Current Picks: Book Reviews

Katie

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (2018)

bellesCamellia is a Belle. Belles are the most important people in the kingdom, other than the royal family, because they control beauty. In the world of Orléans, everyone is born a "gris": gray skin, red eyes, straw colored hair. Only the Belles can grant a person a new look, using their magic to change appearance, manner, and control age.

Camellia wants to become the Favorite Belle—to work in the palace and work for the royal family. But is that life really what it seems? When dark mysteries arise, like crying girls in the middle of the night and former Belles being veiled, Camellia must decide to find her own truth in beauty.

I've listened to The Belles on audio twice. Rosie Jones, the narrator, does a wonderful job with voices and accents. She makes the city of Orléans come to life, and her take on Princess Sophia's voice still sends shivers up my spine.

I love Dhonielle Clayton's descriptions of the world of Orléans – the post balloons and petit cakes and teletropes – the world building is fantastic.

The last few pages of this book will keep readers on the edge of their seat. And when they read the last line, they'll be clamoring for the sequel The Everlasting Rose, out March 5, 2019. [Beware! There are spoilers on the linked page for The Belles.]

In the meantime, you can join me as I start my third re-listen.
Lora

Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018)

not_our_kindIn 1947, an accident between two cabs brings Eleanor Moskowitz into the world of Patricia Bellamy and her family. Eleanor, who is Jewish, has just left a position at a prestigious school in Manhattan. Patricia offers her a job teaching her daughter, Margaux, who had polio, thus has trouble walking, and is very reluctant to go back to school—hence the tutor.

Margaux takes an immediate shine to Eleanor, but in the upper class New York society, Eleanor is encouraged to keep her religion a secret. Things get even more complicated when Eleanor falls for Patricia's older brother, Tom, and Patricia's husband, Wynn, becomes increasingly angry about Eleanor's presence. Told through the eyes of Eleanor and Patricia, Not Our Kind explores the two women's very different lives in a time of change. Check out this debut from Kitty Zeldis.
Hugh

The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley (2018)

judgeThis read is a fun tour of the British and Dutch colonies of North America in the mid-17th century. The principal character, Balty, although young and inexperienced, is charged with finding the two judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I of England. Balty links up with Huncks, an experienced agent of the Crown, who guides Balty through the new world territories populated by Puritans, Quakers, Native Americans, and finally the Dutch.

Meanwhile, back in England, Balty’s cousin, Samuel Pepys, fears a war with the Dutch might be imminent and Balty might be in great danger. Almost miraculously, Balty survives and New Amsterdam gets a new name.

Check out The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley today.
Jennifer

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun (2018)

gmorninggnightThis delightful gem is the perfect way to kick off a new year. Gmorning, Gnight is comprised of brief motivational reminders that Lin-Manuel Miranda shared on Twitter at the beginning and end of the day. Paired with illustrations by Jonny Sun, this short book can be read cover to cover, or flipped through at leisure. Find the uplifting words that you need to improve your outlook that day.

The longest part of the book is the introduction, which you can read courtesy of Vulture. Below, I’ve shared one of the most memorable affirmations:
Gmorning.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you, even the ones you haven’t heard from for a while*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU. 
Gnight.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you in this life, even if clouds obscure your view*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU.
TUG IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.
Denise

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood (2016)

bookthatmattersAva decides to join a library book club after her husband of 25 years leaves her for another woman. At the end of the year, the club decides that each member will lead a discussion based on the book that mattered most to them during their life. Ava has chosen an esoteric book that is hard to find, but it was the book that helped her work through the death of her sister and, shortly after, her mother’s suicide. Meanwhile, Ava’s daughter Maggie is living in Paris, supported by an older, married man, and is lying to her mother about her life.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood alternates between Maggie and Ava’s perspectives and is full of well-developed characters. The best parts are the book club discussions, which the reader gets to listen in on. They can open you up to new reading options and build your TBR list. A good choice for book clubs, this is an issue-driven book with family and heart.

 
 
 
 
Emily

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (1999)

daughterforestWeaving Celtic mythology and classic fantasy together, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest is an enchanting book that you won’t want to put down. The story follows Sorcha, a young Irish girl living with her warlord father and six older brothers who love their sister fiercely. Their lands house fair folk and ancient magic that help keep them safe from the Britons trying to invade.

Though safe from humans, her father soon remarries a sorceress that curses her and her brothers, turning the six boys into swans and forcing her into silence until she can break the spell. Over the next few years, Sorcha must try to fulfil the curses requirements while not uttering a single sound, writing anything down, or conveying any part of her story. After being taken in by a Red, a British lord, she must try to save her brothers and her one true love.

This story reads like a classic fairy tale bolstered with captivating details and great character development. While Daughter of the Forest stands on its own, you can check out the rest of the series to revisit the magical world.

 
 
 
 
Katie

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostGhost is the first book in the Track series by Jason Reynolds. It's currently on the Rebecca Caudill 2019 nominees list.

I absolutely adored this book (and its sequels: Patina, Sunny, and Lu).

Ghost may appear to be a simply sports-themed book, but it's not. It has a deep backstory, and I loved watching Ghost – the main character – develop and grow as his story unfurled.

While the series is definitely linked by the track team, each character really shines in their own book. I think Patina is my favorite of all four.

