Tag Archive for: jgockley

The Five Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand

Hopefully the idea of summer reading brings to mind getting outside, perhaps on the beach, and taking time to get lost in a good book or two.  In Libraryland this type of book is usually called a beach read, even if you’re not at the beach. They usually end up being some of my favorites each year. In my mind beach reads are light, fluffy, hard to put down quick reads that one would want to take on vacation.  They can be hardcover or paperback, but softcovers are my go to, since they are lighter and take up less space, allowing me to pack even more books.  Which do you prefer: hardcovers, paperbacks, or maybe even your Kindle or iPhone for eBook reading?  

Either way, you cannot go wrong, reading is reading, and as we move into a time of warmer temperatures and greener spaces, I love to think about what my summer reading will shape up to include.  One title that I would recommend adding to your list now is THE FIVE STAR WEEKEND by Elin Hilderbrand. It has all the elements of a great beach read – summer setting, compulsively readable, and just a hint of romance.

From her social media accounts Hollis Shaw’s life looks picturesque and perfect.  She’s married to Matthew, a heart surgeon, lives in a large, modern house, spends summers in Nantucket, has raised a smart, accomplished daughter who is away at college, and has a popular food blog called Hungry with Hollis. 

But after a winter-time accident that takes Matthew’s life right before Christmas, Hollis’ world comes crashing down. She tries to find comfort in her work and her daughter, but neither offers the support she needs. The only bright spot is a woman who she met through her blog – Gigi Ling.  Gigi offers a compassionate, listen ear and Hollis is so thankful for her friendship. However, after Hollis makes a heartbreaking confession about having a fight with Matthew before his accident, Gigi disappears, too.

As the seasons change from winter to summer, Hollis does what she normally does, returns home to Nantucket.  She hopes this might help improve her mental outlook, but it is only harder because Nantucket contains a version of Matthew that was more relaxed and fun when they were there.  The memories are unbearably hard for Hollis.  She is having trouble sleeping and eating, until one day she finds an article on the internet about what another widow did to help herself after the death of her husband.  It’s called The Five Star Weekend.

The premise of The Five Star Weekend is that you invite one friend from each phase of your life, for a total of four friends, on a trip, or as Hollis does, to your home, to spend the weekend together celebrating the friendships that have helped make you who you are today. 

Hollis loves this idea – “five women together for the weekend, and a weekend filled with elevated experiences worthy of five stars.” She immediately starts to organize her own Five Star Weekend with her friends and plans to have them visit in two weeks.  She invites her childhood best friend Tatum, her college best friend Dru-Ann, her “prime of life” best friend Brooke, and she struggles for a fourth friend, but finally settles on Gigi Ling.  

What could possibly go wrong?  Hollis soon finds out that her vision of a low-key weekend is not to be had.  Her friends are there to support her, but they all have past or current drama that keeps getting mixed in with the girls’ weekend activities. Shenanigans ensue and secrets abound.  All making for a delightful, dramatic read.

Not everyone can go to Nantucket this summer, but readers can get a glimpse of what it might be like through Elin Hilderbrand’s eyes. THE FIVE STAR WEEKEND is a pleasure to read.  

Here are a few more of my favorite beach reads from year’s past: 

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Find the book in the catalog.

ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld

In ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld, Sally Milz is a sketch writer who works for a late-night live comedy show called The Night Owls. She has been unlucky in love on several occasions, most notable a divorce right after finishing college. So unlucky that she has sworn off dating anyone at work, and while she has the occasional no-strings attached hookup her life is almost solely focused on her work at The Night Owls. The other writers and the actors who make up the cast are like her family.

Sally started to notice a phenomenon at work where average-looking men who work for The Night Owls become romantically involved with beautiful, famous women who are completely out of their league. In fact her friend and co-worker Danny Horst is the third addition to her growing list thanks to him dating Annabel Lily, a gorgeous, talented, famous movie star, after she appeared as a guest on The Night Owls. She has dubbed this the “Danny Horst Rule” and made a sketch about it. The sketch makes fun of it, but also shows how unlikely it would be to work in the reverse – a gorgeous male celebrity would never fall in love with an ordinary woman.

