Current Picks: Book Reviews

The Grand Design

Physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow bring the latest thinking about the nature of reality to the general, non-scientific public in this interesting and entertaining book. The Grand Design (2010) traces mankind's progress from mythology to science. And do we really have free will? Observer created reality, quantum, string, and M theory are presented. The big bang and multiple universes are discussed.

There is no math in this book, which helps by making the theoretical concepts accessible to those without a masters in physics. The authors have presented much to think about in a very brief book (200 pages or 4.5 hours). In the end, the explanations of our reality in The Grand Design are only theories. And those theories are, so far, unprovable.

Read the ebook or listen to the audiobook via Overdrive today.



The War Widow

It's 1946 and Billie Walker is back home in Sydney running her own private investigation agency. During the war, Billie was a journalist who met her photographer husband, Jack, in Paris. Jack then went missing two years ago, presumed dead. Billie came back to Australia when her father, also a private eye, fell ill. After her father's death, Billie took over his office and has an assistant--war veteran Sam.

Most of Billie's cases involve marital disputes, but client Mrs. Brown hires her to find her son, Adin, who is missing. Billie's investigation leads her through both the upper and lower classes of society along with providing a great sense of place of post-war Sydney for the reader in addition to the fashions of the time.

The War Widow (2020) by Tara Moss is a great new addition to the historical mystery genre. I can't wait for the next book in the series!



My Antonia

Willa Cather's My Antonia (1918) describes growing up in frontier Nebraska during the end of the eighteenth century. It is told from the point of view of ten-year-old orphan Jim Burden, who leaves Virginia to live with his paternal grandparents. He soon befriends Antonia Shimerda, who lives on the next farm, and they go on adventures that are indelibly etched into their memories. They grow up together and become lifelong friends, keeping in touch even after Jim moves east, eventually settling in New York. When he comes to visit later in life, Antonia has aged considerably, but despite her change in appearance, she is still the dear friend he remembers.

My Antonia leaves you with a deep feeling of nostalgia for a person and place you never knew. Visit Hoopla to read the ebook or listen to the audiobook.



The Prophets

Powerful and confronting, yet also beautiful, The Prophets (2021) is a story of two young male slaves who find forbidden love on an antebellum Southern cotton plantation. The solace they find in each other either fascinates or repels those around them until the envy, fear, and hatred of both their owners and fellow slaves forces a reaction.

Robert Jones, Jr. depicts the harsh reality of a shameful time in history with emotional and lyrical prose, creating an epic story which highlights the injustices and dehumanization faced by the multitudes of Africans torn from their home soil and thrown into slavery.

For readers who enjoy Toni Morrison and Brit Bennett.

Read the ebook or listen to the audiobook via Overdrive today.

Nimona

After my 11-year-old niece raved about Nimona (2015), I had to read the teen graphic novel so we could discuss it. What a story!

Are the villains really bad and are the heroes really good? That's what author Noelle Stevenson asks in this morality tale. On the surface, villain Lord Blackheart is fighting the kingdom's Institute. His nemesis and former best friend Sir Goldenloin defends the kingdom.

Nimona, a gutsy young girl and shapeshifter, offers her skills to Blackheart as his apprentice.Chaos and hilarity ensue. Quirky and engaging, with dark comedy and endearing relationships, Nimona will grab the attention of even the most reluctant reader. It's a story enhanced by the artwork.

Nimona is available to read immediately on Hoopla. You can even listen to a full cast recording.



The Lost Jewels

Bostonian Kate Kirby is asked to write a magazine article about the Cheapside Hoard, a large amount of jewelry from the 16th and 17th centuries which were found in 1912 by workmen excavating a cellar in London. As a jewelry historian, Kate is excited about being able to see some of the collection up close since most of it is off-view. As she views the jewelry, Kate notices that it's similar to some drawings her great-grandmother Essie had in her possession. Kate wonders if there is some connection between the jewels and her family.

In an alternate storyline, it's 1912 and Essie lives in poverty in London with her mother, brother, and three sisters. The family is barely able to make ends meet when her brother, Freddie, happens to be one of the workers on a job site where a large amount of jewels are discovered. The Lost Jewels (2020) by Kirsty Manning follows Kate on her journey of discovery. A great readalike for Jennifer Robson and Fiona Davis.



Zoo 2

In this short story sequel to Zoo, the adventure starts with Jackson Oz narrowly escaping from a polar bear. He and his family have set up housekeeping in the arctic thinking they would be safe from infected animal attacks.

Oz and wife Chloe were considering the dubious safety of Greenland when Oz gets invited to join a new effort to end the pandemic of animal attacks. There is a concern that the infection could spread from animals to microbes. Then the infection begins to be noticed in some humans in remote areas. Oz joins a team of researchers to capture an infected human alive. Infected humans are as savage as their animal counterparts but can speak and know how to use weapons.

This is an exciting standalone story but I recommend reading Zoo first—and check out my review of that title. Jay Snyder's excellent reading won't let you put this audiobook down till the end. Listen to the audiobook via Hoopla or read the ebook via Overdrive. Check out Zoo 2 (2016) by James Patterson and Max DiLallo today.



