Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Villa AmericaIf you are a fan of 1920’s literary culture, The Lost Generation, Hemingway or the Fitzgeralds (F. Scott and Zelda), this book may be for you. The novel mixes fact and fiction together to create an interesting, atmospheric narrative of wealth and indulgence among an eclectic group of artists.

The main characters are Gerald and Sara Murphy, who are wealthy expats – living on the French Riviera just after the First World War. In fact, the Murphys are not just characters; they’re real people who really did live in the time and place described. In the 1920’s they escaped to the South of France and built a home which they called Villa America. It was here that they hosted lavish and glamorous parties with famous guests they befriended such as Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, and countless others.

Celebrity name dropping aside, the book eventually focuses on the life that Sara and Gerald built together along with their three children. The Murphy’s home and marital relationship would later become the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s novel, “Tender Is the Night”. Unfortunately, tragedy and loss enter the couple’s life and threatens to destroy everything they’ve built.

All in all, this was an interesting look at wealthy Americans of the roaring 20’s as we read fictionalized accounts of their friendships, flaws and desires. Although a very long read, this book is worth the trouble for anyone who has an interest in that “Lost Generation” era.

– Mark

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Far Outside the Ordinary by Prissy Elrod

Far Outside the OrdinaryWhen a newly married couple promises to love each other “in sickness and in health” they do not know if they will ever be put to the test.  But when Prissy Elrod’s husband Boone is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she quickly wakes up to her new reality. With her can-do personality Prissy unabashedly delves into the role and chronicles her efforts to be the ultimate loving spouse and caregiver. It is only when her daughter finally forces Prissy to accept the fact that she needs help does the story take a surprising turn.

Growing up in the south, Prissy was surrounded and loved by many African-American caregivers. When she hires a group of them to care for Boone, the love and tenderness she feels for her new friends makes it easier to endure the hardships she faces. With a fond and oftentimes humorous tone she recognizes that it is friends and family that help heal her broken heart. It is her stark honesty that will truly strike a chord with you.

In the second half of this memoir we find out how Prissy carries on after her husband’s death. It is an inspiring and heartwarming conclusion to this story. Prissy’s tale will touch the hearts of all readers, and I highly recommend it to those in Caregiving roles.

– Susan

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Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr

Stone RiderWould you participate in a treacherous race, choosing to leave behind family and friends for the chance to have a better existence? You might if you feel like you’re quickly running out of options and have little to lose.

In a future where Earth can no longer support the population, a fierce competition has developed to give hope to those brave enough to take the risk. The Blackwater Trail: a grueling and brutal race whose winner receives a one way ticket off the desolate ground to Sky-Base. Above the Earth, Sky-Base is the new home, and haven, for a select group of humanity.

Adam Stone did not initially even want to race. He would not abandon his little brother or relinquish his love for Sadie Blood. However a year later, Levi (Sadie’s cruel brother) destroys all Adam’s reasons to stay.

When competing in the Blackwater Trail, most choose to tackle it in groups. Should Adam try to trust again? Will he trust new friends, especially when he has ample reason to rely solely on his own efforts to win the race?

A solid read for those like to enjoy action adventure and dystopian future settings. While we might not be in a position like this today, who knows what the earth will be like in the future. Reading this book made me think about how we can work harder to prevent this future for Earth.

– Ellen

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Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland

Steve JobsThis biography was an entertaining read and moved along quickly because of the graphic format and limited text. It covers most of the major details of the tech icon’s life, although some areas of importance are merely glossed over, such as the relationship with his first daughter and his ultimate death. We read about his now famous Stanford graduation speech in 2005 and a page later we read of his death in 2011. That was too abrupt of an ending for my taste.

That being said, this is still an interesting overview of a fascinating, complicated and brilliant man. Much of the technology that the young readers of this book take for granted today were, a few years ago, only a glimmer in Jobs’ imagination. The book also gives substantial space to covering popular tech trends of each decade, which gives a nice frame of reference for new things to come.

