Current Picks: Book Reviews

Front Desk

Mia Tang is 10 years old, and the new front desk clerk at the Calivista Motel in California. Mia and her family are immigrants to America from China. Her parents have worked many years at many tough jobs since arriving in America, but believe their dream has come true when they get jobs managing the Calivista. The only trouble with their dream is their new boss Mr. Yao, who is mean and keeps finding ways to take money from Mia's family's paycheck.

Mia finds out at school about a chance for her family to win their own motel, but she must write an essay explaining why she and her family would be the best choice. Mia has to balance her life with school, work, and friends, all while trying to keep Mr. Yao happy. It is a tough job, but Mia thinks she can do it all.

Check out Front Desk (2018) by Kelly Yang, geared toward kids in grades 4-6. It's the first in a series, with the second novel expected to be released in September 2020.

This book is available to read or listen to on Overdrive—check it out today.


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Bad Blood

A fascinating account that proves sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (2018), investigative journalist John Carreyrou details the incredible rise and fall of Theranos. Charismatic founder Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford dropout, started the company at 19 with a promise to revolutionize blood tests and healthcare. Nothing went as planned, other than the company's incredible ability to raise ridiculous amounts of funding.

Filled with narcissistic personalities, delusions, shady dealings, fraudulent claims, and a propulsive plot, Bad Blood is a book that you won't put down (I recommend the audiobook for a riveting listen). If you want to learn more about the story of this biotech company and the personalities involved, check out the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.

This book is available to read or listen to on Overdrive.

Schoolgirl Missing

On a boating trip, 14-year old Poppy, a child with special needs, disappears in the night. Kit, her biological father, is in anguish.Her stepmother, Neve, appears to be very worried. However, she is hiding quite a few secrets from her mysterious past. As the frantic search for Poppy continues, the police are becoming more and more suspicious of her parents.

Schoolgirl Missing by Sue Fortin (2019) is a great page-turner. It will keep you guessing until the very end. Listen to the novel via Hoopla or read the book via Overdrive.



Carry On

You've read and re-read all the Harry Potter books, watched all the movies, maybe even tried to find some magic in Narnia or Middle Earth, but you're still looking for more… Rainbow Rowell is here for you. Carry On (2015) tells the story of Simon Snow, the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen. Somehow, even as things are falling apart around him (sometimes even catching on fire), things always work out, much to the dismay of his roommate and mortal enemy, Baz (who happens to be a vampire and maybe also the love of his life?).

Come and visit the Watford School of Magicks for a very Harry Potter-esque story with maybe just a bit more sarcastic humor. Enjoy the audiobook on Hoopla or the ebook on Overdrive, and then look for book two:Wayward Son.



The Week

Use Flipster to access issues of The Week online. This magazine creates news articles by bringing together different sources and viewpoints in single topic articles. Thus, a story about homelessness might include conflicting quotes from The Slate, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and others in one concise article. The reader gets to read differing viewpoints and form their own opinion. There is a section on U.S. news, world news, and a page titled "How They See Us" with articles containing viewpoints from foreign publications. My favorite section is "Good Week Bad Week," highlighting this week's winners and losers.

Download Flipster on your smartphone or tablet, or read the magazine via Flipster on your computer. You'll have access to the current issue as well as back issues



The Girl with the Louding Voice

Prepare to fall in love with the Adunni, the plucky heroine of The Girl with the Louding Voice (2020). Adunni is a 14-year-old girl living in rural Nigeria where child marriage, polygamy, and jungle justice are still common and a girl has no worth but for her bride price. But Adunni is a delightful character and despite all the hardships that come her way, she manages to find joy in her life and see the good in people who hurt her. All she wants is to get an education, as she believes this will allow her voice to be heard, to allow her to speak up and have a say in her future.

Abi Daré's debut novel is both heartrending and heartwarming—and full of wonderful characters. Written in Adunni's voice and dialect, it may take reading a few pages to get used to the writing style, but it is well worth it. A riveting and inspiring book.

You can also read or listen to this book on Overdrive.



Check, Please

Hockey, baking, vlogging, and romance… I never would have thought such things would go together quite as perfectly as they do in Check, Please, a webcomic series by Ngozi Ukazu. From start to finish, this story will warm your heart like a good apple pie and have you laughing out loud with every page turn.

Even the most sports-averse will come to love the Samwell University Hockey team and wish to be a part of their 'dude-bro' bonding. Bonus points for the seamless inclusivity and acceptance of LGBTQ values.

Read the full webcomic here.

(The first 2 seasons were also made into a graphic novel: Check, Please! Book 1: Hockey is available on our shelves. The next graphic novel, Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Scones, will be released in print in April.)

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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