Silver Lining Suite by Hiromi

The Silver Lining Suite by Hiromi is a fascinating set of original pieces by a rising Japanese star of piano and jazz composition, which come together in a suite that defies categorization. Here’s how a publisher describes it:

Hiromi’s latest album pairs her virtuosic and emotive piano with a string quartet assembled by violinist Tatsuo Nishie, concertmaster of the New Japan Philharmonic. Devised for a series of live-streamed concerts at the Blue Note Tokyo during the Covid pandemic, the results blur the lines between classical music and jazz, crafting a vibrant hybrid possessed of the fervent, rock-inspired energy and cinematic beauty that Hiromi has always instilled in her music.”

I found this an engaging album with appealing and melodic instrumentals, executed with energy and thoughtfulness. The quintet was well-balanced, giving enough focus to the piano but not skimping on the strings. Best of all it really is a genre-blender, both dignified and playful, classical and jazzy, but all-around an original.

You can experience this CD as a discovery of a skillful modern jazz and classical composer, or use it as an interesting background to your everyday activities (not recommended for car trips, because road noise makes it a challenge to fully experience the nuances).

Don’t miss this clever and relaxing jazz fusion album!

Cozy Mystery Reads: Grilled Cheese Mystery series by Linda Reilly

With a degree in Criminal Justice, Linda Reilly fully expected to work in law enforcement. Life led her down a different path and Reilly instead switched to working in real estate. She writes a number of cozy mysteries where her background in law enforcement comes in handy. Reilly is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Cat Writers’ Association. The series she writes are as follows: Apple Mariani Mystery, Deep Fried Mysteries, Cat Lady Mysteries, and the Grilled Cheese Mysteries. Reilly currently lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband and cats, where she can be found hanging around the local library and bookstores.

The Grilled Cheese Mystery series came highly recommended to me by another librarian. (If you listen to Checked In: A Davenport Library Podcast, you have heard us talk about it before.) Let’s discuss the first book!

Up to No Gouda is the first title in the Grilled Cheese Mystery series. This is a delightful culinary cozy series that will also leave readers hungry for grilled cheese (don’t worry though – there is a list of recipes at the end of the book).

Carly Hale is finally making her culinary dreams come true. Back in her hometown of Balsam Dell after the tragic death of her husband, Carly has opened the restaurant of her dreams: Carly’s Grilled Cheese Eatery. After only five months of being open, locals and tourists alike have flocked to her restaurant and business has never been better. The only caveat: her lease. When Carly took over this building, she knew she had a limited time left in the building. Now she has learned that her old high school boyfriend has bought the building and he has decided to push her out. Carly has to relocate her restaurant and find a way to keep her business alive.

This is absolutely devastating news – until something even more life-altering ahppens. Lyle is discovered dead behind Carly’s shop and one of Carly’s employees is the prime suspect. Carly doesn’t believe her employee would ever hurt anyone, so in order to prove her innocence and to save the restaurant, Carly embarks on a mission to find the killer before it’s too late.

Grilled Cheese Mystery series

  1. Up to No Gouda (2022)
  2. No Parm No Foul (2022)
  3. Cheddar Late Than Dead (2023)

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

I’m a bit of a picky reader, wanting mostly to read books with LGBTQ-diverse characters. Often (as you’ll know if you’ve read my posts) this leads me to fantastic books in the romance genre. However, there are more titles available in other genres, though they’re trickier to find. Most recently I’ve been exploring sci-fi titles, starting with Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell.

