“The Rose Legacy” by Jessica Day George

“The Rose Legacy” by Jessica Day George

Staff Picks

Anthea is a poor orphan girl who has grown up being passed from relative to relative. When she is forced to move one last time to family she has never heard of, she finds an uncle and cousin who welcome her with open arms. She also discovers a world of wonderful creatures. She also finds that she has a special gift and is able to communicate with the horses in a wonderful Way- they can speak with each other using their minds.

All is not well, though, and when the King discovers that horses still exist, and in order to save them all, Anthea and her cousin Jilly journey to appeal to the Queen.

Full of danger, a cast of well-written characters, a fluffy little owl, and of course horses, this book will be perfect for fans of George’s other middle grade works and any one who loves horses and wishes they could talk.

“Will delight readers who love a classic-feeling fantasy, as well as those who absolutely love horses . . . This thought-provoking fantasy with relatable characters is clever and heartfelt.” – Booklist

“The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon

“The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon

Staff Picks

The Maltese Falcon meets My Name is Asher Lev in Alaska. An alternate time line puts post World War II Jews in a temporary sanctuary around Sitka. Now throw in a puzzling murder that no one wants to be investigated.

I am amazed, completely amazed by Michael Chabon. I am amazed first by how anyone could come up with the basic setting of this novel with all the built in angst and heartbreak. I’m amazed at the continually surprising plot. I’m amazed by the descriptive and gripping language. I’m amazed by the complex, deep, characters that get under your skin and bore into your head and won’t get out.

I took over two months to read this book. The first 150 pages went quite quickly, and then I realized that if I kept reading, the book would end. The next month was delicious pain as I read a few pages here and allowed myself a few pages there, needing to know what happened next, but wanting the experience to last as long as possible.

I should thank our libary’s GoodReads seasonal challenge for bringing me to this book. A past challenge was to read a Nebula award winner and a Orion award winner. Fantasy and science-fiction are so, so not my thing, so I looked at books that made both lists and found this. I wouldn’t exactly classify it as either, but I suppose the alternate time line thing technically puts it in. -So thanks Madison reading challenge. (But you still haven’t won me over to dragons or lazers.)

“Raven Black” by Ann Cleeves

“Raven Black” by Ann Cleeves

Staff Picks

Ann Cleeves Brooding Shetland Series Mesmerizes

Ann Cleeves immediately won me over with Raven Black, the first novel in her Shetland Quartet. The novel revolves around a shunned and painfully lonely hermit with a dark past that creates distrust,speculation, and assumptions of guilt in a contemporary murder.  Her characters are some of the most finely painted anywhere in literature! These are amazingly meticulously drawn people that are incredibly sympathetic, likeable, yet deeply flawed. I feel like they’re all people I grew up with. She also creates a very tangible sense of place on a windswept island in the North Sea. The isolation and and quiet become one of the characters continually interacting in the drama.

There are four books in the “quartet.” I’ve read and enjoyed each one. It may be a bit confusing at first glance to see eight listed in the series. There is a definite break between #4 Blue Lightening and #5 Dead Water with some core cast changes. Are the post break ones good? Yes! Are the pre-break ones incredible? Absolutely. Is it a bit confusing? Only till you get to the break and then it all makes sense. Don’t worry about it. Just read.

“Lafayette in the Somewhat United States” by Sarah Vowell

“Lafayette in the Somewhat United States” by Sarah Vowell

Staff Picks

I’d never read any Sarah Vowell before this book. What a wasted life.

Here is a summary of the book from Goodreads:  On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been thirty years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000. 

Lafayette’s arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past. 

Reading Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is like hanging out with an intelligent, insightful and snarky friend. Vowell’s history is well researched, drawing heavily on primary resources. Her telling of it shows us rounded human beings rather than glorified works of venerated sculpture and draws enough parallels with contemporary culture to give pause. This book is as full of “Oh, my heck, I never realized that!’s” as it is with full out guffaws.

