Sunday, October 16, 2016


It's fall giveaway time again!

Our selection of Advance Reader copies (ARCs) is small this time around, but there's still plenty to be excited about! For example, anyone who loved last year's YA bestseller All the Bright Places will be clamoring for an early copy of Jennifer Niven's latest, Holding Up the Universe.

As always, the rules of entry are at the end of the post. Please note that all prizes must be picked up at a BCPL location within two months of notification, or the unclaimed ARCs will be returned to the stockpile for the next giveaway. The contest runs through the end of Wednesday, November 16th. No entries will be accepted after midnight.

So without further ado, here are our giveaways for Fall 2016:

And I Darken by Kiersten White
Conqueror's Saga #1
*ARC - Released June 2016 *
In this first book in a trilogy a girl child is born to Vlad Dracula, in Transylvania, in 1435--at first rejected by her father and always ignored by her mother, she will grow up to be Lada Dragwlya, a vicious and brutal princess, destined to rule and destroy her enemies.–NoveList

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
 *ARC - Released January 2016 *
When her university professor father is sent by the Gestapo to a concentration camp, seven-year-old Anna travels the Polish countryside with the mysterious Swallow Man during World War II.–NoveList

Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten
 *ARC - Released May 2016 *
When a scholarship girl and a wealthy classmate become friends, their bond is tested when a handsome young teacher separately influences the girls in order to further his less-than-admirable interests. –NoveList
Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
The Reckoners #3
 *ARC - Released February 2016 *

David and the Reckoners must face the most powerful High Epic of all to find redemption for his closest friend, Prof. –NoveList

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
*ARC - Released April 2016 *
When her father dies, Tessa is pulled back to the small Pennsylvania town where her life came apart when her father was sent to prison, her mother went to pieces, and her beloved older sister ran away, and where her testimony and that of her now-estranged friend Callie sent a serial killer to death row--a serial killer who may be getting a new trial as long buried secrets come to light.  –NoveList

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
 *ARC - Released August 2016 *

As she struggles to recover and survive, seventeen-year-old homeless Charlotte "Charlie" Davis cuts herself to dull the pain of abandonment and abuse.–NoveList

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
 *ARC - Released October 2016 *

"A boy with face blindness and a girl who struggles with weight fall in love" –NoveList

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
 *ARC - Released November 2015 *

Sent to America at age nine with nothing but an old guitar, Frankie Presto achieves success on the mid-twentieth-century music scene before becoming overburdened by his ability to affect people's futures through his music. –NoveList

Open a World of Possible edited by Lois Bridges
 *Trade Paperback *

In a series of essays and stories, celebrated literacy experts, language researchers, librarians, children’s authors, and poets share their own real stories about the joys and power of reading.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
*ARC - Released April 2016 *
Sixteen-year old Jessie, still grieving over her mother's death, must move from Chicago to "The Valley," with a new stepfamily but no new friends until an anonymous fellow student emails and offers to help her navigate the school's treacherous social waters–NoveList

A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
 *ARC - Released May 2016 *

"Hannah and Sam are each searching for The One-- but over the summer, a series of hilarious misunderstandings prevent them from realizing that they're It for one another"- –NoveList

Rules of Entry

1. To enter the drawing, you must log in to the Rafflecopter Widget below with your e-mail address or Facebook account and click on "Leave a comment on this blog post."

Entry Task #1
 First, you must leave a comment at the bottom of this post stating which titles you would like to receive. To do so, you will need to click on the "Post a Comment" link below the Rafflecopter widget. If you do not leave a comment at the bottom of the post, I will not know which prize(s) to give you if you win the drawing. You may choose as many titles as you like; you are not guaranteed to win your top choices, but I do my best. 

Entry Task #2 Second, you must Answer the confirmation question and click on "ENTER" at the bottom of the widget only after you have posted your comment as described in Entry Task #1 . After completing the first widget task, you can also earn bonus entries by following the directions in the widget.

