Category Archives: Reviews

Road Trip Essentials: Audiobooks

Summer is the season of family vacations and this means often long road trips accompanied by restless travelers of all ages. Regardless of your reading preference or road trip companions, the absolute best way to pass the time on a long road trip is by listening to an audiobook. Sharing an engaging story with your vacation companions can stave off the repetition of, “are we there yet?” and turn even the most reluctant reader into backseat book critic.

Below you’ll find a few of my favorites from a variety of genres and talented narrators. In most cases I have a personal preference for authors as narrators, but some very talented voice actors are noted below. Most genres listed feature children’s (C), teen (T), and adult (A) titles. Although the adult titles may not be appropriate for children/teens, adults should not restrict themselves to only adult titles. A well-executed audiobook, although geared toward a younger audience, can easily be enjoyed by all ages. No matter the variety of personal tastes filling your vehicle there is an audiobook (or two, or three) that will meet your needs.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The graveyard book

Realistic/Historical Fiction

Code name Verity

Mystery

The Secret of the Old Clock

Memoir/Biography/Non-Fiction

The ultimate David Sedaris box set

Format: Audiobook

Reviewed by Magen, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch 

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

findingaudrey

Sophie Kinsella, best known for her Shopaholic series for adults, takes a stab at teen fiction with Finding Audrey, the story of a 14 year old who suffers from a severe social anxiety disorder.  Throughout the book the reader is aware that Audrey wasn’t always the socially avoidant person she has become, something happened at school the previous year that has made her unable to even look another person in the eyes.  She wears dark glasses, doesn’t leave the house, and the very thought of many social situations leaves her in bed for days.

The reader joins Audrey at an important moment in her life; she is stuck with what is left of her after ‘”an incident” involving several other classmates.  Audrey is slowly progressing towards feeling better with the help of her chaotic and hilarious family and Dr. Sarah.  Then Linus enters Audrey’s life.  A friend of her brother’s, Linus is able to help Audrey talk through her feels and offers support in a way she felt safe and comfortable.  As her personal health improves a sweet romance blooms between Linus and Audrey that makes you feel all warm inside.

This is a great summer read, newly published, and sure to make you feel great.  It’s warm and gooey with hilarious family moments.  Laptops of chucked from windows, video game tournaments are lost, and at the heart of it all a serious message of teenage bullying and learning to overcome fears.  We never learn exactly what happened to Audrey – though we get small glimpses.  I think the not knowing makes the title more accessible to readers who might come to the book with a variety of issues in their own life.

There have been many teen books on the market that specifically detail the type of trauma their character has endured and while I find those helpful I think the flexibility of ambiguity.  It also ensures the book remains overall upbeat and light – we get the PSA without feeling low at the end.  I laughed so many times with this book, I hope you will too.  Enjoy!

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

Reviewed by Lindsay, Southwest Branch

The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke

neptuneprojectGlobal warming has ravaged the planet in this dystopian tale of dwindling land and water needed to grow food and a government with little care for its people.  Nere is a young teen whose world is falling apart around her, even faster.  The supply of a rare medicine needed to help her breathe on land, is running out. Two years ago she lost her father in an accident, or so she thought. Then her beloved brother left after an argument with Gillian, their mother. Cam, her best friend, is involved with smugglers that could cost him his freedom, if not his life.  Her only escape from all the chaos around her is the time she spends in the water training and communicating, telepathically, with a family of dolphins.

Then the day comes, when the Western Alliance, the world’s rulers, have decided to move the people of the village away from sea. For three young teens Nere, Rory, Cam’s little brother, and Lena, an old school friend time has run out. In a final act of desperation, Gillian reveals the secrets she has been keeping. Nere and the others are part of an experiment; their genes had been altered so they could live in the world’s waterways and they must take the final steps that will make living on the land impossible.  James, her brother, had been part of the experiment too, but something had gone terribly wrong. The three teens must now set out on a journey to find the underwater settlement her father has been building for years, thousands of miles away. Gillian, Cam and Lena’s parents gather to say goodbye and give them instructions when soldiers show up to prevent them from leaving. A fight breaks out. Not everyone escapes.

The surface world is dying and humanity’s only chance for survival may be life under the sea. The journey is more than just the miles the teens will have to travel. They must face the reality that they will never be able to live on land again and while life under the sea is beautiful it is also deadly.  While, not all the danger they face comes from the marine life. The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke is the first in a trilogy.

