Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Hello, fellow reader. Before going too far I must confess something to you: I had ulterior motives when deciding which book my review would focus upon. Nothing nefarious, but with you in mind. My motive is Remarkably Bright Creatures is the book selection for Joplin Reads Together, the library’s premier community read. Common at public libraries across the country, a community read encourages participants from the community to all read one book, and the library provides programs that coincide with the selected book. Through the month of April Joplin Public Library will have a multitude of programs that relate to themes within Remarkably Bright Creatures. There is no cost to participate in Joplin Reads Together or any of the related programs, AND I’m not done with the awesomeness yet – Shelby Van Pelt is visiting the library April 27th to discuss her book. Another plus to the community read is participation is whatever you’d like it to be; you can read the book and come to all the programs in April, or simply read the book and come just to the author visit (or don’t, that’s an option, too!). However one is inclined to participate, Joplin Reads Together offers a shared experience with the library and readers in the community.

In a small tourist town in northern Washington septuagenarian Tova Sullivan works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning the outside of aquariums and mopping the floors after closing. As she makes her way from aquarium to aquarium she talks to the sea creatures inside. While Tova acknowledges the animals don’t know what she’s saying and don’t respond (or so she initially thinks), this characteristic made Tova instantly likable to me for her kind, calm manner. A widow, Tova’s husband recently passed away, a sorrow she carries with her along with grief for her son, who died under mysterious circumstances 30 years prior. At the Aquarium Tova seems to find some solace for her loneliness.

Also at the Sowell Bay Aquarium is Marcellus McSquiddles, an irritable giant pacific octopus that vehemently rejects, among other things, his mortifying last name (he is an octopus after all, NOT a squid). Marcellus has a lot of opinions; he spends his days observing the people that come to the Aquarium, perplexed by their human ways and possessing an uncanny ability to pinpoint facts about them just by observation. In Marcellus, Van Pelt creates an entertaining and funny character that pulled me in. I found myself looking forward to the chapters told from his perspective. Also in Marcellus Van Pelt creates a friend for Tova; Marcellus listens to all Tova has to say as she cleans, and finds his own way to communicate back. As a result of this friendship and the grief Marcellus sees within Tova he is determined to assist her in uncovering what happened to her son all those years ago.

In addition to Tova and Marcellus the novel is full of characters from around the town that are friends to Tova and invested in her life. There’s grocer Ethan who has a crush on Tova, the Knit-Wits who are Tova’s closest friend group, and new-to-town traveler Cameron who is searching for his family. Many of the novel’s characters seem to be on the verge of a new start, driven by their unique searches for that certain something missing in their life. Tova especially is haunted by her past and how to move forward with her future. Can Marcellus help her?

Within Remarkably Bright Creatures Shelby Van Pelt creates a realistic fiction that pulls at the heartstrings. Van Pelt manages to address the heavy burden of loss and grief in a relatable manner, all while maintaining a gentle, often humorous narrative. Tova’s struggle with how to leave the past in the past, while also bringing its memories to the future, is something I think many readers could identify with, especially those that have lost a loved one. While I myself am not 70 years old like Tova is, I found her additional struggle with aging, particularly after losing those closest to her, a necessary conversation that should be examined by a community often and purposefully. How can we assist those in our community that are, day to day, alone? What is the difference between the community we live in, and the community we choose to make for ourselves? If this is a book you pick up to read I hope it brings you the entertainment and thought provoking questions it brought to me. And if Joplin Reads Together is something that interests you I hope to see you at one of the library’s April programs to hear what you thought of Tova and Marcellus.

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Review by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

How to Be A T. Rex by Ryan North and Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr., and Michael Sampson

How to Be A T. Rex by Ryan North, illustrated by Mike Lowery

Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois

As grateful as I am for the magic of finding titles in the Library’s electronic catalog and as helpful as it can be when searching, I still think nothing beats leisurely browsing the shelves for something new (or new-to-me). There’s nothing like strolling through the stacks looking for a title that strikes my fancy. I found a pair of picture books hanging out together, just waiting for someone to pick them. They just so happen to be about animals (of one sort or another) and sources of eye-catching art. Both titles are fun, engaging, and great for reading aloud to little ones.

How to Be A T. Rex, written by Ryan North and illustrated by Mike Lowery, is a great place to start! Its bold art matches well with its brash main character. Sal is a little girl with a BIG agenda–she wants to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex when she grows up. (Or maybe even before then!)  A dinosaur super fan, she loves that T. Rexes get to roar and stomp around and swat things (and people) with their tails. By sheer force of will and to spite her older brother, Sal turns herself into one and immediately initiates a mission of stomping, roaring intimidation. That is, until she’s sent to her room. There she learns the downside of living the dino life–she can’t wear her nifty shoes, her dog doesn’t like her as much, and it’s hard to be anything other than grumpy when all you can do is roar. Fortunately for Sal, she realizes the best of both worlds (human and dino) and invites her friends to be pretend dinosaurs with her.

