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Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

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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Serendipity’s Footsteps by Suzanne Nelson

Serendipitys FootstepsSometimes a necklace, or blanket, or even a pair of shoes can tell a story — a story of love, family, dreams, and heartbreak. In “Serendipity’s Footsteps”, you travel through time and learn about a single pair of shoes and their meaning.

This story features three special young women — Dalya, Ray and Pinny. Dalya’s world is torn apart as a young Jewish girl who is sent to a concentration camp. She leaves behind the things that she thinks matter the most to her.  Ray and Pinny are both orphans on the run, both seeking more. Ray dreams of making it to New York City to attend Juilliard, and Pinny dreams of finding her mother again.

The author, Suzanne Nelson, does a superb job of bringing history alive. You feel as if you are transported back to Dayla’s era.  I think there will be a great number of teens captivated by the special pair of shoes and the young women whose stories are woven into their legacy.

– Becky

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This Way Home by Wes Moore

This way homeSeventeen-year-old Elijah Thomas is a sensation on the basketball court. His focus and determination have made him a standout player and his skills are getting some serious attention.  His high school team has just won the state championship which for most would be the culmination of a dream, but not for Elijah. He sees basketball and college as a stepping stone and a way out of his tough Baltimore neighborhood.

Dylan and Michael are Elijah’s best friends and together the trio is preparing for a summer 3-on-3 tournament where the teens will compete in the adult division. A win here would give Elijah important visibility in front of college scouts. Along with the positive notoriety, Elijah is also getting noticed by a dangerous group.

An up and coming street gang, known as Blood Street Nation, has given Michael expensive gifts of sneakers and uniforms for the team to wear in the tournament. Although tempted by the new gear, Elijah knows it’s wrong and has the team go back to their worn out clothes to finish the championship. There are major consequences because of this decision and they fear the gang’s elusive boss will retaliate against them, which he does.

Elijah will need the help of Mr. Banks, a gruff, ex-military man who has become a reluctant mentor to the boy. Elijah desperately needs someone like Mr. Banks in his life since he has no real memories of his birth father. Missing his father is a recurring theme for Elijah throughout the book and is a reminder of just how important parents are to our youth. This was a well written and ultimately tragic story with some startling plot twists.

– Mark
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Ninja Timmy by Henrik Tamm

Ninja TimmyThis fantastical tale centers on an orphan cat named Timmy and his ragtag team of animal friends. We’re introduced to Timmy’s best pal Simon, who is a mink, and also to Jasper and Casper – affectionately known as the pig brothers. Together they’ve just finished work on their latest invention, an automated orange peeler that they’re hoping to sell to a local merchant.

As they’re carrying the contraption through the streets of Elyzandrium, they’re approached by a gang of bullies and the invention is stolen. The robbers are wild boars known as the Gribble cousins and they’ve been causing trouble for many of the town’s residents. Luckily, Timmy and his pals get some much needed help from new friends, Alfred, a kindly old toymaker, and Flores, a brave and skilled feline pilot.

Together the group sets out to retrieve the machine, but in their search they unexpectedly uncover an evil plot by a character known as the Blue Rabbit. The Blue Rabbit has been using the Gribbles to kidnap the town’s children so he can steal their laughter and try to make a soul for himself. Timmy and his fellow ninjas will need all of their skills to save the children, defeat the Blue Rabbit, and restore order to the town.

Debut author Henrik Tamm is no stranger to the animal fantasy genre as he’s helped create the worlds of Shrek and the Chronicles of Narnia in his role as a conceptual designer in the film industry. Ninja Timmy was initially published in Tamm’s home country of Sweden and although the prose may be a bit clumsy at times, the abundance of rich, full-color illustrations fill the book with detailed character images, intricate looking machines, and stealthy action sequences.

– Mark
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The Peddler’s Road by Matthew Cody

The Peddlers RoadTaking its inspiration from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, The Peddler’s Road can be thought of as a modern-day continuation of the original story. Remembering back to the 13th century telling, the Pied Piper made a deal with the townspeople of Hamelin to rid them of their rat infestation. The Piper used his magical flute to lure the rats away from town and into the river where they drowned. The mayor refused to pay as agreed so the Piper left town vowing revenge. He came back months later dressed as a woodsman and, using his magic flute again, lured the town’s children away from their families – never to be heard from again.

