Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Full disclosure: The Martian is my favorite book, maybe ever, so I’m coming into this review with a fair bit of bias. That said, in my opinion Project Hail Mary is a worthy follow-up to The Martian, with the same kind of humor, heart, high stakes, and rock-solid science.

Here’s the gist (without spoilers): Dr. Ryland Grace wakes up alone and confused in a spaceship (the eponymous Hail Mary) VERY far from Earth. He’s lost his memory, and his two crewmates died in suspended animation. It’s up to him to figure out exactly who he is, how he got there, what the ship’s mission is, and how he can complete it on his own. And he’d better hurry, because all of life on Earth is at stake.

If that sounds intense, it is – but Grace also makes jokes and laughs as much as he can, while not shying away from the huge responsibility, sacrifice, and loss he’s facing. I really thought this book was effective for several reasons: first, the science. As in The Martian, this book’s science reads to me like plausible and real explanations and solutions. It felt like a book that Weir had a lot of fun writing, with a ton of research to back him up. Second, the character of Ryland Grace was very well done; his emotions, backstory, and feelings of being overwhelmed, repeatedly, make him a relatable narrator that you root for to succeed, while his humor and determination keep the action moving forward at an addictive pace. Third, the narrative structure worked really well. If you’ve ever seen the DC TV show Arrow, you might recognize the strategic use of flashbacks to reveal key information at just the right time. Weir moves carefully and explicitly between Grace’s struggle in the present and all the events in the past that culminated in his being on the ship. It all works together brilliantly to create a story you’ll laugh your way through and won’t want to put down, right up to the very unexpected final pages.

Highly recommended for those who loved The Martian, Cast Away, and other lone-survivor stories of sci-fi or adventure, this is a book which will tug at your heartstrings and stretch your imagination to dazzling new heights.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix has written a superb new novel about a women’s book club battling to save their small town from a mysterious newcomer. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a supernatural thriller set in the 1990s that highlights life in a small Southern town that is seemingly set in its ways. When a newcomer turns up in town with his white van parked in front of his elderly aunt’s house, most of the town are relieved that he has come to take care of her. One of the people not convinced: Patricia Campbell.

Patricia gave up her career as a nurse to marry her ambitious doctor beau and have children. Feeling slightly suffocated, Patricia needs a break. Her kids don’t care, her husband is hardly ever home, and her to-do-list is endlessly long and incredibly boring. The only bright spot in her life is her book club, a group of local women who are very close-knit and who all have a love of true crime.

James Harris, the newcomer, quickly becomes a topic of conversation at book club – mostly due to the fact that his van is an eyesore. The others believe him to be artistic, sensitive, and attractive, but despite Patricia’s initial attraction, she has her doubts. After some local children go missing across town, Patricia becomes increasingly worried that James has something to do with it. She starts her own investigation , but James is determined to stay in town. He inserts himself more and more into her life to the point where Patricia is terrified that he will destroy everything that she holds dear. Soon all that stands between James and the unsuspecting community is Patricia and her book club. They must find a way to save their town from him even when their families don’t see an issue with James’ kindness.

This book is also available in the following formats:

New Pokemon Snap for Nintendo Switch

If you’re an action / military / sports gamer, I’m very sorry, I still don’t have any recommendations for you. If you like gentle, low pressure games, though, I’ve got another highly-anticipated gem to recommend: New Pokemon Snap.

I’ve heard lots of hype surrounding this release and I believe it’s warranted: this game from the Pokemon universe lets you live out your wilderness photographer dreams seeking and documenting various Pokemon in their natural habitats. The game play is relaxing and easy to learn, and you get a thrill of exploration and discovery along with bonus points for capturing particularly good photos.

Here’s the basics: you’ve joined the research team of Professor Mirror, who’s studying Pokemon behavior with the help of his assistant Rita (and some others). He gives you a pod to travel in and a camera to take photos with, and he sends you to various nature preserves. Your pod travels slowly along a preprogrammed course, and it’s your job to keep your eyes peeled for Pokemon along the way. Your camera can scan your surroundings, identify Pokemon, and zoom in to take good photos, and you also have a supply of fruit to toss to attract hungry ones. You must go back to the same course a few times to level up and unlock a new area, but there’s always something new to discover. You can also go to the courses at night to see a whole new set of Pokemon and behavior, including the mystical Illumina effect.