Mostly though, this book is about the remarkable life and work of Steve Jobs.  He was demanding and overbearing to say the least, but at the same time he was an inspiring visionary whose legacy to our way of life will be remembered for generations to come.

– Mark

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The Dinosaur Disaster by Matthew McElligott

The Dinosaur DisasterSix students arrive for their first day of school at the Mad Scientist Academy. When they first arrive, they find their teacher, Dr. Cosmic, all tied up. He explains that he was trying to put one of their school pets, Oscar, on a leash but he escaped. When one of the students asks what type of pet it is, the doctor says that you could consider him a dinosaur.

The doctor tells children to keep an eye out for Oscar as they make their way to meet a hologram of Dr. Tibia. She’s a paleontologist and gives the children a brief overview of fossils and the possible cause of dinosaurs’ extinction. During the overview, Dr. Cosmic is dealing with some malfunctions.

Suddenly a mechanical Triceratops breaks through a wall. Dr. Cosmic explains that the dinosaurs are set in safe mode, but it has a live mode for scientists to study how the dinosaur would behave in the wild.
Dr. Cosmic gives the children handbooks and a puzzle to solve. He shows them to an exhibit full of many dinosaurs, gives them their first clue, and then heads off to find Oscar. As they go from clue to clue, they learn facts about the dinosaurs. They are soon stopped in their tracks as they hear Dr. Cosmic and then a loud BOOM! The children follow the noise and discover that all the robot dinosaurs are now in live mode!

After escaping the mechanical dinosaurs and shutting them down, the students find Dr. Cosmic once again tied up, however this time it’s with Oscar in tow. What is Oscar? You’ll have to pick up this fun fact filled book to find out!

– Amanda

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Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? by Lisa Scottoline & Francesca Serritella

does this beach make me look fat-HC Mech.inddEveryone’s favorite mother-daughter duo is at it again with a new collection of hilarious tales.  Fans of this wildly popular series will be laughing out loud while reading this diverse cache of essays. With titles such as Guilt tripping at 65 MPH, I’m spending my granddog’s inheritance, and You’re just some appliance that I used to know, the beloved writing team tackles subjects as funny and complex as the world we live in today.

As always, one of the best things about the books in this series is that you can read them straight through or just randomly pick essays to enjoy. Perfect for on-the-go or on-the-beach! And while you’ll be hard-pressed to pick a favorite of the bunch, you are guaranteed non-stop laughs as you enjoy Lisa’s escapades with her besties and oh-so-adorable menagerie of pets.

Be sure to save a spot front-and-center on your library shelf for this terrific read!

– Susan

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The Six by Mark Alpert

The SixBefore Adam’s muscular dystrophy can kill him, his father, responsible for a revolutionary Artificial Intelligence program whose sentience makes it turn on the entire human race, saves Adam and five other teens by copying their brainwaves into Pioneer robots meant to stop Sigma, the renegade AI bent on destroying mankind. Adam’s task grows increasingly difficult when his best friend and the girl of his dreams are kidnapped.

This is the first young adult novel in a long time that captured my attention and made me truly care about the characters. While the first third of the book feels like it runs a bit long, it helps the reader better connect to Adam and understand his pre-Pioneer life. Adam’s strained relationship with his mother, who refuses to believe any robot would merely be a shallow copy of her son, proves especially poignant.

The action picks up as the Pioneers train to take on Sigma. Adam will do anything to save the people he loves. While there is romance, the mission remains the primary focus throughout. The fact that not everyone survives the battle makes this a realistic read, as do the details about brain mapping. This is young adult hard science fiction at its best. I eagerly await a sequel.

I recommend The Six to fans of Michael Grant and those curious about where our research into Artificial Intelligence might take us.


