Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Fiction

Transcendent Kingdom
Gyasi, Yaa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

There was no sophomore slump for author Yaa Gyasi, who lit the literary world ablaze with her searing debut novel, Homegoing (2016). That work of historical fiction was deeply personal and her exceptional contemporary follow-up Transcendent Kingdom (2020) draws upon her experiences growing up with Ghanaian parents in in northern Alabama. This powerful and emotionally raw novel centers on Giffy, a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the connections between depression and addiction. Her brother was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal, deeply religious mother is bedridden. Dad left long ago. Giffy hopes science will find the why behind the suffering. But she still hungers for her childhood faith and struggles to find a balance between religion and science, hope and despair, living and inertia. It’s a personal journey with a conclusion that will leave you with hope, if not a clear answer.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
The Guest List
Foley, Lucy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Those longing for an Agatha Christie-style yarn with red herrings that keep you guessing (incorrectly) will enjoy this mystery by Lucy Foley, author of The Hunting Party. This whodunit – by the end you may ask yourself who wouldn’t? – uses alternating points of views to reveal small, important details about each character. Those alternating chapters provide arguably understandable reasons to kill the eventual "victim," whose identity remains as murky until the end as the weather enveloping the isolated island off the Irish coast. Is the victim or murderer the Bridezilla? The reality TV star groom? The depressed bridesmaid? The jilted former lovers? Just how many of them are there? Or was it the jealous best friend? This modern tale evoking And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, may make you wonder if Christie, if she were alive, would have considered revenge porn as a motive for murder.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
The Henna Artist
Joshi, Alka
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Escaping from an abusive marriage, 17-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s city of Jaipur. There she becomes a highly requested henna artist and confidante of the wealthy women of the upper class, all while keeping her own secrets buried. This eloquent story of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society transitioning from the traditional to the modern provides a window into a lush society marked by stark class divides. Those divides make her vulnerable to gossips and threaten to upend lower-caste Lakshmi’s hopes of a comfortable future. Years of work could be ruined after her husband tracks her down and puts her in charge of a younger sister Lakshmi never knew she had. It is then that Lakshmi, flaws and all, rises to the challenge. She scrambles to lift up those she loves and cares for in this moving story of self-discovery and familial love.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Genres:
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Morris, Heather
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Lale Sokolov is a well-educated charmer whose proficiency in languages lands him a privileged, albeit odious job as The Tatowierer – the tattooist – whose way to survive means marking his fellow prisoners forever as they enter Auschwitz-Birkenau. One of them is a terrified young woman, Gita, whose gaze grips his heart immediately. Discovering love at first sight gives the Slovakian Jew the reason he needs to survive against near-impossible odds.This work of historical fiction does not flinch away from the horrors of The Holocaust, but manages to balance the inhuman horror with a story of love, hope and survival shared decades later by an aging Lale. Sokolov’s deteriorating memory in his final years and Morris’ admitted dramatic embellishments prompted deserved criticism concerning historical accuracy. But those moments do not detract from the novel’s central messages of survival as resistance, faith, and the power of love and compassion.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Book Review: The Color Purple
Walker, Alice
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I loved this book. Celie, Shug, Nettie, and Sofia were such strong women, facing a hard life and rising above it. Celie in particular has cemented herself in my mind as one of the great female protagonists in all of literature. I love how she didn't let her circumstances squash her spirit. I learned so much about a wide variety of things in this book. I learned a lot about Africa in the 30s leading up to WWII and the desecration of the tribal land by the English. I learned about the treatment of African American women by African American men and about their resilience and bravery. I loved the ending. Perfect.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Mexican Gothic
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Noemí Taboada is a beautiful socialite who loves wearing opulent purple gowns, riding in a convertible and smoking French cigarettes. A woman of her station, as the novel relates, "was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting." Instead, this strong-willed, intelligent and brave woman seizes an opportunity not realizing it could lead to her demise. Neomi’s father receives a disturbing letter from his niece and recent newlywed Catalina. The frenetic message suggests a mysterious doom awaits Catalina, who may need psychiatric help and a divorce, a scandal the businessman wants to avoid in 1950s Mexico City. So Neomi negotiates her way into a chance to attend graduate school – rare in a country when women could not vote – in exchange for heading to the isolated High Place, a distant Victorian mansion once funded by now-depleted silver mines. Once there, she must find out if the letter is nothing more than “female hysteria” as Neomi’s father assumes, or something more sinister.