2.  All ARCs must be picked up at a Bullitt County Public Library location. Contest ends at the end of the day on Wednesday, November 16th.Winners will be notified via e-mail and will be posted on this blog no later than Tuesday, November 22nd. Winners will have up to two months from the time of notification to collect their prizes. If items have not been picked up at the end of this period or if I have not been contacted to request an alternative arrangement, unclaimed prizes will be retained for future giveaways.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

BCPL's Ultimate Teen Booklist

Let the Teen Read Week celebrations commence! Teen Read Week 2016 officially began this past Sunday and continues through Saturday, October 15th. As has become our tradition here at BCPL, our celebration features the latest updates to our Ultimate Teen Booklist. After making a ton of new additions last year, this year, we've made a point of cleaning house and removing titles that we no longer feel merit inclusion. This may be because we feel the book has become dated; because we think there there is a newer, very similar book that is even better; or because we've just lost our enthusiasm for a particular title.

That's not to say we don't have a few new titles we are excited to add! We've evaluated over 40 books for possible inclusion this season, and that's not even counting the books we read before our committee season began. But to keep the list from getting too out of control, we've made extra efforts to be super selective this year while keeping our eye out for awesome books we've overlooked in the past as well as recent favorites we believe have the power to endure. We've also worked to round out our current list with a few more nonfiction titles.

So without further ado, here are the latest additions to our Ultimate Teen Booklist:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkawamba (2009)
This is the highly readable story of a young Malawian teenager who, unable to afford the tuition to attend school, taught himself the principles of physics and electricity from books borrowed from the local elementary school—and then used that knowledge to build a windmill that provided his family with light, heat, and running water. Yet this book is about much more than building a windmill. It contains elements of magic as Kamkwamba relates the folklore and superstitions of his culture, and it touches on many of the troubles in modern Africa without becoming overwhelming or preachy. It’s about inspiring a community and making a difference. Kamkwamba’s story is one of ingenuity, perseverance, and hope, and the easy, conversational style of this book makes the life in a poor African farm family seem both relatable and fascinating. A young reader edition is also available, but most teens should be comfortable with the original version. Middle School/High School.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (2015)
Joan Skraggs is tired of being undervalued by her father and brothers for the backbreaking work she puts in day after day. Life is hard on a 1911 Pennsylvania farm, and 14-year-old Joan’s only respite is found in the books she loves. Then Joan decides she’s finally had enough of being unappreciated, unpaid labor and decides to get a post in the city as a hired girl. Under a fake name and lying about her age, Joan lucks into a position in the home of a wealthy Jewish family. Everything in her new world is foreign and utterly fascinating, and Joan soon finds herself making mistake after mistake—from setting her hair on fire to crushing on one of her employers’ sons—even as she grows from a naïve country girl to a capable young woman. Told through a series of diary entries, this is a warm and thought-provoking story, laced with humor. Joan’s voice is fresh and hilariously candid, sure to appeal to readers who’ve enjoyed characters like Anne Shirley, Jo March, or Jane Eyre. Middle School (mature)/High School.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (2005)
Rather than focusing on Hitler himself, this well-rounded history considers the children and teens who pledged their loyalty to Hitler and their motivations for doing so. While some of the youths became disillusioned by Hitler's ideals as they grew older, others remained steadfastly obedient to their Führer, often despite familial disapproval or their own consciences. Through the stories of twelve Hitler Youth members, Bartoletti  provides a terrifying picture of how Hitler was able to gain such unchecked power and blind devotion while offering a fascinating look at the young people who grew up during his reign. Middle School/High School.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (2005)
After enduring five years of terror and abuse, Alice believes her only escape from her captor is death. And now that she is fifteen, Alice half hopes that Ray will finally take that final step and kill her. But Ray has another idea: he wants Alice to help him select and train his next victim. With spare, lyrical prose, Scott weaves an intensely disturbing tale that promises no safe or easy answers. High School (mature).

Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawls with Ali Benjamin (2014)
Paige was in sixth grade when she learned that she had HIV. Although she was born HIV positive, it didn’t really affect her life in ways she was aware of until she told a friend about her diagnosis and rumors began to spread. From that point, Paige became the target of relentless bullying. This is the inspiring and revelatory story of how she coped with the bullying and the challenges of living with HIV into adulthood. Middle School /High School.

