All posts by Current Picks

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (2015)

If you love a big story climax, Crenshaw is probably not the book for you. In this 2018 Bluestem nominated junior novel, Katherine Applegate tells the story of an imaginary friend from a boy’s perspective as his family deals with financial troubles. The story does not build up to any major plot point; however, it is thoughtful and reflective (especially since a large portion of the book is a flashback).

In any event, this was an easy audiobook listen (just over three hours), narrated by old pro Kirby Heyborne, and it could stir some interesting discussion topics with you and your family.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo (2017)

Need more Wonder Woman and don’t want to wait two years for the next movie? Worry not, because Leigh Bardugo’s new novel Warbringer is everything you need.

Diana knows not to meddle in the affairs of mortals, but against her better judgment and the advice of the Oracle, she saves the life of a young shipwrecked girl, Alia. Alia is a “warbringer,” a woman descended from Helen of Troy, whose blood will bring about a world war if she reaches adulthood. Determined to change fate, Diana takes it upon herself to deliver Alia to Greece where she can be cleansed of the warbringer line—but Alia doesn’t believe in such stories and just wants to return home. The two must learn to trust each other if they are to survive the lies, assassination attempts, divine intervention, and expensive galas as they race against time to save the world.

Full of lovable, flawed, and beautifully diverse characters, this action-packed and humorous coming-of-age novel makes a great read and an even better listen with the audiobook, read by Mozhan Marno, which will leave fans desperate for more.

The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism by John U. Bacon (2017)

In 1917, a ship full of explosives en route from New York to France exploded in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. Killing 2,000 people and wounding 9,000 more, the explosion leveled 2.5 square miles of Canada. In The Great Halifax Explosion, author John U. Bacon combines engaging human interest stories with what happened leading up to and after the explosion (which was the largest in the world until the atomic bombs were dropped in 1945). He introduces readers to the families of Halifax and details their daily lives in this fascinating story. For fans of history books with a personal narrative.

If you visit Halifax, you can see the Mont Blanc Anchor. Learn more from Canada’s Historic Places.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (2006)

Full disclosure: I didn’t think I’d like World War Z (Zombies? No thank you.) and only started the novel because I had to (yes, that still happens). Nevertheless, author Max Brooks surprised me with a unique structure and intriguingly compelling story. Set 12 years after the end of the zombie war, character Max Brooks is traveling the globe interviewing those involved in the conflict. Each character shares their experiences, relaying information on the causes of the zombie uprising, challenges of the war, and the rebuilding process. The story is not graphic or gruesome and somehow, is realistic (despite the zombies and the post-apocalypse).

Listen to the audiobook: because the story is composed of a variety of interviews, a full cast narrates the immersive story—lending the book true crime and living history elements. Narrators include Alan Alda, Martin Scorsese, Simon Pegg, Alfred Molina, and many more.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2016)

Famous (and fictional) mystery writer Alan Conway’s last novel begins with a burial while seven magpies perched in a tree look on. One for sorrow, one for Joy, one for a girl and one for a boy, one for silver and one for gold, and the last for the strangest tale that ever was told. This mystery within a mystery follows this children’s poem but the reader is challenged to find parallel events in the lives of the author, editor, and publisher to those affecting characters in the author’s last novel. Were the last chapters of the novel stolen, destroyed, or never written? Who can untangle these mysteries? Discover the answer to these questions in Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (2013)

In William Kent Krueger’s novel, narrator Frank remembers the summer of 1961 when his perspective on life changed forever. A smart aleck thirteen year old, Frank thought he knew it all. He and his younger brother Jake are faced with multiple killings in their small Minnesota town and figure out the awful truth behind the hardest death of all.

Part mystery, part poignant family drama, Ordinary Grace shows how bad things happen to good people and what you see is not always the whole story. It took the innocence of childhood to see beyond the surface. A tender epilogue set forty years later ties up loose ends and shows how the summer of 1961 truly shaped the lives of the Drum family.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo (2014)

When cleaning, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed to the point that you stop before you begin— all because of one question: “Where do I start?!” Marie Kondo’s answer is clothes! Gather up all the clothes in the house you can find (yes, even the ones in the back of that third closet in the room no one goes in) and go through them. From there, how do you decide whether you keep it or not?  Ask yourself this: does it bring you joy? Have you even worn it in the last year? (Did you forget it existed?)

Find your inner clutter-free calm with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (2016)

I haven’t read a Jodi Picoult book in a long time, but I’m so glad I decided to read this one. Small Great Things is one of the most thought provoking and inflammatory books I’ve read in some time. It focuses on issues of race and prejudice in a way that I, and probably many others, have not considered. The story is told from the perspectives of three characters: Ruth (an African-American labor and delivery nurse), Turk (a white supremacist father of a newborn baby in Ruth’s hospital), and Kennedy (Ruth’s defense attorney). Each viewpoint sheds a different light on the issue of racism. We learn that we all have much to learn about how we perceive each other and behave towards each other.

The characters were believable, although not always likable. Ruth was intelligent, sympathetic, and strong. You can’t help but get incensed by the injustices she has faced. It was difficult to read at times, especially the chapters told from Turk’s perspective. The following two quotes summarize the messages in this book:

Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

The title refers to a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things that are great.”

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones (2015)

What an eye-opener—investigative journalist Sam Quinones pens a compelling and horrifying tale of how a combination of factors lead to the current devastating opiate problem affecting people across the United States.

In Dreamland, short chapters focus on various individuals (dealers, doctors, addicts, and their families) and corporations (marketing firms and pharmaceutical companies). Quinones weaves multiple threads together, showing how an influx of black tar heroin from Mexico (and a new delivery system) and the rise of OxyContin and other legal pharmaceuticals created today’s widespread challenges. He successfully humanizes people in this narrative, including some individuals that may surprise you.

There is so much to talk about—consider discussing Dreamland with your book group.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2014)

A determined mother must lead her children to safety on a riverboat while they all remain blindfolded. In a world overrun by creatures that can kill a person merely from being looked at, this is their only option for survival. Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is both horrifying and beautiful, making the reader feel just as blind and helpless as its characters. Since it’s the month of scary stories, check out other contemporary horror novels too.