Kiem is a very low-level royal in the Iskat Emperor’s family, and he’s got a bit of a bad reputation from his student days that he just can’t shake. Jainan, meanwhile, is well-respected and has been representing the planet Thea for the empire quite well with the help of his Iskat partner Taam. But just as the Empire enters high-stakes negotiations with the ominous Auditor of the Resolution, Taam is killed in an accident, and it’s very important Jainan remarry to present a strong and united front. Enter Kiem – whose main qualifications are his bloodline and his ability to look confident in photos. One quick marriage ceremony later, Kiem and Jainan are struggling to navigate dangerous galactic politics, trying to find out if Taam’s death was really an accident, and feeling surprisingly attracted to each other…

I saw this described as Ancillary Justice meets Red, White, and Royal Blue and I do think that’s a cleverly apt description – although I personally think Boyfriend Material is a closer fit (and the book I prefer between the two). The space opera / imperial conspiracy / political maneuvering elements are a big part of the story and its setting, but Kiem adds some much needed humanity and humor to the story. Throw in a murder mystery and it’s practically a gay version of Star Wars. Better yet, this is a universe that’s very honest, frank, and unconcerned about LGBTQ relationships and identities – which was delightfully refreshing to read.

If you’re a sci-fi reader looking for more representation, don’t miss this critically-acclaimed book!

I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson

If you like classic rom-coms and stories where hard lessons come with plenty of laughs and inevitable happily-ever-afters, you’ll want to try I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson. Characters leap off the page, warm, diverse, and real, and none of their thorny emotions are swept under the rug; readers will root for Kian as he learns to grow up and love himself.

Kian will be the first to admit his life isn’t going great. His dream of being a journalist seems to be just out of reach, while his younger brother seems to have effortless success. He’s not even doing well at getting over his ex, partly because his ex just texted to ask for a favor…Turns out Hudson never told his parents they’d broken up, and needs Kian to pretend they’re back together for an evening. In exchange, Hudson will put in a good word with a journalism bigwig he knows. Unfortunately, the dinner doesn’t go as planned and Kian finds himself going to a wedding with Hudson’s family in Georgia. Will this be a second chance at love – or a repeat of the worst heartbreak Kian ever had?

I loved reading from Kian’s perspective, because he’s so extra, larger-than-life and full of wit and pop culture references. Watching him embody the modern proverb “If I’m too much, go find less” was empowering and delightful to read, since his attitude and general chaos occasionally caused major disruptions around him. Reading from his first-person POV also meant seeing his vulnerability, insecurity, and deep love for his friends and family. In places the introspection and wildly pop-culture-packed internal monologue is almost too much, distracting from the plot so it feels rushed or uneven (not to mention giving rise to concern that the novel will age rapidly out of relevance) but the narrator’s self-awareness, emotional maturity, and excellent friends balance out the faults to make a very enjoyable reading experience.

If you’re looking for a wild romantic ride, or love 90s rom-coms and Crazy Rich Asians, this is the book for you.

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

“Give it time. Nothing you feel is wrong. There will always be a before and an after, and you have to learn to live in the after.” – Rachel Hawkins, Reckless Girls 

Rachel Hawkins is proving she’s a contender among mystery writers with her latest book, Reckless Girls. With this being only her second foray into writing adult fiction (Hawkins had previously written young adult and juvenile fiction), she has crafted a suspenseful psychological mystery that takes place on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Lux McAllister has been drifting for a while. After her mother died, Lux found herself working a job she didn’t particularly like in California. Enter Nico. The minute he walked into the restaurant she was working in, Lux felt he would change her life. Soon enough, the two are living in Hawaii. Nico promised her trips around the world in his boat. Instead the two have been stuck in Hawaii while Nico waits for the money to fix his boat. Nico’s family is rich, so he could ask his dad for the money, but his pride is holding him back. Instead he works at the marina while Lux works as housekeeping at a local resort, hoping to save enough money to fix the boat and sail away.

One day Nico tells Lux that he has met two women who want to hire him to sail them to a remote island in the South Pacific. The best news: they want Lux to come. After they pay to have Nico’s boat, the Susannah, fixed, the four head off to Meroe Island. Their passengers are college best friends Brittany and Amma. They say they want to travel off the beaten path, but something about the two seems off to Lux. After all, why would the chose Meroe Island? The island has a mysterious and deadly history: shipwrecks, cannibalism, and murder have haunted the island for years. It is a gorgeous destination though.