The “Danny Horst Rule” is put to the test when world famous, dreamy pop music sensation Noah Brewster guest hosts The Night Owls. Sally and Noah hit it off, but she is not sure if she should believe her luck. In fact, she cannot fathom that handsome, talented Noah would be interested in her and thanks to her self-sabotage it is several years before she and Noah connect again, through a series of clumsy, comical and heartfelt emails.

Author Curtis Sittenfeld is insightful and funny. I loved her writing style and how she created Sally’s and Noah’s characters. The character dialogue seemed witty and believable and the relationships genuine. When reading I felt like Sally’s insecurities were something most could relate to. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions and just found the storyline was so clever. Plus, Sittenfeld’s secondary characters – Sally’s friends, the staff at TNO, even Sally’s stepfather – were drawn convincingly and added depth to the book.

It was also really eye opening to see how a live, late night television show similar to SNL works – the timeline for developing the show and how much work the writers and actors have to do to get ready each week. Plus, it is crazy to think about the number of talented people who work together to create something so funny and timely.

Speaking of timely and funny, that seems to be one of Sittenfeld’s gifts. Her writing is both and she has a way of dissecting elements of love and the world of modern dating that is compelling and so interesting to read. Many readers will see elements of themselves in her writing and storytelling. I highly recommend adding this one to your “to be read” list.

Find the book in the catalog.

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director.


Happy New Year and welcome to 2024! As with past years I like to kick off the new year by reflecting on what I read during the previous year. And 2023 was a strange one, reading-wise for me. I kept starting books and not being able to get into them, so I would not finish them. I did that with at least fifteen books, maybe more. Despite that frustrating phenomenon, the total I finished reading for the year was forty-three. On par with what I have accomplished the past several years. I am thrilled to have read the books I did. I hope you are as happy with your 2023 books, too. If not, do not fret, I am sure 2024 is going to be your year!

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

Evelyn Hugo is a famous Hollywood film actress, who has been in the business since the 1950’s and has decided it’s time to have someone write a tell-all memoir about her life. The truth is hard to tell, and for some, even harder to hear, but seventy-nine year old Evelyn is determined to share her truth with the world.

Monique Grant is the writer Evelyn asks to work with, but no one is sure why. Most especially Monique. Her marriage is in a hard place and she is not well known at the magazine she works for, nor in the world of journalism. But Evelyn Hugo has a way of getting what she wants and soon she and Monique are spending their days together, going through her life. She tells Monique everything – about her childhood, her early days in the film industry, about her seven husbands and much more. No matter how hard or terrible, Evelyn is committed to sharing the truth and nothing but the truth.

It’s hard to describe the rest without giving away a couple of major storylines, but this book is so good. I listened to it and in addition to the compelling story, the narration is superb! Reid is phenomenal at writing characters. Her character development is perfect. Wonderfully complex characters that are multidimensional and hard to like, but even harder to not at least identify with. Evelyn and Monique both feel raw, real and like a living breathing people you might know. In addition to the characters the plot is unique and meandering so readers will be hooked from the first scenes. Evelyn has lived a full and exciting life and once the pieces start to click into place it is hard to stop reading. I highly recommend this one.

I wrote a full review for this one in March 2023, but could not pass up a chance to mention it again.

I am in love with this book. It is a love story, but not in the traditional sense. It has gaming, friendship, enemies, love, hate and heartbreak. It spans thirty years of a relationship that was created when two eleven year olds, Sam Mazur and Sadie Green, met and started gaming together in a hospital game room. The friendship had a rocky start, thanks to a misunderstanding, but Sam and Sadie are forever connected. They may not always remember they are friends, but they are. Through their love and shared history they create a life, a company and a family that is wholly their own.
Author Gabrielle Zevin is a master storyteller and her character development is brilliant. Each one is so completely developed it is hard to stop thinking about them even after finishing the novel. Zevin’s work is breathtaking and should not be missed. It reads much like real life feels, with all the emotions that love and friendship create along the way. It has a backdrop of 90s style gaming that combines with well-rounded, yet flawed characters to tell a compelling story of love, distrust, hope, hurt and healing. Sam says it best, “To play requires love and trust.” I feel this about reading, too. It requires trust of the author and Zevin does not disappoint.

MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
I have been a Jodi Picoult fan for years, but this book reminded me why I appreciate her writing so much. The characters, the timely plot, the slowly parsed details, the twist. It all works so well together and I am here for it.

I do not want to spoil the book so I am only going to share the barest of details.

The book has three main characters:
Olivia – beekeeper, abuse survivor and Asher’s mom
Asher – high school senior, golden boy and Lily’s boyfriend
Lily – high school senior, new-in-town and Asher’s girlfriend

Plot summary: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl dies, and boy is accused of killing girl.

I know that is not much, but the book is about Asher and whether he is guilty of the crime he has been charged with. But it is Olivia and Lily’s story told through their alternating perspectives. Who they are, where they come from and what makes them similar. The book is such an engaging tale, with thought provoking characters. In addition it provides unique insight and perspective about current issues.

I wrote a full review for this one in September 2023, but could not pass up a chance to share it again because it should not be missed.
The path of Tan Yunxian, the novel’s narrator, is different from most other women in fifteenth century China. In a place where women are encouraged to follow a traditional path, usually one dictated by their father or husband, Yunxian’s upbringing is not like that. She has led a life of great privilege, thanks to the wealth of her family, and being surrounded by educated people, including her paternal grandparents who are both doctors. Throughout childhood, Yunxian’s grandmother teaches her medicine, specifically medicine to help women.
For seven years, Yunxian learns alongside her grandmother until at fifteen she marries the son of a wealthy merchant. After her wedding, Yunxian goes to live with her husband’s family. Her mother-in-law, who is in charge of the household, forbids Yunxian from practicing medicine. Yunxian is left feeling unsure how to move forward in her new life.
The rest of the book reflects on the struggle that Yunxian faces in reconciling her education and upbringing with her married life. As the book title suggests, it is only possible due to her “circle of women.”
I have been a Lisa See fan since reading THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE. She does a tremendous amount of research for her novels and I love how history and her creativity combine to make a beautiful historical fiction account. As with most of See’s characters, Tan Yunxian’s character is true-to-life and the book’s plot is gripping and relatable. Something that surprised me since it was set in fifteenth century China. I could not stop reading this book and I have told so many people about it. See’s descriptions of daily life – the food, the culture, the traditions and the scenery – make the reader feel like they are part of the story. Do not miss this one.

Fantasy is not for everyone, but author Rebeccca Yarros helped introduce a lot of new readers to the genre in 2023. Women readers especially, thanks to the romance elements that she incorporates in her new series.

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail never thought she would be entering a war college for dragon riders. From birth she knew she would become part of the less risky Scribe Quadrant, but when Violet’s commander general mother orders her to join the dragon riders, she has no choice but to comply.

Violet is smaller and physically weaker than her peers, but that does not stop her from trying her hardest to survive so she can attempt to bond with a dragon. She does not have an easy path forward. Not only does she have her physical limitations, but being Commander Sorrengail’s offspring puts an automatic target on her back. Top of the list is Xaden Riorson, her wing leader, and one of the most powerful dragon riders in the war college, thanks to his personal vendetta with her mother.

Violet will need to use all of her skills to survive her first year at the war college. She will need to keep her friends and enemies close as she navigates her daily life because the only way to leave the school is to graduate or to die trying.

This book got so much buzz in 2023 that I could not wait to read it. And thank goodness I was not disappointed. Yarros is clever. She has created a strong addition to the world of fantasy. Dragons, intrigue, magic, all the typical elements, with an enthralling and well written style. I am not sure if this book created a brand new genre of fiction in 2023, but I had never heard of “Romantasy” before this year. I love that it is the meshing of romance and fantasy. And I love the excitement her books have created and highly recommend giving this first one in the series a try.

