Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Contemporary

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 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
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:
Vinegar Girl
Tyler, Anne
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This lightweight comedy of manners by Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Tyler is based on William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. The 2016 novel is part of a Hogarth Press series of classic plays retold by modern, popular authors to honor the 400th anniversary (April 1616) of his death.
Set in modern-day Baltimore, Kate Battista is the 29-year-old daughter of eccentric scientist Louis Battista. The witty and sharp-tongued Kate is a socially inept college dropout after being expelled for criticizing a professor's efforts. She then drifted into a part-time preschool assistant job while caring for her detached, workaholic father and younger sister, Bunny.
Dr. Barrista's brilliant lab assistant, Pyotr, must leave the country due to an expiring visa, prompting the self-involved scientist to concoct a sexist plan where his daughter marries Pyotr to allow him to stay and work for him. Kate is appalled. But she warms to the idea after meeting Pyotr, who enjoys and shares her outspokenness, and realizes this arranged marriage may help her create a satisfying future.
Tyler's considerable skill at bringing characters and settings to life with humor and precision are a big help in this tale about finding a partner who appreciates and shares your idiosyncrasies and principles. It's a quick read and a fun one for Tyler fans.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Book Cover
Zoboi, Ibi & Salaam, Yusef
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Yusef Salaam is one of the "Central Park Five", young men of color who were incorrectly accused of raping and beating a woman jogging in Central Park in the late 80s. After the five had served their sentences of 5-15 years, they were exonerated when the real culprit came forward. This book is clearly heavily inspired by Yusef's story as it tells the story of Amal, a teen in prison for a similar crime that he did not commit. It starts with the conviction and then moves into Amal's experiences in a juvenile detention center.

Every year, there's a book that I promote really heavily in classrooms. This will definitely be that book. It's so good. So sad. So spare in that way that only books in verse can be. It takes a while to read, because sometimes you just kind of have to sit with it for a while to process it. It does such a great job of illustrating just how deeply flawed and racist our "justice" systems are. I dare you not to empathize with Amal. I can't wait to share this important book with everyone I know! Also, like, that cover y'all. So pretty. And it's relevant to the story! Anyway, consider this required reading, especially for all the folks trying to "read woke". 5 stars.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Punching the Air is out 01 September - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Ghost
Reynolds, Jason
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I had taken a break from reviewing books until I read Ghost. This book is really well written. The narrator is believable and the plot illustrates his struggles and growth. Ghost is a troubled kid who stumbles onto a track team and turns his life for the better. I both loved and hated the ending, because it was so good but I didn't want the book to end. Great quick read. I highly recommended giving it a whirl.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Liar
Gundar-Goshen, Ayelet
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

"Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive’". This novel covers a life changing event of a 17 year old girl, Nofar, who has lived an average life and is about to enter her senior year of high school. During the summer, she works in an ice cream shop. One afternoon, she has unpleasant encounter with a formerly famous singer, and tells a lie that escalates events in both of their lives. Her life changes in an exciting and scary way, and his for the worse. As things progress, Nofar repeatedly considers the consequences of her words, which have a domino effect as her lie not only impacts her, but many around her as they get pulled into her dishonesty.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
Cover
Guillory, Jasmine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Olivia Munroe has just moved to LA, and finds herself frequenting her hotel's bar as she navigates the rental process in LA. On her last night in the hotel, she meets a sexy stranger at the bar. They have a cute interaction, but go their separate ways. Olivia is stunned when she realizes the sexy stranger was in fact Max Powell, a hotshot junior senator from CA. The two have another chance encounter, and this time continue to see each other. But is Olivia ready for life in the public eye?

This is my second Jasime Guillory book (The Wedding Party was my first), and I obviously liked the first enough to read this one, but I liked this one so much more! Olivia and Max were just such great characters, I fell in love with both of them pretty quickly. There's also some topical information about relations between the Black community and the police and politics at large, so that was super timely to read and adds an extra dimension to what would otherwise be a fluffy book. Really, aside from a couple of plot aspects that annoyed me personally, the only thing that bothered me was the lack of sex! Where is the sex?!?! There was soooooooo much sex in The Wedding Party that I expected a bunch here as well and was disappointed by it's absence, especially as I connected with these characters a little more.

I would generally recommend this to women's fiction readers, especially those who are looking for a slightly lighter way to read woke. 3.5 stars - it's somewhere in-between "I liked it" and "I really liked it" for me.

Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Books for the eARC that I received in exchange for an honest review. Party of Two is available on 23 June.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Almost Home
Debbie Macomber
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Almost Home is comprised of four short stories detailing 4 people who take risk of opening their hearts to new relationships. "Whale Island" is about a children's writer who is resisting falling in love with the reporter who interviews her because she has a big family secret to hide. In "Queen of Hearts', a man who was a real geek in high school has become successful and handsome as an adult and has run into the woman who he had a crush on in high school but felt out of her league. "The Honeymoon House" is a story of a photographer who finds a bridesmaid of a halted wedding destroying his house. And finally "The Marrying Kind" reunites two high school sweethearts who has a very brief marriage right when they got out of high school but were cruelly torn apart by family members. A great read if romance novels are your genre!