Sal’s independent spirit comes through in Mike Lowery’s art. Vibrant orange and green and blue saturate the book cover to cover, emphasizing Sal’s energy and determination to live her best dinosaur life. Drawn in comic book style with bold black outlining and lettering (but minus the panel structure), most of the illustrations are full page with boisterous scenes and spirited, exclamatory text. Lowery’s technique is very effective at grabbing the reader’s attention, especially when it comes to showing all the amazing things a T. Rex can do. His illustrations also have a sense of humor and are great for exploring with a little one; Sal’s dinosaur-saturated bedroom is packed with details and worth a second or third look. Find a young person (or T. Rex) to delve into the book with or give it to a young reader to explore. How to Be A T. Rex is silly, rollicking good fun either way.

Despite its name, Armadillo Antics is less a madcap romp and more a relaxed opportunity to revel in rhyme and art. The book is an unhurried journey of the nocturnal mammal as it moves through its “day”. Each two-page spread features a rhyme and illustration depicting a different activity during the animal’s waking hours. For example, antics begin with “Armadillo, Armadillo, Armadillo, run. Romp and play till the night is done.” The rhyme is spread across two pages interspersed with frolicking cut-paper armadillos, cacti, and moon. “Armadillo” is a funny word to say no matter what, and this is no exception. The short rhymes and repetition of the text make this a great book for reading aloud to little ones. Reading aloud, observation, and language exploration are important components of early literacy and are put to good use here. Definitely share this one with toddlers, preschoolers, and early readers.

If Armadillo Antics seem vaguely familiar, it’s because the title is a collaboration of veteran picture book authors who have partnered with a contemporary illustrator who works in similar media as their earlier collaborators. Bill Martin, Jr. had a long career as a picture book author, including the well-known Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with legendary illustrator Eric Carle and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with the equally legendary Lois Ehlert. All of the word repetition and rhyme and charming story of those classics are evident in Armadillo Antics. Although Martin died in 2004, he left an unpublished manuscript of this book, a collaboration with teacher and literacy advocate Micheal Sampson with whom he worked regularly.

Argentinian illustrator Nathalie Beauvois has a style that meshes well with that of Carle and Ehlert. Her collages of cut paper and paint create texture and motion on every page. The armadillo on the front cover wears armor in a tapestry of gold, rust, and brown triangles that are vibrant against the velvety blue background. Most of her palette is more subdued than those of Carle and Ehlert–less vibrant primary colors and more an exploration of natural, earthy tones–yet still full of nuance. This is a great title for practicing observation skills and starting conversations with pre- and early-readers. As a bonus, an armadillo fact sheet is included at the end of the book.

These two picture books proved delightful and fun to read. You can find them and a lot more stories about animals in the Children’s Department. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading!

Review written by: Beth Snow, Teen Services Librarian

Book That Joplin’s History Needs Doesn’t Exist Yet

This is a review of A People’s History of Joplin, Missouri. However, this is less of a book review and more of a nonbook book review — mainly because the A People’s History of Joplin, Missouri doesn’t exist.

At least not that I know of. At least not yet.

This isn’t to say we don’t have numerous wonderful books about the history of our community — we do. Popular contemporary local history book titles include:

  • The Best of Joplin (1999)
  • Joplin Souvenir Album (2000)
  • Joplin Keepsake Album (2001)
  • Murwin Mosler’s Gift to Joplin (2005)
  • Murwin Mosler’s Joplin in the 1940s (2015)
  • Now & Then & Again: Joplin Historic Architecture (2009)
  • Postcard History Series: Joplin (2011)
  • Images of America: Joplin (2013)
  • Joplin Memories: The Early Years (2014)
  • Greater Joplin Through Our Eyes (2016)
  • Joplin’s Connor Hotel (2021)
  • and Tom Connor: Joplin’s Millionaire Zinc King (2021)

Plus, we have titles based on topics one might consider niche, such as criminal histories, mysteries and hauntings. Historic local history book titles include A History of Jasper County, Missouri, and Its People (1912), The Story of Joplin (1948) and Tales About Joplin Short and Tall (1962).

Although this list is not comprehensive, I mention it because these are among the titles I heartily gather for people when they ask for books about local history.

I emphasize “books” because there is so much history in our community that is not published — at least not done so in a tidy format that I can check out to someone when they walk through the library’s doors. When people ask me for books about local Black history, local LGBTQ history or local women’s history, for example, they are disappointed because there’s nothing for me to gather for them to check out.

Part of my role at the library is to help collect and preserve materials that tell the story of our community’s history. Although we have all sorts of local history materials, if one were to look only at books published about our community’s history, as one often does, they might say our collection lacks diversity or representation. In fact, this very thing has been said to me on more than one occasion.

What I’m getting at is that it’s important that a community’s history — its story — be told and represented in voices and from perspectives as diverse and varied as the people who live, or have lived, there. Historically, marginalized voices are often found in nonbook materials, if at all.

From a professional viewpoint, as both a librarian and historian, this is problematic.

Why mention this now? And why here, with a nonbook book review?

Because this is Joplin’s 150th year, our sesquicentennial. Our birthday is later this month, on March 23. Oodles of fantastic celebrations and events are planned for our community, and legacy projects are in the works.

At moments like this, people say we have a rich history. Indeed, we do, but it would serve us well to remember that not all of the richness that makes up the history of who we are as a community has been fully acknowledged, much less written about, preserved or made accessible as part of our legacy.