Chlorine Sky

This #OwnVoices story follows teenager Sky through her journey to self-acceptance. Told in verse, this touching story perfectly displays the often overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and angst that will resonate with teens and adults alike. Poet Mahogany L. Browne's lyrical writing is inspiring without being cliché and will stick with you long after you've finished reading.

Check out Chlorine Sky (2021) and other works by Mahogany L. Browne today.


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Convenience Store Woman

At 176 pages, Convenience Store Woman (2018) is a brief, quirky story that you'll think about long after you finish the novel. Translated from Japanese, the story centers on 36-year-old Keiko. She's lived in Tokyo for her entire life and spent the last 18 years working part time at a convenience store. In so many ways, offbeat Keiko doesn't fit into society's expectations.

With wry humor, Sayaka Murata's engaging novel is thought-provoking social commentary and satire. There is so much to discuss—this would make an excellent choice for your book club. In addition to topics already mentioned, participants can discuss similarities and differences between American and Japanese culture and expectations, careers vs. jobs, and what it means to be a functioning member of society.

Available on Hoopla, read the ebook or listen to the audiobook today.



Wild Symphony

Yes, you read the author correctly. This picture book is, in fact, written by the Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code fame. I was shocked just seeing his name on the cover, and even more so learning that Brown is also an incredibly impressive composer. On the surface, each page features a poem about the animals on that spread with a little life lesson from Maestro Mouse. But there are so many extras! Find hidden letters to unscramble, decode a secret message, and look for the reveal of each animals' instrument on the page following.

To top it all off, the book itself has a free, corresponding app of the same name with music composed for each poem by Dan Brown himself. Once you listen through the book on the app, you just might uncover one extra surprise.

All in all, I am very impressed by Brown's first picture book Wild Symphony (2020) with all of the bells and whistles to boot. I can't wait to see what he does next.



Save Me from Dangerous Men

Nikki Griffin is a private detective. She also owns a bookstore and practices her own brand of vigilantism against men who abuse women. She is hired by Silicon Valley CEO Gregg Gunn to follow an employee Gunn believes is stealing information from the company. As Nikki observes the employee, Karen Li, she notices that Karen acts more like someone who is scared rather than an errant employee. Soon, Nikki is involved in something that puts her in great danger--and she knows that she has limited time to figure out the puzzle of what Gunn is really involved in before people lose their lives.

Save Me from Dangerous Men (2019) is the debut of a new series by S. A. Lelchuk and doesn't disappoint--an intriguing main character, engaging story, and a solid sense of place.

Listen to the novel in Hoopla instantly or read the ebook in Overdrive.



Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Clay lost his Silicon Valley job due to the recession and takes a job at an unusual bookstore, working odd hours. The few customers that patronize the store are a curious bunch and seem to return again and again without buying anything, but rather check out very old books. He soon discovers a pattern to the activity which leads to a 500-year-old mystery.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (2012) by Robin Sloan is a fun read, with elements of suspense and mystery, plus plenty of quirky characters. For those who like to listen, narrator Ari Flakos sets the tone just right. Listen to the audiobook or read the ebook on Overdrive.

We have an entire list of Books for Book Lovers—check it out!


Zoo

Grad student Jackson Oz has been noticing an uptick in violent animal attacks in this sci-fi bestseller. No one important will listen. He's dismissed as a crank. He travels to Africa to research the phenomenon firsthand. There he meets ecologist Chloe Tousignant. He would rather research Chloe but he has a serious girlfriend back home in the U.S. The lions snap (pun intended) him back to business.

The animal attack scenes are pretty exciting and following the search for the cause of the animal behavior is interesting. Zoo (2012) is a good thriller. I really liked it. I'm not sure how much of this book is James Patterson and how much is Michael Ledwidge, but Zoo is sometimes referred to as Zoo 1 because Patterson teamed up with someone else, Max DiLallo, to write Zoo 2, a short story sequel.

Visit Overdrive to read the ebook or listen to the audiobook of Zoo. Then, check out the ebook or audiobook of Zoo 2 for more stories in the same universe.



The Bell in the Lake

Wonderfully atmospheric and steeped in local legends and lore, The Bell in the Lake (2020) is a captivating historical novel set in rural Norway during the late 19th century. The story revolves around a local farm girl, Astrid Hekne, whose ancestors donated the mysterious 'sister bells' to the local stave church. When the new pastor decides to sell off the historical church to Germany, he stirs up ancient myths and endangers his budding romance with Astrid.

Lars Mytting's writing conjures up images of Norway's remote villages, the stoic people who inhabit them and their historic stave churches; describing the unique architecture and designs which mix Viking paganism and Christianity.

Read the novel instantly via Hoopla.



Goodnight Beautiful

Don't plan on getting anything done at home once you start Goodnight Beautiful (2020) by Aimee Molloy). What a wild ride: so creepy and so entertaining to read! Sam Statler is a well-liked psychotherapist in upstate New York. He's a newlywed; he and his wife Annie are very happy together. One stormy afternoon after leaving his office, Sam just disappears into thin air. Even his car can't be found. Annie feels something really terrible has happened. Many others, including the police, think that Sam has just taken off, due to serious financial troubles. So, who is right? Filled with several surprising twists, Goodnight Beautiful is one novel you won't want to miss.

Read the ebook from Overdrive.