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Spark Reviews

Book reviews by the Portage District Library as featured in the monthly local magazine, SW Michigan Spark.

March 2020

Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope
by Karamo Brown

If you’re a fan of the show Queer Eye, then you are probably familiar with the Fab Five. Karamo Brown is one of the Fab Five and is the culture and lifestyle extraordinaire of the Netflix hit show. Brown’s memoir is an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and self-forgiveness. Brown’s memoir dives deep into who and why Karamo is the person he is today. Brown offers experiences and insights from life stories including tough topics such as addiction and racial identity. The most powerful message in this book is one about loving yourself and the experiences that make you who are you. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys inspirational stories.

The Movie Musical
by Jeanine Basinger

Al Jolson. Bing Crosby. Nelson Eddy and Jeannette Macdonald. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Frank Sinatra. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. If these names evoke a wistful nostalgia and an urge to watch Singin’ in the Rain, you might enjoy The Movie Musical, a comprehensive history of movie musicals. Jeanine Basinger is a knowledgeable and opinionated connoisseur of musicals, and she begins in 1927 with The Jazz Singer (not the first musical as everyone supposes) and the arrival of sound and then explores many musicals all the way to 2018’s A Star is Born. Along the way she goes into depth analyzing the rise and fall of musicals, critiques old favorites, and chronicles the careers of famous stars. If you’re a fan of musicals, don’t be surprised if you want to put the book down to watch Fred and Ginger and the others!

Once We Were Brothers
By Ronald H. Balson

Elliot Rosenzweig is supposedly a survivor of Nazi persecution in Poland. He made it big after coming to America and, now elderly, is a widely admired philanthropist. His world is shaken when he is publicly confronted by Ben Solomon, also a Polish immigrant of advanced years, who accuses him of actually being a former SS officer. Rosenzweig says Solomon is lying or insane. The author is an attorney, and the courtroom scenes seem authentic. Among the other strengths of the book is the vivid portrayal of historical circumstances in Poland. The members of the Solomon family are brought to life, and the reader comes to truly care about them. The reader will be gripped by two central mysteries. Were Rosenzweig and Piatek actually the same person? And how could an admirable young man change so much that he turned on people he loved and became a Nazi executioner?

Our War
By Craig DiLouie

Set in the near future, during the second American Civil War, DiLouie deftly creates an America when the President of the United States is impeached but refuses to leave the office. However, this story doesn’t cast blame on either political party as to who is right or wrong. We explore this conflict through the eyes of 10-year-old Hannah Miller on one side with her older brother Alex on the other. Brother vs. sister, a family torn apart, and children being turned into soldiers in what was once the greatest country in the world. It is a spotlight being shined on the horrors of war and what happens to the innocents who are just trying to live in a conflict that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Our War is a sad but essential tale for our times.

February 2020

Kill the Queen
by Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep debuts a new series with a tale of a young noblewoman’s coming-of-age against a backdrop of assassination, magic, and fate. Evie is called a mutt because everyone assumes she has no magic other than a stronger than usual sense of smell. But, what she hasn’t told anyone is that she can snuff out another person’s magic after touching them, a gift she calls her immunity. During Cousin Vasilia’s engagement ceremony, Vasilia stages a coup and murders everyone in the royal family, including her mother, the Queen. Evie manages to escape with her life and must avenge her Aunt’s murder. With its strong female characters and a protagonist with a bent for sarcasm, Kill the Queen is reminiscent of Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series. Jennifer Estep’s engaging style and a perfect balance of action and intrigue make this a strong first installment of a promising new fantasy series.

Lessons From Lucy
by Dave Barry

Dave Barry, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated column has been making people laugh for most of his life, has written a bit of a departure from his norm. Not that it isn’t funny, but it’s also thoughtful and highly personal. And for Barry, the ideal figure to help him find his better self is his dog, Lucy. In Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog, Barry shares seven life lessons he learned from Lucy, such as, “Don’t let your happiness depend on things; They don’t make you truly happy, and you’ll never have enough anyway.” But it was the eighth lesson that has changed his life. That last lesson, one that came unexpectedly and after the book was finished, had less to do with Lucy. The eighth lesson? Be grateful for what you have. Astute advice about growing older rolled into a blanket of classic Barry humor.

One Day in December
By Josie Silver

If you’re in the mood for a charming romantic comedy, look no further than One Day in December by Josie Silver. It’s a dark, cold English winter and Laurie is on the bus on the way to her London apartment when by chance, her eyes lock with a man on the street, the most handsome man she’s ever seen. She can’t explain it, but after that he’s the man for her, and she spends months trying to find him. Her best friend Sara thinks she’s crazy, but things get complicated when she brings her amazing new boyfriend home—Jack—the very man Laurie has been looking for.

The Perfect Child
By Lucinda Berry

This psychological thriller is one of the most disturbing yet intriguing books I have ever read. Loving couple Christopher and Hannah Bauer have everything they could ever need, except a child. After giving up hope that they would ever have a child of their own, the couple meets a young girl at the hospital where they work. The victim of abuse and abandonment, Janie is an emotionally and behaviorally stunted child. The Bauer’s agree to foster Janie and provide the specialized care and attention she needs. Despite their eagerness to help Janie and raise her as their daughter, the Bauer’s soon find themselves in over their heads. Janie quickly begins acting out her traumatic past and her behavior turns deadly. If you enjoy dark and disturbing psychological thrillers, this book is a one to consider.