Does this mean a book titled “A People’s History of Joplin, Missouri” written by the people for the people would be a fix-all? No, but I like it for the title. Do I have the answers to what I and no doubt others see as problematic? Again, no, but I believe that we as a community do, and I’m willing to be a part of the conversation.

As always, happy reading.

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson and Standing in the Need of Prayer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison

Awards season is here — not the Grammys or the Oscars, but the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards.

Every January, the ALA announces the most esteemed books of the previous year published for young readers:

• The Newbery Medal is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for children.

• The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

• The Coretta Scott King Award Author Award and Illustrator Award are given to an outstanding young adult or children’s book by a Black author and illustrator that reflect the Black experience.

This year, both the Coretta Scott King Author Award and the Newbery Medal were awarded to Amina Luqman-Dawson’s “Freewater,” which tells the story of 12-year-old Homer and his sister Ada as they escape from the Southerland plantation.

The children, who were born into slavery, leave in the night with their mother. When their mother is caught, they must figure out how to survive on their own. While escaping deeper into the swamps, they encounter Freewater, a community of formerly enslaved people and freeborn children.

Homer experiences fear and excitement in equal measure. He misses and worries about his mother. Once he realizes she is not following behind, he devotes most of his time to crafting ways to rescue her. At the same time, he and his sister learn swamp survival skills from people like Daria, Solomon, and Sanzi and Juna, freeborn sisters who have only known life in Freewater.

Luqman-Dawson’s immersive world building paints a picture of Freewater through its sounds, its flora and fauna, and its people. Though much of the story is told from Homer’s perspective, readers often hear from Sanzi, as she yearns for adventures outside the swamp community

Freewater, at its core, is a story of freedom and resistance and what a life built on those things can look like.

In her acknowledgments, Luqman-Dawson talks of how little is known of life inside maroon communities. Her imaginings, though, are rooted in anthropological evidence.

The research and work she put into developing the characters and the setting is incredible and essential. Because of Homer, Ada, and the other characters, readers are provided with a more full glimpse of what life was like for both the freeborn and formerly enslaved individuals in these communities.

Flashbacks and the perspective of the slave owner’s daughter bring readers back to the Southerland plantation often. Though the author does not gloss over the horrific nature of slavery, it is presented in a way that will be digestible for upper elementary/early middle school readers.

The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award was given to Frank Morrison’s “Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual.” Morrison’s illustrations in this book are incredible.

The cover itself is rife with symbolism and emotion. It shows a young Black girl, her face lifted toward the sky and eyes closed, with her hands raised in prayer. In her Afro, you can see reflectionlike paintings of Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, the March on Washington, a cotton flower and Florence Griffith Joyner.

Morrison uses his illustrations to show vivid depictions of glimpses of African American history. Award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford adapts the classic African American spiritual to include bits of Black history as well, from the “freedmen seeking kin at Emancipation” to “the first Black students walking into all-white classes” and “record-breaking athletes.”

The juxtaposition of the front and back endpapers alone tell the story of both Weatherford’s words and Morrison’s other illustrations throughout the book. The opening pages show a young enslaved person standing on the steps of a ship, hands chained behind their back before a whip-wielding enslaver. Conversely, the back endpapers show a curly-haired Black child, shown a few pages prior, walking into the sunset, protest sign slung over a shoulder with a hand casually placed in a pocket.

My favorite illustrations are the ones that, like the cover, are big, bold, and tell multiple stories or facets of a story at once.

I love the image of athlete-activist Colin Kapernick that takes up nearly an entire page. Its grand yet humanizing qualities call to mind the art of Kadir Nelson, another award-winning Black illustrator.

On the aforementioned double spread, a somber Kapernick looks down at a football field, his Afro taking up three-quarters of the page. In his hair, you can see a smaller reflection of Olympic runner Florence Griffith Joyner in motion.

Overall, “Standing in the Need of Prayer” is a hopeful book. Though it certainly confronts hard history, it does so while looking forward.

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe

If you peruse a public library’s nonfiction section, you’ll eventually wander into a grizzly sector: true crime. Chances are you won’t bump into me there. While “understanding” the psychoses of serial killers is laudable, I can’t shake the horrid end that came to their victims. So, I’ll usually find something else to read, thanks. Still, true crime as a subject encompasses much, and there are some gripping tales out there.

Patrick Radden Keefe knows his way through the genre, writing about political murder in Northern Ireland as well as chronicling one family’s machinations in pushing painkiller drugs that fueled an opioid crisis. His latest book, “Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks,” a collection of articles that originally ran in “The New Yorker,” hooked me straight away.

Wine fraud is a given in the wine-collecting market. Rare wine attracts wealthy collectors, which in turn begets swindlers. Keefe tells us of what happened when one billionaire was duped into buying wine that was purported to belong to Thomas Jefferson. The billionaire, Bill Koch (of Koch brothers fame), made it his mission to seek retribution, spending more for this satisfaction than what he spent on the bogus wine. Entertaining, to be sure. But, to me, Keefe’s exploration of the wine market, where fakes often best originals in tastings, is where the essay thrives.

Also, judging by his wine ledgers, Thomas Jefferson certainly liked to lean into a bottle. According to Keefe, Jefferson “might also have been America’s first great wine bore,” as evidenced from John Quincy Adams’ diary. After one dinner with Jefferson in 1807, Adams noted, “There was, as usual, a dissertation upon wines. Not very edifying.”

