Current Picks: Book Reviews

Jennifer

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017)

jacketI adored Denise Kiernan’s first book (The Girls of Atomic City) on a little known piece of history. Now, she turns her attention to the creation of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

In The Last Castle, Kiernan details the lives of Edith and George Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt) along with the construction of the massive house and the development (and protection) of the surrounding forests and land. The author effortlessly weaves the threads of the stories of people, places, and events in American history from the Gilded Age to WWII. An engaging and fascinating slice of history.

 
 
 
 
Kathy

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 
Lora

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson (2018)

meet_meWhen Englishwoman Tina Hopgood was a child, a Danish archaeologist, Professor Glob, dedicated a book he wrote to Tina and her friends. Tina and her best friend, Bella, always vowed they would visit the museum in Denmark where the Tollund Man (one of Professor Glob's finds) is housed. Fifty years later, Tina has still not visited, and Bella has passed away from cancer. Tina decides to write to Glob, yet finds he has also died. She gets a letter from the curator of the museum, Anders Larsen, instead.

Meet Me at the Museum features the correspondence between Tina and Anders as they find themselves confiding in each other their deepest thoughts and feelings, even though they live far apart. As their friendship grows, one wonders will Tina and Anders finally meet? Anne Youngson’s novel is a great readalike for Letters from Skye and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

 
 
 
 
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Denise

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (2017)

beforeI especially enjoy novels based on real life events and/or people, as well as stories that alternate between the past and present. This has both!  Before We Were Yours is an eye-opening look at disturbing events that took place at Tennessee Children's Home during the 1930s and ‘40s. This orphanage kidnapped children from poor families so that wealthy families, willing to pay high fees, could adopt them. The children were gravely mistreated while living in the orphanage, many of them dying before being adopted.

The story focuses on a set of five siblings who were kidnapped from their river houseboat in 1939. The oldest child does everything in her power to try to keep them together. It alternates between their journey in the past and present day, where we meet Avery, who discovers that her grandmother has something in her past that she’s never shared with her family. Avery’s mission is to uncover this mystery. The chapters that focused on the past were emotionally intense with authentic, complex characters. This is the first book I’ve read by Lisa Wingate, but it won’t be the last.

 
 
 
 
Heather

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis (2018)

girlHave you ever told yourself a lie and believed it? Maybe that you're not good enough, don't know how to be a mom, or should be further along by now in reaching your goals? In her most recent book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis opens each chapter with a lie she once believed about herself, telling personal stories and sharing what helped her overcome those lies. Covering a wide variety of topics from relationships to parenting to careers and more, Hollis' life experiences will touch women in all different walks of life.

Hollis reads the audio version (available on CD or downloadable on hoopla and eMediaLibrary), which I highly recommend!
Jez

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)

moscow3When the Bolsheviks rise to power in Russia in 1922, they decide Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is an unrepentant aristocrat, but he also wrote a poem that made him quite popular among the revolutionists. Opting for a weaker punishment than death, Rostov is sentenced to lifelong house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, directly across the street from the Kremlin.

While Rostov is imprisoned, he is not entirely disconnected from the world, as the grand international hotel hosts many important guests within the Bolshevik party and from all over the world. Over the next three decades, Rostov meets with a large cast of characters, including a high-ranking KGB officer, a chef, a formerly famous actress, and a ten-year-old girl named Nina. Each has an effect on Rostov’s life, but perhaps not as large as the one Rostov has on everyone else.

Whether you read for characters or historical events, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is sure to please. With its winning combination of personalities, humor, secrets, and an excellent narration style, this novel is nothing short of charming.

Want to read more books like A Gentleman in Moscow? Check out our lists of readalikes.

https://ippl.info/books-movies-more/76-book-lists/1748-all-time-faves-if-you-liked-a-gentleman-in-moscow

 
 
 
 
Katie

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017)

amerstreetFabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti and coming to live in Detroit. But when Fabiola's mother is detained in New Jersey, Fabiola is left to travel onward to her aunt and cousins's home.

I fell into the world that Ibi Zoboi created; blending an American city with Haitian Vodou. Where the average person might see a homeless man on the corner, Fabiola sees Papa Legba.

Fabiola's struggles immediately draw you into the story and when she is presented with an opportunity to help her mother by spying on her cousin's boyfriend, readers will feel for Fabiola.

It's been several months since I've listened to American Street, and I can hear Robin Miles's beautiful narration when I think of the story and the characters.

This Abe Lincoln nominee (PDF) will possibly break your heart (it did for me), and everyone should read it.

 
 
 
 
Jennifer

Intercepted by Alexa Martin (2018)

interceptedA modern romance featuring a delightfully snarky heroine. In Intercepted, Marlee vows not to date another athlete after her 10-year relationship with an NFL player goes south. Then she meets quarterback Gavin, and you can guess what happens next. What makes this story shine is Marlee's independence and individual growth, her witty inner dialogue (coupled with hilarious hashtags), and her fabulous support system.

Alexa Martin is a new author perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jasmine Guillory, and Julie James.