January 2020

My Penguin Year
by Lindsay McCrae

If you are the type of person who enjoys shows like Nature, Planet Earth, and Blue Planet; then My Penguin Year is for you. It tells the engrossing story of wildlife cameraman Lindsay McCrae and the 337 days he spent following 11,000 emperor penguins in Antarctica. The dramatic adventure follows the mysteries of emperor mating, the joy of new chicks, and the heartbreak of tragic weather patterns. McCrae intersperses the epic narrative with breathtaking snapshots of the wildness of Antarctica. And through it all, you also follow McCrae’s journey as he discovers a new home and fellowship thousands of miles away from everything familiar. My Penguin Year will touch your heart and not let you go.

Food in Jars
by Marisa McClellan

You devoured the cookbooks about creating a pantry. You mastered the process of canning. But now what do you do with all of those jars sitting in your pantry? Find the answer within the pages of Food in Jars. Marisa McClellan’s clean-out-the-pantry cookbook uniquely blends practicality and flavor. In the featured recipes, leftover fruit jam becomes mouthwatering “Babka,” forgotten sauerkraut transforms into savory “Sauerkraut Frittata,” and extra cherry preserves become impeccable “Flourless Chocolate Cake.” Recipes for essential preserves are included in the back of the book to make sure that everyone gets a chance to try McClellan’s delectable collection of ideas. Whatever the size of your pantry, it is time to dust off some jars and get cooking.

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
By Jonathan Safran Foer

We Are the Weather is the Kalamazoo Reading Together selection for 2020
Jonathan Safran Foer has written a moving follow-up to his 2009 bestseller, Eating Animals, which spurred many people to reduce their consumption of animal products. Now he has published We Are the Weather, which is about more than just what is on the plate; it’s about the psychology of radical lifestyle change and how to reckon with an immediate sacrifice to preserve the wellbeing of future generations. In the first 64 pages, Safran Foer skillfully sets the stage for his argument by presenting numerous historical anecdotes and stories of social activism, describing how people mobilize for change – or, in many cases, do not. Safran Foer then builds the case for his book’s core argument that people need to start eating differently to save the planet. It’s impossible to read this book without one’s relationship to food being seriously affected. Take the time to read it, please. Everyone should.

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot Against George Washington
By Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Long before the CIA was formed, on the brink of war, George Washington assembled his band of soldiers known as “Life Guards” to help identify traitors, track their moves, and, perhaps most importantly, help stop an assassination attempt he knew was coming. Meltzer, known for his fiction work and hosting duties on the History Channel’s Decoded and Lost History, has a knack for bringing history to life in a way that few others can. True to Meltzer’s writing style, the chapters are short and designed to keep the story moving quickly, though everything is well presented, and it is obvious the authors did an extensive amount of research into Washington and his life. The dialogue is crisp and authentic to the time, and visual descriptions paint a vibrant picture of what life looked like more than two hundred years ago. A transporting tale for history buffs and non-fiction readers alike.

December 2019

Dear George, Dear Mary
by Mary Calvi

Never before has this story about George Washington been told. Crafted from hundreds of letters, witness accounts, and journal entries, Dear George, Dear Mary explores Washington’s relationship with his first love, New York heiress Mary Philipse, the richest belle in Colonial America. From elegant eighteenth-century society to bloody battlefields, the novel creates breathtaking scenes and riveting characters. If you are interested in George Washington and the American Revolution this book is a must read. And, if you have a weakness for doomed love stories, this book is definitely something to consider.

The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win
by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Using examples from the authors’ combat and training experience in the SEAL Teams and then showing how each lesson applies to business and in life, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin reveal how the use of seemingly opposite principles―leading and following, focusing and detaching, being both aggressive and prudent―require skill, awareness, understanding, and dexterity; all learned attributes. This book is for all leaders whether you are a business manager, an educator, or a parent. The dichotomies presented are realities for anyone who finds themselves in a leadership or teaching role. Even if you are not leading at this moment, this book helps you realize the many tough situations people in these roles face and will give the reader a better understanding of the difficult circumstances that often come with leadership.

The Forest Feast: Mediterranean
by Erin Gleeson

If you ever dreamed of tasting a particularly beautiful sunset, then The Forest Feast Mediterranean by Erin Gleeson is for you. For this cookbook, the New York Times bestselling author took pictures from a three-month journey with her family through Europe and matched them to her favorite vegetarian Mediterranean recipes. The result is the perfect marriage of color and inspiration for foodies and armchair travelers alike. For example, “Chickpea and Torn Mozzarella Salad” reflects the bright white, yellow, and gold of a Praia da Luz, Portugal, coastline. Gleeson also suggests delicious twists to modern vegetarian classics in the cookbook. The warm tones of the houses in Cinque Terre, Italy, pair nicely with the warm comfort to be found in “Gnocchi and Cauliflower Casserole” and “Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti Squash” takes on the golden tones flecked with gray stone of a Monterosso, Sicily, landscape. You will want to book plane tickets while walking to the nearest produce market after picking up The Forest Feast Mediterranean. Truly a delicious read!

Early Riser
by Jasper Fforde

Early Riser is Jasper Fforde’s gift to bibliophiles, especially those who appreciate satire. The dystopian alternate history novel begins in a world where winter has changed to something deadly. Four months of non-stop, bitter cold force the human population to hibernate to survive. You experience this world as Charlie Worthing during your first winter with the Winter Consuls, the group assigned to protect the majority of the population while they sleep. But when an outbreak of viral dreams start killing citizens as they snooze, things get weird. Even weirder than avoiding marauding and stamp-collecting Villains, comfort-food hungry Nightwalkers, and the more odd-than-mystical Wintervolk. A wild romp through a wordy and wonderful new world, you will not regret wrapping up warm and holding on until the powerful twist at the end.

