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Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

When I saw this title come out a year ago, I was hyped. JENNIFER WEINER is a New York Times bestselling author, and I typically find her books engaging and hard to put down. And her newest title, “MRS. EVERYTHING,” does not disappoint. This multigenerational novel that spans six decades is about two sisters and how their lives are altered by the events around them.

Bethie and Jo Kaufman are young girls growing up in Detroit during the 1950s. Younger, beautiful, self-assured Bethie is more easily understood by their mother, as she is drawn to clothes, boys and knows she is destined to be a star; whereas, smart, tomboyish Jo — who much prefers dungarees over a dress and itchy tights — better relates to their father.

It is easy to see that Bethie will grow up, marry her high school sweetheart and mother equally adorable children, while Jo will struggle to find a place where she fits in the world and may eventually — if she is lucky — carve out a path that works for her.

However, these cliched roles do not hold true. Key events transpire that send each girl down much different paths. Jo’s differences give her the need to conform, and she is compelled to live a life untrue to herself for much of her life, while Bethie eventually feels the need to rebel and not walk the path that everyone has laid out for her.

To share more would give away too much of this novel. Throughout, Weiner explores each character’s choices. The novel covers various topics that include the loss of a parent, sexual experimentation and rebellion.

While the novel is predictable at times, it is also compelling. Weiner’s use of alternating chapters, told by each sister, moves the story along and draws in the audience. This double perspective balances the story and creates a richer viewpoint. Readers will want to see what happens in this brilliant tale focused on emotionally tough subjects such as family, hardship, love and loss.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Around the holidays I kept seeing the same book for sale everywhere I looked — “SUPERNOVA.” I was drawn to the beautifully drawn cover and the mysterious figure of a girl in a red cape. And then I noticed the author’s name — MARRISA MEYER. One of my recent favorites!

If you’re not familiar with Meyer’s work, she wrote a popular series called “The Lunar Chronicles” several years ago, and I read every single one of them and loved them. How can you go wrong with a Cinderella story featuring a cyborg? Yes, I said cyborg. Seriously, it is so good!

I digress, but it’s hard to mention Meyer without taking about “Cinder” and the other books in her “Lunar Chronicles” series. But the real story here is Meyer’s newest series, “Renegades.” The interesting book I kept seeing was “Supernova,” the third and final book in the series.

In “Renegades,” Meyer has created a world where there are prodigies — people who have been born with or later acquire special skills. For years, prodigies were feared, marginalized and even killed. Then along came Ace Anarchy — a powerful prodigy who took down the establishment and caused Gatlon City to become a place of chaos. His group became known as the Anarchists, and during his time in power, there was not a formal government, allowing for the rise of gangs, violence and many deaths. From this time of anarchy rose a powerful group of prodigies who began fighting to help the greater good. These superheroes, soon known as Renegades, were eventually able to beat the Anarchists, take over, and set up a form of government run by the original group of Renegades, known as the Council.

After a brief prologue, the story starts 10 years after the Renegade Council took over and follows the main characters, Nova, the niece of Ace and Adrian, the adopted son of two of the Renegades.

Fifteen-year-old Nova Artino (aka Nightmare) was taken in by her uncle Alec (aka Ace Anarchy) after witnessing the murder of her parents and sister at a young age. She grew up with the Anarchists and, after the battle that destroyed her uncle, she vowed to get revenge and destroy the Renegades. A plan is developed by the remaining Anarchist, and soon, Nova is working to infiltrate the Renegades.

Adrian Everhart (aka Sketch) has a lot going for him. His parents are both Council members, as a Renegade he and his friends — Oscar, Danna and Ruby — fight crime daily, and he has one of the coolest superpowers, being able to give life to practically anything he draws.

Both Adrian and Nova have secrets they want to keep, but soon their paths cross and they will have to decide what is more important and how they will choose to live.

The heart of the book is good versus evil, but as with real life, there are grey areas, and Meyer does a good job exploring that in her three-book series. All three books are interesting, and after finishing the final one, I am mostly happy with how Meyer decided to tie up the loose ends and how the conclusion came about. Because I read all three books, I don’t want to give away too much. I will just say this — most readers will be surprised by the dramatic twist at the end of the first book.

Jeana Gockley is the director for the Joplin Public Library.