Raven Cycle (series) by Maggie Stiefvater (2012–2016)
Blue is an outsider. She comes from a family of clairvoyants but has no psychic abilities herself; instead, her presence acts as an amplifier for others' gifts. Like most of the Henrietta locals, Blue wants nothing to do with the stuck-up Raven Boys of Aglionby Academy, but then she meets Gansey, whose fate seems tied to Blue and a deadly curse. Despite her better judgment and fear of the curse, Blue joins Gansey and his group of boys’ school misfits in their quest to unravel a mystical mystery involving an ancient Welsh king. Mystery, heartbreak, friendship, betrayal, and moral dilemmas emerge in the first book only to intensify further as the series continues. Lush, descriptive prose; complex characters; and a multi-layered, imaginative plot create a leisurely-paced but riveting series that succeeds in seamlessly combining magic with contemporary social issues. High School.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki (2014)
Bittersweet and brilliantly paced, this coming-of-age graphic novel centers on a young teen's summer vacation, during which she finds herself drawn to an older boy and depressed by the strain in her parents' marriage. Mariko Tamaki's illustrations wonderfully convey Rose's frustrations, anxiety, and heartbreaks, and the images are full of life and movement. Middle School (mature)/High School.

Giver Quartet (series) by Lois Lowry (1993–2012)
The Giver has been included on our list since the beginning, but now we feel it is time to round out the story of Jonas and the Community by including the full series. We've added Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son to the list!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

SUMMER READING 2016: 5 Guest Reviews from Tweens & Teens

Summer Reading is on! We're having a great summer at BCPL with events ranging from fitness activities to a lab with the Kentucky Science Center to awesome magic shows. But the heart of Summer Reading will always be books and reading.

And we're so excited with the response we are receiving from the participants in our 2016 Reading Challenges. Here are just a few of the book reviews we've received so far; more will be posted here over the month to come. Thanks to all of our guest reviewers for sharing!

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler's Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre: Graphic Novel/Mystery
Audience: Tween/Teen

Tyler's Summary & Review:  A boy and his mom move into a mansion only to find out weird things keep happening. It's ok. Kind of a long book.

Quarterback Sneak by Jake Maddox
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Sports Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Tyler's Summary & Review:  A quarterbacks suddenly starts acting very strange, which puts the team in major jeopardy.I enjoyed this book, I can relate to one of the characters because he wants to help his team. I also have a passion for football.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/School Story
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Katelynn's Summary & Review:  A boy has a facial disease and has a hard time "fitting in" at school and out of school. I am here to tell you that I really think you should read this book. First, the book makes me feel like I'm in the story experiencing what is going on. Next, the book has really good detail to make me imagine everything that is going on. Last, the book has a really good story behind that and it has a good plot. That is why you should read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Enjoy!😊

EXTRA: Tracy's Thoughts: I couldn't agree more with Katelynn's rating and review! I loved this book back when I read it, hence its inclusion on our Best of 2012 book list for middle grade and tween readers and my whining over its exclusion from the 2013 Youth Media Awards. Here's my brief overview from one of our Book Picks lists:
Ten-year-old Auggie was born with extreme facial abnormalities. When he was younger, he used to wear a space helmet all the time just to hide from the stares. Now Auggie—homeschooled all his life—is ready to come out of hiding and is set to begin fifth grade at a private Manhattan middle school. Heartbreaking, funny, and simply wonderful in every way, Wonder is a must-read for book lovers of all ages. Ages 8 and up

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn's Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Animal Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade

Katelynn's Summary & Review: A zebra and other animals get captured and have to train to be gladiators. Once they train, they have to fight to earn their freedom.

I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield. First, this book has some great facts about the Romans and other things. Next, the book has really great humor. Last, the book has a lot of feeling in it. That is why I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Reviewer: Kaylee F., Age 12
Kaylee's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Kaylee's Summary & Review: The storyline is about a girl named Bella Swan and when she moves in with her dad at the town of Forks. I thought this book was a great start to an amazing series.The story itself was great because it explained how Bella felt at all times in amazing words and vocabulary. I loved the characters a lot because they all were a big part of an amazing story. I loved the setting because when the author wrote to explain the setting she made it feel like I was actually looking at it myself. I just enjoyed this book so much I couldn't even put it down. You should really read this book and fall in love with it just as I did.

EXTRA: Tracy's Thoughts: As Kaylee says, this book is compulsively readable. I couldn't put it down and read the entire book (about 500 pages) in a single night. I have a few issues with the book (Edward's stalker tendencies, for one), but nothing that prevented me from staying up till about 6:00 in the morning until I finished!