I will not say much about these two, because I reviewed the first several books in the series last year in my end of year summary. I have added them to this year’s list because I enjoyed them almost as much as the first four books in the series. They are engrossing, suspenseful, clever and dark.

Darrow is a complicated character and he struggles with his own inner conflict for practically all of both books, but he is not always the main draw of the story since there are so many interesting secondary characters. Their narratives move the storyline along quickly.

As I mentioned last year, this series is violent, but do not let that discourage you. I highly recommend the whole series and cannot wait for the next, and supposedly final book to be released.

And that is a wrap for 2023. Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about some of my favorites. I am excited to see what 2024 brings and I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Congratulations to JPL Staff!

Joplin Public Library (JPL) was recently announced as the winner of multiple Missouri Library Association’s Awards and a Grant at the 2023 Awards Gala held in Columbia, Missouri.  The Missouri Library Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization operating to promote library service, the profession of librarianship, and cooperation among all types of libraries and organizations concerned with library service in the State of Missouri.

Beth Snow, JPL Teen Services Librarian, was awarded the Community Partnership Award, alongside Lisa Nelson from Landmark Builds, for their Iconic Joplin collaboration. This award recognizes a Missouri library and one or more community organizations for developing a partnership that benefits members of their shared community. As part of Joplin’s 150 year birthday celebration, Iconic Joplin engaged youth ages 12 to 16 in local history by building landmarks out of LEGO elements.

Snow was also awarded the Show Me Youth Services Award, which recognizes a library employee, Friend, or Trustee who serves as and/or advocates for children or young adults and who demonstrates notable and outstanding performance in planning, developing, and promoting programs, services, collections, reading activities or advocating for children and/or teenagers in their libraries and communities.  Snow has worked as the Teen Services Librarian at the Library since 2015. In addition to being an advocate for the teens in her community, she works to foster a space where all teens can be who they are.

Carolyn Trout, retired JPL Director, received the Meritorious Achievement Award, which recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to

Beth Snow (Teen Librarian), Lisa Nelson (Landmark Builds), Carolyn Trout (former JPL Director), Jeana Gockley (JPL Director, on behalf of Justin Kelly)

libraries in Missouri. A recipient must be either an individual outside of the library profession or a retired librarian. Nominees must reside in Missouri and should have made either a contribution to libraries that gained recognition beyond the local level or have made an innovative contribution in the decisive factors in library development. During her time as JPL Director, from 1988 until 2006, Trout was a part of some very important projects for Missouri libraries. She served on a committee that created the first standards Missouri ever had for public libraries; she was instrumental in her work with the Missouri State Library on a program created to train non-library degreed public library staff; she was a connector of information and people using her passion for reference and history to introduce many to libraries; and library advocacy was important to Trout, and it is still something she is doing in retirement.

Justin Kelly, JPL Systems Administrator, was awarded a $3,000 Access and Innovation Grant, which aims to enhance, support, and develop library technologies and innovation that improve patrons’ access to library services.  The grant will be used to upgrade internal wireless access points to offer WiFi6e protocol to accommodate more users at higher internet speeds.  This is part of an ongoing effort to keep in step with national “broadband” standards. It will also bring a higher level of wireless security, along with new network monitoring tools.

“We are honored to be recognized by the Missouri Library Association for our efforts in patron services, community collaboration, and a commitment to ongoing improvement,” said Joplin Public Library Director Jeana Gockley. “Our staff is our greatest resource and these awards shine a light on the talent, dedication, and excellence present in this community’s local library.”

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

The setting for Lisa See’s latest New York Times bestselling novel, LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN, is fifteenth century China.  A place where women are encouraged to follow a traditional path, usually one dictated by their father or husband. 

Tan Yunxian, the novel’s narrator, is reminded of this by her mother as the book opens.  Respectful Lady imparts, “Whether animal or woman, we are a man’s possessions. We women exist to give him heirs and feed, clothe and amuse him. Never forget that.” Her mother offers this advice as she and Yunxian are both trying to manage the pain of footbinding. 