With beautiful scenery, cute creatures, and a variety of courses to unlock, this is a great game to get lost in, and another good entry point into the Pokemon universe. I myself got quickly addicted and was very sad to have to turn the game back into the library. Don’t miss it!

Wellness Resources @ Your Library

Trying to improve your mental, physical, or emotional health? Your library provides a wide variety of resources to help you adjust your lifestyle, whatever your goals. Check out these recently published nonfiction books on wellness:

Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab focuses on emotional wellness, and the ways we can improve our mental and emotional health by establishing reasonable boundaries for ourselves.

Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety by Drew Ramsey describes the data that suggests dietary changes can impact mental health, as well as physical health.

The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Martina Slajerova is all about the famous and well-recommended diet and lifestyle that supports physical health as well as emotional health by encouraging sociability.

The Dance Cure by Peter Lovatt suggests using dance to support not only your physical health but emotional and mental health as well.

Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home by Becky Rapinchuk suggests ways your home environment can affect your wellness, such as using natural cleaning products to avoid harsh and harmful chemicals.

Or browse our related Libguides, curated by our librarians:

Mental Health Guide

Learning Collection Resources

Things to Do While Social Distancing – Exercise and Meditation

You might also like these other wellness resources from credible sources:

Get a holistic picture with the 8 dimensions of wellness as defined by the American Library Association Allied Professionals Association

Make a customized wellness plan from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Move Your Way activity planner

However you do it, be sure to make time to take care of yourself!

 

 

Farm to Trouble : A Farm to Table Mystery by Amanda Flower

Shiloh Bellamy has ditched bright and sunny Los Angeles and has made a road trip back to her childhood farm in Cherry Glen, Michigan, accompanied by her loyal pug, Huckleberry.  Farm to Trouble is the first book in a new cozy mystery series, Farm to Table Mysteries by Amanda Flower.  Shiloh’s mission is simple : to reignite her family homestead, Bellamy Farms, with financial help from an investor in order to make the farm profitable again as an organic and sustainable farm.  Bellamy Farms has fallen into despair and Shiloh’s father is in no condition to bring the farm back on his own and has enlisted her help.  Just days after her arrival into town her investor, Jefferson Crocker, is found dead by Shiloh at the farmer’s market and all eyes in town turn to the Bellamy family.

As the town focuses on Shiloh as a likely suspect, she begins to learn that her investor was not a very popular man in town with his big plans to install wind turbines across the serene pasture of the countryside.  Shiloh is now doing double duty – trying to find a new investor willing to take a chance on Bellamy Farms and attempting to catch the real killer.  She learns that numerous townspeople had reasons to hope for Crocker’s demise and as the police close in, Shiloh knows time is of the essence for her to try to find the real culprit.  The list of suspects grow and as Shiloh uncovers more about the master wind farm plan, numerous suspects rise to the top of the list, which includes many Cherry Glen residents that Shiloh has known her entire life!

Farm to Trouble kept me guessing the culprit until the very end and the novel does a good job of balancing a cozy mystery with creating a sustainable, organic farm narrative.  The second book in the series, Put Out to Pasture, is already scheduled to be published in early 2022.  I’m looking forward to the continued saga between Shiloh, the residents of Cherry Glen and Huckleberry and to see if Shiloh turns the family farm around!

 

Bloom by Kevin Panetta

As the summer gets rolling, you may want to read something restful, sweet, and nice to look at. If so, you might want to check out Bloom, a graphic novel written by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau.

Bloom is the story of Ari, who’s been working in his family’s bakery in a small beach town since he was a kid. Now he’s graduated high school and is under pressure from his band to move to the city – and he’s desperate to go, if only to figure out who he is and what he really wants. Unfortunately, his family’s not on board, and shames him for his trying to leave when the bakery is struggling. At his wits’ end, he decides to hire a replacement, someone to do the work with his parents so he’ll be free to leave. Enter Hector, an easygoing guy in town for the summer to clean out his late grandmother’s house. He loves to bake as much as Ari wants to avoid it, and so Ari starts to train him in the rhythms of the bakery so he can take Ari’s place. But nothing’s as simple as it should be; things with the band are changing, putting his plans in jeopardy, and being with Hector is starting to remind Ari of the love that runs through his family’s business and joy that comes from baking. Before long it’s clear that his relationship with Hector could also bloom into love — if only Ari could get out of his own way.

