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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is a bit of an oddball.  Her sense of socially appropriate behavior is a bit unconventional and seems to stem from something very mysterious and very bad thing that happened in her past. She spends her free time following a rigid routine consisting mainly of eating pizza, drinking vodka alone in her apartment, and taking Mummy’s weekly phone calls; until she happens upon a musician who she’s decided is the perfect man for her.  

Eleanor is ready to transform her practical and boring appearance in order to land this man, but the whole process is complicated by the fact that she’s never actually met him. Enter Raymond, the dorky IT guy who helped Eleanor with her office computer and, for some reason, decided to befriend her.  The two of them witness an unfortunate accident when Sammy has a heart attack and falls on the sidewalk.  This accident brings the three together and provides Eleanor with everything she needs to break through the darkness of her isolation. 

Reviewed by Kim White, Head of Hoyt Library

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

This book takes place in the Tahquamenon River Valley in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  That alone made it a fun read.  The descriptions of plants, animals, and insects is vivid.  Helena and her parents lived in a remote cabin that was surrounded by a marsh.  They didn’t have electricity, running water or a car.  She never went to school and learned how to read from old National Geographic magazines.  Her father taught her all about nature, how to hunt and gather food, and how to survive in her harsh environment.  She never saw anyone other than her parents.  Then, when she was 12, she discovered that her father had kidnapped her mother and was holding them captive.  After a harrowing turn of events, Helena and her mother escape and Helena suddenly finds herself thrown into a world she knows nothing about.  Years pass and the past that Helena fought so hard to leave behind is staring her down. There's only one thing for Helena to do . . .

Reviewed by Fiona Swift

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

The Sleepwalker is the newest release by bestselling author Chris Bohjalian.  Bohjalian is a master at creating tightly written novels that are both haunting and mysterious at the same time, and Sleepwalker is no exception.  The book revolves around the very interesting concept of sleepwalking and its profound effects on both the afflicted and their families.  He weaves a compelling mystery around a New England mother and sleepwalker that goes missing and the heartache her family endures while trying to piece together the events leading up to and surrounding her disappearance.  The scientific and emotional perils of sleepwalking are carefully explored.  As always with Bohjalian’s books, the ending is both surprising and satisfying.  Highly recommended for readers of psychological thrillers, mysteries, and Jodi Picoult fans!

Reviewed by Amy Churchill

Monday, May 8, 2017

Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

2003: Nearly twenty-five years after escaping the Khmer Rouge as a child, Suteera Aung has returned to Cambodia.

Officially, Teera is there to fulfill the dying wish of the only other member of her extended family to survive the genocide – but she is also responding to a letter she has received from a stranger.

The nameless “Old Musician” who lives at the temple where Teera’s relative is to be memorialized claims to have known her father and been with him in the prison camp where he died. The family had never known what happened to Teera’s father; like many during the war, he simply disappeared. Although she knows she needs to find out the truth about his death, the news is bound to be painful.

As the Old Musician struggles with guilt over his own small part in the war, Teera finds solace in other survivors. She begins to build a new family and a future for herself in a country she had never thought to see again. This beautiful, but haunting, story is about people finding hope amidst ruins.

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy is a captivating analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans- a demographic of our country that has been in decline for over forty years.  J. D. Vance shares his personal experience in order to give better understanding of the struggles of “hillbilly” Americans and how he overcame cultural adversity and achieved success.

The author, 32, is the product of Appalachia, the Marines, Ohio State, and Yale Law. The son of a drug addict mother who married five times and a father who left the home when he was a baby, Vance was raised by his mother, his maternal grandparents, and a parade of stepfathers in the poverty-laden Rust Belt.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels while at the same time serving as a social commentary and a possible explanation for the current political climate. 

Reviewed by Kim White