Education is usually not part of the path set forth by men for the women in their lives, and the idea is reinforced by Confucius who is quoted as saying, “an educated woman is a worthless woman.”  However, Yunxian is different from most women in China. She has led a life of great privilege, thanks to the wealth of her family, and is surrounded by educated people, including her grandmother, who is one of a few female doctors. 

Yunxian’s path to medicine starts early, due to her ailing mother. During this time period, male doctors were not allowed to see or touch a female patient.  They needed another person, usually the husband, to serve as a go-between, to ask questions and provide the recommended treatment, but when Respectful Lady falls ill, Yunxian is chosen to carry out this task.  Despite Yunxian’s attention and care, her mother ultimately succumbs to an infection and the eight year old cannot help but feel like there should have been more she could have done to help. 

After her mother’s death Yunxian’s father must depart Laizhou for Beijing to take his next level imperial exams, so she is sent to live at her paternal grandparents’ compound in Wuxi. Medicine has been in her family for generations and both her grandparents are doctors.

After settling in, Yunxian’s grandmother begins to teach her medicine, specifically medicine to help women. Being a female doctor allows Yunxian’s grandmother the opportunity to properly examine women and treat them, unlike how it works for male doctors.

In addition to Confucius teachings not valuing women, midwives are considered less than doctors because they soil their hands with blood during labor and delivery, so it is necessary for a doctor to work closely with a midwife. Yunxian’s grandmother values the help of midwives and works closely with a woman named Midwife Shi. The midwife’s daughter, Meiling, is apprenticing for her, and she and Yunxian become best friends as they help with the medical work. 

For seven years, Yunxian learns alongside her grandmother and Midwife Shi. While Yunxian is learning medicine, her bride price is also being negotiated, so at fifteen she marries the son of a wealthy merchant. 

After her wedding, Yunxian goes to live with her husband’s family. Her mother-in-law, who is in charge of the household, forbids Yunxian from not only treating women in the compound, but from corresponding and being friends with Meiling. Yunxian is left feeling isolated and alone.  

 The remainder of the book reflects on the struggle that Yunxian faces in reconciling her education and upbringing with her married life. As the book title suggests, it is only possible due to her “circle of women.” 

Lisa See’s newest offering is phenomenal! I love how she based the book on the true story of Tan Yunxian. The characters are well drawn and Yunxian felt like a living, breathing person to me.  Not only does See’s research and the history she incorporated shine throughout, but the plot is compelling and relatable. I could not stop reading this novel. Readers will feel like they are part of the Ming dynasty thanks to See’s descriptions of daily life – the food, the culture, the traditions and the scenery. Also, note that Lisa See’s headshot for the book was taken in front of the marriage bed that has been in her family for generations. I highly recommend this one.

Find the book in the catalog. 

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director. 

The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

In April, the Library hosted bestselling author Shelby Van Pelt.  Following her presentation, during the Q&A, an audience member asked what she was currently reading.  She shared that she had just finished a new book by Steven Rowley called The Celebrants. She loved it and thought that it was a powerful, thought-provoking read. 

I am a Rowley fan, so I knew I had to read his latest and immediately added myself to the Library’s hold list.  Several weeks later, the book was ready for me and I could hardly wait to start reading it.  

It is the story of five long-time friends – Jordan, Jordy, Craig, Marielle, and Naomi.  A pack that used to be six, but a few weeks before the group’s graduation from Berkeley, their friend Alec died. His death, right on the cusp of their group entering the adult world, without each other, left them shaken and questioning what their lives and connections would look like after graduation.  

After Alec’s funeral, the friends gather at Naomi’s parent’s house in Big Sur, and spend the time comforting each other and rehashing Alec’s death. During the visit, Marielle suggests the remaining friends make a pact. The rules of the pact being, they will drop everything and get together when one of them calls and requests it. They will throw the requestor a living “funeral.” A group celebration to stop and remind themselves that life can be hard, but worth it, especially with one’s friends in their corner. During times of need these gatherings will be pockets of time where they share their love for one another.  

