The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda examines the effect of media sensationalism in the aftermath of a tragic event in her latest book, The Girl From Widow Hills. Everyone may think that they know the true story, but in reality, the truth is more twisted than anyone could ever believe.

Arden Maynor is the girl from Widow Hills. When she was six years old, Arden was swept away by a rainstorm while she was sleepwalking in the middle of the night. She went missing for days. While her story may have begun locally, it quickly gained traction and became national news. People from all over flocked to Widow Hills to help search for Arden. Prayer vigils and search parties were set up as rescuers combed the area searching for any sign of where she could be.

Against all odds, Arden was found days later alive and clinging to a storm drain. After her rescue, she became a living miracle. Her mother wrote a book. Fame swallowed what little sense of normalcy Arden had left. People sent letters, both positive and negative, as they all demanded that Arden make something important out of her life since she had survived. They wanted recompense for all the time and money that they poured into the search for her and for her recovery after she was found. On the anniversary every year, the publicity worsened. It all became too much.

Arden disappeared. She changed her name and tried to make a new life for herself. Now living hundreds of miles away from Widow Hills, Arden goes by Olivia. She has has stayed out of the media’s attention for years and started a new life. As the twentieth anniversary of her rescue creeps ever closer, Olivia is sure that the media will track her down and force her to live out the horrors of that time and the subsequent messiness after her rescue. Becoming increasingly uneasy, Olivia believes she is being watched. She has started sleepwalking again, sometimes waking up outside her house. One night, Olivia wakes up in her yard with the corpse of a man she knows from her past laying at her feet. What has she done? Why is he there? Olivia soon realizes the tranquility she has had for the last few years is going to disappear and havoc will rush back into her life. She is once again going to become the center of the story and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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!

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Books and ideas are like blood; they need to circulate, and they keep us alive.”

One of my absolute favorite genres to read is historical fiction, but this particular book hits the jackpot because it is also about libraries and the amazing people who work in them! Just published in February, The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, weaves together two primary narratives spanning across time and place to create a beautiful and haunting story about the strength of friendship, family, and libraries in the face of betrayal, loss, and war.

This story begins in 1939 France with the narrative of Odile Souchet, a fresh graduate of library school who interviews for a librarianship position at the American Library in Paris (ALP). She quickly finds herself at home in the stacks and among several new friends, including fellow librarians, devoted library subscribers, a volunteer who quickly becomes her best friend, and a police officer who becomes her beloved beau. Before long, however, Odile loses a part of herself as her twin brother, Remy, goes off to war and everything she loves, including the library, is endangered.

The second central narrative takes place in 1980s Montana through the eyes of a young teenager named Lily. After the death of her mother and her father’s eventual remarriage, Lily finds herself both lost and trapped in a small rural town she desperately wishes to escape. She eventually finds a sense of liberation in the friendship she develops with her elderly neighbor, who teaches her French, shares her love of literature and books, and essentially becomes a second mother during some of her darkest moments. Before long, Lily becomes curious about her neighbor’s past, as all she (and the rest of the town) knows is her status as a widowed war bride who left her entire life behind in Paris to come to Montana with her husband after the war. Despite the difference in age and background, these two characters have more in common than meets the eye and share a kinship of love and understanding that truly stands the test of time.

Overall, this novel is a heart-wrenching and tragic, albeit beautiful, story filled with memorable characters who are tested by unimaginable hardships. I reveled in the development of several characters, especially since I felt I was able to connect with their complex and flawed personas. While you learn the fate of many of these individuals, I definitely found myself wanting more information on others! I also really enjoyed Charles’s writing style – in addition to writing beautifully, it is obvious how much research she did in the creation of this book by the way she is able to truly whisk you away to another time and place as you read.

While I definitely loved the fictional aspects of this novel, I was delighted to learn that several librarians in the story, along with their remarkable and heroic actions, were based on real individuals. Despite the dangers and risks war posed to both the people and resources of the library, the ALP stayed open to subscribers, maintained a service in which they delivered around 100,000 books to soldiers fighting overseas, and risked their own lives to deliver books to Jewish subscribers who had been barred from entering the library. Charles first learned about this incredible history upon becoming the programs manager at the ALP and, feeling wholly inspired, decided to delve deeper into the history by writing this book. The result? An ode to the truly incredible and impactful roles libraries will always have in our society.

All in all, I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who loves libraries and books, remarkable character development, and experiencing the strength and resiliency of the human race, especially through relationships formed with others.

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!

 

Online Reading Challenge – July

Greetings Challenge Readers!

It’s time for a new Author in our Challenge and this month it’s: Jodi Picoult!

A popular and prolific writer, Picoult will be on many favorite author lists. Picoult is a good storyteller, easily drawing the reader into her books which usually tackle difficult ethical dilemmas that throw ordinary families into extraordinary situations. A prolific author, some of her most popular titles include My Sister’s Keeper (organ donation), Nineteen Minutes (a school shooting), Small Great Things (racism), A Spark of Light (hostage situation) and Vanishing Acts (parental kidnapping). In each, Picoult is able to present a balanced view, trying to understand various points-of-view which lift them beyond good vs evil. They provide a great insight into some of the most troubling issues of our time.

There is no shortage of great books that tackle difficult topics. If you’ve already read everything by Picoult and/or would like to try a similar author, check out one of these titles. There will also be displays at all three buildings with these titles and more to consider.