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type)

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

16248196

The University of Southern California recently released some astonishing statistics on the amount of information a person encounters every day.  Whether it comes from advertising, content on social media or bumper stickers seen on the drive home, a good deal of what we consume is riddled with faulty logic! If you’ve ever heard or read an argument that sounded wrong but you weren’t quite sure why, The Art of Thinking Clearly can help.

Dobelli’s book is a catalog of logical fallacies and everyday examples to illustrate them.  “Catalog of Logical Fallacies” is not a sexy title so Dobelli wisely chose something more accessible. A cheerleader for precision in thought and speech, he teaches his readers to identify fallacies so they can spot sloppy thinking and build sound arguments of their own.

While the web provides numerous free sites that explain fallacies, Dobelli adds value to the learning experience. A recurring theme in the book is how to overcome the human weaknesses that lead us to make bad decisions.  We struggle to understand exponential growth, which can affect our financial lives; believe that there is a balancing force in the universe, which can affect our success at the craps table; and over plan, which can lead to unrealistic expectations and a stack of unfulfilled to do lists.  For each fallacy, the author offers a next time component, advising readers how to change their response in order to achieve a better outcome.

Dobelli’s collection includes 99 brief chapters that are perfect to breeze through and contemplate one-by-one.  Even if you only read a dozen, it will change how you respond to information and ultimately make you a better decision maker.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print), eBook

Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

pyongyangCover

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is Canadian animator Guy Delisle‘s cartoon diary of his stay in North Korea while working in an animation studio. While other books focus on North Korea’s history, leadership, or place in international politics, this one examines with dry humor and sharp wit the day to day experience of living as a foreign guest worker in Pyongyang, and the tension between what is there, what visitors are allowed to see, and what everyone is allowed to say. The huge fake smiles plastered on the faces of the accordion girls – the illustration chosen for the cover – mirrors the ongoing theme of this bizarre masquerade.

Delisle’s style is classic cartoon, with clean line art and caricature, and he uses it to best effect, telling his story – presented as a series of vignettes – directly, effectively, and with great clarity and force. While other presentations of the same material could come off as heavy-handed or unrelievedly grim, Delisle manages the mood with a keen eye for the absurd, and pitch-black humor.

This often-surreal travelogue benefits from the distance of the author’s outside perspective, a remove that allows for humor and wit. Despite this, Pyongyang remains good-natured and compassionate, as well as insightful and entertaining. If you’re looking for a short but incisive and genuinely funny perspective on life in North Korea (at least the parts foreigners are allowed to see) this is the book for you.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Redeployment by Phil Klay

redeploymentGerman philosophy Peter Sloterdijk talks about books as “thick letters to friends.”  Phil Klay mentions this in his acceptance speech for winner the recent National Book Award winning title for Redeployment.  Drawing from the front line of serving in the Marines during a 13 month deployment, Klay follows the life of one soldier on the front lines serving with his troop and the daily routine of survival in the Anbar Province where the Islamic State is attempting to takeover currently. Filled with grit, laughter, sadness, and contemplation, this work lured me in to keep on reading in attempting to understand how one individual attempts to resettle after being deployed in to another country.

Readers, who may suspect the story being filled with horrid violent scenes and moments of combat, will be disappointed as the real battle not only exists amongst the time away from the United States but in answering the question of “Who am I as a human being?”  While listening to book in my vehicle and having to keep it for a longer than the average 2-3 weeks, I contemplated on what personal challenges have I dealt with where the soldier survived to tell.

Formats Available:  Large Type, Audiobook, Regular Print, Book Discussion Kit, and Downloadable EBook.

Reviewed by Micah, Shively Branch

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

If this title pleasures your literary mind, here are some titles similar in first person point of view and military orientation that you can check out from the Library.

the things they carriedYellow Birds

 

Facing Adversity: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

 

ajfirky

“Let me embrace thee, sour Adversity
For wise men say it is the wisest course.”
– King Henry, Henry VI, Part Three, Act III, Scene I, William Shakespeare

Have you at any time considered your conduct should the thing you most value be taken from you, a loss that would throw in to doubt both present and future? Whether you have or not, please take a moment to carefully ponder this notion. What is it you imagine, I wonder? Bitterness, hope, resentment, or religiosity? No matter our station in life, one thing is certain: we will at some point encounter adversity, and it is at this moment that our true nature is revealed.