During the next 28 years, the five friends meet up for “funerals” on three occasions, but the newest call to action is different. Jordan has something he has been keeping from the group and it will not be an easy secret to share, and for the group, not something easy to process.  

Rowley has crafted a beautiful composition to the power and beauty of friendship and what lifelong support looks like. This is not a sappy story, more of the matter-of-fact, read between the lines, style that Rowley is known for, but the elements combined to make an emotional (grab the tissues) and heartfelt offering that reminds readers to not leave anything unsaid. 

Full disclosure, I did not love this book when I first started reading it.  Some, if not all, of the characters are not very likable, at least not from the beginning of the book. They are flawed, and Rowley’s writing style and the way the book jumps between points of time, make this more challenging. But I am so glad I stuck with and finished it. 

At one point, it all just clicked and I was able to realize why he had written it to move from present day to past events in the uneven manner that he did.  The story and the friendships really resonated with me. Friends are there to provide hope, encouragement, and to remind you why this life is worth living. Kudos, Steven Rowley, you have crafted another winner. 

Find the book in the catalog. 

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Happy Place by Emily Henry

With summer on the way, it is a good time to start thinking about what books to take on vacation. To me, vacation reading has become synonymous with a category of fiction called Beach Reads.  These are some of my favorite books to read while sitting at the beach enjoying the sand, surf and summer vibes or even on a staycation where I am nowhere near the beach. 

Beach Reads, according to Book Riot, are “light, fluffy, or compulsively readable novels that are perfect to take on vacation.”  One of my favorite authors, Emily Henry, has a brand new addition to the Beach Read genre, just in time for summer, and it is my pleasure to share about it. 

In Henry’s latest offering, Harriet, Sabrina and Cleo have been inseparable friends since they were assigned to room together their freshman year of college. Years later, the trio have grown up and added partners Wyn, Parth and Kimmy to their group, but they still meet yearly, at Sabrina’s family’s house in a small coastal Maine town for the annual lobster festival.  This is one of Harriet’s happy places and she is excited to see her friends again. 

Currently, Harriet is a determined surgical resident who tries to keep the peace wherever she goes. If her friends argue, she provides a distraction.  This has been one of her key life skills since childhood when her parents and her older sister would get into giant fights.  Harriet is the peacemaker and it has served her well over the years.  She is always trying to make others happy.  So much so that in her own life she is not sure what actually makes her happy.  

This, and a combination of other events, have led to Harriet and Wyn splitting up, however; her friends are unaware because neither of the pair have told anyone.  Wyn agreed he would not attend the trip, making up an excuse so their friends would not find out, so Harriet is shocked to arrive at the cottage and find Wyn in the kitchen. After a big announcement from Sabrina, the pair have to quickly figure out how to handle the situation and what they will do for a full week in the presence of their closest friends. 

Soon they are rooming in one of the primary bedrooms, which offers no privacy, all the while trying to avoid each other at all costs.  What could possibly go wrong? 

Emily Henry is one of my favorite authors.  Her books always have strong, flawed characters that are struggling to figure out life. Her writing is witty and I like how she draws the story out. The reader never gets the full story during the introductory part.  She leaves clues and hints and parcels it out a bit at a time. It keeps readers turning the pages and guessing what will happen next. While this newest title reads a little predictably, I loved the themes of connection, growth and soul searching that were included.

Happy Beach Reading this summer! 

Find the book in the catalog. 

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Sam Mazur and Sadie Green first met, at age 11, in a hospital game room in California.  Sadie was at the hospital visiting her older sister, Alice, who was fighting cancer, and Sam was recovering from a horrific car accident that left his foot crushed. Sadie had upset her sister and been banished from the hospital room and a nurse noticed her and told her of the hospital’s game room. It was a quiet first meeting; unbeknownst to Sadie, Sam had hardly spoken to anyone since the car accident. While they did not speak much, they had a great time trading the Nintendo controller back and forth playing Super Mario Brothers, while discussing Oregon Trail and the woes of dying from dysentery.

