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

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

The Mother’s Promise is the latest novel by Sally Hepworth, whose previous works include The Secrets of Midwives and The Things We Keep. Although she is considered a writer of “women’s fiction,” to do so would be to limit both her own body of work and our perception of what a woman writing fiction can achieve.

The novel revolves around the stories of four women: Alice, whom has recently been diagnoses with cancer, her teenage daughter Zoe who suffers from crippling anxiety, as well as two hospital workers, Sonja and Kate. Although the story begins somewhat slowly, it soon builds into a satisfying journey into the ways pain can wall people off from the help they so desperately need. There is also a surprising revelation that binds these women together in a way that is tragic and yet optimistic. 

Despite the dark subject matter, there are glimmers of hope. The character Zoe, in particular, has a surprising and satisfying transformation as the story progresses. Not all of the women’s stories have happy endings, but what makes The Mother’s Promise so successful is that it finds redemption in sorrow and the resilience of women who stick together. This book will appeal not only to women but to anyone who has harbored a painful secret or has had to ask for help—which is to say, all of us. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Kalum Meyers

Monday, April 3, 2017

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

This unforgettable final volume in Congressman John Lewis’s multi-part memoir about the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s has rightfully won numerous major book awards. Book Three maintains the graphic novel format of the first two parts, moving back and forth in time between when Lewis was a leading member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the day of President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

Nate Powell’s powerful illustrations, which brought to life lunch counter sit-ins and the March on Washington in the earlier books, cover the period between the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to the signing of 1965 Voting Rights Act in this volume. Although legendary figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X appear, March is ultimately the story of daily heroism by everyday people. Many marchers endured beatings, arrests, and even the murder of friends, but they kept protesting until they ultimately prevailed in their quest for the vote. The whole trilogy is a sobering, but important, read for teens and adults.

Reviewed by Lynn Heitkamp

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Pulitzer Prize finalist, Dan Egan, has just released a new work of non-fiction entitled The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. The book was a winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Award – given annually to provide funding necessary for the completion of a non-fiction work focusing on an American topic that is of political and/or social concern.

Egan’s book starts by educating us on the engineering marvels of the late 1800’s that broke down the barriers of the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior – for improved shipping and to allow Chicago’s sewage to float out to the Mississippi . These man-made changes exposed 20% of the earth’s fresh water to waterborne disease, sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels, and more; destroying native species and changing the ecosystem forever. Egan also talks about other threats including toxic algae, climate change, and dredging of shipping channels; addressing the pressing concern of a potential Asian Carp invasion. There are glimmers of hope, as Egan uncovers relatively simple things we can do to ensure that the Great Lakes will be healthy for generations to come.

As Egan covers the life within the Great Lakes, the threats they face daily, and their revival, you can feel his concern for and love of one of our most precious resources. This book is a must-read, as it provides a concise history of the Great Lakes, information on man-made and environmental concerns leading to where we are today, and a blueprint for protecting these bodies of water for the future. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is relevant and informative. It is a book that should not be ignored.

Reviewed by Jennifer Harden

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Charles Wang came from Taiwan to the United States and amassed a fortune in the cosmetics industry. He married, bought a house in Bel-Air, and had three children. His first wife died and he married Barbra, who was also from Taiwan. Then in 2008, he made a few mistakes and managed to lose everything. This is the story of Charles and Barbra leaving their home to pick up two of the children from boarding school and college. Luckily, the oldest daughter has her own house in upstate New York. The Wangs are making their way to her in an old Mercedes station wagon. Charles still has a grand scheme to reclaim what he lost. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different family member. This is a funny road trip story about a family trying to adjust to their change in fortune and figuring out where they belong in the world.

Reviewed by Fiona Swift

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

I happened upon this title while searching for an ‘end of days’ read. The concept that has riddled numerous societies and populations for millennia intrigues me and I search out good books on the subject whenever I can. Although a fictional work, the author ties in a historical background and largely unknown historical facts to produce an engaging and thought provoking work that I stayed up late nights pondering.

A coming of age story set within a very plausible setting, the beginning of the book reads fairly slow and deliberate, with easy to justify moral complications. As the reader, I started to get slightly bored over the lack of pitfalls and any foreboding. Then it hit. Little forebodings spaced just off context that drew me into the story and started the elements of which I cannot stop pondering over now. The subtle provocations at the governmental system, the background of human nature, and thoughts on how little human influence has on the larger scheme of life and death still play within my mind today.

I will be ordering this hardcover for my personal collection. I will ensure my children read it, and hope they ponder the past to bring light to the future.

Reviewed by Dan Rice

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Lucky Bastard by Joe Buck

Buck, Son of legendary broadcaster Jack Buck, spins a self-deprecating tale of growing up in the shadow of his famous father. From an early age, Joe was allowed to tag along and watch his dad do the play-by-play for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Brutally honest about his own and his father’s shortcomings, Buck tells how it was growing up with the most famous father in St. Louis, who never turned down a speaking engagement or a request for an autograph. As he begins to blossom in his own broadcasting career, Joe faces stinging criticism and accusations of favoritism from the baseball community.

Lucky Bastard is a quick read filled with an inside look at the famous; from Mark McGuire’s steroid fueled home run chase, to personal anecdotes about Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr, and broadcasting partner Tim McCarver. A light, entertaining glance behind the scenes from one of our top broadcasters.

Reviewed by Bill O'Brien

Monday, January 9, 2017

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Image result for barkskinsBarkskins is the newest book by author Annie Proulx, the critically acclaimed author of Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News. This weighty work begins in the late 1600’s with the arrival of two young French immigrants to the dense forests of the rugged new world of Canada. It traces the fate of their descendants and the devastating impact of deforestation through to the present day. It is a sweeping and engaging story rich in French Canadian, Michigan and Native American history. The fate of the two young men and their families diverge widely due to chance, choice and hard work. Life in the Canadian wilderness is harsh and unforgiving but also beautiful and rewarding. Throughout the book, the ever present and far reaching impact of deforestation plays out in meaningful and difficult ways. The book ties together people and the earth and their powerful impact on each other. I highly recommend this book to readers of local and historical fiction.  

Reviewed by Amy Churchill