Current Picks: Book Reviews

Jez

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)

moscow3When the Bolsheviks rise to power in Russia in 1922, they decide Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is an unrepentant aristocrat, but he also wrote a poem that made him quite popular among the revolutionists. Opting for a weaker punishment than death, Rostov is sentenced to lifelong house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, directly across the street from the Kremlin.

While Rostov is imprisoned, he is not entirely disconnected from the world, as the grand international hotel hosts many important guests within the Bolshevik party and from all over the world. Over the next three decades, Rostov meets with a large cast of characters, including a high-ranking KGB officer, a chef, a formerly famous actress, and a ten-year-old girl named Nina. Each has an effect on Rostov’s life, but perhaps not as large as the one Rostov has on everyone else.

Whether you read for characters or historical events, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is sure to please. With its winning combination of personalities, humor, secrets, and an excellent narration style, this novel is nothing short of charming.

Want to read more books like A Gentleman in Moscow? Check out our lists of readalikes.

https://ippl.info/books-movies-more/76-book-lists/1748-all-time-faves-if-you-liked-a-gentleman-in-moscow

 
 
 
 
Katie

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017)

amerstreetFabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti and coming to live in Detroit. But when Fabiola's mother is detained in New Jersey, Fabiola is left to travel onward to her aunt and cousins's home.

I fell into the world that Ibi Zoboi created; blending an American city with Haitian Vodou. Where the average person might see a homeless man on the corner, Fabiola sees Papa Legba.

Fabiola's struggles immediately draw you into the story and when she is presented with an opportunity to help her mother by spying on her cousin's boyfriend, readers will feel for Fabiola.

It's been several months since I've listened to American Street, and I can hear Robin Miles's beautiful narration when I think of the story and the characters.

This Abe Lincoln nominee (PDF) will possibly break your heart (it did for me), and everyone should read it.

 
 
 
 
Jennifer

Intercepted by Alexa Martin (2018)

interceptedA modern romance featuring a delightfully snarky heroine. In Intercepted, Marlee vows not to date another athlete after her 10-year relationship with an NFL player goes south. Then she meets quarterback Gavin, and you can guess what happens next. What makes this story shine is Marlee's independence and individual growth, her witty inner dialogue (coupled with hilarious hashtags), and her fabulous support system.

Alexa Martin is a new author perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jasmine Guillory, and Julie James.

 
 
 
 
Hugh

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George (2018)

punishThis very long detective story from Elizabeth George brings in multiple characters with detailed descriptions of each, challenging the reader to keep up with who is involved with what evil deed. The death of a prisoner in custody is first thought to be a suicide but then closer study introduces doubt that this cleric would have taken his own life.

The principal detectives (Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers) have a long history of working together, and the reader might do well to read an earlier novel in this series first (such as A Great Deliverance) to gain understanding of their relationship. In The Punishment She Deserves, you’ll enjoy making predictions as to what will happen next and who will be involved.

Emily

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (2018)

immortalistsIn 1969, the Gold siblings of Manhattan seek out a woman who is said to be able to tell you the day of your death. While it begins as innocent curiosity, the children are not ready for the weight of the knowledge. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows the four siblings over the next fifty years as they attempt to live with prophecies hanging over their heads. As they depart to live their own lives, each sibling handles the information differently and their lives are shaped by their interpretation.

Divided into four sections (each one following a sibling), the novel intertwines their stories. This book paints a portrait of the hardships of trying to live when you know when you will die and examines the fine line between destiny and personal choice.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books with a hint of magical realism and books with a strong family dynamic.
Joe

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

allthelightSet in WWII, this book alternates between the life of a young German orphan (soon to be soldier) named Werner, who is a whiz with electronics, and Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl who is forced to leave her home in Paris when the Germans invade. Their lives intersect in a seaside town called San-Malo as the Allies are about to bomb the city and repeatedly flashes back in time showing how they came to this moment.

All the Light We Cannot See has very short chapters, so it has the feel of being fast paced, but the novel is also very detailed with tactile and audio descriptions of how Marie senses the world around her. Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel depicts the horrors of WWII from a unique point of view revealing both the evil within men and also the heroism, too.

If you enjoyed this novel, check out related book lists: Novels of WWII and WWII and the Women in the Resistance.
Katie

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)

scytheConfession time: Out of all of the Abraham Lincoln 2019 award nominees, this was the one I was least looking forward to. Teenagers forced to kill? Grim Reaper death person on the cover? Morality? Not another dystopian! I was so, so, so wrong.

Scythe on audio was a bit of a slow start, but I was soon waking up ten minutes earlier to have more time in the car in the morning. I needed to know what was happening to Citra and Rowan.

I gasped out loud. I shouted at the car stereo. I cackled. I sent all-caps text messages to two friends who were reading it at the same time. (If you stop by the Kids & Teens Ask Us Desk, I would be happy to re-enact some of these text conversations.)

The world building is phenomenal, the characters are fully developed -- and they grow throughout the book. I would have a hard time trying to find fault with Scythe...which is probably why it won a Printz Honor in 2017.

This would be my vote for the Abes (PDF), if I were a teen and allowed to vote. Instead, I'll just be sitting here watching Neal Shusterman's Twitter account, waiting impatiently for the announcement of book three in the series.