The good things about this graphic novel are many. Readers are immersed in the act of baking and in Ari’s Greek heritage, with the addition of Hector’s heritage later in the story. The art style is simple but charming, with a simple color palette highlighting beautifully rendered scenery with floral accents. The portrayal of family love and friendship love is starkly realistic and truly heartwarming, with both Hector and Ari finding comfort among their loved ones along with discomfort.

For me, being a graphic novel affected character development and plot too much; a lot seemed to be implied through brief scenes and imagery that I would rather have had spelled out and explained. I’m also never totally hooked by angsty characters with unsupportive parents and/or toxic friends. But overall it’s a sweet story and a quick read, and all the baking imagery gives off some definite Great British Baking Show vibes for me; if this sounds like your kind of coming-of-age summer romance, give it a try!

Bloom is available in print and on Overdrive.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is one woman’s story of struggling to find her identity when forced to view what she thought was true through a different perspective.

Daunis Fontaine has never fit in. She is a biracial, unenrolled Ojibwe tribal member and the product of a scandal. Her family members are split between her hometown, where her mother’s family lives, and the nearby Ojibwe reservation, where her father’s family lives. Not recognized as complete by either side of her family, Daunis both yearns to escape to a new place and to stay to help her people move forward in life.

Daunis defers going to the University of Michigan in order to stay home, help care for her ailing grandmother, and to be a support system for her mother.  With her future on hold, she works to turn her life into something of which she can be proud. Daunis spends an increased amount of time with her brother Levi and his friends. Levi is a star hockey player, like Daunis, and she soon finds herself becoming quick friends with Jamie, the new recruit on Levi’s team. The more she falls for Jamie, the more confused she becomes. Daunis can’t help thinking that Jamie is hiding something. Things aren’t adding up.

One night Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that jolts her out of what little comfort she has. Now in the middle of a criminal investigation, Daunis finds herself forced into life as an undercover informant. She is asked to inform on her family and friends, looking for criminals and searching for any clues about what is plaguing her area. Daunis has an in-depth knowledge of both traditional medicine and chemistry, a skill that her uncle helped foster within her.

The deeper her investigation goes, the harder it is for Daunis to figure out who is telling the truth. She must learn to rely on herself, to draw strength from her ancestors, and to figure out how far she is willing to go.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye

Date Me, Bryson Keller is a book whose premise sounds trivial (anybody else remember ‘Win a Date with Tad Hamilton’?) but which turns out to be poignant as well as quite fun. An uplifting story of fake dating, self discovery, identity, family, and how hard it is to be yourself when it might not be safe, I highly recommend it to readers of romance, YA, and gentle reads alike.

Kai Sheridan is an anxious mess, trying to navigate his senior year at a high-end prep school without revealing his deepest secret: he’s gay. Growing up in a religious family, he knows all too well how risky it is to ‘out and proud’; he’s just trying to get through to college, where he can finally be himself. Throwing a wrench in his plans is Bryson Keller, the school’s ‘it boy’: star of the soccer team and all-around nice guy who has frustrated his school’s entire female population by refusing to date in high school. Finally someone dares him to prove he’s really not interested by dating someone new every week for three months – with a few rules. The first person to ask him out each Monday morning is dating him until Friday, when each relationship must end. Bryson has to say yes, nothing physical can happen, and it definitely has to end on Friday. One very rough Monday morning, Kai gets carried away by his frustrations and does the unthinkable: he asks Bryson out. And then Bryson does something even more surprising (for Kai): he says yes. He’s even willing to ‘date’ privately to keep Kai’s secret safe. Over the course of a soul-searching week, Kai and Bryson grow closer and realize that while it may have started out fake, neither one wants their relationship to end. But Kai’s in the closet for a reason – can fragile young love survive when it’s no longer a secret?