Definitely add this to your reading list and don't forget to vote for the Rebecca Caudills (PDF) starting in February!

Author's Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/

Lora

Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis (2018)

poppyWhen retired actress Poppy Harmon discovers that her recently deceased husband left her bankrupt, she wonders what type of job would be suitable for her. After a little thought, she decides to open the Desert Flowers Detective Agency with her best friends Iris and Violet. They find that no one wants to hire three women in their sixties, so they recruit Matt, who is Poppy's daughter's boyfriend (and a very good-looking actor) to join their team. With the addition of Violet's twelve-year-old grandson, Wyatt, in charge of all the computer (i.e. hacking) work, they are good to go.

Their first case is finding out who is responsible for a series of burglaries at a local retirement community. With lots of humor and very vivid characters, Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis is a perfect read for those who love cozy mysteries.

 
 
 
 
Jez

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (2018)

good-neighborIf you grew up any time between 1968 and 2001, there’s a good chance that Fred Rogers was your childhood. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a slow, peaceful show about friendship and learning, with a kindly gentleman and his friends and a world of make believe. There’s a certain amount of make believe surrounding Rogers himself, with rumors spreading quickly across the internet, especially one about him being a navy seal. The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King—the first authorized biography of Rogers—aims to set the record straight: Fred Rogers was precisely the man you imagined him to be, based off his television persona. But he was also so much kinder and maybe a little stranger than we thought.

King’s biography covers the entirety of Rogers’ life, drawing on television appearances; interviews with Rogers, his family, and his coworkers; and his own personal friendship with the man. In these pages, you’ll learn how Rogers contributed and changed the face of early childhood education, his past as an opera author, what he was like as a parent, and some great behind-the-scenes stories from the many shows he did over the years.

For an extra dose of nostalgia, pick up the audiobook, read by LeVar Burton. When you’re done with the book, check out the movie based on the book, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Hugh

Twenty-One Days by Anne Perry (2018)

twenty-one_daysAuthor Anne Perry introduces a new generation of Pitts: Daniel, a junior barrister in 1910 London, assists in the defense of an arrogant biographer whose work may touch on and stain the career of Dan’s father. The biographer has been convicted of the murder of his wife and sentenced to hang in 21 days. Pressured by a senior member of his firm, Dan risks using his underground connections to exhume the dead wife’s body for possible answers to the contradictions he has found.

First in a spinoff series, Twenty-One Days can be read alone—and may be enjoyed by fans of the long-running series featuring Daniel’s parents, Inspector Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte.

Long-running series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/40488-charlotte-thomas-pitt

 
 
 
 
Jennifer

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017)

jacketI adored Denise Kiernan’s first book (The Girls of Atomic City) on a little known piece of history. Now, she turns her attention to the creation of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

In The Last Castle, Kiernan details the lives of Edith and George Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt) along with the construction of the massive house and the development (and protection) of the surrounding forests and land. The author effortlessly weaves the threads of the stories of people, places, and events in American history from the Gilded Age to WWII. An engaging and fascinating slice of history.

 
 
 
 
Kathy

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 
Lora

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson (2018)

meet_meWhen Englishwoman Tina Hopgood was a child, a Danish archaeologist, Professor Glob, dedicated a book he wrote to Tina and her friends. Tina and her best friend, Bella, always vowed they would visit the museum in Denmark where the Tollund Man (one of Professor Glob's finds) is housed. Fifty years later, Tina has still not visited, and Bella has passed away from cancer. Tina decides to write to Glob, yet finds he has also died. She gets a letter from the curator of the museum, Anders Larsen, instead.

Meet Me at the Museum features the correspondence between Tina and Anders as they find themselves confiding in each other their deepest thoughts and feelings, even though they live far apart. As their friendship grows, one wonders will Tina and Anders finally meet? Anne Youngson’s novel is a great readalike for Letters from Skye and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

 
 
 
 
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Denise

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (2017)

beforeI especially enjoy novels based on real life events and/or people, as well as stories that alternate between the past and present. This has both!  Before We Were Yours is an eye-opening look at disturbing events that took place at Tennessee Children's Home during the 1930s and ‘40s. This orphanage kidnapped children from poor families so that wealthy families, willing to pay high fees, could adopt them. The children were gravely mistreated while living in the orphanage, many of them dying before being adopted.

The story focuses on a set of five siblings who were kidnapped from their river houseboat in 1939. The oldest child does everything in her power to try to keep them together. It alternates between their journey in the past and present day, where we meet Avery, who discovers that her grandmother has something in her past that she’s never shared with her family. Avery’s mission is to uncover this mystery. The chapters that focused on the past were emotionally intense with authentic, complex characters. This is the first book I’ve read by Lisa Wingate, but it won’t be the last.

 
 
 
 
Heather

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis (2018)

girlHave you ever told yourself a lie and believed it? Maybe that you're not good enough, don't know how to be a mom, or should be further along by now in reaching your goals? In her most recent book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis opens each chapter with a lie she once believed about herself, telling personal stories and sharing what helped her overcome those lies. Covering a wide variety of topics from relationships to parenting to careers and more, Hollis' life experiences will touch women in all different walks of life.

Hollis reads the audio version (available on CD or downloadable on hoopla and eMediaLibrary), which I highly recommend!