The group descend upon Meroe Island only to discover that there is already another boat anchored just off sandy coast. Living aboard the Azure Sky are Jake and Eliza. They are the golden couple: rich, gorgeous, laidback, and most importantly, their large catamaran has a very well-stocked bar. All six of them immediately click and begin spending their days together exploring the island off grid. Lux finally feels at peace. That peace is shattered when secrets start bubbling to the surface. It appears that people aren’t being as honest as they presented themselves to be. Meroe Island’s exotic locale becomes less and less appealing the longer they stay. When someone turns up dead and another goes missing, emotions run high as they wonder how many will actually leave Meroe alive.

This book is also available in the following formats:

A Beautiful Time by Willie Nelson

Confession time: I’m a late convert to Willie Nelson, because I’ve been known to fall into the trap of thinking all country music is created equal. Little did I know, Willie Nelson’s outlaw country is a far cry from the “bro country” or “boyfriend country” music that just doesn’t work for me. (Side note: I HAVE been known to like the feminist/”woman kills her no-good husband” country music.) Luckily, I have seen the error of my ways and am getting familiar with Willie’s large body of work, and in my opinion his newest album, A Beautiful Time, is an excellent and enjoyable addition to his canon.

There’s an even mix of toe-tapping tracks, melancholy ballads, and wise insight here – from the heartfelt loss of “Dreamin’ Again” and the playful “We’re Not Happy (Till You’re Not Happy)” to the both thoughtful and light-hearted “I Don’t Go To Funerals”. The overall message seems to be about aging with grace and being honest about death; songs like “Dusty Bottles” directly suggest that age comes with advantages, blessings, pleasures, and of course pains, all its own; it’s clear Willie sees the passage of time but doesn’t fear it, and he sings about it with heart.

I highly recommend this album as the soundtrack to your summer road trips – and if anyone has specific Willie Nelson songs or albums to recommend, send them my way!

A Beautiful Time is Willie’s 72nd solo album and has been well-reviewed by critics; it’s available from the library as both a CD and through our music streaming service, Freegal.

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

‘What the Collective doesn’t understand is by honoring the past, our ancestors, our cultures—and remembering our mistakes—we become better.’ – Donna Barba Higuera, The Last Cuentista  

Donna Barba Higuera’s newest book, The Last Cuentista, flew to the top of my to-read list when I saw the list of 2022 ALA Youth Media Award WinnersThe Last Cuentista is the 2022 Newberry Award winner for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Donna Barba Higuera was also the 2022 recipient for the Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Award. This book is a top contender for my favorite read of 2022.

The Last Cuentista tells the story of a journey through stars to save humanity as we know it, told through the eyes of a young girl named Petra Peña who longs to be a storyteller like her abuelita. Her parents have hopes that she will be a scientist like them. Petra’s dreams are put on hold when the government realizes that there is a comet heading straight towards Earth that will destroy the planet and all life that lives there. Only a few hundred scientists and their children have been selected to evacuate Earth and head to a new planet named Sagan, where they have determined that people can safely live. Petra and her family are among the chosen few. The only hitch in this plan: it will take them hundreds of years to travel there.

The scientists and their children will be put to sleep while Monitors will watch over them and make sure the ship runs smoothly. While they are sleeping, they will be programmed with different informational courses that will allow them to wake up with all the information they will need to survive on Sagan.

Hundreds of years later, Petra awakens on the ship only to discover that she is the only person who remembers Earth. The Collective has taken over the ship and has hatched a new plan to control, essentially, everything. Their desire is to erase all the sins of humanity’s past. They have purged the memories of all those onboard. If they were unable to purge the memories, they eliminated the person altogether. Petra alone carries all the memories of the past. She isn’t quite sure what to do as having that knowledge puts her life in danger. Petra must find a way to save herself and the stories she carries within.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler

If you like Stephanie Plum, Agatha Raisin, and cozy mysteries with unique casts of characters where shenanigans ensue, you won’t want to miss Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler. Funny and warm, with a caring center, this whodunit is both a fascinating mystery and a love letter to Seattle and the LGBTQ community.