There’s an article on Mark Burnett, the man who brought us such television shows as “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” the latter styling Donald Trump as an icon of business success. It’s yet another stark reminder that there are those who underscore what can be promoted and sold over what is fact. Nothing new there. However, when one assumes the presidency on this marketed foundation, we should all take pause.

Keefe writes of a Swiss bank heist and of an international arms broker. Financial scandals are unpacked, as well as an account of a man seeking justice for his brother, a victim of the Lockerbie bombing. There’s an article on a criminal defense attorney who defends some of the most heinous criminals. Her representation is not to prove their innocence; she’s trying to keep them off death row by humanizing them in the eyes of the jury. Not an easy job, that.

There’s the Dutch gangster who kidnapped Freddy Heineken (of the beer dynasty) for ransom. A more violent gangster is profiled in Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the former leader of a brutal Mexican drug and money-laundering cartel. Despite their fame, the daily lives of both gangsters read as positively banal, with Guzmán having to change up residences every few days to evade capture. It’s the opposite of glamorous. He and his family tediously schlep their belongings from house to house. (There is, however, an occasional mad dash through a sewer.)

Perhaps the most chilling article concerns Amy Bishop, a neurobiologist who was denied tenure at the University of Alabama. At the next faculty meeting, she shot and killed three coworkers. At first, the story appears to highlight the pressures of academic life. But there is so much more to Bishop’s life story. As dangerous as, say, Guzmán is, his violence emerged from a violent upbringing. With Bishop, however, the source of her murderous ways is not so easily explained.

The last article features Anthony Bourdain, the chef turned writer (a talented one) and television travel host. Keefe states that part of Bourdain’s popularity springs from his circumventing “homogenized tourism.” As viewers, Keefe notes that we are given a “communion with a foreign culture so unmitigated that it feels practically intravenous.” In spite of Bourdain’s image as a rebel, Keefe found him to be “controlled to the point of neurosis…He is Apollo in drag as Dionysus.”

Since these articles were published over a span of 15 years, there are addendums at the end of each. Doubtless, many readers already know that Bourdain committed suicide and that Guzmán is serving time at the supermax prison in Colorado. With each article, Keefe’s writing is a reminder of the value of longform journalism: giving complex stories the space to be thoroughly told and appreciated.

Reviewed by Jason Sullivan

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The Lost Ticket by Freya Sampson

In 1962, at age twenty-two, Frank Weiss felt destined to follow the path his parents want him to take, working in the family business which will eventually be his. But one April day on the 88 bus a young woman catches his eye. He notices her before she boards – her clothing and the confidence she exudes not to mention her red hair. He can’t believe it when she sits across the aisle from him.

Frank’s encounter with this intriguing young woman begins Freya Sampson’s latest novel, The Lost Ticket. The author weaves three stories into one with the 88 bus as a touchstone.

The first story is Frank’s and it begins with his encounter on the bus. Between his stares and blushes Frank and the young red-head share a stop and go conversation about her quest to be an artist. She defied her father to go to art school which Frank finds incredibly brave. They agree to meet at the National Gallery the following weekend if he’ll call her. Only after she writes her number on her ticket and gets off the bus does Frank realize he didn’t get her name.

Totally captivated and in a daze planning a future where they are together Frank heads home. Once there he empties his pockets to discover he lost the ticket she gave him. Even though he lost his chance to see her again, the encounter gave him the courage to become what he wanted to be instead of what he was expected to be. Sixty years later after a successful career in the theater, Frank is still riding the 88 bus. He is looking for his redhead, not for romance but to say thank you for changing his life.

The red-head who sits across the aisle from him on this April day, Libby, is too young to be the one he hopes to find. Libby’s is the second story and she did not follow her dream to be an artist. She succumbed to her parents’ demand that she study medicine. But after 2 years dropped out and has been disappointing them ever since.

The latest disappointment is why Libby is on the 88 bus in London heading for her sister’s house. After eight years together, instead of receiving the marriage proposal she expected from her partner Simon, she was dumped. Simon is bored and wants some space. Since the house is in his name and Libby works at his gardening company, she finds herself homeless and unemployed.

Libby reminds Frank of his long ago fellow rider and he suggests that she get back into art by sketching people on the bus. His 1962 redhead sketched him and the drawing is one of his prized possessions. Libby’s first attempt she vows will be her last as she inadvertently riles the man she chose to sketch. And that’s too bad because she managed to capture the anger in the eyes of the tall, tattooed man with the spiked mohawk.

This brings us to the third story of the novel, Peggy’s. Her story comes in random chapters as she tells an unnamed person what is happening in her life. Events like witnessing a woman being yelled at by a man on the 88 bus. This intrepid young woman was sketching him right there on the bus. It reminded Peggy of when she used to draw on the bus.

Feeling lost and desperate for focus Libby is determined to help Frank find his lost love. An excited Frank offers the help of his carer (home aide). Frank has dementia and Dylan, tall with tattoos and a spiked mohawk, was employed to help him with his meds and food. Dylan is not at all happy but, for Frank, agrees to the plan.