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
In Her Shoes
Weiner, Jennifer
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Maggie and Rose are sisters with very different lives and personalities. The two common things they share are their mother's tragic death, a "car accident" when they were kids and the same shoe size. Rose is an attorney, practical, responsible and has her own apartment. Maggie, the younger of the two, is good looking (which she uses to her advantage), impetuous and manipulative. They live together for a short stint, until a major falling out causes them to go their own ways. Thus begins a journey of self discovery for each woman and the surprise of a grandmother who they thought was long gone. The love/hate relationship of sisters is well captured, along with humor and sharp observations.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Jonasson, Jonas
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This charmer was a runaway international bestseller and it is easy to see why. The main character, Allan Karlsson, is memorable even as his stories from his wanderings around the world get more and more far-fetched. Karlsson has always done what he wanted and skipping his 100th birthday party at the start is the least surprising thing when looking back upon this Swedish novel. I read this for a book group (book club set available through PPLD) and one participant described Karlsson as Forest Gump with a dangerous affinity for vodka and explosives. This "intelligent, very stupid novel" as the author described it, is enjoyable if a tad long.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Book Review: The Flatshare
O'Leary, Beth
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I don't usually rate chick lit higher than 3 stars as it's my guilty pleasure, but this book was very well written, had an engaging plot, likable characters, and addressed a serious topic without seeming heavy handed. I recommend it as a quick and satisfying read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Cover
Shin, Kyung-Sook
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The word mom means unconditional love. When I saw the title it seems a little awkward. The mom who had taken care of her family an given endless love was missing; the elderly woman, suffering from dementia vanished in the crowd in the train station. She came to Seoul to celebrate her birthday withmher children. After her disappearance, the story started with a view from each family members. Each of them followed her trace to find her from their memories. While they struggling to find her, they gradually realized that the mom was ignored and had been neglected, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Her name was Park, So-nye; like meaning (So-nye = little
girl) of her name. She was an ordinary girl like all of us who had many dreams for her future. As time passes by her name and her dreams were sacrificed for her to take the role of a mother without her children's knowledge. Through this book, we encounter question and explore true, universal meaning of family.

Reviewer's Name: Hyun Sook Oh
Awards:
A Spark of Light
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

One afternoon in a small town in Mississippi, a gunman comes through the doors of a reproductive clinic and shoots several employees and keeps everyone else hostage. Police hostage negotiator, Hugh McElroy, is distraught to discover that his 15 year old daughter, Wren, is one of several people caught inside. The story starts at the end of the day and winds its way backwards, unfolding the backstory of the hostages as well as the gunman.

Picoult once again takes on a tough and controversial subject and demonstrates there are many sides to every story, including a twist ending. A great read to consider, since we had such a situation happen here in Colorado Springs several years ago.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
Small Great Things
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way", were the words of Martin Luther King. Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse with 20 years of experience and she is black. During her shift, when she goes to check the newborn child of white supremacist parents,she is immediately reassigned away from the baby. The next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while she is alone in the nursery. She hesitates before giving CPR and as a result is charged with a serious crime. Sadly, this novel takes place in current times and displays the discrepancy and inequality that still exists in our country. As with many of her other novels, Picoult does an incredible job of telling the story from several characters' point of view and shows us, that nothing is truly black or white.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
Awards:
Book Review: Big Little Lies
Moriarty, Liane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When a bullying issue arises in Kindergarten, several mothers duke it out on the elementary schoolyard. As we glimpse into the world of the three main mothers we see heart-wrenching elements unfold.

I didn't expect to get much out of this book. In fact, I thought it would be snarky and contrived. After all, the title smacks of drama. But I enjoyed it thoroughly, drama and all. I hadn't read the summary and didn't have any idea as to what would happen next. It was fun and powerful at the same time.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: No Judgments
Cabot, Meg
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

First, before I go any further with this review, if you are ordered to evacuate, for goodness sake, EVACUATE. Doing anything else is putting not just your life at risk, but those of the emergency responders as well. It’s just not ok.

Alrighty then, I’m going to hop off my soapbox.

After the death of her father, an assault, and a bad breakup, Bree has decided to flee New York in search of warmer, more gentle climes…and people. As a current resident of Little Bridge Island (a small key in FL), she’s not excited when the first hurricane she experiences is a Category 5. She decides to stick it out in Little Bridge with her employers, the Hartwells and their hot-if-unavailable playboy son, Drew. No Judgements follows Bree’s exploits before, during and after the hurricane.

Meg Cabot’s books are always hit-or-miss for me, and unfortunately, this one was the latter. There were a few things that were approached in a completely inappropriate way. For example, our heroine deciding not to leave Little Bridge even though literally everyone she knows is begging her to evacuate, she has no experience with hurricanes, and she lives in an apartment that’s only eight feet above sea level. There’s also some insane gun usage later in the book, and a grown adult solves an issue with his fists and is lionized for it. No no no no no. The book, being a romantic comedy, has some fun romantic moments, but a lot of the comedy felt, again, borderline inappropriate to me. Hopefully some of those jokes are removed before the book is published.

Why is the protagonist 25? This book would’ve been much more interesting if it were about an older protagonist, and this woman, to me, did not act like most 25 year olds that I know. She acted like she was a teenager, and not a very smart or mature one at that (see above examples). Romantic comedies featuring twenty-somethings are a dime-a-dozen. I wish Cabot had taken a risk here. The male lead is not any better. He likes animals and is hot, and we don’t learn much else about him. They do fall in love instantly, though, so…yay?

As someone who grew up in a hurricane affected area, I think the idea of a romantic comedy centered around a hurricane is a fabulous idea. I just wish the execution had been less offensive. I did like the pet-rescue sub-plot, though.

Even though I didn’t enjoy this book, I’ll still check out Meg Cabot’s next one and keep recommending those books of hers that I do like (for instance, Insatiable or Queen of Babble). I mean, I read this book in a day, so that says something, right? I think plenty of readers will enjoy it. For me, though, it was a 1 star read: I didn’t like it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins for the electronic advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. No Judgements will be released on 24 September, but you can put your copy of the book on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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