Moreno-Garcia does a wonderful job sprinkling in the antiquated language of classic Gothic horror to pace this atmospheric creeper while Neomi’s dread about the Doyle family and its hideous patriarch mounts, as does her dueling desires to stay and garner graduate school or flee for her own sanity. The oppressive feel of dead, rotting High Place hints at a history of violence, madness and even darker secrets as the 320-page novel’s protagonist soon finds out. Once there, she meets the drugged Catalina’s menacing and alluring husband, who worms her way into her dreams, which are becoming an evermore disturbing mix of lust and horror. Her only ally is the family’s youngest son, who seems a decent fellow, but hides secrets of his own. Follow along as the amateur sleuth learns more about High Place, its exploitive colonial past and its unique power as the novel – equal parts Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft –speeds toward a satisfying, albeit gory conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Book One
Ferris, Emil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A lot of people put down graphic novels as just comic books and many are little more than that. But there are a few that transcend this genre. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 is such an example. This debut novel by Emil Ferris tells the story of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, a girl growing up during the turbulent 1960s in Chicago. Reyes is an aspiring artist and her story is told in her perspective with detailed drawings filled with B-movie horror monsters from her beloved matinees, all sketched by a very talented schoolgirl with a Bic pen in her spiral notebook. Her neighborhood is a scary place and so is dealing with her mother's late-stage cancer and her older brother's drug-dealing and pimping. It's why Karen wishes she was a monster -- to be safe from those she sees in real life. As just a family drama, this novel delivers. Then this beautifully illustrated work of art reminiscent of Robert Crumb and Otto Dix, becomes so much more. The ever-curious Karen decides to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. That sudden plot twist turns this work into an historical epic, a detective story and a psychological thriller that garnered numerous industry accolades and award nominations worldwide. Vol. 1 is currently available through PPLD while Vol. 2, the conclusion of the story, is scheduled to be published in September 2021.
AWARDS: 2018 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album-New, Best Writer/Artist and Best Coloring; 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBTQ Graphic Novel.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux
Vérant, Samantha
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Although this book was predictable and sometimes read like a Hallmark movie - I completely enjoyed it. The food described made my mouth water, the side characters were charming and actually more interesting than Sophie (who
was a bit whiny), and the description of the French chateau made me want to go wander through a field of lavender. If what you need is escapist fiction, this book will fit the bill perfectly.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
The Book of Two Ways
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Oh this book ripped me apart. Jodi Picoult is a master at putting people's in impossible situations where you're not sure what side you're on. I also loved learning more about Egyptology and quantum physics, I'm kind of nerdy that way. If you're expecting a light read, this may not be the one for you. I loved it!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
The Chicken Sisters
Dell'Antonia, K. J.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Enjoyable book. I was expecting something more, but it is like one of those comfort movies you watch, knowing as you go into it how it all will end. Parts of it were repetitive and long-winded, the book could have been at least 50 pages shorter. The descriptions of a fried chicken dinner made me super hungry, though!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Faye, Faraway
Fisher, Helen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is going to be one of my favorites of the year, it just hit me right in the gut. That feeling of nostalgia and wishing you could go back in time to tell yourself "it's going to be okay. " The eternal tug between looking backward, and trying to stay focused in the present. And knowing that when you lose someone, there are always things left unsaid. I just loved it.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
The Lost Apothecary
Penner, Sarah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Gorgeous read! The story is told from 3 viewpoints: Nella (the apothecary) and Eliza (a young girl who befriends her) both take place in the late 1700s. Then there is Caroline who is a present-day woman who is discovering their story. I've mentioned in another review how much I enjoy dual timeline stories where a physical object connects them, and this one is a superb example. Both timelines are compelling, and the author skillfully balances the stories, so that it is not quite as "jarring" when you jump from one timeline to another. Wonderful writing, wonderful story, I highly recommend to all historical fiction lovers out there. Oh, and mudlarking is now on my bucket list!!!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Vera
Edgarian, Carol
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Great story set during the chaos of the 1906 earthquake and fires of San Francisco. Vera is not a warm and fuzzy character, but you will admire her grit at keeping herself and "family" safe and fed despite the fact that she was often dismissed by them. The author does an amazing job placing you in the middle of a nightmare, the city is as strong a character of the novel as Vera herself. 4 1/2 stars, strongly recommended to historical fiction fans.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing
Owens, Delia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I just loved this novel. I loved how it painted the marsh with words and conjured a believable main character that you want to root for. The story line was very interesting and kept me engaged. It's not a hard read and chapters are relatively bite sized, but don't let that fool you. This book packs a punch. 5 stars!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Other Boleyn Girl
Gregory, Philippa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Other Boleyn Girl is a wonderful book that was also made into a movie. The book, though historical fiction, does follow the actual events, within reason.