I’m starting Unfamiliar Fishes right now.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

Staff Picks

SUMMARY FROM GOODREADS:

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

My Review: ★★★★★

This was absolutely not what I was expecting, and it took me a little while to get into the book and its rhythms. I had heard a lot about how good the audiobook was, so I started with that, but got too confused to follow the narrative. I started following the book along with the audiobook, then just dropped the audio altogether. This book is so unique, I don’t really know how to describe it. Yet the story it tells fits in with the best of literary tradition. I found the characters throughout to be striking and original, yet with an understandable humanity that made them both relatable and sympathetic. The story has stayed with me since I finished it. I would strongly recommend this book, with the caveat that you stick with it until you get into the flow of the piece. This would be an easy book to give up on, and think that nothing is happening. However, I think you’ll discover that everything is happening. This is a literary experience not to be missed.

Professional Reviews: 

“A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.”—Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review

“An extended national ghost story…As anyone who knows Saunders’s work would expect, his first novel is a strikingly original production.”—The Washington Post

“Saunders’s beautifully realized portrait of Lincoln…attests to the author’s own fruitful transition from the short story to the long-distance form of the novel.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Devastatingly moving.”—People

“Profound, funny and vital…the work of a great writer.”—Chicago Tribune

“Heartbreaking and hilarious…For all its divine comedy, Lincoln in the Bardo is also deep and moving.”—USA Today

“Along with the wonderfully bizarre, empathy abounds in Lincoln in the Bardo.”—Time

“There are moments that are almost transcendentally beautiful, that will come back to you on the edge of sleep. And it is told in beautifully realized voices, rolling out with precision or with stream-of-consciousness drawl.”—NPR

“Wolf Hollow” by Lauren Wolk

“Wolf Hollow” by Lauren Wolk

Staff Picks

Annabelle is a quiet young girl growing up in Pennsylvania during WWII. While she is aware of the war and her family does their part to contribute to the effort, she is mostly unaffected by it. She and her two younger brothers go to school nearby, walking there each day, and doing chores around their family farm when they are home. Life is easy for Annabelle and her brothers. Until Betty moved into her grandparents house.

Betty is an unhappy girl, full of malice and spite. She immediately targets many of the kids at the school, including Annabelle, and focuses her torture on them. Annabelle feels that she can handle what is happening to protect her brothers, but it soon escalates out of control.

Toby is a wanderer. He was a WWI veteran, and since his return has not felt like he has a place. He walks the hills the area, taking photos of anything that catches his eye.

All of these characters find themselves irrevocably connected, and with the help of her parents, Annabelle intends to sort things out and make those around her see people as they really are.

While not a happy book per se, reading this left behind feelings of hope and endurance. The characters face hard things, but together they see it through and are able to continue on with life. Annabelle is a strong character, and while she does a lot of introspection about life, she also isn’t afraid to take action when it is needed and stand up for herself and others. It’s easy to see why this won the Newbery Honor award, along with being nominated for several other awards.

Professional Reviews:

 “Echoing the tone and themes found in To Kill a Mockingbird…Annabelle’s astute observations of the Philadelphia woods and the people who populate Wolf Hollow  will resonate with many readers as they present a profound view of a complex era tinged by prejudice and fear.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “The spare but hauntingly beautiful language paints every early morning walk to school, household chore, emotion, and rational and irrational thought in exquisite detail…  Perfectly pitched to be used in classrooms in conjunction with To Kill a Mockingbird.”—Booklist, starred review

★ “[Wolk] realizes her setting with gorgeous immediacy, introducing the culture of this all-white world of hollows, hills, and neighbors with confidence and clear-eyed affection. Trusting its readers implicitly with its moral complexity, Wolk’s novel stuns.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “The tension builds and never lets up. The storytelling here is dignified and the tone is memoir-ish, because Annabelle is remembering the story in the past…The portrait of Betty, an unredeemed sociopath, pulls no punches, and Toby is a nuanced and poignant character, an unlikely hero.”—The Horn Book, starred review

★ “The narrative is powerful, complex, and lifelike…Thematically, this book raises some of the same issues as To Kill a Mockingbird, but with social status rather than racism as the basis for injustice…VERDICT: Highly recommended for purchase; a truly moving debut.”—School Library Journal, starred review

★ “Lauren Wolk’s nuanced and nerve-wracking middle-grade debut takes a close, dark look at how dangerous it is to make assumptions of guilt or innocence based on appearances—and how telling the truth and standing up against injustice are essential, even if the wrongs are not always righted…Wolk has a clean and poetic way with words and her story is finely crafted, haunting and unlikely to be forgotten.”—Shelf Awareness, starred review

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