 
 
 
 
Hugh

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George (2018)

punishThis very long detective story from Elizabeth George brings in multiple characters with detailed descriptions of each, challenging the reader to keep up with who is involved with what evil deed. The death of a prisoner in custody is first thought to be a suicide but then closer study introduces doubt that this cleric would have taken his own life.

The principal detectives (Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers) have a long history of working together, and the reader might do well to read an earlier novel in this series first (such as A Great Deliverance) to gain understanding of their relationship. In The Punishment She Deserves, you’ll enjoy making predictions as to what will happen next and who will be involved.

Emily

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (2018)

immortalistsIn 1969, the Gold siblings of Manhattan seek out a woman who is said to be able to tell you the day of your death. While it begins as innocent curiosity, the children are not ready for the weight of the knowledge. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows the four siblings over the next fifty years as they attempt to live with prophecies hanging over their heads. As they depart to live their own lives, each sibling handles the information differently and their lives are shaped by their interpretation.

Divided into four sections (each one following a sibling), the novel intertwines their stories. This book paints a portrait of the hardships of trying to live when you know when you will die and examines the fine line between destiny and personal choice.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books with a hint of magical realism and books with a strong family dynamic.
Joe

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

allthelightSet in WWII, this book alternates between the life of a young German orphan (soon to be soldier) named Werner, who is a whiz with electronics, and Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl who is forced to leave her home in Paris when the Germans invade. Their lives intersect in a seaside town called San-Malo as the Allies are about to bomb the city and repeatedly flashes back in time showing how they came to this moment.

All the Light We Cannot See has very short chapters, so it has the feel of being fast paced, but the novel is also very detailed with tactile and audio descriptions of how Marie senses the world around her. Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel depicts the horrors of WWII from a unique point of view revealing both the evil within men and also the heroism, too.

If you enjoyed this novel, check out related book lists: Novels of WWII and WWII and the Women in the Resistance.
Katie

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)

scytheConfession time: Out of all of the Abraham Lincoln 2019 award nominees, this was the one I was least looking forward to. Teenagers forced to kill? Grim Reaper death person on the cover? Morality? Not another dystopian! I was so, so, so wrong.

Scythe on audio was a bit of a slow start, but I was soon waking up ten minutes earlier to have more time in the car in the morning. I needed to know what was happening to Citra and Rowan.

I gasped out loud. I shouted at the car stereo. I cackled. I sent all-caps text messages to two friends who were reading it at the same time. (If you stop by the Kids & Teens Ask Us Desk, I would be happy to re-enact some of these text conversations.)

The world building is phenomenal, the characters are fully developed -- and they grow throughout the book. I would have a hard time trying to find fault with Scythe...which is probably why it won a Printz Honor in 2017.

This would be my vote for the Abes (PDF), if I were a teen and allowed to vote. Instead, I'll just be sitting here watching Neal Shusterman's Twitter account, waiting impatiently for the announcement of book three in the series.

[Word to the wise, the sequel to Scythe -- 2018's Thunderhead -- leaves you thrown off a cliff hurtling towards Earth. You might want to wait until that third boo has a publication date before diving into Thunderhead.]
Lora

The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker (2018)

shortestThirty-year-old Hannah is just about to graduate from business school and has landed a coveted job in New York. But when she and her boyfriend, Ethan, spend the weekend in Sonoma, Hannah finds herself under the spell of the area, specifically the small, historic winery of Bellosguardo—so much so that she decides to stay in town and take a job at the winery while Ethan goes to New York without her. Hannah immerses herself in life at Bellosguardo, getting to know how the wines are made and connecting with the owners, Everett and Linda and their dog, Tannen. Sparks also fly when Hannah meets their son, William, but he is headed to New York himself for graduate school.

The Shortest Way Home is a charming novel about one woman's journey to discovering herself and what really makes her happy. A great readalike for Judith Ryan Hendricks and Christina Baker Kline's The Way Life Should Be. Miriam Parker’s debut is absolutely one of the most satisfying books I've read this year.
Hugh

Blood Truth by Matt Coyle (2017)

bloodtruthA good detective mystery about present day murders possibly connected to an unsolved murder from 25 years ago involving Rick Cahill’s father. Rick, the principal character in Blood Truth, is a private eye hired by an old girlfriend to investigate her husband’s secretive behavior involving another woman. Rick finds the other woman dead in her own car trunk and does his best to protect his old girlfriend over protests from her husband. Secrets from the past found in a safety deposit box compound the mystery, but author Matt Coyle, an English major graduate, leads the reader through all the twists and turns for an enjoyable read.

 

Jennifer

Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce (2018)

dearmrsbirdIn 1940 London, 22-year-old Emmy Lake dreams of becoming a journalist to contribute to the war effort. Quite by accident, she accepts a job as a typist for a women's magazine... that soon has Emmy secretly answering letters written to an advice column. Debut author A. J. Pearce creates strong, charming characters and friendships along with a solid sense of place with London under frequent raids during the Blitz.

Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Dear Mrs. Bird is a cheerful, bittersweet, and heartwarming tale of making a difference in the world in the midst of war. We’ve created a list of novels that take place on the home front during World War II.