During the search major changes happen in Libby’s life and others join the quest. As this disparate group bands together to help Frank before his dementia worsens, the author reminds us to look beyond our assumptions. Things are not always as they seem and families are not defined by genetics.

This is a feel good read. It’s a little bit funny and a little sad – it’s about life and what we make of the opportunities given. You can find it at the library in both regular and large print editions.

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Review by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

The Scholomance Trilogy by Naomi Novik

Beginning with A DEADLY EDUCATION, Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy is a contemporary fantasy series about magically gifted teenagers forced to struggle for survival in a school determined to destroy them.

Once a year, the fourteen-year-old magically-inclined children of the world are pulled into the Scholomance – a sentient school designed to teach them how to use their powers. After four years, those who survive are sent back to their families.

The danger inside the school pales in comparison to what waits for untrained magic-users outside the school. When they are young, their parents can protect them. However, as their powers develop, they are more likely to attract maleficaria – monsters that eat magic and the people able to cast it.

The school itself keeps most of the maleficaria out, but it is not foolproof. Students are in constant danger of being attacked. Mals are able to get into the one portal that links the Scholomance to the real world: the graduation door.

Graduation is the last gauntlet that Scholomance students have to face. In order to leave, students must face the mals that have made it inside since the previous graduation.

El has spent the last three years keeping to herself. This is part of the strategy she developed for survival: keep under the radar until her final year, then reveal her powers and find a team with a good chance of getting out alive.

And it would be working, if not for Orion Lake.

No one attracts El’s ire like Orion Lake, the golden boy of the school. He represents everything that she hates most about their world. His mother is a high-standing member of the magical organization in New York, one of the biggest in the world, and he behaves like a storybook hero. He spends all his time fighting other people’s battles – literally.

Inside the Scholomance, it is supposed to be every student for themselves. Danger lurks around every corner and the school is doing its best to put weaker students at risk – with fewer students its resources will go further, after all. Everyone has to make their own way.

Now that she is one of the most experienced students in the school, El finds herself confronted with what this philosophy actually entails. Against her better judgement, she realizes that she cannot let others get hurt when she has the power to help them.

Throughout the first two books, El builds relationships with her fellow students, letting her guard down after three years of mutual distrust between herself and her classmates.

Unfortunately, the more she learns about them, the harder it is to face that many of them will not make it out of the Scholomance. But between her closely-guarded powers and Orion’s superhero attitude, maybe they can work together to fix this broken system.

Naomi Novik’s Scholomance Trilogy concluded last fall with THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES, which starts directly after El’s graduation. Even though they are back home, El and her friends have to hit the ground running. Being magically gifted has not gotten any easier now that they are out in the real world.


Review written by: Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

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Jeana’s Favorite Reads of 2022

Welcome to 2023! As we kick off a brand new year, I like to reflect on what I have read during the previous year. And 2022 was a good one, reading-wise for me. I love writing each title down and keeping track of the total I read; with this year’s grand total being 44. That is a big number for me, and symbolic in a few ways, plus, way up from my 30-something number from 2021. I am thrilled to have read the books I did. I hope you are as happy with your 2022 books, too. If not, do not fret, I am sure 2023 is going to be your year!

Of those forty-four titles I read, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorites.  Below are my top ten picks, in no particular order:

BOOK LOVERS by Emily Henry
Nora Stephens is focused, dedicated, loyal, and at times, ruthless. She is a fantastic literary agent who works hard for her clients and does not take no for an answer.  She loves what she does, but her personal life suffers for it.  She is okay with this, especially since she seems doomed to live the same plotline again and again – boyfriend leaves town on what is supposed to be a short trip, boyfriend falls in love with cute, perky small town sweetheart, boyfriend decides to stay in small town, and Nora is left single once again. 

So when Libby, her pregnant younger sister, asks her to take a trip to Sunshine Falls, the setting of one of her favorite books, Nora has nothing tying her to NYC, so she agrees to join her. The pair set off and soon they are quite immersed in the small town culture.

Nora is the star of the show here and I enjoyed getting to figure out what made her tick. At first glance, she is an ice queen who could care less about anyone else, but readers slowly get to unravel the “real” Nora. Emily Henry is becoming one of my favorite authors. Her uniquely drawn characters are the heartbeat of every story and while her stories are being marketed as romances, this book reads more like contemporary fiction, with just a sprinkling of romance.  

While reading BOOK LOVERS I kept thinking of Renee Zellweger’s character in the movie NEW IN TOWN.  It’s one of my favorite movies because of her icy, all business character.  Much like Nora’s character. I adore Nora, Emily Henry, and this book! 

RED RISING SAGA (BOOKS 1, 2 &3) by Pierce Brown
I selected book one, Red Rising, at one of the Library’s Book Swap events. The person who traded it in, described it as a face-paced, science fiction space odyssey. An accurate description, but this saga has so much happening, it is hard to describe it without giving away too much.   

Set in the future, where class divisions are by color, Darrow and his loved ones are considered Reds. Their lives consist of mostly hard, physical labor focused on readying the surface of Mars for future generations. But things are not all they seem and soon Darrow must decide the part he will play in obtaining justice for his people. 

Darrow is a complicated character, as are many of the story’s secondary characters.  And there are a lot of supporting characters, with most drawn so well readers might often wonder who they are supposed to root for.