November 2019

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
by Kim Michele Richardson

During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed and deployed librarians on horseback to deliver books and literature to the rural and isolated people, including the Blue People, of Appalachia. This fictional piece follows the day-to-day life of a pack librarian by the name of Cussy Mary Carter, and her journeys through the rivers and valleys of Troublesome Creek as she struggles with self-identity, racial tensions, gender discrimination, and information dissemination. Inspired by the blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the WPA Pack Horse Library Project, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is the perfect weekend read.

The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death
by John Bateson

This book is a riveting firsthand account of Ken Holmes’ four-decade career as Coroner in Marin County, California, home of the Golden Gate Bridge and host to many odd and curious deaths. Dozens of Holmes’ most memorable death investigations are detailed throughout the book and often turn into criminal investigations, where Holmes expertise and knowledge is called upon for testimony. The Education of a Corner exposes the day-to-day duties and tragedies experienced on the job and leaves readers with a new appreciation for those public servants who are tasked in dealing with the daily fragilities of life and death. An informational and gripping read.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
by Rebecca Traister

It hardly even needs saying that women’s anger has been roiling since the 2016 election. Good and Mad is one of a few new releases taking on the formidable task of exploring the intersection of politics and anger. The book ranges across centuries of American history, with chapters exploring different facets of women’s anger: one on how it often disguises itself as sadness or humor or religious fervor; another on how women politicians are penalized for daring to get publicly upset; another on racial divisions among contemporary feminists; and many others. Good and Mad is an extremely concise and comprehensive look at the #metoo movement and the reawakening of feminist anger. You will not want to miss this chance to explore the complexities of feeling mad.

Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation
by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

Esteemed presidential biographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jon Meacham, lives right down the street from country music star, Tim McGraw. During the course of their friendship and many conversations of politics, history and music, McGraw one day asked Meacham if he had ever thought about the progress of American history according to the role that music has played. Thus, the idea for Songs of America took hold. The book explores songs of patriotism and protest that helped shape the nation, starting with the Revolutionary War and continuing through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and up until former President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Songs of America reminds us of who we are, where we’ve been, and what we, at our best, can be. A stirring read for all.

October 2019

Prince Edward’s Warrant
by Mel Starr

Surgeon and bailiff Master Hugh de Singleton has a problem. When he is ordered to answer a request to aid Prince Edward with his illness by Lord Gilbert, he did not mean to get caught up in another murder while so far from home. But then the loathsome Sir Giles falls dead after ingesting poison during a dinner at Kennington Palace and Master Hugh must confront the dangerous secrets looming around the Prince in order to save both the Prince’s health and his life.

The eleventh entry in a delightful medieval mystery series, Starr will fascinate you with his clever plot and historical accuracy. The book also includes a glossary and a map to help readers glean even more from their time in the 14th century alongside Master Hugh. You will not want to reenter the present after time spent within the pages of Prince Edward’s Warrant.

Author Mel Starr will appear at Portage District Library on October 15, 2019, at 7 pm to read from his new book, Without a Trace, as a part of the MI Pride Author Series.

John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age
by Brian C. Wilson

In John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age, Western Michigan University Professor Brian C. Wilson captures the essence of an entrepreneur and the great questions that directed his life. Those acquainted with the history of Kalamazoo will be aware of the accomplishments made by John Fetzer. However, author Wilson delves deeply into his inquisitive side and how the exploration of Freemasonry, UFOology, parapsychology, and others eventually led Fetzer to the cusp of the New Age movement in the 1980s and later the creation of the Fetzer Foundation.

As a result of his tenacity and curiosity, Fetzer left an indelible impact on Western Michigan and the world. Whether it was researching new ways to explore spiritual science or connect with each other, he took the action necessary to welcome new ideas. Packed with pictures and told in a manner that awakens the past, John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age would be a great read for anyone with an interest in history or our greater purpose.

Author Brian C. Wilson will appear at Portage District Library on October 24, 2019, at 7 pm as a part of the MI Pride Author Series.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Phillip Gabriel

For cat and people lovers alike, The Travelling Cat Chronicles has charmed readers across the world.

With simple but descriptive prose, this novel gives a believable and charming voice to Nana the cat and his owner, Satoru, as they take to the road on a journey to visit three of Satoru’s longtime friends. With his crooked tail, a sign of good fortune, and adventurous spirit, Nana is the perfect companion for the man who took him in as a stray. And as they travel in a silver van across Japan, with its ever-changing scenery and seasons, they will learn the true meaning of courage and gratitude, of loyalty and love. Anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings.

The Turn of the Key
by Ruth Ware

Ominous, creepy, and delightful.

Ruth Ware has delivered once again! If you haven’t read a Ware book yet, The Turn of the Key is the perfect tale to get you hooked. When Rowan Caine accepts a nanny position for a wealthy family in Scotland, she could not have guessed it would lead to her arrest for murder. Via letters from prison, Rowan retells her story and the events leading up to that fateful night. A secret attic, a handsome handyman, and a house ruled by technology; Readers will be captivated as they try to piece together the clues and mysteries of Ware’s latest masterpiece.

September 2019

The Half-Life of Everything
by Deborah Carol Gang

Kalamazoo author and psychotherapist Deborah Carol Gang brings forth a stirring examination of love, loss, and human relationships in her novel, The Half-Life of Everything. David and Kate are living the American dream: happily married for more than twenty years with a house and two thriving kids. Yet despite Kate’s organizational obsession with Post-it notes, nothing prepared them for an unexpected tragedy and the impossible decisions that follow. When David finds himself a “married widower,” he is forced to contemplate the fine line between integrity and longing. The Half-Life of Everything follows David, Kate, and David’s friend, Jane, as they lose love and rediscover it in surprising, often inexplicably ways. A heartwarming and thoughtful read that will make you laugh and cry and laugh again.

