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Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the category “Book Reviews”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three ThingsJulie Buxbaum’s YA debut, Tell Me Three Things, may be one of the most popular young adult contemporary reads this year.  We all know what it’s like to have our world turned upside down; that’s exactly what happens to Jessie, our heroine, whose mother dies. Jessie’s father elopes with a woman he met online, leaving her with a step-monster (oh, I meant stepmother). And now Jessie has to attend a super-intimidating Los Angeles prep school, Wood Valley High School, on the other side of the country. Jessie’s new step-monster has a teenage son to top it off, who is not interested in helping her adjust to her new life in the least.

When Jessie is just about ready to give up and head back to Chicago, she gets help from an anonymous source who calls themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN emails her and offers to be her lifeline at Wood Valley High School.  Is someone out to get Jessie, or can she truly rely on what seems to be her only ally in life?  Will Jessie ever be able to call Los Angeles home?

This is such a funny, relatable book, and a quick read.  Plenty of characters and a great storyline will keep you hooked to the end.  Tell Me Three Things is a definite addition to your shelf this spring.

– Becky

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent KingIt’s hard to find your way when your dad is a Pentecostal minister who insists you handle poisonous rattlesnakes. Dill Early struggles to survive his senior year in the Bible Belt, while grappling with his secret feelings for a fellow outcast. He and his two misfit friends have their own methods for surviving senior year.

But a sudden tragedy soon leaves Dill wondering if his love for music, as well as his secret feelings for Lydia, are enough to see him through these dark days. Dill soon find his own faith, leading to a final confrontation with his devout mother about his shifting beliefs on God and the future that is pulling him away from the home that has long stifled him.

This coming-of-age story shows how the pain of the past need not dictate the long path forward. Dill’s struggle to make it through the school year grows more difficult as his parents pressure him to live by the faith with which they face each day. Dill’s own brand of faith finally gives him the courage to move on.

The Serpent King will resonate with fans of Me, Earl, & the Dying Girl, as well as readers seeking a heartfelt story of overcoming life’s challenges to forge one’s own path.

– Travis

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaHistory jumps off the page and into life with Ruta Sepetys’ latest novel Salt to the Sea.  While there are many stories told of WWII, this is a lesser known tale brought to life at Sepetys’ skillful hand.

As part of thousands of refugees, we are drawn into the stories of Joana, Emilia, and Florian as they meet on their way to freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff ship.  We are swept along in this action-packed adventure as the unthinkable happens: the Wilhelm Gustloff is attacked by a Russian submarine and sinks.  Joana, Emilia, and Florian each carry their own secrets. They must band together and rely on each other’s strength for sheer survival.

This is a great book to add to your YA collection. It not only sheds light on the worst maritime disaster in ever, it also reveals a generation whose strength and courage is now told primarily through the pages of history as we lose those who fought insurmountable odds to strengthen generations to come.

– Becky

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The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby

The Nine Lives of Jacob TibbsI love when an author transports a reader to another time and place—which is exactly the case with this tale, told from the perspective of a ship’s cat on the high seas in the 1800s.

Jacob Tibbs, the runt of the litter, is passed over as all of his brothers and sisters find new ship homes.  But luckily he’s inherited hunting skills and weather-sensing abilities from his mother. This makes him an important part of his ship’s crew. We see his sometimes wobbly existence as he navigates the path of growing up — all within the world of a life at sea complete with storms, a shipwreck, and even a mutiny.

The story is well-balanced and while there is no true villain, there is quite a range of characters and emotions. Kids of all ages will love the story of The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs. This will be a great addition to your library for anyone ready to go on an adventure to the high seas.

– Becky

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Thomas Murphy by Roger Rosenblatt

Thomas MurphyMost of us are well acquainted with Roger Rosenblatt’s non-fiction charmers such as The Boy Detective and Making Toast. His latest fiction offering, Thomas Murphy, is another cause for celebration. In this delightful story, we are fortunate to read the philosophical and random musings of the titular poet.

Rosenblatt’s familiar and comfortable writing style makes Murph (as he’s known by his friends) feel like an old friend, father, or beloved uncle. Now getting on in age and facing his sunset years, Murph ponders his recent widowhood and his relationship with his daughter, grandson, and other beloved lifelong friends.

Just when he seems happily resigned to the fact that his best days may already be behind him, a chance meeting at a bar with a stranger suddenly turns his life around. The stranger, Jack, finds out that Murph is a poet and asks him if he would do an extraordinary favor. At first Murph is reluctant to get involved in Jack’s business but is soon charmed by Jack’s wife Sarah and agrees to help out.

As the story progresses with Murph and Sarah discovering a mutual attraction, you’ll be tempted to hurry to the end to find out what happens. But to do so would mean missing out on each heartbreaking nuance that Rosenblatt brings to the table. As his fans already know, what this wordsmith puts on paper is meant to be slowly savored and pondered…much the same way Murph approaches his own life in the final days.

– Susan

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Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a FistMany of us may recall watching television coverage of the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle.  Perhaps we watched with confusion about how peaceful protests could have escalated so quickly.  Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a story that takes place in the thick of the riots, featuring protestors, police, and a boy whose story will bridge the gap between these groups at odds with one another.