Are you interested in submitting a guest review? Use the submission form on our website to share your thoughts (positive, negative, or in between) about your latest read. And remember: eligible BCPL patrons earn an entry in our Summer Reading Grand Prize Drawing for each review they submit!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

REVIEW: Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers + Bonus Suggestions for Further Reading

Ever since the news about Harper Lee was announced last week, we've been a little sad here at BCPL. However, we've also been thinking about the contribution Lee's work and life have made to the literary world despite the fact that she only published two books during her lifetime. So in honor of that, Beth—Assistant Branch Manager of our Lebanon Junction location and a HUGE Harper Lee fan—is contributing her very first review here at Book News & Reviews.

Together, we've also compiled a list of related readings we think will appeal to Harper Lee fans. The list includes titles by and about Harper Lee as well as those inspired by her work and life. We've also included several "read-alike" titles that we feel reflect similar themes or characters as Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Beth's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal Mystery
Audience: Adult

Summary: A fictional tale of the friendship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote with a twist. Here, after a decades' estrangement that followed the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, the former friends are drawn together again when Truman fears he is being haunted by the Clutter family.

First Lines: "She's back. She's after me."

Beth's Review: Author Kim Powers takes the story of Truman Capote and Harper Lee and spins a tale full of mystery and haunting memories. Is it the past that comes back to haunt you; or ghosts of those who have touched your lives, revisiting you in your aging years? Or is the ghost regret for what once was? What really happened to end the friendship of Capote and Lee?? A story based on facts will take you back to 1959—the true story of the murder of a Kansas family of four that took four years to become Capote's In Cold Blood—and to 1960 and the book that took the world by storm, To Kill a Mockingbird. Can someone tortured by the past atone in the present?? A great read that makes you feel like you're watching a movie as it unfolds.

Check for availability in the library catalog.

Related Readings

By Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog | Read C.W.'s Guest Review
Go Set a Watchman - Check Library Catalog | Read C.W.'s Guest Review

By Truman Capote
In Cold Blood - Check Library Catalog

Nonfiction about Harper Lee & her work
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee - Check Library Catalog
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee - Check Library Catalog
I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee - Check Library Catalog
Scout, Atticus & Boo - Check Library Catalog

Fiction inspired by Harper Lee & her work
Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story - Check Library Catalog
I Kill the Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog
In Search of Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog

Recommended for To Kill a Mockingbird fans
The Dry Grass of August - Check Library Catalog
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter - Check Library Catalog
A Land More Kind Than Home - Check Library Catalog | Read My Review
A Lesson Before Dying - Check Library Catalog
Mudbound: A Novel - Check Library Catalog
Revolution - Check Library Catalog | A Best of 2014 Selection
The Secret Life of Bees - Check Library Catalog
A Time to Kill - Check Library Catalog
The Undertaker's Daughter - Check Library Catalog
Whistling Past the Graveyard - Check Library Catalog

Related Films
Capote - Check Library Catalog
In Cold Blood - Check Library Catalog
To Kill a Mockingbird - Check Library Catalog

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Love Stories We ♥

Happy Valentine's weekend! In the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite love stories. Some are straight-up, happily-ever-after romances while others are heartbreaking tearjerkers and genre-bending dramas. Below, I've listed a few of my all-time favorites. Joining me is Stephanie from our reference department, who is making her first contribution here at Book News & Reviews.

We hope there is a little something here for everyone who loves a good love story! All titles are available from BCPL, either in print or in e-book format from Kentucky Libraries Unbound,

Steph's Picks
 The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
When her family leaves for a week-long trip to the state fair, Francesca cherishes the peaceful view from the farm's front porch. The sojourn ends when a stranger, asking for directions, shows up at the family farm. The two are immediately attracted to one another and find joy and comfort in each other’s company. When her family returns, Francesca must make a decision: Leave her family for the only true love she’s ever known or be a dutiful wife. Heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a love story to cherish again and again!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Genre: Fantasy
When a young scholar inadvertently summons an ancient magical text, her world changes forever. Diana Bishop has always been a loner, but that life is over. Strange creatures start to come out of the woodwork, and who (or what) is that tall dark stranger following her!? Diana flees to her childhood home, and her Aunt/Surrogate Mom, where she learns a surprising truth about herself and her past. Although I was sometimes distracted by the scientific jargon, it is a fascinating read. This is the first book in a series.
First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance
The first book in the Huxtable Quintet, this historical romance series focuses on three sisters and their younger brother. When the Huxtable clan are lifted from obscurity by the younger brother’s elevated status the title of Earl of Merton, the hunt for love begins. Each volume focuses on how each sibling finds love among the scandal and seduction of Regency England. Sure to keep you smiling with her witty banter and steamy love scenes, Balogh will have you cheering for the Huxtables.