One note, this series is violent. It occurs almost immediately and continues throughout. While central to the plot, I remember initially being surprised at how cruelly some of the characters were treated.  Please do not let that deter you. I highly recommend the three books I have read so far. 

Debut author Garmus’ main character Elizabeth Zott has a lot going on.  First and foremost, she wants to be a scientist, but getting taken seriously, as a woman chemist at the university level in the 1960s is not an easy feat.  Add on top of this a non-traditional relationship, a pregnancy, the  death of a loved one, a potential new job and a dog and you have got quite the compelling story. 

Thanks to everyone who recommended this book to me. I loved it so much! While considered a historical fiction title, it also contains humor, romance and one of the best supporting casts of characters I have had the pleasure of reading this year. Truly, this book has it all.  It is a gem.

Katy Silver’s mother was her everything – her best friend, her mentor, her guide to figuring out her life – so when Carol gets sick and later dies, Katy is at a loss. She is unsure how to move forward and what her life looks like without her mother. Yes, she is married, but her husband Eric seems like the farthest thing from comforting. She and her mother had planned to take a trip to Italy together, to revisit some of her mother’s favorite places along the Amalfi Coast, so after her mother’s death Katy decides to go alone. While staying in Positano at the Poseidon Hotel she meets a young woman that reminds her of Carol. 

In fact, it is Carol, but a much younger version.  Katy is shocked, but also elated.  She spends time with Carol, but this new one knows very little and Katy is left trying to understand how her mother, who seemed to know everything, could be so clueless about life when she was thirty years old.  This revelation, and other elements of the story eventually help Katy get the closure she needs to move forward with her life.   

Serle has created a nontraditional love story, one between mother and daughter. I loved the description of the Amalfi Coast and getting to “see” all the beauty through the author’s eyes.

A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT by Brittany K Barnett
I wrote a full review for this one in July, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again. As I mentioned in that review, I had the pleasure of getting to hear author Brittany K. Barnett speak at a library conference.  Her talk was moving and memorable, as is her book. She uses her debut memoir to not only tell her story, but that of others who have greatly impacted her life.   

Her book details how she has used her passion and expertise to help people who had been harshly, or wrongly, convicted of drug-related offenses. All of which involve sentencing disparities between those individuals sentenced for crack cocaine and powder cocaine drug offenses. The individuals that Barnett works with become more than names on a page or numbers assigned to a prison system. They become someone’s parent, someone’s child, or someone’s friend. While the subject matter can be difficult to hear at times, this book is a must read.

MEET ME IN THE MARGINS by Melissa Ferguson
Savannah Cade dreams of being a published writer, but for now her day job is working with published writers. She is an assistant acquisitions editor for Pennington Publishing.  She likes her job, but her aspirations are higher, and thanks to a chance meeting with Claire Donovan, an editor from a rival publishing house, she just might get her manuscript published.  Savannah is secretly working on changes to her manuscript during a staff meeting and accidentally drops all of her pages on the floor.  While scrambling to pick them up, she misplaces one and the company’s new publisher, who happens to be the son of the company’s CEO, reads a page before handing it back.  

Savannah immediately escapes to a secret nook within the office, and leaves her rumpled manuscript.  When she comes back later that day to retrieve it, someone has organized it and scribbled notes in the margins. Savannah and the mystery editor are soon chatting through notes and her novel is soon ready to send off to Claire.  To complicate matters, Savannah starts falling for the mystery editor as they exchange notes.  This was a fun romance novel, with a hint of mystery.  Plus, it is on the chaste side, for those who enjoy romance, but not the bodice-ripping variety. 

ANSWERS IN THE PAGES by David Levithan
This fictional children’s chapter book gives voice to what a book challenge can look like and how it can affect individuals, families and an entire community. In Levithan’s latest book, a school-assigned reading book is deemed inappropriate by one fifth grader’s mom and soon the whole town is involved.  

Levithan is a master of writing from multiple viewpoints (DASH & LILY’S BOOK OF DARES, EVERYDAY, NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST) and this book is no exception. He beautifully tells the story through three narrators – Duncan – a fifth grader whose mom mounts the challenge, Rick and Oliver – the main characters of the challenged book, and Gideon and Roberto – two fifth graders who develop a new friendship as they work on a class assignment together. He takes a timely, hot button topic and makes it about so much more than a story about a challenged book. There is something for everyone here; not to be missed.

COUNTERFEIT by Kirstin Chen
I know you are not supposed to choose a book based on its cover, but that is exactly how I selected this one. I saw it at several different bookstores, while traveling, and thought the cover was so interesting.  It features what appears to be a wealthy Asian-looking woman on the cover wearing a large gold necklace and sunglasses reflecting designer handbags; with bright pops of bright blue and bold red making up the background and her clothing. 

This book is written as a confessional, by Ava Wong, a Chinese-American lawyer, who has always been a rule follower. Things in Ava’s life look perfect to outsiders. She is married to a successful transplant surgeon, lives in a beautiful home, stays home with their young son; however, it is all a facade. In reality,  her marriage is not a happy one, she is bored out of her mind and feels bad about not using her expensive law degree, and her young son is so prone to tantrums she would be lost without her nanny’s help.  