So what ever happened to those lost children you ask? Well, wonder no more as this tale may solve the mystery.

Set in current time, we meet a pink-haired girl named Max and her younger brother Carter. They’ve just traveled from New York with their dad who is doing a summer research project in Hamelin, Germany. It’s here that they meet a mysterious man who refers to himself as a ‘pest control professional’. He’s come to their rental home to investigate a rodent problem they’ve been having but Max can’t shake the feeling that the stranger is up to no good.

As it turns out, the peculiar man is the Piper himself, and he’s been subtly playing a tune that’s caused Max and Carter to be cast under his spell. He spirits them away to a place called the Summer Isle where they discover the original children who were lured away from Hamelin hundreds of years ago. The pair sets out on a dangerous quest to discover the secrets of the Piper in hopes of figuring out how to get themselves, and the lost children, back home. This book is the first in a trilogy that will leave you anxiously awaiting the next installment.

– Mark

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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

The Shallow GravesSet in 1890’s New York, this book revolves around a 17-year-old socialite named Josephine (Jo) Montfort. Being born into a well-to-do family, there are certain expectations for how Jo’s life should unfold.  Her sheltered life should consist of ritzy parties and soirées, graduating from an all-girl finishing school, and marrying a wealthy bachelor from a well-placed family. In fact, a likely suitor has already been picked out. That’s not quite how Jo sees things though as she is feisty and determined with aspirations of following in the footsteps of her idol; the trail-blazing journalist, Nellie Bly.

Early in the story we learn that Jo’s father (Charles Montfort) has died and the authorities are claiming he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol.  Jo isn’t buying this as she knows him to be far too experienced with firearms to make the mistake of cleaning a loaded gun. Charles was one of New York’s wealthiest men as he was owner of the city newspaper and partner in a very large shipping firm. Certainly with his wealth and power, he must have made enemies along the way.

Jo is determined to investigate her father’s death and teams up with an equally inquisitive junior reporter named Eddie Gallagher. Eddie and Jo come from different backgrounds but that doesn’t stop Jo from falling for him as he introduces her to parts of the city that she didn’t even know existed. Together they track down clues from the unlikeliest of places – the wharf, the slums, a brothel, and even from the grave. As she gets closer to discovering the truth, she begins to realize that it may shatter what she thought she knew about her family and father.

– Mark

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

IlluminaeSpace and Sci-Fi fans will rejoice after reading this wonderfully unique, action-packed 600-page epic. First of all, the format of the book is quite unusual. Rather than unfolding as a typical narrative, it’s presented as a broad collection of documents such as interviews, emails, reports, transcripts, and chat logs, etc. All of these documents have been assembled by the Illuminae group that is attempting to piece together the events that occurred after the fact.

The setting for the book begins on a planet called Kerenza in the year 2575. We quickly learn that the planet has just been invaded by BeiTech, a mega-corporation that has been illegally exploiting resources from Kerenza. Thousands are dead in the initial attack and those that survive flee from the invaders aboard four spaceships. Two of the main characters in the book are seventeen-year-olds Kady and Ezra, who were romantically involved but had just broken up prior to the attack. Fleeing for their lives, they fight their way on to separate ships to make their escape.

If things weren’t bad enough, the Artificial Intelligence (known as Aidan) on one of the spaceships has detected a new threat. Unbeknownst to the survivors, BeiTech had released a deadly bio-plague as part of their assault and now those trying to escape also have to deal with the effects of a fast-spreading disease that causes insanity. Aidan (who factors heavily in the book) determines this to be a danger to the remaining fleet and launches missiles at the infected ship and destroys it, killing thousands more. Kady and Ezra survive but must find a way to work together if they’re going to save themselves and everyone else they care about.

So as you can tell, there’s a lot going on here. Anyone who enjoys science fiction, space tech or even space operas should like this book and despite the length, it’s a fairly quick read due to the format.

– Mark

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