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Counting your read books — how many will you read in 2020? by Jeana Gockley

The end of the year and the start of a new one is typically the time for readers to reflect on what they have read during the past year. And this year, I’m excited to get to be one of them, because I finally remembered to keep track of my year’s worth of reading. Huzzah!

I had not tracked my books read since first grade — that year, my total was 300, and I enjoyed a lot of “Book It” personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. But last December, I noticed several of my friends had tracked their 2018 books, so I thought I would give it a try.

Fast forward 12 months and I’m happy to report that I finished 30 books. It is not quite on par with my 300 titles from first grade, but I will take it. Life feels a bit busier nowadays, and the books I currently read are a tad longer.

Of those 30 titles, here are my top six picks, in no particular order:

• “A MAN CALLED OVE” by FREDRIK BACKHAM. Even though Backman has been popular for several years, this was the first one I’ve read by him. I loved it! The characters in this book are exceptionally drawn and real. Ove might seem like a crotchety old man on the outside, but underneath he’s a warm and kindhearted old grump who is beyond lonely. His busybody neighbors help rectify this, and man, what a good read.

• “CIRCE” by MADELINE MILLER. I listened to this one using our Overdrive service, and it was a powerful experience. Most everyone has heard of the Greek character Circe, the sorceress who famously turned men into pigs. But in Miller’s retelling of this tale, you learn so much more. The storytelling elements of this book are spot on, and readers will be hard pressed to not peek ahead while reading.

• “THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE” by LISA SEE. I not only learned an amazing amount about tea from this book, I learned a lot about the Aka, a native tribe that live in the mountainous areas of China. See had to do a lot of research to pull this one off, and it shows in her descriptive and thorough writing. The characters, who are flawed, well-rounded and beautiful, combine with the unusual setting and compelling storyline to create a masterpiece of fiction.

• “THE STORY HOUR” by THRITY UMRIGAR. This is the story of Maggie, an American psychologist, and Lakshmi, a young Indian woman. The pair meet after Lakshmi tries to commit suicide, and Maggie is so affected by the woman and her silent grief that she agrees to counsel Lakshmi on a pro bono basis. Soon, they start to feel and act more like friends and less like doctor and patient. This makes for a complicated relationship and a fascinating story. You get to know Lakshmi’s backstory and the reason she felt like suicide was the only answer, and you get to learn about Maggie’s life at the same time. The story is engrossing and the ending has a nice surprise twist that will have readers guessing until the end.

• “EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER” by LINDA HOLMES. I wrote a full review for this one in October but could not pass up a chance to mention it again. Holmes’ writing style is quirky and captivating. Her tale of a guilt-ridden widow and a former Major League Baseball player will keep you interested until the final pages.

• “MRS. EVERYTHING” by JENNIFER WEINER. Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite authors. If she writes it, I will read it. “Mrs. Everything” does not disappoint. Told through the alternative viewpoints of two sisters — Jo and Bethie Kaufman — from early childhood into their senior years, she weaves a story of love, loss and, ultimately, forgiveness.

I have enjoyed seeing my final reading list so much that I’m making one of my 2020 goals to do it again. I am not sure I will surpass 30, but we will see. Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites. I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!

Jeana Gockley is the library director for the Joplin Public Library

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Librarian Seeks BookNeeded quick! Great book to read.  Looking for a well-written story that contains humor, light subject matter, and well-rounded, quirky characters.  Must be able to hold my attention and keep me from binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy and various home improvement shows.  Physical book preferred, but would consider downloading a digital copy if it is the right choice.

That is how I felt several weeks ago when I found myself looking for a book to read; like I needed to write my own personal ad to help me find a good book.    

I kept starting books, but not finishing them.  Probably not so much the books fault as my inability to stay focused.  But I was getting desperate, I needed something that I could finish reading and use for my book review.  Thankfully, I work with some of the most well-read people in Joplin, so I started asking library staff for recommendations.  And, lo and behold, I found a winner, “Evvie Drake Starts Over” by Linda Holmes. 

Evvie Drake is a widow.  Not your typically weepy, I miss my husband-type though.  Evvie has a secret – one she has not told anyone – on the day of her husband’s death she was packing her car, planning to leave him forever.  What are the odds on the day she decided to leave, he would die?  

So now a whole year later, she still has not shared this secret with anyone – not her best friend Andy, not her family, not a soul.  And then Dean comes into her life.