Author Deborah Carol Gang will appear at Portage District Library on September 17, 2019, at 7pm as a part of the MI Pride Author Series.

Lives Laid Away
by Stephen Mack Jones

Anyone seeking a witty, film-noir-style, Michigan thriller needs to pick up a copy of August Snow and its stunning sequel Lives Laid Away. This installment finds August Snow where the previous book left off: Trying to restore his Mexicantown neighborhood in Detroit with the $12 million awarded him for wrongful termination after the corrupt mayor booted him off the police force for sticking his nose in the wrong place. However, his peaceful existence of restoring old houses and grabbing tasty eats is shattered when a young Hispanic woman named Izzy is found dead in the Detroit River after disappearing during an ICE raid. When everyone else would rather sweep this case under the proverbial rug, Snow steps in to pursue justice. Lives Laid Away is a wild ride with a diverse cast of memorable characters. You will not be able to put it down.

Author Stephen Mack Jones will appear at Portage District Library on October 1, 2019, at 7 pm as a part of the MI Pride Author Series.

The Royal Secret
by Lucinda Riley

Riley interweaves historical fiction, romance, and modern suspense/thriller seamlessly in her latest novel. The British royal family has always had a certain majesty and grandeur—holding- the royal family in an almost untouchable state. Yet, what if there existed a secret that if exposed could imperil this sacred institution? The novel begins with the main character, aspiring journalist Joanna Haslam, being tipped off to a clandestine event that occurred during the first half of the 20th century involving a mysterious letter. Joanna becomes captivated over determining the identity of the original sender, the letter’s significance and what, exactly, the subsequent clues reveal. As she uncovers layer after layer of mystery, Joanna discovers why British authorities are desperately trying to keep the secret buried. The Royal Secret is one of those weekend page-turners, captivating the reader from the beginning to end.

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen
by Sarah Bird

Packed with wit, action, adventure and love, Sarah Bird tells a story that is loosely based on the true story of Cathy Williams, who grew up a slave on a Missouri plantation before the Union army took her away to work as a cook during the last years of the Civil War. After the war, she disguised herself as a man by the name of William Cathay to join the Buffalo Soldiers. Cathy’s voice is intriguing from the start. A white author, Bird took a risk writing an African-American woman in the first person. However, this is first and foremost Cathy’s story. Writing in the first person gives Cathy’s voice back to her. Cathy is certainly no damsel in distress, and, in the end, it is her strength, persistence, and overflowing love that make her memorable. Bird’s resurrection of Cathy in the novel allows her to brazenly and boldly be all the things she couldn’t be in real life and more. Highly recommended for everyone.

August 2019

The Beast’s Heart
by Leife Shallcross

Everyone knows the story of the beauty and the beast, but this beautifully conceived debut from Australian writer Leife Shallcross turns the classic fairytale on its head. The Beast’s Heart is a well-paced retelling that puts the Beast at the center of the narrative. His is arguably the more interesting story, after all – it’s his curse to break, his lesson to learn – and Shallcross depicts the Beast’s journey back from the brink of despair and self-loathing in a sympathetic and entirely genuine manner.

Set in 17th century France, The Beast’s Heart takes its inspiration primarily from the original 1756 story La Belle et la Bête. There are no dancing candlesticks or vainglorious noblemen here, just a heartbroken creature doing his best to claw his way back to humanity in a decaying castle that’s half prison, half palace. It’s a complex, charming, romantic, and richly detailed story about the redemptive power of love.

Darkness at Chancellorsville
by Ralph Peters

Centered upon one of the most surprising and dramatic battles in American history, Darkness at Chancellorsville recreates what began as a brilliant, triumphant campaign for the Union—only to end in disaster for the North. Famed Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson bring off an against-all-odds surprise victory, humiliating a Yankee force three times the size of their own, while the Northern army is torn by rivalries, anti-immigrant prejudice, and selfish ambition.

This historically accurate epic captures the high drama, human complexity and existential threat that nearly tore the United States in two, featuring a broad range of fascinating—and real—characters, in blue and gray, who sum to an untold story about a battle that has attained mythic proportions. And, in the end, the Confederate triumph proved a Pyrrhic victory, since it lured Lee to embark on what would become the war’s turning point—the Gettysburg Campaign.

by Marissa Meyer

A brilliant and fresh take on the classic fairy tale, Cinder by Marissa Meyer provides an interesting, young adult read. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future and the Cinderella in question is Cinder Linh; the best mechanic in New Beijing who is also a cyborg. The reader will become heavily invested in the lives of the characters, and utterly obsessed with the newest plot twists. Because it is written for a younger audience, there are a few instances that are a tad predictable, but it does not detract from the story. Also, the story remains innocent as the retelling follows the basic tale but only makes clever references, not direct connections. Meyer is a talented storyteller using the original story to her advantage by leading the reader in one direction all the while taking them to another, ingenious conclusion. Fans of fairytales and romance will love this first book in a series.

by Stephanie Land

A harrowing read on the difficulties in single parenthood and the struggles in overcoming the poverty cycle, Stephanie Land’s memoir is a must-read social science title. Land uses her experience as a house cleaner to highlight the startling differences between her own life and the lives of the homeowners for whom she works. Readers might find themselves uncomfortable as they compare their own lives to various aspects of Stephanie’s story, but her poignancy keeps the pages turning. This book is an important and raw expose of the horrors of abuse, poverty, illness, and a mother’s will to survive. Maid is an unforgettable read.

