Staff Reviews

Staff Reviews

 

August, 2018
The Destiny Thief

By Richard Russo

        Review by: Stephany

As a fan of Richard Russo’s funny novel, Nobody’s Fool (1993), I nabbed his brand new book of essays with high hopes. Moving from bittersweet to buoyant, the book did not disappoint, exuding both the author’s trademark irreverence, and his humane take on our collective personal flaws (“gifts that keep on giving.”)

The nine essays offer a miscellany of writing- and writer-related topics, such as his transition from frustrated academic into fiction writer, the comic sensibilities of his hero Mark Twain, and his less than politically correct reaction when novelist friend Jim Boylan announces his plan to change genders.

If you haven’t read Russo before, that should not stand in your way of enjoying this one on its own merits. If you have read him, prepare for a resonant reunion.
 
June, 2018
The Minimalist Kitchen

By Melissa Coleman

        Review by: Cathy

This is a gem of a cookbook.  It contains simple, healthful recipes.  The author suggests ways to rid the kitchen of clutter, prioritizing the essential tools. The author includes many helpful suggestions to simplify meal planning and preparation.


May, 2018
My Lady Jane

By Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows

        Review by: Betsy

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows is a very funny book set in a parallel universe that resembles the time period following the death of King Henry VIII, with one key difference: much of the populace has the ability to shape-shift.  The saga begins with the young King Edward learning from his weaselly advisor that he is dying, so he quickly signs a proclamation declaring his cousin Jane queen in the event of his untimely demise, then marries her off to the son of his advisor.  Unsure how to break the news, everyone involved accidentally-on-purpose neglects to reveal that her new husband is involuntarily a horse from dawn to dusk.  The newlyweds quickly establish some ground rules: "There will be no riding of the horse" (or bridling, or harnessing) decrees Jane's new husband.  When Jane wonders aloud what, then, is the point of owning a horse, marital bliss does not ensue.


March, 2018
Shortcuts to Inner Peace

By Ashley Davis Bush

        Review by: Christine

A good read for someone wanting simple and practical ways to achieve inner peace. The author uses everyday activities such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower as opportunities to apply her techniques. In all, the author offers 70 simple paths to everyday serenity.

February, 2018

Manhattan Beach: A Novel

By Jennifer Egan

        Review by: Cathy

Anna Kerrigan, the main character in this historical fiction novel, becomes the first female diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Her dangerous but necessary work will repair the ships that will help Americans win WWII. Though the plot seems disjointed at times and the story is slow-moving in sections, the author's lovely writing style and immersive imagery compensate for these challenges to present a snapshot of 1940s America, complete with gangsters, union men, sailors, and more. Manhattan Beach was longlisted for the National Book Award and named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, among other honors.

January, 2018

Shadowhouse Fall

By Daniel Jose Older

        Review by: Betsy

Shadowshaper Cypher (Book 2)  This book is a sequel to the Shadowshaper and was even better. The book's genre is a little difficult to pigeon-hole. Puerto Rican urban magical realism, maybe? Sierra, a talented graffiti artist, feminist and activist, is (though still a teen and a girl, at that) the leader of the Shadowshapers, a tight-knit organization of artists, scholars, poets, and activists able to shape reality through their unique gifts. The Shadowshapers vie for dominance with other magical "Houses" in contemporary Brooklyn, collecting power-enhancing tarot-like cards from the Deck of Worlds and engaging in street combat with the living and the dead. Interrupting their efforts are ongoing skirmishes with teachers, school security, and even the police. This book is likely to raise some hackles, as adults in general, and the police in particular are NOT viewed favorably by the teens (to put it mildly).  However, I like how the author believably portrays these adult adversaries as complicated individuals, some well-intentioned, others decidedly not, with clumsy miscommunication driving conflict as often as evil intent.