Dean has lost something as well – not a spouse, but something just as important to him – his ability to pitch.  This is devastating for him since he has made a career out of being a baseball pitcher. However, he is now a former major-league pitcher after getting a case of the “yips” and not being able to pitch with any sort of accuracy. 

Coincidentally, Evvie and Dean are both friends with Andy, and in an effort to help both of his floundering friends, he suggests that Dean, who recently left New York City to visit him in Maine, rent the apartment located in the back of Evvie’s large house.  This will help Evvie pay her bills, since she refuses to touch her husband life insurance money, and it will provide Dean with a safe space away from prying eyes.

After Dean moves in, the two quickly make a deal – Dean will not ask about Evvie’s late husband and Evvie will not ask about baseball.

Thanks to Dean’s companionship Evvie is able to start to move forward and Dean finds a new normal, too.  The two do not end up keeping their deal, and in the end that turns out to be the best thing for both of them.  

Linda Holmes has crafted a beautiful piece of fiction, that in it’s soft, subtle way, was just what I needed.  I stayed awake late reading this one to find out what would happen and see how Evvie and Dean ended up. I was not sure I was going to like how she tied up the loose ends, but I could not have been happier.  I am glad to have found my perfect match in Evvie Drake.

 

 

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey (and other graphic novels)

One of my favorite things about being a librarian is that I get to help people find books.  As the library director that part of my job is a bit limited, but that is where my seven-year-old son comes in.  He is learning the joy of reading, so I get to spend a lot of time helping him select books. It is a great thing!  I love that he talks to me about what book he is reading and that he has his own favorites. Right now many of them are children’s graphic novels.  

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey is his ultimate favorite and he cannot wait to read the latest one, Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls (#7).  He does not even know why that title is funny, but I think Dav Pilkey does that for the parents. He knows that we need something more than potty humor to make us appreciate his clever offerings. Other titles include: Brawl of the Wild, Tale of Two Kitties and Lord of the Fleas.

You might be asking yourself, “What is a graphic novel?”  Good question. According to Merriam-Webster, “a graphic novels is a story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book.”  Exactly. When I was growing up I used to read Archie comics. I would have loved to have had an Archie comic that was a novel-length story.   

My son LOVES graphic novels. They are his story of choice and since there are only seven Dog Man books in publication he is always looking for something similar.    Due to the popularity of Dog Man, I think others might have a similar need so below is a list of other books that Dog Man fans might want to read.  

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney – This book was impossible to keep on library shelves after its publication in 2007.  I remember practically every kid who visited the library during the summer of 2007 asking for this title. Author Jeff Kinney uses a journal format that includes comic drawings within the text to tell the story of Gred Heffley’s sixth grade school year.  Not a graphic novel, but has a similar feel and has a lot of humor. My son is making his way through this series now and the comic drawings within the text make him laugh out loud.

Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey –  The typical bad guy characters – Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake and Mr. Pirahan – are trying to turn over a new leaf.  Inspired by Mr. Wolf, who started the Good Guys Club, this unlike cast of characters endeavor to perform good deeds and change their ill-doing reputations.  Rescuing a cat from a tree and freeing dogs from the dog pound are just a sampling of their heroic undertakings. Slapstick humor abounds in this offering. I am laughing now just thinking about how funny it can be to see the characters try to do good.  What is the saying, “No good deed?” If your kids are anything like my son, they will happily devour this short, quick read and beg for the rest of the series.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett Krososcka – This was the first graphic novel that my son read.  I brought it home on a whim last year and he loved it! I think the combination of the cleverly drawn comic panels, the cast of characters, the humorous elements and the length of the story all made for a love match.  In this story the school’s lunch lady and her co-worker Betty, with a little help from three students, use kitchen gadgets to fight crime and serve up justice.  

I have so many others to recommend, but since I am running short of space here are a few more, sans descriptions:  

  • Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
  • 13-Story Treehouse: Monkey Mayhem! by Andy Griffiths
  • The Stone Keeper (Amulet series) by Kazu Kibuishi
  • Yeti Files by Kevin Sherry
  • Comic Squad series by various authors

And one more tidbit – the Joplin Public Library will be hosting a Graphic Novel Club for children in grades three to five starting Friday, September 27th.  The club will meet weekly, for five weeks. Participants will discuss their favorite graphic novels and comics, learn the components of graphic novels and work to make their own graphic novels. Registration is required and can be done by calling 417-623-7953.  

If your child is anything like mine, he or she will be eager to add his or her name to the sign up sheet.  

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