So when Winnie Fang, a former college roommate, shows up unannounced one day, Ava is curious. This Winnie shows little resemblance to the shy, bookish college student who left school under mysterious circumstances their freshman year.  She is now fashionable and beautiful.  And if her designer handbag and accessories are any indication, wealthy, too. Ava learns that Winnie is involved in the international business of buying and selling designer handbags, though her dealings are on the criminal side. Initially, Ava claims she does not want anything to do with Winnie’s business dealings, but the temptation is too great, and she is soon working alongside her.

Chen focuses on high fashion, white-collar crime, and the power of friendship and connection as she tells the story.  Plus, the element of deceit is a major player. Readers will have to ultimately decide Ava’s intentions and who is telling the “true” version of events. This is a fun, fast read.

THE MEASURE by Nikki Erlick
One morning the world wakes up to find small wooden boxes have been delivered to every adult, worldwide. Inside each box is a string, some short, others long, and on the outside of the box the phrase “ The measure of your life lies within,” is printed. Quickly, people start to speculate on what the strings mean and why they are different lengths. Many struggle with whether to open the box at all. Soon society has to deal with the repercussions of what they find the strings to mean and how it affects everyday life. 

This book has such a clever, thought-provoking premise. While reading it, I started telling my friends and family about the book, and asking, “Would you open the box?”  It is such a fun conversation starter. I loved how the book unfolded and how debut author Erlick focuses on eight individuals and then weaves their lives together in a way that creates a beautiful, and at times heartbreaking, narrative. Book club members should add this one to the top of their to-read list. I highly recommend it. 

I wrote a full review for this one in November, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again.  While the setup takes some time, it is worth sticking with it.  

Alice Stern wakes up the morning after her fortieth birthday in her sixteen year old body, on the day of her sixteenth birthday.  Soon she is having to make important, possibly life-altering decisions, without any guidance or help.  At the top of the list is what to do that day. Should she live it as she did originally or mix it up?  Should she simply enjoy the time she has with her healthy and vibrant father or try to alter the events of the day and her birthday party, so she, and possibly her father, can have a different future? 

Straub uses elements of contemporary fiction combined with science fiction to create a beautiful ode to the parent/child relationship. If readers like Rebecca Serle’s IN FIVE YEARS and ONE ITALIAN SUMMER or Jodi Picoult’s WISH YOU WERE HERE they should definitely give this one a try. 


Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites.  I wish you a wonderful new year of reading! 

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel is a name that many readers may already be familiar with, as the Canadian born writer has been gaining notability (and awards, television adaptations, Best Seller list recognitions, among others) for the last several years. Mandel’s fourth novel Station Eleven, received a nomination for the National Book Award (alongside other accolades), and HBO Max released a limited mini series adapted from the book. Mandel’s fifth novel The Glass Hotel likewise garnered award nods and television adaptation interest. Mandel’s newest novel, Sea of Tranquility, examines the idea of time travel and reality, and is no exception to popularity. Debuting at number 3 on The New York Times Best Seller List, and winning the 2022 Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction, Sea of Tranquility was a great way to end my 2022 read list. 

Now that I’ve thoroughly swayed you on the impressiveness of Mandel’s oeuvre, moving on to the book itself…

Mixing science fiction with speculative fiction, Mandel examines what it is to find meaning and beauty in a life that is always changing, and when time is always passing. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is its structure: Sea of Tranquility follows the storylines of four main characters, their lives taking place hundreds of years apart. The novel first introduces Edwin St. John St. Andrew in 1912. An English native, Edwin is sent away to Canada by his family at 18 years old following an ill-timed truth shared at a dinner party. Traveling alone to the Canadian wilderness, Edwin ponders what has become of his life and what he is to do now. On a walk in the forest Edwin experiences a simultaneous flash of darkness, the sound of a violin, and a whooshing sound that is like nothing he has experienced before, and it truly unsettles him. Shortly after this experience Edwin meets a man that introduces himself as Gaspery Roberts, who disappears before Edwin can satisfactorily speak with him.

The novel next moves to Mirella in the year 2020. Mirella is in a relationship she isn’t sure she wants following the suicide of her husband. Much like Edwin, Mirella seems lost and searching, but for what, she isn’t sure. Mirella is unable to move past the reason for her husband’s death, an investment that turned out not to be an investment at all, but fraud that ruined his life and savings. The wife of the man responsible for this fraudulent case, Vincent, is an old friend of Mirealla’s whom she was previously unkind to, and now wishes to rectify her misgivings. Mirealla tracks down Vincent’s brother, only to learn Vincent is dead. She also meets Gaspery Roberts, who is interviewing Vincent’s brother about a flash or darkness, the sound of a violin, and a whooshing sound Vincent caught on tape. 

It is now the year 2203 and the novel introduces Olive Llewellyn. Olive lives on the second moon colony but is visiting Earth on a book tour for her most recent and popular book. Olive seems to be only half invested in her tour, her mind on her daughter back home and the fact that she can’t remember her current hotel room number, as there has been so much change happening. Is this tour what she wants, and how does she handle all of the change her most popular book is bringing about, both for her and her family? Olive then does an interview with Gaspery Roberts, who is interested in a particular scene in her new book: a flash of darkness, the sound of a violin, and a whooshing sound. 