July 2019

Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
by George R. R. Martin

Now that HBO’s version of Game of Thrones has concluded, what are fans going to do while they wait for Mr. Martin to complete the next book? Here, to tide us over, we have A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, three novellas.

Set 100 years before A Game of Thrones, each of the novellas features Ser Duncan the Tall, a “hedge knight” a little shy of seven feet tall and commonly known as Dunk. Needing a squire, Dunk meets Egg, a shaven-headed lad, who is a bit of a know-it-all. Egg’s identity must be kept secret because he is indeed Aegon Targaryen, great-grandfather of Daenerys in the books, and will one day sit on the Iron Throne as Aegon V. Each story has a kind of Scooby-Doo feel of two innocents abroad unriddling a mystery. Dunk is the perfect counterpoint to the brutal realities and shabby facades of the aristocracy of Westeros. The convincing depiction of a genuinely good man is a real achievement for Martin and will captivate readers.

The Mansion
by Ezekiel Boone

Take the Overlook Hotel from The Shining and install HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and you get Ezekiel Boone’s The Mansion. Fortunately, Boone is a terrific writer and turns in a gripping horror novel that uses technology and psychological terror to alarming effect.

Twelve years ago, young programmers Billy Stafford and Shawn Eagle left college to develop a cutting-edge, artificial intelligence. They lived in a cabin near the Eagle family’s long-abandoned mansion in a remote part of upstate New York. When Emily Wiggins, Shawn’s girlfriend leaves Shawn for Billy, the two to go in separate paths. In the present day, Billy is a fragile alcoholic swimming in debt. He’s suspicious when Shawn, who’s now a multibillionaire from the computing language Billy helped create, offers him a job. Shawn has rebuilt his family’s mansion, complete with “Nellie,” the cutting-edge AI that Billy helped bring into existence. But the “ghost in the machine” is dangerously buggy. Bringing Emily with him, Billy agrees to “exorcise” the ghost. An enthralling page-turner.

English Lit 101: From Jane Austen to George Orwell and the Enlightenment to Realism
by Brian Boone

For many, British literature brings to mind long hours of brain-numbing paper writing and trying to glean meaning from words written hundreds of years ago. This is not a fond memory for some. However, in English Lit 101, Brian Boone has written an easy-to-follow highlight reel of the biggest names and works that haunt the high-school textbook. Each entry is only a few pages and one can easily digest these bite-sized chunks of information in a single sitting. Readers can learn fascinating minutiae such as before Charles Dickson’s A Christmas Carol, Londoners worked on December 25th, or that Sherlock Holmes never actually uttered the phrase, “Elementary, Dear Watson” in Doyle’s books. Other essential facts, like what makes each author so important to British literature from the Old English Bede to George Orwell and beyond, are also covered here. Highly recommended for the average reader looking for an overview of the subject in an approachable format or the endlessly curious.

The Luminous Dead
by Caitlin Starling

Caitlin Starling brings us an unsettling tale of terror with her debut novel, The Luminous Dead.

Gyre Price lies her way onto a solo-caving expedition on a mining planet, following the promise of a hefty paycheck and a skilled topside crew to keep her company and help her survive the dangers she would face below ground. Instead, she gets Em. Deceitful and single-minded, Em will not hesitate to put Gyre in danger to further her own ends. Gyre refuses to die for Em, but finding a way to stop her means staying in the depths of the cave a little longer. And yet the deeper she goes, the less certain Gyre is that she is alone underground. The way out is long and treacherous, and Em and Gyre might just need each other to survive.

This absorbing novel has been compared to Andy Weir’s The Martian and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.

June 2019

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner

The line between being a murderer or not is not a bright one. It is more readily breached than we imagine.

Romy Hal, a former stripper, receives two consecutive life sentences for killing her stalker, and is sent to the Starville Women’s Correctional Facility in the Central Valley of California. The action takes place around the invasion of Iraq in 2003, of which many of the inmates are only dimly aware. When larger movements like war are blocked from view, the daily hand-offs and scuffles of family and acquaintances are what remain.

This is a powerful novel and mesmerizing social commentary. The Mars Room is a book about what it means to have had little chance in life, and what it is like to “do time”. It takes us into the lives of people who are as alike as they are different from us.

The Man Who Would Be Sherlock: The Real-life Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle
by Christopher Sandford

Christopher Sandford, author of The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, is back again with another delightful perspective on the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The Man Who Would Be Sherlock is not your typical biography. There are no mundane chronological details present. Instead, Sandford jumps right into the hot debate regarding the identity of Holmes and suggests that Doyle himself, and not his mentor Dr. Joseph Bell, is the inspirational essence of the great detective.

To fully convince you that Doyle was the true embodiment of Holmes, the book examines two outlandish cases in which Doyle found himself smack in the middle: the imprisonment of George Edalji related to a series of cattle mutilations in the English Midlands and the case of Oscar Slater, a German-Jew who was almost executed for murdering a Glasgow spinster. Packed with historical pictures and genuine scribbled notes to help you solve the mysteries along with Doyle, this tome will convince you that the impossibility that Doyle could act like Sherlock Holmes in real life, however improbable, might be true.

Maeve in America: Essays by a Girl from Somewhere Else
by Maeve Higgins

For all of those in the post-show vacuum following the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this book is for you. Maeve Higgins hosts a hilarious podcast called Maeve in America: Immigration IRL and her collection of essays is equally as belly-laugh inducing. Higgins emigrated to America from Ireland in 2014, and she brings a fresh yet poignant perspective to the strange goings on of everyday life that many of us have accepted as background noise. Like having to spell your name at Shake Shack. Three times.