The Guardian Duke by Jamie Carie
Genre: Christian/Historical Fiction
The Forgotten Castles series tells the story of a strong independent girl, Lady Alexandria Featherstone. When her parents go missing and an arranged marriage is at her doorstep, Alexandria flees the only place she’s ever known. Part romance and all adventure this fun romp through Ireland is full of intrigue.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Fantasy
Trained since birth to compete, illusionists Celia and Marco, are adversaries. Without knowing, the two fall madly in love and the fate of all involved hangs in the balance. Brimming with mystery and magic, a feast for the senses. The Night Circus, will pull you in and leave you wishing you could go to Le Cirque des Rêves.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
Genre: Fiction
Follows the lives of two women, decades apart, struggling with love. One is in a loveless marriage, possibly pregnant with another man’s child. The second may have lost her one true love and consoles herself helping others celebrate their loss. A fantastic read, one of my top ten.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
Genre: Biographical Fiction
In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway writes of the regret he suffered losing his first wife and his “one true love.” The endearing, hopeful and ultimately heart-breaking tale of Hadley and Ernest’s marriage is palpable. Set in the Roaring 20s, the book is filled with unforgettable characters, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and brimming with an array of emotions.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Genre: Fantasy
Sisters, Gillian and Sally, are sent to live with their aunts after a tragic accident. They soon learn the meaning of the word “different,” and both sister begin their journeys to find love and normalcy. But, family has a funny way of pulling you back and soon the sisters find themselves living the lives they tried so hard to escape. Full of magic, tragedy, and love (both familial and romantic,) Hoffman’s lyrical prose will haunt you long after the last page is read.
Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love & Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen
Genre: Biography
Sometimes a true story is better than fiction, thus is true of “The Queen of the Air. “At the turn of the 20th century, Leitzel is a household name. Sold to a traveling circus at a young age, she overcame adversity and tragedy to become the star of the trapeze. Unfortunately, celebrity and riches cannot protect us from disaster and heartbreak. Leitzel will fly into your heart with the greatest of ease, just as she did mine.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre: Fantasy
Take Pride and Prejudice and throw in a little magic and you would have the Glamourist Histories. Set in Regency England, this series is about two sisters searching for love, before they become spinsters at the age of twenty-eight!

Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis-Higgs
Genre: Christian Fiction
Do not let the “Christian Fiction” label fool you. This series is full of passion and heart ache, deceit and jealousy. Based on the biblical characters of Esau and Jacob and set in Scotland the series centers on a love triangle, the likes of which you have never seen, nor are likely to again. Higgs is a master of the human condition, ensuring you will become emotionally attached to these characters. Lucky for you the entire series is available, no waiting for the next volume. You’re Welcome!

My Picks
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Bet Me is a modern Cinderella story of mistaken impressions, chaos theory, and doughnuts. When Min overhears a bar bet—involving her!—between her ex and another man, she responds with her own simple plan for revenge. But thwarted by fate, which seems determined to throw her together with Cal—acknowledged player and participant in the infamous bet—Min finds herself falling for the enemy. This is a smart and funny romantic comedy that ranks high on many romance aficionados’ all-time favorites lists. The repartee between Min, Cal, and their friends, the subtle Cinderella allusions, and the sizzling chemistry easily makes it one of my favorites.

Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction
When her live-in boyfriend takes her new puppy to the pound, it is the last straw for high school art teacher Quinn McKenzie. Tired of always doing what’s expected of her, Quinn decides it’s time to shake things up a bit. Pretty soon, the entire town is in an uproar, including Nick, Quinn’s good friend—and ex-brother-in-law. I tried to pick just one Crusie novel for this list, but frankly I have a tough time choosing between Bet Me and Crazy for You, although I think I love Crazy for You just a tiny bit more. I love Quinn's sudden bid for independence and enjoy every moment of craziness her change of heart creates.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Genre: Literary Fiction/Modern Classic/Love Story

