Current Picks: Book Reviews

Jennifer

Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie (rhymes with Chevy) is a loveable character, who is trying to figure out what's next. She is struggling in her mundane life in small town Maine after the death of her not-so-great husband. Dean is a former Major League baseball player whose career ended quite dramatically. He's looking for a place to disappear, and rents Evvie's spare apartment.

The novel is divided into seasons. Over the course of a year, Evvie's relationships with those around her change—in both challenging and rewarding ways. At times, the book is laugh-out-loud funny; at others, it's heartbreaking.

Linda Holmes, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, has written a heartwarming and satisfying debut novel. Pick up Evvie Drake Starts Over (2019) for authentic characters overcoming life's obstacles. 

Catherine T.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I was feeling the need for a good book to escape into and Alix E. Harrow really delivered with whimsical prose and a fantastical story in The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019).

Set at the turn of the 20th century in Vermont, we follow the story of January, a young mixed race child in the care of a wealthy collector, Mr. Locke. Her guardian employs her father to travel the world searching for and obtaining rare treasures and curiosities, which are then added to Mr. Locke's extensive collection or sold at secretive auctions.

At the age of seven, while on a trip to rural Kentucky with Mr. Locke, January opens a dilapidated blue door amongst some ruins in a field and is briefly transported to another world, a world that smells of salt and stone, a world that feels strangely welcoming. Her few short moments there leave her wondering if it was a real memory or just her imagination. Then, at the age of 17, her father disappears while on one of his trips and a book mysteriously appears in a treasure chest in Mr. Locke's collection—a book that carries the scent of adventure and other worlds and tells of ten thousand 'doors'. And so begins an upheaval of January's life and the opening of new doors.

Lovers of Narnia and The Time Traveler's Wife will enjoy this beautifully written book, full of the power of the written word, love, and strong female characters.

Lora

The Right Sort of Man

In London after World War II, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge operate The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, which is a matchmaking service. When one of their clients, Tillie, is murdered, and Dickie, the man they set Tillie up with, is arrested for the crime, Iris and Gwen take it upon themselves to find the killer because they know Dickie is innocent. They also know the scandal of the crime could ruin their business. Luckily, Iris worked undercover during the war, and those skills come in handy, as can having a partner like Gwen, who also can think fast on her feet.

The Right Sort of Man (2019) is a breezy, cozy mystery with colorful characters. Allison Montclair's debut is excellent for people who enjoy Jacqueline Winspear, Susan Elia MacNeal, and Alexander McCall Smith.

Heather

The Bad Guys

I read this book in one sitting with a three year old: I'd call that an accomplishment and give a lot of that credit to author Aaron Blabey. We follow Mr. Wolf and his associates, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Shark, on a mission to turn around their longtime reputations as bad guys. They hit just a couple bumps along the way, but are determined to make amends.

This early chapter book is part of a series, so get caught up in Blabey's sketchy characters' silly escapades. The Bad Guys (2017) is a 2020 Monarch Award nominee, recommended for grades 2-4.


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Mary P.

Woman with a Gun

Aspiring author Stacy Kim visits an art museum showing the photography of Kathy Moran. She is stunned when she sees "Woman with a Gun," which won the Pulitzer Prize and made Moran famous. It shows a woman in her wedding dress, standing at the shore, facing away from the camera and towards the sea, holding a six-shooter.

The photo captures Stacy's imagination and sets her on a quest to uncover the story behind the woman and the circumstances that lead to the photo. She learns that Megan Cahill—the woman with the gun—was suspected of killing her husband on their wedding night. It was never proven and the murder remained unsolved. Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin is a stunning, suspenseful story full of twists and turns.

Emily

A Darker Shade of Magic

Kell possesses the rare ability to jump dimensions, one of the last of his kind. Using blood magic to travel from Red London to White London to Grey London, he is tasked with being a diplomat between the cities. As a member of the Red London royal family, he wants for nothing. In his free time, he likes to smuggle items from one London to another, an act that is highly illegal and incredibly dangerous.

Before Kell's gift was so rare, there was a Black London. When corrupt magic overtook Black London, the doors were sealed to prevent it from spreading. Only those like Kell were left to travel the remaining cities. When a piece of the corrupt magic threatens the remaining worlds, Kell and Delilah Bard, a surprisingly talented pickpocket from Grey London, must work together to save their realities.

This book had everything I was looking for: a well-written female lead, an interesting magic system, and crossdressing thieves. The audiobook did not do the characters justice, and I recommend reading the book. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (2015) is the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy followed by A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.

Jennifer

Meet Cute

Kailyn literally collides with former child star and crush Daxton on their first day of law school. This meet cute seems picture perfect, but nothing materializes other than a betrayal. Fast forward to five years after law school when circumstances bring the pair together again: Kailyn is appointed as guardian to Daxton's 13-year-old sister.

Meet Cute (2019) is full of heart, humor, and family. This witty romantic comedy from Helena Hunting is perfect for fans of Julie James (especially Practice Makes Perfect) and Sally Thorne (The Hating Game).


Lora

Drawing Home

Penny lives with her mother, Emma, in the Hamptons and treasures her time with Henry Wyatt, a famous artist who has made Sag Harbor his home. When Henry dies and leaves his estate, most importantly, his home Windsong, to Penny, Henry's old friend, Bea, is furious. Years ago, she and Henry agreed that when he passed away, Windsong would be turned into a museum. Bea also wonders why Henry would give his estate to a teenage girl. Leaving Manhattan, Bea arrives at Windsong, vowing not to leave until the home is in her hands. Emma is not happy with Bea's appearance, but has her hands full. She is helping Penny manage her OCD, has a job at the American Hotel and must adapt to their newfound wealth.