It is practically impossible not to like Maeve. Whether it is nearly being offed by dolphins, a date gone wrong due to stubbornness and food wedged in teeth, realizing one Monday morning that it is too late to work out because summer is already here and this is the body you are stuck with, or oversharing at a child’s birthday party; Maeve will have you in stitches. Yet she always manages to sew you back together by the end of the essay. She’s just that good.

Well + Good: 100 Healthy Recipes + Expert Advice for Better Living
by Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula

Well + Good is the cookbook you want—Nay, need!—for summer. Brimming with recipes that are vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, Well + Good also provides you with recipes that help you clear skin, sleep better, improve mood, or gain focus.

Champions of the idea of eating for wellness since 2009, Brue and Gelula helpfully divide the enhanced cookbook into colorful sections based on meal type. The recipes included are as creative as they are healthy. For example, under the heading “Light Fare” they include a dairy-free, gluten-free, low-inflammation, vegan recipe for “Spicy Watermelon Salad” that also helps improve your skin. There are even coffee and cocktail recipes like the “Bulletproof Matcha Latte” for those of us who love a little boost. Scoop this one up today!

May 2019

The Love Quotient
by Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang snatched the 2018 GoodReads Choice Award for best romance with her debut novel, The Kiss Quotient. Driven and beautiful, econometrician Stella Lane seems to have it all. However, her autism makes it easier to connect with data sets than other humans. When her parents tell her they are ready for grandchildren, Stella decides it is time to figure out relationships. And to figure out relationships she decides she needs to get better at the sex part. Enter escort with a heart of gold and K-drama worthy looks: Michael Phan.

The Kiss Quotient reminds you of a gender-flipped Pretty Woman. Yet Hoang’s deliciously genuine voice shines through. In the process of writing Stella’s story, Hoang discovered that she had been living with undiagnosed high-functioning autism all of her life. All in all, The Kiss Quotient is a fun, frothy, and sexy romance that keeps you turning pages and occasionally provokes you to deeper thought.

Forest Bathing Retreat: Find Wholeness in the Company of Trees
by Hannah Fries

Relieve stress and discover wholeness by becoming a dendrophile—someone who loves trees. Forest Bathing Retreat invites you to use your senses to explore trees in a way that may have become lost to our generation. Coined from a 1980’s Japanese description of retreating from urban life for restorative purposes, “forest bathing” has even greater implications in our world of 24/7 connectivity.

This helpful guide is divided into four primary tenets: Breathe, Connect, Heal, and Give Thanks. For each principle, Fries offers the reader gorgeous photographs and helpful quotes. Readers are gently coaxed to let go and embrace the nourishing nature of trees.

Stray: Memoir of a Runaway
by Tanya Marquardt

It is never easy to hear someone talk about abuse, especially at the hands of family. However, Stray: Memoir of a Runaway by Tanya Marquardt, is a rich biography of growing up and feeling broken, and finding your way through into safety.

Actor and playwright Marquardt relates the conditions of her young life in compact prose that picks out evocative details from life in Canada, and also presents the jumbled inner life of a teen living around violence. She begins when she leaves her mother’s home to live with friends for most of a school year, and dips back to a kitchen destroyed by her alcoholic father, the refrigerator on its side. Stray winds back and forth between key moments in her life, ultimately following her through bad decisions and adventures in the Vancouver Goth scene, which lead to validating encounters with teachers and friendships that challenge her.

Stray pulls you in with apprehension for its distant, plucky narrator, but leaves you with the reminder that joy grows back when nurtured, in spite of the vagrant tides of a defiant teenager’s heart.

Mecha Samurai Empire
by Peter Tieryas

Mecha Samurai Empire follows on from the United States of Japan, an alternative history novel which continues the story of Philip K. Dick’s seminal novel, The Man in the High Castle. The “Allies” lost World War II, and as a result, a large part of the planet is shared out amongst the victors. America is split with the west coast becoming the United States of Japan, while the east-side is occupied by the Nazi’s. This novel is set a decade after the defeat of the “Allies”. It is not necessary to read the first book to enjoy this one.

The story is well thought-out; following Makoto as he tries to realize his ambition of becoming a Mecha pilot, only to discover it’s not quite what he imagined it to be. Essentially a coming-of-age story set against this rich, unique background. There is a tremendous amount of thought and energy put into each of the characters. Complex and colorful, the paths they take are relatable and realistic.

April 2019

When I Walk Through That Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother’s Quest
by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca, an American Book Award Winner as well as the writer and producer of Blood In/Blood Out, astonishes with his most recent book. When I Walk Through That Door, I Am unveils the story of Sophia. Sophia is a young El Salvadorian mother attempting to flee the country with her young son after the murder of her husband. Told in a lyrical epic poem, Sophia’s plight grabs you from the first page. You flee, fear, and feel along with her as she struggles to conquer her circumstances. Her perseverance is contagious and heart-wrenching until the final line.

Though this story is the struggle of a young immigrant woman, her quest is also a journey of what it means to face hardship. Baca’s latest comes highly recommended for poetry month or any other time of the year.

Trauma Plan: Grace Medical
by Candace Calvert

Being a former ER nurse, Candace Calvert writes with credibility about the lives of those who help people in their most desperate hours. This novel features Riley Hale who has been sidelined by injuries from a vicious assault and is determined to return to her former duties as an ER nurse. To test her skills, Riley volunteers at a controversial urban free clinic despite her fears about the maverick doctor in charge. Dr. Jack Travis defends his clinic, even if he must use Riley Hale’s influential family name to make it happen.