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Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville

Diary of a Mad BrownieAngus is a 150-year-old brownie that loves to do chores for humans. As the story starts out, he is readying to embark on a great and fateful journey into the next part of his life.  The reason behind this major change is Sarah, the human he was most recently bound to, is currently on her death bed.  Sarah informs Angus he must leave Scotland to travel to America and serve young Alex Carhart.

Upon Sarah’s passing, Angus ventures from the human world into the Enchanted Realm.  Over a week and several interesting people later, he finally makes it to America.  Arriving at Alex’s home, he goes through a pet door (Satan’s door as he refers to it) and meets a monster (the family cat).  Eventually making his way to Alex’s room and finding a place to sleep.

On the first morning Angus isn’t sure where to even begin.  Alex’s room is beyond a pig sty; however the thought of her being pleased by a clean room pushes him to begin.  When Alex arrives home, instead of being happy that her room is now more room-like, she freaks out.

Eventually, Alex sets a trap by spreading molasses all around her bed and Angus, unfortunately, steps in it and gets stuck.  Will Alex accept Angus and the binding, and if so, will they become friends?  Join Angus and Alex as they attempt to co-exist and learn valuable lessons along the way.

This was a very comical and cute book.  Young readers will surely enjoy following Angus and the Carharts.

– Amanda

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Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Circus MirandusBrought together through the death of his parents, Micah has spent several blissful years with his Grandpa Ephraim; to Micah, grandpa is all anyone could ask for. He regales young Micah with tales of a magical Circus that he discovered as a child. Micah is captivated by these stories that Grandpa Ephraim brings to vivid life with fantastic characters such as an invisible tiger that guards the gates, the beautiful flying bird woman and the mysterious “Manager”.

Micah’s favorite stories are the ones about the powerful magician – the Man Who Bends Light. His grandpa tells about how this very talented magician had the most popular show at the circus. The magician delighted in showing the wonders and mysteries of the world to the audience through spectacular illusions.  On his last day at the circus, he offered Grandpa Ephraim a miracle. Being mindful of his future, Grandpa Ephraim asked to save the miracle, or so the story went.

All too soon for Micah, Grandpa Ephraim becomes deathly ill and Micah’s Great Aunt Gertrude comes to take care of them.   She is a horrible person – mean, nasty and nothing like her brother. Micah is faced with the frightening reality that should Grandpa Ephraim die, Aunt Gertrude and her cruelty will be his future.

Knowing he will die soon, Grandpa Ephraim shares his secret with Micah; the stories are true! Now the time has come for Grandpa Ephraim to cash in the miracle he has been saving for over 50 years. Possessing unwavering faith and love for the dying man, Micah knows he will do whatever he can to help. Teaming up with his friend Jenny, they set out to find the Circus Mirandus and the magical man he believes can save his grandfather. This could be an adventure that will change his life forever.

– Renee

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The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck

The Oregon TrailThis book was an interesting mix of history, humor, personal memoir, and travelogue. The author and his more than capable brother Nick go on an epic adventure that will eventually cover over two thousand miles through six states – all in mule-powered covered wagons.

The idea is born when Rinker Buck has a chance encounter with wagon ruts from the original pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail. Combined with fond memories of a covered wagon vacation their father had taken the family on back in the 1950’s, the brothers set in motion their plan for an adventure that few would dare to undertake.

The trip required meticulous planning, not to mention a great deal of research about the trail in old journals, historical documents, and maps. The trek from Missouri to Oregon would take the brothers over four months to complete along with their team of three mules that pulled both a covered wagon and a smaller trail wagon.

Much like the early pioneers, the brothers encountered many difficulties and obstacles along the way. There are numerous equipment breakdowns and broken wheels but these are hard headed men who are as determined to succeed as the early settlers.

With much of the Oregon Trail fading away, this book is a great way to recapture the spirit and tenacity of those who would push themselves to the limits of their endurance. It is filled with tales of real pioneers who lived and died along the trail as well as modern day trail enthusiasts who venture to keep the trail history alive.

– Mark

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