Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

How would you live your life if you knew the exact date of your death?  Would your choices take you to that fateful day or lead you away?  And most importantly, are they even choices anymore?  Benjamin cleverly explores this dilemma in The Immortalists. This imaginative and gripping family drama follows the scatter shot lives of the four Gold siblings.  As young teens they visit a Roma Gypsy fortune teller who foretells the exact date of their deaths.  Armed with this information they make choices regarding their futures and how they live their lives.  These choices ultimately lead each one of them to their day of reckoning.   Each life story is gripping and heartbreaking.  The reader is left constantly wondering if they had turned left instead of right could they have lived another day, or is all of life written in the stars.  I highly recommend this book for readers of Donna Tartt, Alice Hoffman, and Anita Shreve.

Reviewed by Amy Churchill, Head of Zauel Library

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Music Shop: A Novel by Rachel Joyce

Reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, this emotionally satisfying novel about love and vinyl records is sure to be one of 2018’s best books.

Frank runs a struggling record store in late 1980’s London and he’ll only sell vinyl, despite the fact that his suppliers are breathing down his neck to modernize and buy CDs.  But Frank is so much more than a stubborn shop owner. He’s the “music whisperer.” The man can connect any person with the right music for them-even if they don’t think they want it, and it can change their lives.  He fixes broken hearts and broken marriages, and knows what music can fill a hole in someone’s soul. 

Despite his gift of helping others, Frank has his own emotional baggage and he must come to terms with it one day when a woman in a green coat passes out loitering in front of his shop. 

This novel is beautifully written.  A must-read. 

Reviewed by: Kim White, Head of Hoyt Library

Monday, December 18, 2017

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

The story of Ceder Songmaker, a young pregnant woman, is told in a series of frantic journal entries. The world she lives in, a few years away from our own, is falling apart. For reasons unknown, evolution has changed course: birds are becoming lizards, insects grow to the size of cats, and almost all pregnant women are delivering stillborn babies. The government has collapsed, and pregnant women are being rounded up in a desperate attempt to find women who can give birth to healthy babies. Cedar decides to find her biological parents, who join her adoptive parents in an effort to hide her and keep her safe. Meanwhile, her unborn child grows within her, their fates unknown.

Author Louise Erdrich brings to life a bizarre, hallucinatory vision of the future, with no explanations offered. Evolution works of its own accord, with no clear trajectory. Motherhood too is its own world with primal forces as old as time. Erdrich creates vivid characters maneuvering in a world gone mad. Although the lack of answers may frustrate some readers, the novel succeeds in its portrayal of just how fragile our society and systems of order are. What remains is life remade in an image we may or may not recognize. 

Reviewed by Kalum Meyers, Zauel Library

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Darren Mathews grew up in rural East Texas on land his family had owned for generations.  He became a Texas Ranger like his uncle.  When the book begins, he is a little down on his luck.  He and his wife are spending some time apart, and he has been suspended at work.  An old friend asks him to investigate a double murder in the tiny town of Lark, Texas that may be racially motivated.  The body of a black lawyer from Chicago was pulled from the bayou.  A few days later a younger white woman’s body was found.  Darren goes to Lark and finds a mystery with many layers.  He is able to have his suspension lifted and makes certain the local police look at the deaths from every angle.  The characters in this novel are varying mixtures of rich, poor, black, and white.  They are an interesting group.  The mystery is eventually solved, but the book ends rather abruptly and leaves a whole new issue between Darren and his mother.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a new series. 

Reviewed by Fiona Swift, Hoyt Library

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Gather the Daughters is the haunting debut novel of author Jennie Melamed. It explores the lives of women both young and old in a fictional patriarchal island society in a postapocolyptic America. The island society was founded by a group of male leaders called the wanderers. The wanderers control all aspects of life on the island, controlling access to technology, education, and resources. Female rights are strictly curtailed and summers are the only time of freedom for young girls of non childbearing age. It is during one summer that the young girls begin to rebel against the system that brutalizes and abuses them. Melamed shines when describing the horrifying rituals that surround dating, intercourse, marriage, and childbirth. Her characters are strongly written and relatable. With the renewed popularity of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Gather the Daughters is both timely and captivating.  

Reviewed by Amy Churchill, Head of Zauel Library

Monday, October 9, 2017

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Mystery author Alan Conway may be horrible to work with, but his bestselling series featuring Detective Atticus Pünd is keeping Susan Ryeland’s publishing company in business. Ryeland is Conway’s book editor and when she receives his latest manuscript, about two murders in a quiet 1950s English village, we read it along with her. We are just as frustrated as she is when the manuscript of the novel-within-the-novel cuts off just as Pünd is set to unmask the killer. Conway’s final chapter is missing.

To make things worse, the author has apparently just committed suicide and no one seems to know where the missing pages could be or how he intended the story to end. Ryeland turns amateur sleuth to uncover his secrets, but the more she looks into things, the more convinced she becomes that Conway himself was murdered. Does his missing chapter expose something his killer needed to stay hidden?

Fans of Agatha Christie and other classic murder mystery writers will love how this novel plays with the genre. The modern-day plot intertwines with the mid-Century detective story in a satisfying and clever way.

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp, Hoyt Library

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers, Lisa Ko’s debut novel, tells two stories: the first belongs to Deming Guo, the young child of an undocumented Chinese immigrant. One day, his mother simply never comes home from work. He is eventually adopted by a well-intended white family, who; try as they might, cannot patch the hurt and loss festering within this young boy. He resents his mom for abandoning him and resents his foster parents for being unable to breach the gulf between his own culture and theirs.

The second story goes back in time to follow his mother Polly, born in a small Chinese village who, barely out of her teens, becomes pregnant and leaves for America. We learn the tragic details of how she was captured by ICE agents and detained at a holding camp for over a year, then deported back to China. There, she rebuilds her life, unable to contact her son and unable to forget him.

As Deming (renamed Daniel) grows into adulthood, he sinks under the weight of his foster parent’s expectations and his own search for identity. He drops out of college to pursue his only passion, music, to the disappointment of foster parents. He becomes a gambling addict. With no one left to disappoint, he decides to find his birth mother.

This is a somber, timely story about immigrant families and identity, loss and forgiveness. In today’s polarized climate regarding immigrants, The Leavers is an essential read.

Reviewed by: Kalum Meyers, Zauel Library