This is How It Always Is by Frankel (transgender child)

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (aging parents)

Dear Edward by Ann Napoliano (lone plane crash survivor)

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (domestic abuse)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (widowhood)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian (medical trial)

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (polygamy)

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (addiction recovery)

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand (fatal car crash)

While these may seem to all be very depressing, in fact all of them offer hope and are a great way to understand a situation you may never encounter, but has affected others deeply.

I am planning on reading Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting, an event that has become far too common in the last few years. It was a hard decision though, as many of Picoult’s books are intriguing.

What about you, what will you be reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’re halfway through the year – how is your Challenge going? Did you find something good to read during this month of Alice Hoffman?

I chose to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Although it was written after Practical Magic (one of Hoffman’s most popular books) this one actually takes place chronologically  before Practical Magic begins. In The Rules of Magic we learn a little more about the curse that haunts the Owens family, about the aunt that helped raise Jet and Franny (and their brother Vincent) who in turn one day will be tasked with raising Gillian and Sally whose story will unfold in Practical Magic.

Members of the Owens family possess magic and trying to deny it or hide from it will not save them from the family curse, that everything they love will leave them. Jet and Franny and Vincent’s parents work hard to make the siblings hide their magic, but it persists in each of them, just below the surface. One summer, when they’re young teens, their mother allows them to spend the summer with their Aunt Isabelle at the family home place in a rural town. At first they miss Manhattan, but they soon discover that their magic is growing stronger and that their aunt is happy to encourage them. It becomes a summer of rebellion and revelation as they each begin to find how to live with their legacy.

In time, despite their best efforts, each sibling falls in love and for each one, in one way or another, the family curse prevails. But isn’t that part of everyone’s life, that we seek out love, that we love recklessly and without regret and that someday, maybe today, maybe years from now, that love will no longer be with us.

It has been several years since I read Practical Magic and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make a connection, but I found this book can stand pretty much on it’s own. The writing is lyrical, which sounds kind of pretentious, but describes it best – Hoffman evokes the mysterious, tangled atmosphere of Isabelle’s house as well as the depth of emotions the characters feel with the same delicate touch, never maudlin but always real. In many ways, I found this book to be sad with so much heartbreak and sacrifice but also, ultimately, hopeful that the legacy of the past passes on to the next generation and the sacrifices made were worth the pain. As Hoffman concludes, “the only remedy for love is to love more”. A beautiful book.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

“The things we fear the most are often the things we should fear the least. It’s irrational, but it’s what makes us human. And if we’re able to conquer those fears, then there is nothing we’re not capable of.”

If you are looking for a whimsical and darling story to whisk you away from reality for a bit, you need not look any further than The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. One of the most popular fantasy titles of the past year, this book invites readers to indulge in moments of introspection about living life to the fullest while remaining light, fun, and magical. Intrigued? Without further ado, let me tell you more about this exquisite book that is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year thus far!

This story begins with Linus Baker, a middle-aged man who lives a very solitary life in a world with magical beings. A caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), he works to ensure that orphanages under the jurisdiction of the government are up to code and treating their young wards well. A strict follower of the rules, Linus never allows himself to form attachments with the magical children he visits; nor does he question the state of their well-being after he leaves. Although with good intentions and a kind heart, Linus naïvely and passively wades through life doing and believing everything he is told. This also carries over into what he tells himself, as he believes his life – complete with his verbally abusive coworkers and boss, his daily walks home in the rain without an umbrella, and listening to the same music at home each night alone with his cat – is as good as life is meant to be for him.

That is, until Linus receives a special assignment from Extremely Upper Management. Due to his impeccable attention to detail and impressive impartiality to magical orphans, Linus is selected for a month-long, confidential assignment in which he must observe six exceptional children, as well as their master, at an orphanage on an island no one knows about. What Linus also doesn’t know, however, is just how exceptional these children are. Despite his lack of comfort with the assignment, he is given no choice and leaves for this island the very next day. What unfurls at the orphanage after he arrives is the beautiful, comedic, and heartwarming story of how six magical children – a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, a were-Pomeranian, an unidentifiable green blob, and the Antichrist, to be exact – as well as their master, completely change Linus’s life forever.

Overall, this story pulls at your heartstrings and is truly innocent at its core. I wish I could meet all of the children – they are the sweetest, funniest, and most resilient set of characters, despite all of the challenges each has faced due to the prejudices hurled at them for having a magical background. One of the strongest tropes in this story (and also a favorite of the author himself) is that of the “found family,” or characters bound as a family not by blood, but by pure unconditional love for one another. Not only is this trope strong with the bonds shared between the children, all of whom come from different backgrounds, places, and lives, but also for Linus, as he develops relationships and finds love he never knew he needed or deserved. This story also features a beautiful, “slow-burn” romance between Linus and Arthur, the master of the orphanage, as Klune aspires to include positive LGBTQ+ representation in his stories. This book truly epitomizes how sometimes you can find love when you aren’t even looking for it.

It is also clear that some of the struggles faced by the magical beings in this story are also faced by people who are marginalized in our society today. With thoughtful and profound quotes from Linus, Arthur, and the children regarding the ways in which to make the world a kinder place, this story exudes empathy, love, and kindness toward those who are different. It urges characters and readers alike to choose love over hate, empathy and an open mind over prejudice, and understanding over fear. This message of unconditional kindness and love for others was absolutely my favorite part of this book, as it allows for the hopeful and optimistic vision of a future in which love does conquer hate.

All in all, I would highly, highly recommend this to anyone who is up for a book that will leave you laughing, thoughtful, teary-eyed, and in love with a family that finds itself together in the cerulean sea.

This title is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eBook

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