[Word to the wise, the sequel to Scythe -- 2018's Thunderhead -- leaves you thrown off a cliff hurtling towards Earth. You might want to wait until that third boo has a publication date before diving into Thunderhead.]
Lora

The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker (2018)

shortestThirty-year-old Hannah is just about to graduate from business school and has landed a coveted job in New York. But when she and her boyfriend, Ethan, spend the weekend in Sonoma, Hannah finds herself under the spell of the area, specifically the small, historic winery of Bellosguardo—so much so that she decides to stay in town and take a job at the winery while Ethan goes to New York without her. Hannah immerses herself in life at Bellosguardo, getting to know how the wines are made and connecting with the owners, Everett and Linda and their dog, Tannen. Sparks also fly when Hannah meets their son, William, but he is headed to New York himself for graduate school.

The Shortest Way Home is a charming novel about one woman's journey to discovering herself and what really makes her happy. A great readalike for Judith Ryan Hendricks and Christina Baker Kline's The Way Life Should Be. Miriam Parker’s debut is absolutely one of the most satisfying books I've read this year.
Hugh

Blood Truth by Matt Coyle (2017)

bloodtruthA good detective mystery about present day murders possibly connected to an unsolved murder from 25 years ago involving Rick Cahill’s father. Rick, the principal character in Blood Truth, is a private eye hired by an old girlfriend to investigate her husband’s secretive behavior involving another woman. Rick finds the other woman dead in her own car trunk and does his best to protect his old girlfriend over protests from her husband. Secrets from the past found in a safety deposit box compound the mystery, but author Matt Coyle, an English major graduate, leads the reader through all the twists and turns for an enjoyable read.

 

Jennifer

Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce (2018)

dearmrsbirdIn 1940 London, 22-year-old Emmy Lake dreams of becoming a journalist to contribute to the war effort. Quite by accident, she accepts a job as a typist for a women's magazine... that soon has Emmy secretly answering letters written to an advice column. Debut author A. J. Pearce creates strong, charming characters and friendships along with a solid sense of place with London under frequent raids during the Blitz.

Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Dear Mrs. Bird is a cheerful, bittersweet, and heartwarming tale of making a difference in the world in the midst of war. We’ve created a list of novels that take place on the home front during World War II.
Heather

Ugly by Robert Hoge (2016)

uglyhogeIn this real-life Wonder story, Robert Hoge describes his early life being born with not only a large tumor on his face affecting the placement of his facial features, but also legs which were underdeveloped. While he addresses some of the surgeries he underwent as baby up through high school, this autobiography centers around his family life and his determined spirit, despite challenges with his physical appearance and abilities along the way. I highly suggest the audiobook, read by the author himself.

Check out Ugly and other titles on this year's 2019 Bluestem nominee list targeted for grades 3-5.
IPPL Staff

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (2017)

indexAll Emma Gladstone wants is to be paid for the wedding dress she was commissioned to create, and all the Duke of Ashbury wants is an heir for his title. In a match of wits, they come to a deal—Emma and the Duke will marry, but she only has to live with him until she can produce an heir.

Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal is a fun, playful romp that goes by far too quickly. For readers who love fast-paced banter, well-developed characters, and sensuously steamy situations (and book 2 of the Girl Meets Duke series—The Governess Game—is available now). Readers of Nalini Singh will definitely enjoy this as well.
Katie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

51v55l2fxflWhen I checked out Born a Crime, I knew vaguely that Trevor Noah was a comedian. I even remembered sharing a post of his on social media since I thought it was funny. Yet somehow, I did not expect to have to pull my car over to the shoulder to finish listening to one of Noah's stories. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

And if that's not a ringing endorsement of an audiobook, I don't know what is.

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book because you hear Noah speaking the different South African languages with accuracy. And you get to hear Noah's voice imitation of his mother, among other people in his memoir.

Oh? And the story I had to pull over to finish on the road? I've been telling it to everyone, convincing them to read the book. If you do read Born a Crime, stop by the K&T desk upstairs and see if you can guess which story made me laugh so hard I cried.
Hugh

The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer (2007)

311980A secret society, guided by the teachings of Plato-ordained guardians, administers organ transfers in Michael Palmer’s The Fifth Vial. Unfortunately, there are more patients in need than supply to fulfill and matches are difficult to find, thus the guardians must take hard steps to provide adequate supply. A medical student, a physician in need of an organ transfer, and a private investigator all find themselves strongly affected by the activities of this arrogant society. The reader can follow the action throughout the world and may be surprised and disappointed by the outcome.
Lora

The Necklace by Claire McMillan (2017)

The NecklaceWhen Nell's Aunt Loulou passes away, Nell heads to the Quincy estate in Cleveland from her home in Oregon. Nell's mother (now deceased) and father moved out west years ago, because they found being around the wealthy Quincy family too stifling. At the reading of the will, Nell is named executor of the estate and is bequeathed a necklace that is unaccounted for. Then, in cleaning out Loulou's bedroom, Nell finds a necklace containing a giant sapphire with nine other jewels. Feeling that this is the necklace mentioned in the will, Nell goes about finding out its history, but other family members attempt to control what happens to it.

Told in alternating chapters, the reader follows the contemporary story of Nell and her relatives, along with the 1920s tale of brothers Ethan and Ambrose Quincy and the woman they both loved, May. The Necklace by Claire McMillan is an engaging story filled with details of old wealth and of times gone by. Give to readers who enjoy Lauren Willig's standalone novels.