Calvert will surprise the reader as the story is revealed, but most of all, she expertly weaves a tale of how physical and emotional pain can interfere or draw a person closer to God in a realistic way without being preachy. The first book of three in an excellent series.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century
by Yuval Noah Harari

21 Lessons for the 21st Century is, as the title suggests, a loose collection of themed essays. The best reason not to throw this book out of the window is that, occasionally, Harari writes a paragraph that is genuinely mind-expanding. There are plenty of provocations – why climate change might benefit the Russian economy, how humans could evolve into different species – but the globetrotting, history-straddling scope of Harari’s approach has an obvious drawback: Some of the observations feel recycled. His sweeping statements can seem untethered from the intellectual traditions from which they come. Ultimately, it is a good read, and it acts as a gateway drug to more academic accounts of human history. The 22nd lesson of this book is obvious yet necessary and states that no single member of the tribe Homo Sapiens can know everything. If this new age needs new stories, then we have to let more people tell them.

Rewrite: Loops in the timescape
by Gregory Benford

It’s 2002, and Charlie, a sad-sack professor of history in his late forties, gets into a car accident with a truck, and wakes up, fully aware as his adult mind, in his sixteen-year-old body in 1968. Charlie takes what he remembers of the future and uses it for himself in his present, the past. He becomes a screenwriter, anticipating the careers of Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, and then, in a 1980s life of excess, he dies and wakes up again in his bedroom at sixteen in 1968.

Charlie realizes things he didn’t see the first time: That there are others like him, like Albert Einstein, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein. And, there is a society who loop through time to change the world for their selfish agenda. Now, Charlie knows he has to do something other than being self-indulgent and he tries to change one of the pivotal events of 1968 in this clever thriller.

March 2019

The Bloodprint
by Asuma Zehanat Khan

The Talisman is a dark and powerful force led by the One-Eyed Preacher, who seek to eradicate literacy and enslave women across the land. It is up to Arian and her sisterhood to prevent the Talisman from forever corrupting their religion known as the Claim. Arian is blessed with knowledge and magic that is both her savior and her curse. In order to bring about unity and strengthen the belief in the Claim, Arian is sent on a perilous journey along with her trusted friend Sinnia to find The Bloodprint, the only remaining written proof of the Claim’s existence.

The Bloodprint is a fantasy story that soon sweeps you up into its intrigues, mystery, and romance. It is an intriguing adventure story with a compelling heroine that will have you eagerly awaiting the next installment of this series.

Talk Southern to Me: Stories & Sayings to Accent Your Life
by Julia Fowler

Julia Fowler invokes uncontrollable laughter in Talk Southern to Me. Fowler created Youtube’s Southern Women Channel and frequently delights audiences around the world with her quick wit and sense of humor. To help readers grasp the all-encompassing linguistic art of talking southern the way she was raised, Fowler helpfully divides the book into sections like Charm, Beauty and Style, Parenting, and Stuff that Needs Interpretin’ for quick reference. A useful glossary of southern terms and their more common counterparts is also included.

Readers will experience the side-splitting impact of integrating southern phrases into everyday life such as, “Don’t go up a hog’s butt to see how much lard is in a pound” or “That boy’s got more moves than a slinky going down an escalator”. But, more importantly, those who pick up Talk Southern to Me will gain an appreciation for the spirit behind the culture that brought forth such a comedic gem.

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas

Bestselling and award-winning author Angie Thomas is back with a new novel packed with as much heart as The Hate U Give. On the Come Up tells the story of sixteen-year-old Bri, who also lives in the fictional neighborhood of Garden Heights. Bri is not a student at the private school. Passionate Bri lives in a world where her home, her education, and her next meal are never certain. She would describe herself as “not enough” except when she is “too much” for her teachers. Yet through scribbled lines punctuated with the heartbeat of living, Bri finds her voice in hip hop. And it is the sense of urgency to tell a story that no one would listen to before that drives readers to the final, satisfying page.

Readers who appreciated The Hate U Give will be more than thrilled with this exploration of another story in need of telling, but every reader should grab a copy of On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.

Angie Thomas will be speaking in Kalamazoo as a part of Reading Together Wednesday, April 17, 2019, from 7 pm – 9 pm at Miller Auditorium.

The Mystery of Three Quarters: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery
by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie

In The Mystery of Three Quarters, bestselling crime writer Sophie Hannah breathes new life into one of the better-known characters of detective literature, Hercule Poirot. Poirot has a problem. Someone has been writing threatening letters in his name. The letters accuse the recipients of murdering one Barnabas Pandy. But who is Pandy and why is someone writing letters in Poirot’s name to draw attention to Pandy’s apparently unsuspicious demise?

Hannah does a marvelous job resurrecting Agatha Christie’s fastidious sleuth for a mystery set in 1930s England. Eccentricities, comic touches, and a story with more twists and turns than a country road will make this a welcome addition to every mystery-lover’s bookshelf.

February 2019

A Princess in Theory
by Alyssa Cole

When a paperback romance lands on the 2018 NYT Notable Books List, you know it’s going to be good. And A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole does not disappoint. Naledi Smith knows the world isn’t served on a silver platter. A former foster kid and hardworking graduate student with two jobs, she knows better than to entertain the many emails claiming she is the betrothed of an African prince. But when a fellow server named Jamal wins her heart, she begins to believe in the existence of fairy tales… Until he reveals his true identity as Prince Thabiso. She’s shocked to learn he was duty-bound to woo her and bring her back home to his country. Will Ledi embrace the Pauper Prince who broke her trust or rely on the life she built with her own ingenuity?