When people ask me that awful, impossible question—What is your favorite book?—this is the book I most often settle on. William Faulkner called it “one of the most true and moving novels of [his] time.” I think the themes of this book transcend time, and I discover something new each time I read it. This tragic story, set in World War II–era London, recounts the adulterous love affair and the ideological struggles of its protagonists. The End of the Affair is haunting as it questions what constitutes love—jealous passion and obsession vs. spiritualism and self-sacrifice—and hate. For those who are a bit skeptical about love or looking for something a little more philosophical than sentimental, this is a must read.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Genre: Psychological Fiction/Love Story
This is a book that I simply can't stop thinking about. The Gargoyle is the story of a severely burned man and the woman—who may or may not be insane—who shows up in his hospital room claiming they loved each other in the past. The unnamed narrator is cynical and jaded, but eventually he finds himself enthralled by Marianne Engel’s stories of her life in a medieval monastery as well as tangential tales of a widowed Victorian lady, plague-stricken lovers in 14th-century Italy, a young maiden in feudal Japan, and Vikings in 9th-century Iceland. It's ambitious, hypnotic, and often horrifying in in its absolute rawness. The writing is stunningly visceral, with just the right measure of caustic humor, and the love story uniquely captivating. This book has everything: adventure, romance, history, humor, and drama—all served up in a literary masterpiece that is anything but dull.

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
Genre: Regency Romance
I'm a total sucker for the brother's best friend romance trope, and this fabulous regency romp delivers perfectly. The set up of Tessa Dare’s debut novel is nothing out of the ordinary: Lucy, our headstrong, tomboyish young heroine is in love (or so she believes) with her brother’s roguish pal Toby. Toby is toying with the idea of marrying Sophia, whom he believes to be the perfect, ladylike ideal. So in order to convince Toby that she’s his perfect match before it’s too late, Lucy naively decides to hone her seductive skills on Jeremy, another family friend whom she has always gotten a kick out of needling due to his somewhat distant demeanor. Throw in a few more characters, set them all up at a house party in pastoral England, and stir. Goddess of the Hunt could so easily have become a mess of romance clichés, but thanks to Dare’s deft writing it is one of the freshest, most enjoyable romances I’ve read in years. I loved watching Lucy’s gradual realization that Toby wasn’t the right guy for her, and I was impressed with Dare’s ability to keep Lucy’s maturation completely in-line with her stubborn character rather than relying on some sudden epiphany simply to move the plot along. Lucy and Jeremy are truly endearing and multidimensional characters, and several of the secondary characters are equally surprising and delightful. And the writing, from the humorous dialog between characters to characters’ inner dialog, is nuanced, believable, and (please forgive the cliché) utterly captivating. Seriously, if that wardrobe scene doesn't take your breath away, I can't believe you have a single romantic bone in your body.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Genre: Literary Fiction/Psychological Fiction
Less a love story than an examination of the emotion, this imaginative literary mystery follows a Polish octogenarian who escaped the Nazis and is now reflecting on his past losses, a young teen seeking to cure her mom’s loneliness, and a very special book that connects them.

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
Genre: Medieval Romance
Judith McNaught romances tend to be hit and miss for me, but Kingdom of Dreams is a MAJOR hit. In this beloved medieval tale, an enterprising Scottish beauty is abducted from a convent and forced to marry her family’s enemy, the Duke of Claymore, aka “The Wolf.” This is a perennial favorite of romance readers, full of heart-twinging moments before reaching the requisite happy ending. On a personal note, I have to admit this is a book that makes me smile, makes me mad, and makes me tear up every darn time I read it.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Genre: Play/Romantic Comedy
The focal romance plot is a bit Romeo and Juliet, only with a happier ending, but it is the love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick that makes this story memorable. Have I mentioned yet that I love the build-up of witty back-and-forth repartee? Beatrice and Benedick are the gold standard of sexual tension presented in the form of competitive banter, and I love every moment of their fiery exchanges.