When hospital staff learn Sam not only spoke to Sadie, but also engaged with her by playing video games for hours, they encourage her to continue to visit the hospital. Her mother even mentions that it could count toward her community service goal that she is working on for her Bat Mitzvah. Sadie continues to visit Sam and the two are fast friends, however, Sadie does not tell Sam that she is receiving community service credit for all the time she spends playing with him. Nor, that she would have continued their visits without the community service credit. She loves their time together and Sam is the best friend she has ever had. Eventually, Sam learns of Sadie’s deception, and believes that her actions were purely motivated by the service project. After fourteen months of friendship, fun and games their weekly visits end.

While they sometimes see each other at high school functions, the two do not speak again until a chance encounter takes place in Massachusetts, on a subway platform.  Sadie is attending MIT, and is running late for a class, and Sam who is attending Harvard has just exited the subway when he passes Sadie, recognizes her and calls out.  They make small talk, and then upon departing Sadie asks Sam if he still plays games. He says he does and Sadie shares a disc containing a game she has created for one of her classes. 

Later that night, Sam and his roommate Marx play the game together and are both impressed with Sadie’s work. Sam is soon brainstorming ways to get Sadie to work with him during summer break to create a game of their own. When approached with the idea Sadie is interested and what follows is the first in a series of collaborations that will span a lifetime.

The remainder of the novel shares their adventures in gaming, and while many others enter the story, Sam and Sadie remain the central focus. Theirs is one of friendship and love, but also distrust, and at times, heartbreak.  

Author Gabrielle Zevin is a master storyteller and her character development is brilliant. Each one is so completely developed it is hard to stop thinking about them even after finishing the novel. Zevin’s work is breathtaking and should not be missed. I loved this book! It has a backdrop of 90s style gaming that combines with well-rounded, yet flawed characters to tell a compelling story of love, distrust, hope, hurt and healing. It is a love story, but not in the traditional sense. Sam says it best, “To play requires love and trust.” I feel this about reading, too. It requires trust of the author and Zevin does not disappoint.

Find the book in the catalog.

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

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! 

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

As Alice Stern approaches her fortieth birthday she feels unsatisfied with her life and is at a point where she is not sure why or how it happened. Her father, who she is immensely close with, is in the hospital with an unknown illness; her work keeps her busy, but the job does not utilize her education or training and makes her feel embarrassed; her relationship is at the point of moving to the next step, her boyfriend is preparing to propose, but she realizes their relationship is not destined for anything long term; and she adores her best friend, Sam, but rarely sees her because Sam lives an hour away and is a busy working mother of three.

On the night of her birthday, Alice meets Sam for dinner, but due to a family emergency Sam departs mid-way through the meal, leaving Alice solo for the evening. She ends up visiting a bar, and thanks to the generosity of the bartender, drinks too much. To finish the night she ends up in her old neighborhood, and due to her level of intoxication, passes out in a storage building on her father’s property.  When she awakes the following morning she is in her childhood bed and things are not quite right.  She quickly realizes that she is sixteen and today is her birthday. 

What a shock her sixteen year old self is to her upon her waking. She wonders how her younger self could not have noticed how flawless her skin was and how glowing and alive she felt. And most importantly, when was her dad ever that young and healthy?  

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 during the 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? 

While the beginning of the book takes a bit of setup, and might feel slow to some readers, my advice is to stick with it. This ended up being one of my favorite books of the year. New York Times bestselling author Emma Straub has created something special. Straub effortlessly uses her skills with the pen to weave the element of time travel into what I originally thought would be a run-of-time-mill contemporary fiction book. It is clever and compelling. Fans of Rebecca Serle’s IN FIVE YEARS and ONE ITALIAN SUMMER or Jodi Picoult’s WISH YOU WERE HERE should definitely give this one a try!  

Find the book in the catalog.

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director