I was really impressed with this book. The whole plot happens within a week or two, but it doesn’t feel too rushed. The romance is sweet, but balanced with some sobering realities about homophobia and religion. The author also does a good job representing ethnic diversity and the struggles that come with it: Kai and his sister discuss the unpleasant attention they get as mixed-race kids, and Kai’s best friend Priyanka faces cultural appropriation and insensitivity. Perhaps most refreshingly, Bryson is a sweet and supportive ally from the start, truly caring about other people and standing up for the marginalized. Despite the heavy subject matter, the book’s tone remains hopeful (if cautiously so) as Kai’s stressful realities and strained relationships are coupled with the wholesome flush of first love and the warm support of his friends. If you like realistic fiction, fake-dating romances, or young adult books about standing up to the haters of the world, this book may be for you.

June’s Celebrity Book Club Picks

It’s the beginning of the 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.

Jenna Bush Hager has selected Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Curious what Malibu Rising is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.

This book is also available in the following format:

Want to make sure that Jenna’s picks are automatically put on hold for you? Be sure to join our Best Sellers Club.

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Reese Witherspoon has selected Seven Days in June by Tia Williams.

Curious what Seven Days in June is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Seven days to fall in love, fifteen years to forget and seven days to get it all back again… From the author of The Perfect Find, this is a witty, romantic, and sexy-as-hell new novel of two writers and their second chance at love.

Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer, who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their past buried traumas, but the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. They may be pretending that everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry-or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since.

Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva’s not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and she needs to get him out of New York so that her life can return to normal. But before Shane disappears again, there are a few questions she needs answered. . .

With its keen observations of Black life and the condition of modern motherhood, as well as the consequences of motherless-ness, Seven Days in June is by turns humorous, warm and deeply sensual.

Want to make sure Reese’s picks are automatically put on hold for you? Be sure to join our Best Sellers Club.

Excellent Eco-Thrillers (Part 1)

I first discovered the eco-thriller genre – action-packed books focusing on environmental threats – through The Swarm by Frank Schatzing. It’s a somewhat intimidating book because of its length, but extremely well done in action, characterization, and scientific explanation. Ocean creatures begin unexpectedly attacking humans, and it’s up to a diverse set of scientists and environmentalists to figure out what’s causing it and how to stop it. The answer to the puzzle is both bone-chillingly deadly and incredibly beautiful. If you’ve ever felt worried about just how deep the oceans are and how little we know about them, this book will fascinate (and maybe terrify) you.

Inspired by how much I enjoyed The Swarm, I started a quest to read more eco thrillers and see how they compare. Here are my first two contenders and how they measure up.

First: Zoo by James Patterson. This book was made into a TV series a few years ago, though the series only loosely follows the plot of the book. In the book, we follow almost-scientist full-time conspiracy theorist Jackson Oz as he struggles to understand and raise awareness of the rash of animal attacks spreading across the world. He’s aided by beautiful French scientist Chloe along with a host of military and government figures. The picture of humanity’s future that this book paints is chillingly real, to say the least, though honestly the characters are such standard action-movie stock as to be disappointing. In my opinion, it doesn’t measure up to the complex mosiac of The Swarm.

Second: Eden by Tim Lebbon. In this book, Dylan, his daughter Jenn, and their team are escaping the polluted, climate-change-wracked world by an adventurous race across one of ‘The Virgin Zones’: protected swaths of land where no humans are allowed to live or visit. They’re attempting to be the first to cross Eden, the oldest Virgin Zone which has swallowed up many would-be adventurers. Once inside, their adventure turns frightening as the jungle turns against them, a malicious force which might be responsible for the disappearance of Jenn’s mother… This book is very good at building suspense and a sense of horror, getting more gory toward the end as the climax is reached. I wasn’t as convinced by the Nature Personified element or the resolution, but the characters and action are well-drawn. It almost measures up to the Swarm, but not quite.

The one thing all three had in common is a sobering message of warning for humanity: if we abuse our planet and its resources past a certain point, there will be consequences that we’re most likely not prepared for. The realism of that message makes these books heavy material to consider, but moving, important, and thought-provoking. This is a fascinating genre to explore, so stay tuned for a possible part 2!