Current Picks: Book Reviews

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.



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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Series Spotlight: Eerie Elementary

Strange events are happening at Eerie Elementary School (note the name of the school). Third graders Sam, Lucy, and Antonio find themselves in very scary situations as they work together to keep the school safe from the evil Orson Eerie. Their job as hall monitors is to protect the students of Eerie Elementary School by using their magic sashes. Mr. Nekobi, the janitor, knows what is happening and why, and aids the children with clever ideas. Illustrations of Orson Eerie show that obviously he is a scary, evil man!

Children who can suspend disbelief, believe that the physical Eerie Elementary School is alive, who likes "scary" books, and who are ready for unusual adventures will enjoy this series. Start with The School is Alive! (2014).

Each of the 10 books in the Eerie Elementary series by Jack Chabert is 90 pages with black and white drawings on each page. It is clear from the covers that the books are scary, strange, unusual…for sure. The final page of each book has discussion questions and sometimes craft ideas. Lexile range is 430-600.



The Family Upstairs

Libby Jones has long known that when she turns 25, she inherits something from her birth parents' trust, but she is stunned to discover that it turns out a be a decaying mansion in one of the most expensive areas of London. It also is where her birth parents, Henry and Martina Lamb, died in a cult-like situation when she was ten months old.

The Family Upstairs (2019) recounts Libby's journey of discovering what happened in the family home all those years ago, interspersed with Henry Jr.'s retelling of the years when his family's status went from wealth and privilege to being prisoners in their own home. In the novel, the reader also meets Lucy, who lives a meager existence in France with her two children, but longs to get back to Britain, now that the baby (aka Libby) is now 25. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is a creepily unputdownable read. Perfect for those who love Ruth Rendell's psychological novels, Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent, and the books of Erin Kelly.

The Poppy Wife

A hauntingly beautiful book dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. Set in 1921 with flashbacks to the war years, The Poppy Wife follows the story of war widow, Edie and her brother-in-law Harry, the only surviving brother of three. Edie's husband, Francis, was an avid photographer during the war, faithfully documenting his wartime experience. But when Edie is sent a photo of him with no note attached, 3 years after he was reported missing in action, she latches on to the possibility that he may still be alive somewhere in France and recruits his brother Harry to help look for any sign of him.

Harry's job is as a photographer, taking photos of graves or places of import for bereaved families who are in need of closure. It takes him back to all the places he was stationed throughout the war, villages that have been wiped out or are struggling to rebuild, locals attempting to come to terms with all their loss, and widows searching for any information about their lost husbands. The Poppy Wife (2019) delivers vivid imagery and raw emotion as it follows both Edie and Harry's travels across France.

Caroline Scott is an historian specializing in WWI and The Poppy Wife is an expertly rendered portrayal of the postwar period. Her writing is beautifully atmospheric and the characters are well-drawn, evoking strong emotions.


Series Spotlight: The Last Firehawk

Owls are determined to save their home – the island of Perodia – from the evil Thorn, a vulture who is destroying the island with the help of his army of tiger bats and prickle ants. Rivers are dry, trees are being destroyed, and no flowers are blooming. Heroes of this animal fantasy early chapter book are Tag, an owl who uses a magic map; Skyla, a squirrel who uses a slingshot; and Blaze, the last surviving firehawk who uses his wings. When Tag, Skyla, and Blaze are successful in the quest to find all the pieces of the ember stone, their home might be saved.

The first page of each book explains where Tag, Skyla, and Blaze are in their search for the ember stone so the books do not have to be read in order…but in order would be best. Start with The Ember Stone (2017).

A map of Perodia, which is a copy of the magic map used by Tag, is on the next page after the introduction. The reader will want to refer back to the map while reading the adventure. On the last page of each book are questions and activities suggestions, which will add to the enjoyment of the reader and extend their learning. Each of the 10 books (so far) in The Last Firehawk series by Katrina Charman are 90 pages. There are black and white illustrations on each page. Lexile range is 550-640.



The Dearly Beloved

In the 1950s, we meet four characters whose lives will be intertwined for the next 50 years. Charles is from a wealthy Boston family and the son of a Harvard professor. Lily's parents are killed when she is a teenager and their absence leaves a void inside her for the rest of her life. James grows up poor in Chicago, the son of an alcoholic. Nan is the daughter of a southern minister, and sees firsthand the inner workings of being part of a family where faith and helping others is an integral part of life.

When Charles and James decide to take jobs as the co-pastors of the Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village, the men, along with their wives, Lily and Nan, must live their lives amid the turmoil of the 1960s. They find their beliefs challenged by their circumstances and the other individuals in the quartet. In The Dearly Beloved (2019) by Cara Wall, the reader is immersed in the four characters' lives as revealed through moving, emotional writing.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates

Poor Penelope Rex. It's hard enough starting at a new school, but then to be told all of your classmates are children and that it's socially unacceptable to eat them? Well, those slobbered up kids aren't excited about their new dinosaur classmate, either. Ultimately, Penelope learns a very important lesson about making friends from the class goldfish, Walter: it isn't fun to be seen as someone else's snack.

Check out We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018), a 2020 Monarch Award Nominee, in print or digitally via Hoopla.


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The Chestnut Man

Brutal murders are taking place around Copenhagen and it's not long before investigators realize that they have a serial killer on their hands. The most intriguing clue left behind at each murder scene is a small toy man made of chestnuts and matchsticks, placed on or nearby the body.

Things get even more interesting when a fingerprint is found on each of the chestnut men, and it belongs to the daughter of a government minister who was kidnapped and murdered a year ago. The lead investigators, neither of whom wants to be in their current job, get caught up in the hunt for this twisted, brutal killer, while he always seems to be watching and taunting them. With twists and red herrings, this gruesome police procedural was an entertaining, fast-paced read.

Add this author to the growing list of exciting Nordic crime writers to read. The Chestnut Man (2019) is Soren Sveistrup's debut novel, but he's had plenty of screenwriting experience in this genre. The Killing book series by David Hewson are adapted from an award-winning TV series written by Sveistrup, from which an American version of the TV series was also made.

Summer of ‘69

The Nichols/Foley/Levin/Whalen families have always spent summers on Nantucket with Grandma Nichols, their controlling matriarch. The summer of 1969 is a year of change, not only for our nation, but for this family. Many of its members are caught up in the history-making events of the time. Kate Nicholas Foley Levin started drinking heavily when her son Tiger was drafted into the Vietnam War. Oldest daughter Blair's husband is a professor working with NASA on the Apollo launch, while Blair, pregnant with twins, is bedridden. College student Kirby gets a job on Martha's Vineyard at the hotel where Ted Kennedy has a room the night of the Chappaquiddick incident. Youngest granddaughter Jessie stays with Grandma and uncovers family secrets.

Historical fiction at its best, in Summer of '69 (2019), Elin Hilderbrand weaves a great family story filled with secrets, romance, and numerous historical references.