Current Picks: Book Reviews

The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning (1999) is the start of the downright dreadful, disastrous, and dangerous turn of events that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire must endure after the passing of their parents in a tragic fire. They are sent to live with the dreadful Count Olaf, who cares more about the inheritance the children have than their wellbeing. The Baudelaire siblings must work together to thwart the evil doings of Count Olaf and figure out what really happened with the fire that killed their parents.

Lemony Snicket's writing gives the story character and makes the reader long for more with his unique style and prose.The Bad Beginning kicks off A Series of Unfortunate Events. Read the ebook on Overdrive or listen to the audiobook on Hoopla.



The Alchemist

This wonderful story combines adventure and love and seeking our desires. Much like Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter, it's a story for all ages to enjoy and not difficult to read. And like the lead characters in those other classic novels, Santiago sets out on a great journey but will have to learn some things about himself before he can find his Personal Legend.

In a way, we are all seeking the same things that Santiago and Dorothy, Jim, and Harry seek. I want to believe we will all find it someday because we are all connected to that great Soul of the Universe.

Check out The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coehlo: read the ebook or listen to the audiobook via Hoopla today.



How Much of These Hills Is Gold

It's hard to sum up this book in a few words: it's historical fiction, a western adventure, immigrant voices, coming of age, and so much more. How Much of These Hills Is Gold (2020) centers around Lucy and Sam, two recently orphaned Chinese-American children on the run from a Californian mining town with a stolen horse. They journey through the harsh landscape in search of a place to call home, but the siblings find it difficult to agree on anything, let alone their destination.

C Pam Zhang adds Chinese myths and traditions to the story and expertly paints readers a picture of the Wild West in its dark and gritty glory. How Much of These Hills Is Gold gives us a fictionalized history of the Gold Rush era from an immigrant perspective and will have you pondering questions about home, belonging, and identity.

Read the ebook via Overdrive today.


The Wisdom of Donkeys

This is a book about a man's appreciation for the donkey, one of the most soulful animals in existence. Through anecdotal accounts, Andy Merrifield shares how donkeys can show humans humility, respect, hard work, and patience. Interspersed with ancient and timeless fables of donkeys, some famous, some not, in cultures throughout the world, Merrifield shows how important the donkey is in human history. All in all, The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World (2009) is a love letter to an animal who can teach everyone lessons on life and how to be a better person.

Read The Wisdom of Donkeys on Overdrive today.



Nancy

In Nancy by Olivia Jaimes (2019), look at a collection of current Nancy newspaper comic strips. In 2018, Olivia Jaimes became the first woman to write and illustrate the classic comic strip. Nancy, a precocious eight year old, starred in the newspaper comic strip starting in 1938. Written and drawn by Ernie Bushmiller until his death in 1982, various writers and artists have continued the strip.

Jaimes, using a clever and minimalistic style, brings a fresh approach to Nancy and brought her into the 21st century, including cell phones and a robotics class. Nancy, her friend Sluggo, and Aunt Fritzi continue to be entertaining at school, home, and play. I had not seen the comic strip in years, so reading the book brought back memories of laughing at the simple strip. Nancy appeals to a broad audience.



The Words I Never Wrote

The novel opens in present day New York City when photographer Juno Lambert purchases a 1931 typewriter once owned by journalist Cordelia Capel. She discovers an incomplete manuscript, spurring Juno to investigate Cordelia's life.

The story then switches to the 1930s, where English sisters Cordelia and Irene end up on different paths and different sides of WWII. Irene moves to Berlin after marrying a German man; her husband rubs shoulders with high-ranking Nazi officials, putting her in treacherous situations. Cordelia ends up in Paris working for a newspaper. The sisters correspond with letters, but have a falling out after mistruths lead to complications.

The Words I Never Wrote (2019) by Jane Thynne is an intricate story that builds momentum as more secrets are revealed. Juno seeks to complete the story and discover what happened so many years ago.

If you enjoy reading novels set during WWII, check out our book lists.



Above the Bay of Angels

In 1896, after her family has fallen on hard times, Isabella goes into service as a maid. When an opportunity arises to interview for a cook position at Buckingham Palace, Isabella jumps at the chance, even though it's under false pretenses. After getting the job, Isabella finds that she has a gift for cooking and becomes a trusted member of Queen Victoria's household. However, the memory of her privileged upbringing and the fear of losing her job are never far from her mind. When love possibly comes her way, will Isabella choose a career over being a wife?

Above the Bay of Angels (2020) is another delightful read from author Rhys Bowen with lots of descriptions of what life was like in the royal household.



The Cuckoo’s Calling

The first book in the Cormoran Strike detective series made me a fan— and I have three more Strike novels to look forward to.

Strike is a British private detective. Unfortunately, he and his business are a mess. Just as he gets to the end of his rope, a wealthy man hires him to investigate the death of his sister, a famous celebrity high fashion model. Everyone except the victim's brother thinks it was a suicide. Strike has a temp secretary, Robin, who helps him with the case. Their interactions make this sixteen-hour audiobook seem like a quick read (and Robert Glenister narrates with a dignified British accent).

The Harry Potter series wasn't for mewrong generation, I guess. What I didn't know was that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling. That was a surprise. Terrific job, J. K.

The Cuckoo's Calling (2013) is available to read or listen to in Overdrive—and if you get hooked, you can read the rest of the series too. Also, the first three novels were adapted into a British TV show called C. B. Strike.