Hayden has had an interesting night. At his regular queer bar last night, he’d finally worked up the courage to tip the handsome go-go boy dancing on the table, only for the dancer to lose his balance and kick him in the face. Despite the black eye, it wasn’t a total loss, because the dancer turned out to be a sweetheart named Camilo, who took Hayden home. Unfortunately, when Hayden woke up the next day, there was no sign of Camilo anywhere, just his dog Commander. Oh, and the police at the door. Hayden can’t shake his concern, and starts asking around to see if anyone knows where Camilo has gone (not least because having Commander at his apartment is escalating his feud with a nasty neighbor). In consequence, he meets Camilo’s friends Burley and Hollister, and all three are swept up in a quest to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring Camilo home.

What works well in this mystery is a balance between serious caring and lighthearted fun; for instance Camilo’s immigration status and Hollister’s experiences as a 6 foot Black lesbian are treated sincerely as good reasons to feel unsafe around (and less than confident in) law enforcement, but this is balanced with Hayden charmingly out of his depth (but remaining compassionate) as a petite teacher/blogger thrust into a world of jealousy and danger.

Mystery readers, don’t miss out on a self-identified “pocket gay” going on a journey of dog-sitting, wise 90-year-olds, butch lesbians, sinister pet stores, a borrowed Prius covered in religious bumper stickers, and a missing go-go dancer with a heart of gold.

May’s Celebrity Book Club Picks

It’s a new month which means that Jenna Bush Hager and Reese Witherspoon have picked new books for their book clubs! Reminder that if you join our Best Sellers Club, these titles will automatically be put on hold for you.

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Jenna Bush Hager has selected Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt as her May pick.

Curious what Remarkably Bright Creatures is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

For fans of A Man Called Ove, a charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope that traces a widow’s unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus

After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late.

Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

This book is also available in the following format:

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Reese Witherspoon has selected The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams for May.

Curious what The Dictionary of Lost Words is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, an Oxford garden shed in which her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip and, learning that the word means “slave girl,” begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

Join our Best Sellers Club to have Oprah, Jenna, and Reese’s adult selections automatically put on hold for you!

In Defense of My Own Happiness by Joy Oladokun

Raw emotions and deep insights are combined with catchy, hopeful melodies to make truly captivating music in Joy Oladakun’s (oh-LA-da-koon) most recent album, In Defense of My Own Happiness.

24 unique tracks are packed into the album, each with its own viewpoint delving into love, society, struggle, beauty, or some combination thereof. What all the songs have in common is Oladakun’s signature singer-songwriter style. She’s described on her website as “a new kind of american troubadour” and her music reflects that – while your toes are tapping, head bobbing along to the beat, your mind and heart are absorbing deeply intentional lyrics. Particularly powerful is the specific perspective she brings on the world.

“i feel like it’s not an accident i’m a queer black woman writing and making music,” says the Nigerian-American singer. Her singles criticizing religion and systemic racism, among other topics, have been widely acclaimed. However, as the album’s title suggests, the music at its core is about hope and happiness wherever and however it can be found. “when you listen to me, i want you to feel like you’ve taken an emotional shower. that’s what i’m trying to accomplish for myself. to me, music is a vehicle of catharsis. i write a lot of sad songs, but i always push for a sliver of a silver lining or glimmer of hope it could be better. that’s why i’m writing in the first place. i want you to be changed when you hear me, and not because i’m special, but because i make music with the intention to change myself.”

I was surprised, touched, and fascinated by this album; I kept expecting to find a track that didn’t hook me, something that I didn’t like, that I’d skip past, but I never did. Every song was gentle on the ear but persistently catchy, with lyrics that kept you waiting to hear what came next. There was nothing superficial or frivolous going on, and everything felt like an authentic, intentional celebration of life – the good and the bad. Whether you’re into the singer-songwriter style of folk music or not, I definitely recommend you give a listen to this powerhouse album.

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