December, 2017

Warcross

By Marie Lu

        Review by: Betsy

Marie Lu's newest book features Emika Chen, hacker-extraordinaire and bounty hunter, who barely manages to pay the rent by capturing gamers who owe big money to her beloved virtual reality/global competition/entertainment complex, Warcross. Emika herself hacks into Warcross regularly, using an encrypted alias, and when the story begins she inadvertently inserts herself onto the global Warcross arena. Though fearing fines, Emika is instead invited to Tokyo to participate as a wild-card player by the games’ young creator, Hideo, a reclusive billionaire. Once in Tokyo, however, Emika learns that Hideo wants her help apprehending Zero, a mysterious hacker poised to take over Warcross. Although I’m not a gamer, the descriptions of the Warcross technology are fascinating and the characters, especially the other gamers Emika teams up with as she hunts Zero, are a lot of fun.

November, 2017

Bluebird, Bluebird

By Attica Locke

        Review by: Ronya

This engaging mystery from the producer of the TV series "Empire" takes the reader into backwoods East Texas. African-American Texas Ranger Darren Mathews has been suspended while he testifies in a court case concerning a family friend. Meanwhile he becomes embroiled in the aftermath of two murders - an African American lawyer from Chicago and a waitress at the local watering hole - that appear to be racially charged. Darren must race the clock - and the locals - to solve the murders by exposing town secrets. "Bluebird, Bluebird" starts slow but speeds up, and the initial subplot promises to carry over into the next book. While I wait for that, I'm putting Attica Locke's other books - "Pleasantville," "The Cutting Season," and the award-winning "Black Water Rising" on my to-read list.

October, 2017

Genuine Fraud

By E. Lockhart

        Review by: Betsy

This YA novel stars an initially likeable, scrappy anti-hero. Although struggling financially, Jules thinks nothing of leaving a forty dollar tip, ‘cause she’s just nice like that. She makes friends wherever she travels, is equally at home in a high-end hotel or the sketchiest of neighborhoods, and tends to daydream her way out of painful realities. The reader quickly learns that Jules is in mourning for the best friend she worshiped, who has recently died tragically, that she has lost her scholarship and her parents, and that she is running from…something. Her nomadic flight is one of the more enjoyable aspects to the story, as the book reads at times as an off-the-beaten path style travelogue. Lockhart throws plenty of plot twists at the reader, relating Jules’ history in reverse chronological order, with the time intervals between scenes shortening as the novel hurtles towards the beginning and the reader increasingly anxious to discover at last what has happened and why.

September, 2017
The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown

        Review by: Cindy

This compilation of stories was previously presented on The Moth Radio Hour. If you're not familiar with The Moth, it's basically Story Hour for adults on NPR and in podcast form. Adults get on stage in front of an audience and tell a story about something impactful or interesting that has happened in their lives. It's amazing and will leave you spellbound. "All These Wonders" takes a series of these stories and puts them in book form. Even though the stories were originally designed to be conveyed as spoken word, most of them translate well into the written word, and because each story is only a few pages long, overall "Wonders" is a pretty quick read. If you like stories about the human condition and how each of us has unique and wondrous experiences, this is the perfect book for you. Highly recommended.

August, 2017
Sting-ray Afternoons: A Memoir

By Steve Rushin

        Review by: Tricia

This memoir by journalist Steve Rushin is a nostalgic treat for those who grew up in the 1970s and for those who simply remember the decade. Told through the eyes of a young boy growing up in the Midwest, Sting-Ray Afternoons intersperses major events of the decade with humorous family life and the angst of growing up. The author’s clever writing style brings back great memories of being a kid. Who can forget 8-track tapes, Sears Wish Book catalogs, and cruising around the neighborhood on the coolest bike around? A superb read!

July, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box

By Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

   Review by: Ronya

If you're looking for a short summertime book, you're in luck, because novellas are all the rage this year. Stephen King's newest offering revisits Castle Rock, Maine, in the 1970s. Written with Richard Chizmar and featuring illustrations, "Gwendy's Button Box" follows twelve-year-old Gwendolyn "Gwendy" Peterson, who is offered a strange box covered with buttons. Each button does something different; some give out rewards, and others deal out disastrous consequences--and as she grows up, Gwendy must decide how best to wield this responsibility. A good fast-paced thriller with a recognizable character from King's other works.