Packed with plenty of laughs and a fresh twist on some old clichés, A Princess in Theory keeps the pages turning until the ever-after end.

The Highlander’s Promise: Highland Brides
by Lynsay Sands

Beast saves beauty in this delightful romp across the Scottish Highlands.

Aulay, the laird of the Buchanans and eldest of the Buchanan brothers, retreats the clan’s hunting lodge in order to mourn the loss of his brother. Scarred forever by the battle that took his twin’s life, he plans to fish and ponder his lonely future. That is until he pulls a gorgeous unconscious woman out of the sea who, upon waking, thinks Aulay is her husband.

Jetta cannot remember how she met Aulay, but she knows he is the kindest man in the Highlands. Life is all she dreamed it could be, but she cannot put her finger on the foreboding feeling that lingers over their life together.

An Hour Unspent
by Roseanna M. White

Barclay Pearce has found God and a new life working for the British government after leaving behind his life as one of London’s top thieves. Together with his adopted family, Barclay relocates from his old life in Poplar to the middle-class neighborhood of Hammersmith. While there, he is assigned to assist a clockmaker with a knack for inventing something worthy of the military’s attention. Evelina Manning sees herself as her father’s ultimate automaton, which drives away her fiancé into the arms of World War I. The Manning family soon finds themselves intertwined with Barclay’s unorthodox family. With the war pressing from all sides, Evelina and her parents face increasing danger and must rely on a former thief to save them from a German plot.

This storyline provides a fascinating interplay with those involving Evelina and her family, which are more typical to those living a relative life of privilege during the war. In Ms. White’s expert style, she manages to tie together all of the storylines in a satisfying way.

The Patriot Bride
by Kimberley Woodhouse

The Patriot Bride, by Kimberley Woodhouse, is the 4th installment in the Daughters of The Mayflower series. This book features Faith Lytton as the American colonies teeter on the brink of independence and war. Matthew Weber, a patriot who disguises his allegiance to infiltrate the highest levels of the Loyalist cause, is introduced to Faith as their lives intersect for the Patriot cause. The two are endearing characters. Woodhouse adds the historical figures of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin to give the story an authentic feel. Purely fictional in their interactions with Faith and Matthew, the author drew from documents and letters to remain faithful to the historical record. Other characters round out the story that highlighted the role of spies during the Revolutionary War.

As in all the books of the series, this one is sweet romance and can be read as a standalone book. For fans who love historical romance set in the colonial American time period, The Patriot Bride is a recommended read.

January 2019

Gmorning, Gnight! little pep talks for me & you
by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Illustrated by Jonny Sun

“Good morning. Do not get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!”

Did you make a resolution to be more positive? This collection from Lin-Manuel Miranda is for you! Before he became an international sensation as the creator of Broadway’s Hamilton, Miranda was quietly encouraging people on social media with a special message every morning and every evening. Gmorning, Gnight! features the best of these original poems and sayings along with delightful illustrations by Jonny Sun.

The aphorisms are appropriate for bathroom mirror post-its and bedtime reflections: “Gnight. I dunno exactly how to tell you this, but you’re not perfect. You never will be. You keep growing and messing up and learning, and today’s [tumble] becomes a turning point once you survive it and see it behind you. You leave perfect in the DUST, love, you keep going.”

Read this book and become a more wonderful you.

You Need a Budget: The proven system for breaking the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle, getting out of debt, and living the life you want
by Jesse Mecham

Jesse Mecham, a founder of a personal finance platform, tackles that seemingly ever-present money-related anxiety with one simple question: What do I want my money to do for me? He shows you how to answer this question with a simple four-step program that will get you where you want to be with your finances while creating an every-dollar budget. Helpful one sentence chapter summaries and cheat-sheet sections also make this book skimmable for busy go-getters.

Applicable and anecdotal, the friendly tone of Mecham’s how-to budget guide will allow you to let go of your intimidation about this topic and embrace confidence. Examples of real people and situations help present the goals discussed as verifiably achievable and show you that you are not alone in your situation. Whether you are starting your first budget or are desirous of refining your existing financial goals, You Need a Budget would be a great addition to your reading list.

New Minimalism: Decluttering and design for sustainable, intentional living
by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici

New Minimalism shines as a practical guide for someone seeking more knowledge about minimalism and intentional living. Authors Fortin and Quilici achieve the perfect balance between telling personal stories and conveying concrete action steps. They get to the root of the issue by presenting various personality archetypes and the unique challenges each type will face as they pursue intentional living.

Sprinkled with tasteful photographs, the book helps readers learn about themselves as well as design homes and lives. The authors show how taking the time to first establish what is most important to you will make the rest of the process nearly painless. Applying the accumulated wisdom present in this book may assist you in achieving lagom, the luxurious, independently determined, optimistic version of “enough.” And that is a joy worth having.

Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A five-point plan for success
by Arlene B. Englander

Tried diet after diet and remain unsatisfied? Then this volume about the emotions behind eating might be what finally satieties you. Arlene B. Englander, an experienced and licensed psychotherapist, encourages you to change your life by shifting your perspective on food. She shows how the restrictive nature of diets often cause stress, which leads to emotional overeating, which leads to guilt and more stress.

In the book, Englander unveils a straightforward five-point guide for breaking the cycle and embracing a love of self that she established after fine-tuning the process with countless clients. Her tips are not necessarily new, but she connects the dots in a way that creates an entirely original picture. You learn how to glean genuine enjoyment out of a meal, to truly savor the experience, and as a result, eat less. All in all, Englander promotes getting the most out of life without losing what you love. A must try!

All titles are available here at the Library.

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