Victor ran away from home at the age of 16 and has been traveling the world for the past three years before returning to Seattle.  His father, the chief of police, has been distraught over his son’s disappearance, wishing he could undo the events leading up to Victor’s decision to leave.

King and her boyfriend, John Henry, are protestors seeking change from world leaders who use their power and influence without thought of the third-world countries or people that are negatively impacted by their decisions.

Park and Ju, two beat cops with their own marked histories, are just trying to do their jobs.  Whether or not they agree with the protestors is beside the point, but making the right decisions in the heat of the moment will put them to the ultimate test.

Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe is a diplomat intent on seeing his home country of Sri Lanka join the WTO.  Everything changes when he gets caught up in the riots and sent to jail, where he encounters protestors who make him question all he’s worked for over the past five years.

These storylines converge as the events of the day build into an explosive, heart-pounding, must-read tale.  Yapa’s debut novel will be one that everyone is talking about and for good reason.  It’s not just a story; it’s who we are as a human race.

– Amy

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American Housewife by Helen Ellis

American Housewife.jpgWhen you hear the term “American Housewife”, maybe you think of Donna Reed or some other famous domestic icon. Author Helen Ellis turns this common perception on its head with a searing and snarky collection of short stories.

Like some kind of warped combination of Tales from the Darkside meets Married with Children, you’ll find yourself gasping “Oh no she didn’t!” time and again as you dive into these delightfully twisted tales. You can’t help but enjoy the very un-PC stories as you soon discover how The Housewife exacts her revenge in a most unladylike way.

To add a little levity, Ellis also throws in some tried-and-true tidbits of advice, as touted in chapters such as “How to be a grown-ass lady” and “How to be a patron of the arts.”

This collection certainly won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoy the sharp wit of writers like Amy Sedaris and Mindy Kaling, then you are in for a treat. Grab your bon-bons and enjoy!

– Susan

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Kookooland by Gloria Norris

Kookooland.jpgGrowing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Manchester, New Hampshire, Gloria Norris learned early on that her family was like no other. Her father, Jimmy, was a no-good, brutish lout who dodged the law every chance he got; skating by on his illegal money-making schemes. Mother Shirley, the good wife, suffers in silence as she endures the worst kind of abuse, even though she would never dream of leaving Jimmy. Little Gloria is also subject to Jimmy’s verbal and emotional abuse, even as she seems unfazed by their bizarre relationship and unorthodox lifestyle.

The one true constant in Gloria’s life is her relationship with Susan Piasceny, daughter of Jimmy’s best friend Hank. It is with Susan that Gloria finds her North Star, her moral compass, her friend for life. As Gloria spends more and more time with Susan, she begins to believe that someday she can rise above their desolate circumstances and attain a level of safety and happiness.

All that changes when a shocking and violent incident rocks Susan’s world. The story takes on an even more sinister tone as Gloria becomes witness to Susan’s downward spiral. Afraid of making the same mistakes as her beloved mentor, Gloria decides she must try to escape her bleak and dangerous environment.

Norris writes in a blunt, gritty, overwhelmingly crass style that at times overshadows her story. But this memoir is a testimony that speaks of the harsh and unforgiving world that she lived in. It is the world of a little girl lost who must ultimately come to terms with her tragic history and make herself whole again.

– Susan

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This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

This Raging LightIt’s been two weeks since Lucille’s mom left and didn’t come back. Her dad hasn’t been around either after abandoning the family with a nervous breakdown. Now Lucille is playing mom to her little sister, Wren, trying to keep their mother’s departure a secret, and dealing with her feelings for her best friend’s twin brother.

One of the strongest things about this debut is Lucille’s voice. I felt like I was sharing in her struggle to pay the bills and keep her sister’s stomach full. Anonymous helpers eventually stock Lucille and Wren’s fridge, and Lucille does secure a job, but the author does not let her off that easy. This story feels well-balanced between the seemingly insurmountable odds of making it on your own with enough hopeful plot twists to encourage teenage readers who need a little light in their lives.

While some plot points made life a bit easier for Lucille and Wren than it may be in the real world, a plot twist keeps the pacing quick and keeps the story from dragging. Lucille and Wren are the most fleshed-out characters, and by story’s end, I found myself disappointed that I will not be spending more time with them, as many contemporary young adult novels are standalone titles.

There is so much inspiration packed into this book, along with just the right amount of romance. I recommend This Raging Light to John Green fans that are itching for another meaningful contemporary read.

– Travis

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Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chaverini

Christmas BellsI like Jennifer Chaverini but I have to admit that I haven’t read one of her books in quite some time. I’m not a huge fan of Christmas books because they tend to create images of snowy nights and the world at peace (when it’s not); however, I was taken in by this book.

Chaverini does a brilliant job of interweaving the stories of a teacher who is about to be downsized, a family that has a father serving in Afghanistan, and the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

While it may take a minute to place the characters as you move through their stories, the depth and quality of the story is superb.  I would recommend this for any library collection. I believe it will circulate for years to come, and it will bring a whole new life to the Christmas song and Wadsworth poem I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day  

When I hear the bells this Christmas, I know I’ll think fondly of this book and hope that one day we will have good will and peace towards all men.

– Becky

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