Drawing Home by Jamie Brenner (2019) is the story of Emma, Penny, and Bea and how Henry's bequest changes their lives. It's a perfect read-alike for the novels of Elin Hilderbrand.

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Catherine T.

How We Disappeared

Set in 1940s Singapore, How We Disappeared grapples with the tragic history of 'comfort women' in World War II. These young local girls were taken from their families at gunpoint and subjected to years of brutal rape by the occupying Japanese forces. If they managed to survive the war and return home, instead of being welcomed back with open arms, they were often shunned by their family and neighbors.

We follow the story of Wang Di, who was taken from her village by the Japanese army in 1942. Almost 60 years later, she is now an old woman, but has kept her painful past a secret for all this time. Her husband has just passed away and she is struggling with her new lonely life and her overwhelming memories. At the same time, Kevin, a 12 year old struggling at school and home, loses his grandmother. In her last delirious hours, she whispers a confession to him, a secret about her son that she has kept since the war. Kevin is determined to unravel this mystery in the hope that it will help with his father's depression.

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (2019) interweaves several different narratives to create a suspenseful story that also focuses on the beauty of friendship and human relationships.

Jez

The Wedding Party

Alexa has two best friends: Maddie and Theo. The problem? They hate each other. Worse? They're both going to be in Alexa's wedding party. Between the engagement, cake tastings, visits to the bridal shop, and helping with all the planning details, Maddie and Theo are going to be spending a lot of time together. When their animosity turns to a night of unplanned hate sex, the two can't stop thinking about each other and decide they can keep hooking up, so long as they follow two rules: this is a summer fling that will end with the wedding and, most importantly, Alexa must never know.

Picking up during the events at the end of The Wedding Date (book 1) and overlapping with The Proposal (book 2), this third installment of Jasmine Guillory's Wedding series is an enjoyable ride with chapters alternating between the strong-willed fashionista Maddie and Theo, the mayor's fussy, uptight PR manager. The couple's secret rendezvous make for steamy scenes and hilarious situations—exactly what you want from a good rom com.

Check out The Wedding Party (2019) today. And if you love romantic comedies, we've got you covered: check out our list



Mary S.

And Then There Were None

In this classic British standalone mystery by Agatha Christie, eight people are invited to a mansion on an island near the coast of Devon, England. They are greeted by two staff, who tell them that the host has not arrived but has left instructions. One by one, they are murdered like the characters in the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians.

If you are looking for a book that is suspenseful, compelling, and has a baffling, clever plot, check out And Then There Were None.

After reading the 1939 book, check out the excellent 1945 movie of the same name.

Mary P.

This Tender Land

In Minnesota during the Great Depression, the Lincoln School was tasked with "re-educating" Native American children and erasing their culture. Odie and his brother Albert escape the school alongside little Emmy and Mose, all of them orphans. The four children begin their journey in a canoe and set out for St. Louis, where Odie and Albert hope to find their aunt and form a family—but they'll have to put their lives on the line and offer up their souls for salvation first.

Along the way, the kids meet a cast of characters that enrich their travels and strengthen the unifying thread of love and hope throughout the story. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger has touches of Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath and would be an ideal read for someone looking for a new book after finishing Where the Crawdads Sing.

Denise

Elevator Pitch

One morning an elevator in a New York skyscraper plunges to the ground, killing four people. The next morning, in a different building, a person dies when the elevator she's riding stops between floors. While attempting to climb out, the elevator jolts to a start, killing her in a gruesome manner. By the third day, when another elevator crashes in a different building, it's clear that these are not accidents, but targeted attacks and no one can figure out how they're happening. With so much of the city only accessible by elevator, New York City comes to a stop. Emergency personnel cannot get to people on upper floors, and many people who live or work on upper floors try to tackle the hundreds of flights of stairs. Many die from heart complications. The mayor's office, NYPD, and a journalist set out to find the terrorist behind these crashes before any more lives can be claimed.

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay is an engaging read for anyone who likes thrillers with interesting twists along the way. Readers looking for political intrigue will also find much to be enjoyed in the conflicts within the mayor's office.

Although not as fast-paced as many thrillers, the compelling cast of characters mixed with a truly terrifying scenario kept me captivated. I found myself being more cautious and a bit uncomfortable riding elevators after reading this. It would make a sensational movie!

Heather

Are You Scared, Darth Vader?

Fellow parents and Star Wars fans, this is sure to please! Adam Rex writes this book in a conversational style, so I highly encourage reading in your best Darth Vader voice for an extra fun experience. Parents (and Star Wars buff kiddos) will appreciate nods to the movies and characters throughout.

All in all, Are You Scared, Darth Vader? (2019) is a hilarious book with a special twist ending. So, are you ready to find out if there is actually something frightening enough to scare Darth Vader?

Check out this book in print or digitally via Hoopla.



Emily

River of Teeth

In an alternate reality set in the early 20th century, the U.S. government has released wild hippos into the marshes of Louisiana as an alternative meat source. To no one's surprise, it is a ludicrous and disastrous idea.

The main character, Winslow Houndstooth, has lost everything and is driven by one thing: revenge. After the government hires Houndstooth, mercenary and part time hippo-wrangler, to clear the ferals from the marshes, he assembles a ragtag team of degenerates to help him out. Each member has their own specialty, hippo they ride on, and serious issues. The group must set aside old grudges and actively avoid being eaten alive to collect their payday.

This novel is as absurd as the summary makes it out to be, and I loved every second of it. From the first page, you can tell the author understands how ridiculous the story is and embraces it. I never knew I needed hippo-riding cowboy mercenaries in my life until River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (2017) was put in my hands. It's a fantastic mix of classic western tropes with science fiction elements. It's a short novel, only about 175 pages, but it's long enough to fall in love with the characters and keep you laughing.