling. The house itself is curiously constructed with a labyrinth of rooms and towers that seem to creep around corners all on their own. Ghostly events occur shortly after the guests arrive and each visitor has their own individual experience even when in the presence of the others. Hill House is alive. It breathes and sighs. It is as much a character of the book as the strangers it traps inside.

This classic was first published in 1959, adapted to the big screen in 1963 and again in 1999, and most recently released as a Netflix series in 2018. Read it before you binge watch—it’s a great story to curl up with on a cold winter night!
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Hugh

A Mask of Shadows by Oscar de Muriel (2018)

maskIn late 19th century Scotland, detectives Frey and McGray are plagued by the calls of a banshee that bedevils the cast of Macbeth as they prepare to open performances in Edinburgh. Frey suspects this is a clever publicity stunt, but when a death occurs, the detectives take these happenings more seriously.

A Mask of Shadows is the third book in the paranormal mystery series by Oscar de Muriel.
Jez

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018)

proposalNik Paterson has been dating her actor boyfriend for five months, and not very seriously, so she’s taken completely by surprise when he proposes to her at a Dodgers game…on the scoreboard…in front of thousands of people. Nik tries to tell him she can’t—he doesn’t even know her well enough to spell her name correctly, after all—but her boyfriend storms off angrily, making Nik the center of a big scene. A few rows back, Carlos Ibarra and his sister, Angie, are watching everything on the jumbotron and the two come to Nik’s rescue by pretending to be old friends of hers.

After the game, Nik and Carlos start finding excuses to see each other, though neither is looking for anything serious. But as time goes on, feelings start to develop and rules start to break, and Nik needs to get out before she gets too attached.

Filled with lots of humor, I loved this romantic comedy for its well-rounded characters, realistic reactions and situations, and the charming love story at the center. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (author of The Wedding Date) is a great read for anyone looking for a fun, sexy—and believable—romance. And for more—check out our list of romantic comedies!

https://ippl.info/books-movies-more/76-book-lists/1807-all-time-faves-romantic-comedies
Mary S.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (2013)

lastThis novel details the journey of Honor Bright, a young Quaker who leaves England to follow her sister, who was about to start a new life in Ohio with her betrothed. Things don’t turn out as planned when Honor’s sister dies en route. With nowhere else to go, Honor moves in with her sister’s fiancé, Adam, and his sister-in-law, and struggles to deal with his family.

Along the way, Honor befriends a local milliner named Belle who makes good use of Honor’s excellent quilting skills. Working in the shop, Honor meets Belle’s brother, a slave hunter, and witnesses some movement along the Underground Railroad, giving her insight into both those who seek to uphold the law and those who sought to help slaves to freedom. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is a thought-provoking and leisurely-paced historical novel that is filled with interesting characters, loss, and a unique look at slavery in America through the eyes of the Quaker community.
Natalie

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (2018)

inspired“Let it be known that Natalie loves this book. Read it. Pass it on. May it find its way back to her again.” This is the note that I wrote in this book. I had already borrowed the book from the library, then checked out and listened to the audiobook twice, before deciding that I needed to buy a copy to share with my family. This book, part tales and part essay, weaves together ancient storytelling and traditions with modern theology and current politics.

Rachel Held Evans thoughtfully addresses some of the most difficult contradictions (such as how can a good God allow such terrible things?) and problematic issues (such as slavery, genocide, and gender inequality) in the Bible. She creates common ground and challenges all readers regardless of religion affiliation or political allegiances. Inspired is an incredibly entertaining and engaging book.
Denise

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017)

firesLittle Fires Everywhere begins with a blazing fire in the Richardson family home. Everyone suspects their troubled youngest daughter, Izzy, is responsible for starting the fire. The reader is taken back in time to before the fire to understand the events that have led up to this moment. The Richardson family lives in the affluent town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and rent their smaller, second home out to artist Mia and her daughter, Pearl. The two families—and the town—are torn apart when a mother returns to take back her abandoned baby from its new adoptive family, beginning a divisive legal custody battle.

Told through multiple viewpoints, this angsty novel looks at the complex relationships of families and community members, and the influential roles people can play in each other’s lives. Vivid, complex characters and multi-layered story lines make this a great choice for book clubs. Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel follows her well-received debut Everything I Never Told You.

 
 
 
 
Kathy

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

senseI was looking for a short, yet thought-provoking audiobook to act as a sort of palette cleanse between two light-hearted, popular works of fiction, so I opted for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It turned out to be the perfect choice.