On the Way to the Wedding by Julia Quinn
Genre: Regency Romance
Combining the best elements of Shakespearean comedy with The Graduate (the interrupt-the-wedding-of-your-true-love part, not the seduced-by-an-older-woman part), Julia Quinn’s final installment of her popular Bridgerton series is a must-read for fans of historical romance. Gregory, the last of the eight Bridgerton siblings, finally meets his match in Lucy Abernathy, a practical, slightly obsessive compulsive young lady who definitely doesn’t believe in love at first sight, who scarcely believes in romantic love at all. While Gregory, having grown up surrounded by his siblings’ happy marriages, is a self-described hopeless romantic who has been waiting for the day when he will fall in love. The twist is that when Gregory is finally hit by the thunderbolt he has been anticipating, the object of his affection is not the heroine but Lucy’s best friend, Hermione. But Hermione has her sights set on someone else and, in their combined attempt to get Hermione to fall for Gregory, Gregory and Lucy discover one another. Of course, a few more obstacles pop up—most notably Lucy’s own engagement to the unusual Lord Haselby and the interference of various family members. Lighthearted and spiced with Julia Quinn’s cheeky style and witty dialog, On the Way to the Wedding is a delightful read and a worthy conclusion to the Bridgerton saga. I'm a big fan of the entire Brigerton series, though I'm a bit less enthusiastic about some that others (ahem...To Sir Phillip with Love) and have a hard time choosing a favorite, but On the Way to the Wedding is the one that I can read over and over.

A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith
Genre: Women's Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Smith is a master writer when it comes to Southern women’s lit, and with A Place to Call Home she is at her best. As children, Claire (the feisty, protected daughter of the town’s first families) and Roan (the withdrawn son of the town drunk) had a bond that no one else in their small town understood. When they were separated by a near tragedy, neither was able to let go. Twenty years later, they are reunited, but family obligations and secrets from the past threaten their relationship. This novel has all the hallmarks of a dramatic family saga, but there is also a healthy dose of laugh-out-loud country humor. If you love this author as much as I do, you might also want to try one of my other Smith favorites, On Bear Mountain or Stone Flower Garden, next.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Those who love the movie but haven't read the book are missing out. If you haven't seen the movie OR read the book? Bump it to the top of your to-read pile right now. Here's the basics: A former farm boy in disguise must rescue his true love from a handsome (but evil) prince in this timeless twist on the traditional fairy tale. Along the way, he acquires the help of two unlikely allies, a drunken swordsman, and a gentle giant. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but only in the best possible way. Brilliantly combining adventure, fantasy, romance, and humor, The Princess Bride is a swashbuckling fable for all ages.

Thief of Hearts by Teresa Medeiros
Genre: Historical Romance
After being kidnapped by Captain Doom, admiral’s daughter Lucinda Snow remains fascinated by her father’s mysterious nemesis. Combining regency ballrooms with high-seas adventures, this is a wonderful historical romp featuring secret identities and laugh-out-loud humor. It's a little cheesy and over-the-top, but wonderfully fun.

This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance
After Molly Summerville gives in to one of her rare (usually disastrous!) impulses, she finds herself stuck at a run-down resort with footballer Kevin Tucker for the summer. The impulsive action that begins Molly and Kevin's romance is epically messed up, but the book is so funny and the characters so likable despite their flaws that I love this book anyway. Phillips tackles some seriously touchy ethical and emotional issues in this one, but her deft humor and strong characterizations make for a fun, often hilarious read.

The Wallflower by Jan Freed
Genre: Category Romance
Sometimes I just want a short, old-school category romance, and Freed's The Wallflower is a classic of the subgenre. The plot is a little bit like Never Been Kissed, though this book actually came out the year before the Barrymore rom-com. Our heroine here is a professional woman on the run from a bad guy who already hunted her down once while she was under witness protection. Since Sarah barely escaped with her life, she's afraid to trust in the cops' protection again—so she turns to an old college friend, who just happens to be a high school principal. So Sarah ends up posing as a high school student—and of course falls for the hot English teacher with no patience for the cool new girl's refusal to kowtow to his authority. It's funny and chock full of forbidden-romance tension, but my favorite part may be the way Sarah dives into her new identity and ends up helping her less popular classmates find themselves and stand up to the high-school bullies. Though poor Jack's turmoil over his attraction to his "teenage" student is pretty darn compelling.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

BEST OF 2015: Our Favorite Nonfiction for Adults

Sometimes, choosing the "best" of anything can feel like comparing apples and oranges. This was the case for our 2015 Adult Nonfiction committee. This year, we read books on a variety of topics—from mathematics to social justice to historic disasters to celebrity memoirs. Some were entertaining or made us laugh while others impressed us with beautiful writing or startling insights that left us rethinking our perspective on the world around us. Others were just plain good reads. In the end, we believe the books to make our final list of favorites are all good reads—and some of them just might make you laugh or broaden your perspective on the world as well.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, the author, an award-winning journalist, examines American culture and the social construct of race. Through stories of his own life and other factual events, he explores what it means to be black in modern America, with due attention paid to both the past and the present. In a  small, slim volume of just over 150 pages, Coates's meditation is poetic, candid, and powerful. Winner of the National Book ward for Nonfiction.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Part memoir and part writing guide, this laugh-out-loud book from a New Yorker copy veteran is a must-read for serious readers and self-proclaimed grammar geeks. From musings about Moby-Dick (why the hyphen?, she wonders), to anecdotes about famed writers like Philip Roth, to rants about common language and usage errors, Norris never fails to entertain. 