June, 2017

Radium Girls

By Kate Moore

   Review by: Ronya

Kate Moore has researched and crafted a highly readable yet shocking narrative about the women recruited in 1920s New Jersey and Illinois to paint watches and clockfaces with "Undark," a.k.a. radium, and the effects they suffered as a result. Radium, considered harmless and extolled for its life-giving virtues, was used everywhere--in cosmetics, cold medicines, toothpastes, chocolates, and "healthful" drinks. Moore documents the women's illnesses, the helplessness of their doctors, and their tenacious, years-long struggle to document the ill effects of radium, overturn popular thought about workplace practices from the factory floor to the U.S. Department of Labor, and legally hold their companies accountable in court. Moore's book is sure to provoke conversation, as it is just as relevant today as in the 1920s.

May, 2017

The Wonder of Us

By Kim Culbertson

   Review by: Betsy

I am currently reading this teen book, which is a deceptively lighthearted read about estranged best friends enjoying a reunion during a whirlwind tour of Europe. Abby has been living in small-town Northern California dealing with her parents' brutal divorce alone, and missing her best friend, who has been living in Berlin. East Indian teen Riya, meanwhile, has been discovering a passion for acting and realizes she feels far less of a misfit in Berlin than she ever did in the small town she left behind. One long-distance unresolved fight after another has resulted in these two best friends wondering if their broken friendship is worth saving. A grandmother’s gift of a multi-city tour of Europe seems the perfect opportunity to find out. But their efforts to repair their rift is complicated by jetlag and Riya’s annoying cousin Neal--an unwelcome chaperone they ditch at every opportunity.

April, 2017

On Living

By Kerry Egan

  Review by: Cathy

Written by a hospice chaplain and Harvard Divinity School graduate, this lovely book describes some of the patients she has befriended with her presence as they neared the end of their lives. The author reveals some of what she has learned in doing this important work, and she is a great storyteller.

February, 2017

Just Getting Started

By Tony Bennett & Scott Simon

  Review by: Cathy

As he wrote this biography Tony Bennett was looking forward to celebrating his ninetieth birthday. I found this book to be life-affirming, filled with interesting stories about the various entertainers with whom Tony has collaborated. The book is conveniently organized into short reflections about a number of artists, including Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga. What an enjoyable book this was!

January, 2017

Twenty-Six Seconds: A personal History of the Zapruder Film

By Alexendra Zapruder

  Review by: Tricia

Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film is much more than a history of the famous film taken of the Kennedy assassination. It is the story of how the Abraham Zapruder family dealt with the ramifications of owning one of the most examined pieces of film in history. Written by Alexandra Zapruder, granddaughter of the man who filmed the footage on his home movie camera, this book shares the interpersonal history of a family accidentally thrown into the spotlight. Thoroughly researched, it sheds light on the moral and ethical decisions faced by the family, as well as the unwanted media attention on the family throughout the last 50 plus years.

December, 2016

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

By Melissa Sweet

some-writer  Review by: Stephany

Calling all lovers, young or old, of the gentle, beautiful classic Charlotte’s Web! For those curious about the book’s beloved author, Elwyn Brooks (E.B.) White, this 2016 “juvenile biography” presents a delightful words-with-pictures collage exploring the source of his inspirations. Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Melissa Sweet incorporates archival White family photos, typescripts and other snippets, along with her original watercolor and gouache-collage artwork.

As Sweet recounts, White’s soft-spoken mom Jessie raised baby chicks, then built the dream of her ideal farm under the Christmas tree, even as they lived on the outskirts of New York City. Early on, the sensitive young Elwyn discovered poetry, but shied away from reciting in front of schoolmates. Turning inward, he embraced a turning point, affirming his love of the natural world while visiting his older brothers as they camped at the Belgrade Lakes in Maine. After a storied career writing essays at the New Yorker, “Andy” and wife Katherine removed to small-town, coastal Brooklin, Maine, where animals nurtured in their barn gave rise to Charlotte’s Web. The rest is history, as Maine author Sweet lovingly documents in this colorful, satisfying volume.