Reviewer's Name: Nicole E.
Normal People
Rooney, Sally
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This novel about two Irish teens in an on-again-off-again love affair that deftly displays the transformative power of relationships over time through lessons learned. The decisions made by teens Connell and Marianne are ones many can remember from their own past. That makes their emotional travails realistic and their longing believable and poignant in the hands of a skilled writer like Sally Rooney. This is only her second novel following up her well-regarded debut, Conversations With Friends. In Normal People, the two grow up in the same small town with Connell lliving the life of a popular athlete while Marianne is a loner. Their situations reverse at college due to their different social classes. But despite the constant change of their formative years, these complex characters are drawn together by a shared emotional connection these intelligent kids struggle to understand. It is this journey together as lovers and friends and all the messy emotions involved that makes this coming-of-age tale resonate. This title is available as a PPLD book club set and is also the basis for an Emmy-nominated Hulu television series that is written and produced by the author.
Awards: British Book Award, Costa Book Award, An Post Irish Novel of the Year

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Convenience Store Woman
Murata, Sayaka
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This poignant English-language debut of one of Japan best contemporary writers is the best-selling story of 36-year-old Keiko Furukura, a quirky outsider who struggled to fit in until she found peace and purpose in her life working at Smile Mart. Human interaction and social norms are difficult for her to comprehend but the store manual explains, line by line, how to act. She does her best to copy her fellow employees' mannerisms and dress to better play the part of a "normal" person and remain a "useful tool" for the store. But after 18 years at the same store, her family and coworkers pressure her to make one of two choices -- focus on a career or marry and start a family. These constraints force the self-described "convenience store animal" whose emotions are only stirred by "the store's voice telling me what it wanted, how it wanted to be" to take measures to avoid scrutiny. This deadpan love story about a quirky woman and a store sticks with you long after you've finished thanks to some beautiful writing, a memorable protagonist and the larger questions raised. The short novel (163 pages) touched a nerve in Japan, generating a sustained discussion concerning conformity, especially for women. The book's notoriety garnered Murata, who continues to work at a convenience store after 18 years, Japan Vogue Magazine's 2016 Woman of the Year honor.
Awards: Akutagawa Prize

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Richardson, Kim Michele
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was a powerful story set in the mountains and hollers of rural eastern Kentucky in the 1930s. Cussy Mary is a strong woman who has dedicated her life to providing books and other reading materials to the isolated impoverished hill folk. Cussy Mary, also called Bluet, is the last of her kind, a Blue woman with blue skin. When the ending came around, I thought I might be disappointed, but it was handled deftly and with a light hand. Very good book!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Christmas at Tiffany's
Swan, Karen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was better than I expected. Chick lit is my guilty pleasure and this one was better than most. I liked the descriptions of New York, Paris, and London and the story line was sweet. But don't let the title fool you, it doesn't take place just during Christmastime.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Blubber
Blume, Judy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I enjoyed this book. It was a very accurate description of bullying and being bullied. The problem I had with it is it ended very abruptly and there was no illustration on how to overcome bullying and no vindication. I assume the author did this on purpose, providing a snapshot of bullying with no solution. A list of anti-bullying resources would have made a great addition to the book.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:

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