The final character the book shifts to is Gaspery Roberts himself. Gaspery lives in the Night City in the year 2401, and works as a hotel detective. Gaspery is tasked with investigating a series of strange anomalies, individuals that have experienced a flash of darkness, the sound of a violin playing, and a whooshing sound. Gaspery, like the other characters, is grabbling to find peace and comfort in a life that has been shaken and is changing, and not necessarily for the better. “But what makes a world real?” Gaspery ponders, often exploring the idea of living in a simulation, “If we were living in a simulation, how would we know it was a simulation?”

While time travel and details like the habitation of the moon definitely lend this book to Science Fiction, Mandel focuses on these aspects as much as one might say Kazuo Ishiguro does in Never Let Me Go, or George Orwell in 1984. Mandel has a way of utilizing lyrical, thought provoking prose when least expected, and presenting big questions relatable to her characters and readers alike.

Review written by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

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The Art of Bob Mackie by Frank Vlastnik and Laura Ross

I’m a firm believer in the power of sparkle and shine to brighten up the short, dark, chilly  days of winter, especially those after the holidays. It doesn’t have to be much–just a little something to perk up the doldrums before spring appears on the horizon. Today’s book meets those criteria for me, presenting an amusing diversion to the post-holiday “blahs”. 

The Art of Bob Mackie by Frank Vlastnik and Laura Ross absolutely brings the bling to the realm of coffee table books. Its deep blue front cover is framed by shimmery, turquoise flames and sprinkled with tiny silver bubbles. Title and authors are printed front and center in shiny silver Art Deco font. The effect resembles so many Mackie creations–cut outs wreathed by wavy strips of opulent fabric suspended in crystal-sprinkled illusion. Just looking at the sumptuous cover injects a little shot of fabulous into my day.

Known to some today as a clothing merchant on QVC, Bob Mackie is a veteran costume and fashion designer with a career spanning six decades. He made his mark in television with stints designing for film, Broadway, pop stars, and Las Vegas shows. His signature style blends daring and humor and sparkle for looks that range from campy to dazzling.

A native of southern California, Mackie briefly attended college then art school before leaving to work in Hollywood. He started his career in 1961 as a freelance sketch artist at Paramount Studios under the famous costume designer, Edith Head. The next year he moved to 20th Century Fox, sketching for its costumer, Jean Louis. While there, Mackie created sketches for the designer’s dress worn by Marilyn Monroe at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday party (the same dress worn by Kim Kardashian to the 2022 Met Gala). In 1963, Mackie began working as an assistant under costume designer Ray Aghayan on The Judy Garland Show. From there the TV work grew to a full partnership with Aghayan focusing on variety shows and musicals and setting up Mackie for his solo career and best-known successes, weekly variety shows for Carol Burnett and Sonny & Cher.

Mackie’s career exploded while working with Carol Burnett and Sonny & Cher in the late 1960s and 1970s. He created everything from spangled, feathered, over-the-top concoctions for Cher’s musical numbers to the infamous “curtain rod dress” (now in the Smithsonian) for Burnett’s parody sketch of Gone With the Wind. For Carol Burnett’s variety show alone, he designed 60-70 costumes each week for 11 years roughly totaling 17,000 outfits–an amazing feat of imagination and stamina. His weekly television work expanded to include other media and performers. Mackie’s work has been nominated for over 30 Emmys (winning 9), 3 Oscars, and has won a Tony. In 2019, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He continues to work today.

The Art of Bob Mackie is a chronological journey of Mackie’s career loosely divided by sections for each performance type he designed for–film, TV, stage, music. The book claims to be “the first ever comprehensive and authorized showcase of the legendary designer’s life and work, featuring more than 1,560 photos and sketches–many from Mackie’s personal collection.” It’s large although not overwhelmingly thick, and every inch is packed with drawings and photographs (often of the same costume, showing its evolution) in an eye-catching layout. Both types of illustrations, large and small, are tucked around the text or arranged in larger spreads. While Mackie’s more well-known works, such as his creations for TV variety shows and for pop icons Cher, Diana Ross, and Elton John, receive more space there is good coverage of interesting (and sometimes surprising) work throughout his career. 

There is plenty to see in this book; the authors don’t skimp on Mackie’s visual contributions. It’s a great title for anyone interested in costume design or fashion illustration as it provides a window into the designer’s process and artistic skill. For example, it’s easy to follow the course of Mackie’s collaboration with Cher and its subsequent effect on her career as she moved from ‘70s-influenced streetwear to his beaded, feathered, and sometimes shocking attire. Regrettably, the brief text’s quality doesn’t match that of the illustrations. The written content is cloying with dated, cheesy, overly chatty asides and descriptors that sound like they come from a mid-twentieth century Hollywood gossip magazine. Read it for the factual basics and ignore the rest. That’s OK–this book ultimately is all about the amazing art. Take a deep dive or come back to it for smaller bits, it works either way.

Whatever you think of his work, The Art of Bob Mackie offers a look at the career of one of America’s influential costume designers. You can find more information on this topic and so many more at the library where there’s something for everyone. Happy reading!

Review written by Beth Snow, Teen Services Librarian