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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Fresh Finds for March and April

Staff Review of New Releases 

Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop (Publication Date: March 7, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave

Katherine's Review:
(4 out of 5 stars) So much fun! Anne Bishop did not disappoint in this, the fifth book in her "Others" series. It is so refreshing to read a series in which the books do not lose any of the magic after the first book.
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar (Publication Date: March 7, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
Orphaned as a boy, raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Proch√°zka has risen from small-time scientist to become the country's first astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him both the chance at heroism he's dreamt of, and a way to atone for his father's sins as a Communist informer, he ventures boldly into the vast unknown. But in so doing, he leaves behind his devoted wife, Lenka, whose love, he realizes too late, he has sacrificed on the altar of his ambitions.

Alone in Deep Space, Jakub discovers a possibly imaginary giant alien spider, who becomes his unlikely companion. Over philosophical conversations about the nature of love, life and death, and the deliciousness of bacon, the pair form an intense and emotional bond. Will it be enough to see Jakub through a clash with secret Russian rivals and return him safely to Earth for a second chance with Lenka?

Rich with warmth and suspense and surprise, Spaceman of Bohemia is an exuberant delight from start to finish. Very seldom has a novel this profound taken readers on a journey of such boundless entertainment and sheer fun.

Katherine's Review:
(4 out of 5 stars) This was a very interesting read! I loved having the past of the main character, Jakub, slowly revealed as the story progressed. Jaroslav Kalfar's writing is wonderful and I grew to really like the characters in it. Nothing is simple and the characters do not fit into neat boxes. I also loved the "possibly imaginary giant alien spider" - Hanus. I'll be on the watch for future books by Jaroslav Kalfar!

Jill's Review:
(4 out of 5 stars) What a wonderful surprise! There is something in this inventive book for everyone.
The story weaves between Jakub as an astronaut from the Czech Republic and his quest to investigate a purple cloud of cosmic dust with the history of his father as a Communist collaborator and the repercussions on the family.
There is some beautiful writing here, and while I much preferred the first half of the book and the conversations (or not) with Hanus, it captivated my imagination and I look forward to more from Jaroslav Kalfar.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Publication Date: March 7, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Jill's Review:
(5 out of 5 stars) I am so glad that I picked up this book without having read much about it ahead of time, and I would encourage you to do the same. It surprised with me with its beauty, creativity and poignant relevance to the world today. It is both a creative representation of the life of a refugee and a bittersweet reflection on personal relationships. It is written in simple language, but it is complex in its layers. Mohsin Hamid has truly written a beautiful book.

Katherine's Review:
(4 out of 5 stars) An important and timely book! I went into this book not having read anything about it and I loved getting to piece together what was going on. I would have given this book 5 stars, but I found myself having to re-read sentences and paragraphs because I missed things on the first read. I think there are sections where the sentence structure made things unclear. This is the first book I've read by Mohsin Hamid and I'll be reading more! 

Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull (Publicaton Date: March 14, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
In the long-awaited sequel to Fablehaven, the dragons who have been kept at the dragon sanctuaries no longer consider them safe havens, but prisons and they want their freedom. The dragons are no longer our allies....

In the hidden dragon sanctuary of Wyrmroost, Celebrant the Just, King of the Dragons, plots his revenge. He has long seen the sanctuaries as prisons, and he wants nothing more than to overthrow his captors and return the world to the Age of Dragons, when he and his kind ruled and reigned without borders. The time has come to break free and reclaim his power.

Tirzah's Review:
(4 out of 5 stars) I need to start out by assuring the skeptical fans that their fears be no more. Brandon Mull does not disappoint. You can tell he cares for his characters and the magical world he has developed. At the end of the book, he writes a kind note to the readers and shares that he took some thought before starting Dragonwatch. You can tell, because Dragonwatch picks up smoothly from where Keys to the Demon Prison left off and from the first chapter, readers are swept once again into the magical charm and danger of Fablehaven. I felt like I was re-connecting with old friends after a long spell of separation. Seth is back in full force with his cheeky remarks and reckless bravery. Kendra’s kindness and quiet bravery are present. Many other characters make a return (though I was a bit distraught that a few did not appear; hopefully in the next book!) and we are introduced to some new characters. The plot flows well, never really slowing down as Kendra and Seth must once again face ghastly situations in order to save the ones they hold dear.

And Brandon Dorman is back with illustrations! I was tempted to flip through to take a peek at all the pictures, but oddly enough I restrained and kept them all a surprise.

In short, Dragonwatch is a worthy sequel. I expect the upcoming books will be just as fun. I also hope the resurrection of Fablehaven will bring a new generation of readers. I highly recommend to readers of fantasy and adventure, specifically the middle school and high school ages.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Publication Date: March 14, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
From one of the most talented fiction writers at work today: two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America's great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it's a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter's troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation's darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

Jill's Review:
(3 out of 5 stars) For the first half of this book I was comfortably enjoying the ride, because I had no idea what was coming. Without saying too much, the book starts out as a story about music and relationships but becomes something much bolder and wilder by the end. I appreciated the creative approach to bringing up the racial issues of the past which are still so relevant here today, and I always love a book that makes me stop, gasp and ask what just happened. At the end, however, I was just left feeling that it was a bit too much and too many things were unresolved. It could be that the book is just too clever for me.

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell (Publication Date: March 21, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems.

Katherine's Review:
(4 out of 5) If you liked Gone Girl, you should give this one a try. Psychological thriller with an evil female lead character. Definitely a page turner and a book that throws curve balls at you. Some of these I figured out and expected but others I didn't. This type of book is not usually my favorite, but this one is well done and will keep you engaged. 3.5 stars rounded up 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (Publication Date: April 4, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

Katherine's Review:
(3 out of 5 stars) I think Mark Lawrence does an excellent job of world-building in this book. He creates an interesting society while leaving many questions unanswered about it's past and it's possible future (more to find out in future books!). However, I feel like the characters could have been developed more. I didn't care enough about what happened to them. Also, I felt like the pacing was off - some sections seemed to drag a bit. My opinion is clearly in the minority so far with this book though, so give it a try! 

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Publication Date: April 25, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Katherine's Review:
(5 out of 5 stars) As I am not a hockey fan, I was a bit disappointed to hear that Backman's latest book was about hockey. But I am so glad that I read it anyway because it's not really about the sport of hockey. I ended up loving it as much as I have loved Backman's other books. Wonderful characters, amazing writing and a plot that kept me completely engaged. Fredrik Backman is a master storyteller! 

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Publication Date: April 27, 2017)

Goodreads Description:
“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.”

Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.

Jill's Review:
(4 out of 5 stars) It has been a while since I read Lucy Barton, but what I remember most is how much was conveyed between the lines. It's strength was not in the story itself but in the feelings & emotion it evoked.
These stories are a different kind of experience. They are like moving concentric circles with Lucy Barton and her environment being the center. We learn more about her & her upbringing through the other characters, yet they have interesting stories of their own to share. Most of the characters are struggling to overcome their feelings of shame, but the major themes are hope and redemption.
I really enjoyed the book, but at the same time I still felt that I was looking for a bit more of the Lucy Barton magic. I think reading these 2 closer together would add to the experience but is certainly not necessary.

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