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Timothy Snyder's history of the Holocaust implores the reader to see afresh the people, ideas, forces, and ideologies that led to the industrialized slaughter of millions of innocent human beings while much of the world found ways to avoid involvement. Snyder's in-depth research includes records only recently made accessible to the public and his strong perspective—that the Holocaust is relevant to the world and events playing out in the 21st century—is one worth considering, however difficult the subject matter.

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Move over Joy of Cooking and Martha Stewart, and say hello to The Food Lab! Five years in the making, this new culinary classic from the Serious Eats "nerd-in-residence" provides recipes for a number of American staples and other fantastic meals. Even better, colorful sidebars explain the science behind the varying techniques in layman's terms and the included test experiments help amateur cooks understand why certain techniques make a difference.

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman
An exhaustively researched history of the modern era of the LGBT Civil Rights Equality Movement, Lilian Faderman's book will likely become a primer on the topic. One of our committee members suggests that Faderman's history if a must-read for all who "care about the LGBT struggle for dignity and equality under the law."

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Levoy
This absorbing story of social justice (or injustice) centers on the murder investigation of Bryant Tennelle, a young black man shot down on the streets of South Los Angeles in 2007. In a culture where "just another black man down" was a common refrain, solving  homicide cases wasn't a priority for a police department focused on prevention over "reaction," but Tennelle's case was different. First, he was the son of a detective. Second, there were dedicated homicide detectives who thought the department policy of elevating patrol over investigation was "dumb-ass" and were tireless in their pursuit of truth despite a lack of support from the "brass" and the "ghettoside" communities. In simple yet startlingly effective prose, Levoy paints a vivid picture of the ghettoside culture and those who inhabit it. Yet, more than a one-case true crime story, this is an examination of the epidemic of black-on-black murders and (according to the author) the lack of proper police and legal response that helps to create such a vigilante culture. Informative and thought-provoking, Ghettoside brings to light a serious problem that deserves more attention than it gets. 

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
In this absorbing tale of nature and grief, a woman recounts her attempts to train a goshawk predator while struggling with the death of her father.

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
The author tells her family's history in photographs and words, after sorting through a box of old papers that revealed scandals, alcohol and domestic abuse, affairs, family land ownership, and racial complications.

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power by Paul Fischer
Before becoming the world's most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi)—South Korea's most famous actress—and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country's most famous filmmaker. Fascinating, illuminating about one of the world's most secret places, and undeniably entertaining to boot.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
In a memoir capturing definitive moments in her career, the feminist activist reflects on events including her time on the campaign trail, interactions with key political leaders, visits to India, and her anecdotal encounters with "civilian" feminists.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport
Drawing on personal writings and private sources, this book disproves common misperceptions about the sisters, uncovering details of their daily lives and vibrant personalities and revealing their awareness of family turmoil and the approach of the Russian Revolution.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson
Based on correspondence, entries in Rose Kennedy's diaries, and family interviews, describes the plight of a woman who was intellectually disabled and kept hidden by her family after she received a lobotomy at age twenty-three.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
We've all seen it happen -- someone makes a bad decision in the public eye and people pile on in judgment. His interest piqued by a takeover of his own Twitter account, journalist Jon Ronson dove deep into an exploration of human nature, technology, and humiliation via social media. Interviewing both those famous for being shamed and those doing the shaming, Ronson discusses motivations, consequences, and recoveries. -- Description by Shauna Griffin.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think? The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques.

The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder by Shanna Hogan
Recounts the murder of 50-year-old Michele MacNeill at the hands of her husband, a doctor, lawyer and Mormon bishop who, upon further investigation by his daughters, had multiple marital affairs, a past criminal record and conned his way into medical school.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Chronicles the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the Wright brothers, sharing insights into the disadvantages that challenged their lives and their mechanical ingenuity.

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