You Can't Touch My Hair

Half of the podcast (and show)Two Dope Queens (her partner Jessica Williams provides the foreword), comedian Phoebe Robinson's infectious personality is on display in her debut collection of essays. She shares personal and professional experiences in a humorous and moving way in You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain (2016).

I highly recommend listening to Robinson narrate the audiobook (available via Overdrive) to hear her take on being a Black woman in America, racism and sexism in the workplace, and current and classic pop culture topics. It's funny and engaging social commentary. If you prefer to read the memoir, that's on Overdrive too.

We've got a list of Black Voices: Memoirs, Essays, & Poetry. Check it out.



Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with recipes)

My book club recently read Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with recipes) (2019). We all enjoyed the novel and it inspired a wonderful discussion. Lorna Landvik's writing style is beautiful and humorous, though the non-chronological storytelling is sometimes difficult to follow.

Haze Evans, 81, has been a columnist for her local newspaper in small town Minnesota for the past 50 years. After she suffers a stroke and is hospitalized, the newspaper's editor reprints some of her columns, highlighting major cultural events from the past. Haze's personality is very likable, and her elegant word choices and storytelling abilities really draw you into her life.

The editor's teenage son needs a job, and is given the task of sifting through Haze's past columns and deciding which ones to run. As he comes to know more about Haze and the issues she wrote about, he's inspired to share them with his English class at school, which profoundly affects his classmates, their teacher, and all involved in reprinting the columns.

Listen to the audiobook on Hoopla today.

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Toil & Trouble

In his latest memoir, Augusten Burroughs, once again, delivers a story filled with laughter, heartache, and yes...magic. In this story of moving from the big city to the country, he reveals that he is a witch. Yes, a witch! Yes, I was a bit thrown over this revelation, but through his candid telling of his own life, I grew to appreciate him even more.

As always, he includes a fantastic cast of characters you really can connect to. If you are a fan of his work, you will not be disappointed. In Toil & Trouble (2019), he reveals much more of himself to his fans than just being a witch.

Visit Overdrive to read the ebook or listen to the audiobook.

The Rural Diaries

Hilarie Burton Morgan's book The Rural Diaries (2020) is like catching up with an old friend over coffee.
I have been a fan since she played Peyton Sawyer on One Tree Hill. I didn't follow her personal life much until a year ago when I started following the cast on Instagram. Hilarie seemed well-grounded and normal. I wondered if it was an act for Instagram or if this was actually her.

After reading her book, I'm pleased to say, it's all her. She's so normal. It's refreshing. Her words are real and authentic. She uses bad four-letter words occasionally. Her stories are heartwarming and relatable. She shares tips for gardening, recipes, and home improvement. And speaking of home improvement, she loves Home Depota girl after my own heart. She talks about being a friend, a mother, a wife, and a woman.

She is married to actor, Jeffery Dean Morgan, who I had a mad crush on when he played Denny Duquette on Grey's Anatomy. And, she co-owns a candy store in a small New York town with actor, Paul Rudd. How did this all happen? I don't want to spoil it for you. Read the book. It's just another one of the heartwarming stories that she tells. Trust me; you'll enjoy it.

I'm so glad I listened to Hilarie narrate the book. I think hearing her words, spoken by her, made her stories more enjoyable. Like I said, catching up with an old friend over coffee.

If you're a fan of Hilarie, read (I mean, listen to) the book. Even if you're not a fan, it's a truly enjoyable memoir that in a nutshell, is about a girl, her life, and a farm. Check out The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm today. Visit Overdrive to listen to the audiobook or read the ebook.



Hey Kiddo

This memoir is a moving, sad, but also hopeful story of a family affected by loss and addiction. Hey Kiddo: How I Lost my Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction (2018) tells a story of how families can come in all shapes and sizes, messy and ugly, but also loving and forgiving. Throughout, Jarrett J. Krosoczka found hope and a sense of love and support. Others will feel less alone in their own struggles.
The audiobook is amazing! Using music and sound effects, this very personal audiobook is narrated by the author with family members and friends voicing the rest of the characters. In the author's notes, he gives us more insight into his family and childhood. Listen to the audiobook on Hoopla today.

The author uses mixed media art with actual letters included in with his drawings. The burnt orange undertones and pineapple wallpaper are a beautiful part of the story as the author explains in notes on his art.This powerful and unforgettable graphic novel is heartbreaking yet uplifting.

Hey Kiddo is a memoir not to be missed. Read the ebook on Overdrive.

Hey Kiddo is a National Book Award Finalist, a 2021 Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (Abe), and a Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Here is a ghost story unlike any you've read before... in 1941, Frankie and her siblings have been left by their widowed father to live in a Chicago orphanage. They are left trying to make a way for themselves amidst poverty and injustice in a world left crumbled by the Great Depression and now on fire with war.

We follow Frankie's coming-of-age story through the eyes of a girl who died in 1918, whose spirit is left lingering the streets of Chicago, unsure how to move on. Glimpses of her past are pieced together as she remembers what happened to her and realizes that coming to terms with the truth is the only way to be set free.

Laura Ruby has weaved together a haunting and heartwarming blend of historical fantasy and mystery, full of rich characters whose stories reveal profound truths about the vast possibilities of human nature. Check out Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (2019) today.

Read the ebook on Overdrive or listen to the audiobook on Hoopla.



The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

Just finished playing a Legend of Zelda game and are longing for more? If so, this is the perfect book for you. The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia (2013) is jam packed with pictures, lore, and information regarding the various Zelda titles. It goes in depth into how some of the environments were created and how it impacts the greater Zelda universe.

If nothing else, the book is just a joy to look at for its art style alone and design choices. Read it instantly on Hoopla today.