In less than five hours, we journey through the life of the narrator, Tony, and the story of two relationships from his youth, one a friend and one a lover. Now in his sixties, Tony is confronted with the truth of those relationships and forced to reevaluate his past behavior and his own carefully curated story of self. The audiobook narration (by Richard Morant) was terrific—the voice you hear becomes Tony, which really brings the story to life. This character-driven book examines the importance of memory in shaping self and questions what we remember as truth. I recommend it for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro and Marilynne Robinson.
Katie

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (2018)

bellesCamellia is a Belle. Belles are the most important people in the kingdom, other than the royal family, because they control beauty. In the world of Orléans, everyone is born a "gris": gray skin, red eyes, straw colored hair. Only the Belles can grant a person a new look, using their magic to change appearance, manner, and control age.

Camellia wants to become the Favorite Belle—to work in the palace and work for the royal family. But is that life really what it seems? When dark mysteries arise, like crying girls in the middle of the night and former Belles being veiled, Camellia must decide to find her own truth in beauty.

I've listened to The Belles on audio twice. Rosie Jones, the narrator, does a wonderful job with voices and accents. She makes the city of Orléans come to life, and her take on Princess Sophia's voice still sends shivers up my spine.

I love Dhonielle Clayton's descriptions of the world of Orléans – the post balloons and petit cakes and teletropes – the world building is fantastic.

The last few pages of this book will keep readers on the edge of their seat. And when they read the last line, they'll be clamoring for the sequel The Everlasting Rose, out March 5, 2019. [Beware! There are spoilers on the linked page for The Belles.]

In the meantime, you can join me as I start my third re-listen.
Lora

Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018)

not_our_kindIn 1947, an accident between two cabs brings Eleanor Moskowitz into the world of Patricia Bellamy and her family. Eleanor, who is Jewish, has just left a position at a prestigious school in Manhattan. Patricia offers her a job teaching her daughter, Margaux, who had polio, thus has trouble walking, and is very reluctant to go back to school—hence the tutor.

Margaux takes an immediate shine to Eleanor, but in the upper class New York society, Eleanor is encouraged to keep her religion a secret. Things get even more complicated when Eleanor falls for Patricia's older brother, Tom, and Patricia's husband, Wynn, becomes increasingly angry about Eleanor's presence. Told through the eyes of Eleanor and Patricia, Not Our Kind explores the two women's very different lives in a time of change. Check out this debut from Kitty Zeldis.
Hugh

The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley (2018)

judgeThis read is a fun tour of the British and Dutch colonies of North America in the mid-17th century. The principal character, Balty, although young and inexperienced, is charged with finding the two judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I of England. Balty links up with Huncks, an experienced agent of the Crown, who guides Balty through the new world territories populated by Puritans, Quakers, Native Americans, and finally the Dutch.

Meanwhile, back in England, Balty’s cousin, Samuel Pepys, fears a war with the Dutch might be imminent and Balty might be in great danger. Almost miraculously, Balty survives and New Amsterdam gets a new name.

Check out The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley today.
Jennifer

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun (2018)

gmorninggnightThis delightful gem is the perfect way to kick off a new year. Gmorning, Gnight is comprised of brief motivational reminders that Lin-Manuel Miranda shared on Twitter at the beginning and end of the day. Paired with illustrations by Jonny Sun, this short book can be read cover to cover, or flipped through at leisure. Find the uplifting words that you need to improve your outlook that day.

The longest part of the book is the introduction, which you can read courtesy of Vulture. Below, I’ve shared one of the most memorable affirmations:
Gmorning.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you, even the ones you haven’t heard from for a while*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU. 
Gnight.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you in this life, even if clouds obscure your view*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU.
TUG IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.
Denise

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood (2016)

bookthatmattersAva decides to join a library book club after her husband of 25 years leaves her for another woman. At the end of the year, the club decides that each member will lead a discussion based on the book that mattered most to them during their life. Ava has chosen an esoteric book that is hard to find, but it was the book that helped her work through the death of her sister and, shortly after, her mother’s suicide. Meanwhile, Ava’s daughter Maggie is living in Paris, supported by an older, married man, and is lying to her mother about her life.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood alternates between Maggie and Ava’s perspectives and is full of well-developed characters. The best parts are the book club discussions, which the reader gets to listen in on. They can open you up to new reading options and build your TBR list. A good choice for book clubs, this is an issue-driven book with family and heart.

 
 
 
 
Emily

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (1999)

daughterforestWeaving Celtic mythology and classic fantasy together, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest is an enchanting book that you won’t want to put down. The story follows Sorcha, a young Irish girl living with her warlord father and six older brothers who love their sister fiercely. Their lands house fair folk and ancient magic that help keep them safe from the Britons trying to invade.

Though safe from humans, her father soon remarries a sorceress that curses her and her brothers, turning the six boys into swans and forcing her into silence until she can break the spell. Over the next few years, Sorcha must try to fulfil the curses requirements while not uttering a single sound, writing anything down, or conveying any part of her story. After being taken in by a Red, a British lord, she must try to save her brothers and her one true love.

This story reads like a classic fairy tale bolstered with captivating details and great character development. While Daughter of the Forest stands on its own, you can check out the rest of the series to revisit the magical world.