It is just such a scenario faced by the protagonist of Gabrielle Zevin’s latest work of fiction, A.J. Fikry, who is the young proprietor of a small business located in a charming purple Victorian cottage whose front porch sign invites:

ISLAND BOOKS
Alice Island’s Exclusive Provider of Fine Literary Content since 1999
No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World

From the start, it seems clear what A.J.’s choice is. However, fate has a way of thwarting the most carefully laid of plans, and A.J. finds himself with a unique challenge when returning from a run he discovers a baby girl alone among the few children’s picture books he stocks.

As the story progresses, the reader is drawn into the small community on Alice Island, a simple ferry ride from the coast of Massachusetts. Plagued in the past by slow traffic, business begins to increase due to the sudden youthful addition to Island Books, allowing A.J. the opportunity to share his literary expertise and to affect the lives of his fellow islanders through the power of literature.

A.J., a non-native of the island, was once considered an outsider and now finds himself creating connections and finding an acceptance that was previously neither sought nor bestowed. Book discussion groups multiply at the bookshop, with the local police chief’s, named the Chief’s Choice, becoming especially popular. A.J. navigates a variety of sticky situations, from a visit by an drunken author/Santa Claus impersonator to a sister-in-law married to a local celebrity infamous for his philandering, all the while admirably playing the hand that he was dealt.

Ms. Zevin has written an engaging book that presents the reader with an investigation of that very old concept of adversity and the role that fate can play, all through the framework of a very believable character, A.J., a person who, when first encountered, appears an unremarkable curmudgeon, but, in the end, is quite the opposite.

come on, sweetheart
let’s adore one another
before there is no more
of you and me”

– Rumi (Epigraph of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Ghosts By Daylight: Love, War and Redemption

Until I read Janine Di Giovanni’Ghosts By Daylight: Love, War and Redemption, I never considered the emotional toll journalists endure to bring us stories from the world’s conflict zones.  It turns out that giving a voice to the voiceless, as Di Giovanni calls her work, carries a heavy price.

ghostsbydaylight

A veteran journalist who currently serves as Middle East editor at Newsweek, Di Giovanni routinely shares first person accounts of wartime suffering and violence that are often difficult to read. After reading her memoir I believe she would say that if she didn’t include details of the abuse the powerful inflict on the powerless, she wouldn’t be doing her job. If you’re hesitant to read about how humans torment other humans in wartime, be assured that Ghosts by Daylight is less about the atrocities of war than it is about how journalists cope with having witnessed them.

In her memoir, Di Giovanni describes her decision in her early 40s to leave her life in war zones behind, at least for awhile, to start a family in Paris with a French war photographer and love of her life. While one would expect her to experience relief at finally getting out of the insecurity of war and into a comfortable Parisian life, the reality is that human beings, like the conflicts we create with each other, are much more complicated. From her apartment in one of Paris’s quietest districts, she describes hoarding food, water, antibiotics and drafting an evacuation plan in case the city was ever under siege. When recounting her actions, she recalls that she never worried about being able to take care of herself, but the idea of being responsible for her infant son in a situation like the ones she has seen in the field gave her overwhelming anxiety.  Di Giovanni never felt afraid when she was dodging snipers in Sarajevo or negotiating with drugged and armed child soldiers in Cote d’Ivoire. Instead the realities and responsibilities of parenthood triggered the debilitating terror for which she had never gotten treatment.

Di Giovanni cites the disproportionate number of war correspondents who experience depression, substance abuse and suicide, all suggestive of untreated PTSD.  Whether symptoms strike at the work site or after returning home, the consequences can be deadly. She describes PTSD manifesting itself in reckless behavior, like her colleague who had once driven around Sniper Alley in Sarajevo with his car spray painted: Don’t waste your bullets; I am immortal.  Attributing her actions to the overconfidence of the survivor, she once argued with a soldier who had a weapon pointed at her heart to let her companion, a rebel who was surely to be executed, go free. After years of running into dangerous situations and not knowing where she would sleep each night, she came home to find that the danger she had evaded in the field felt as close and menacing as ever.

War correspondents make a career of helping us understand what it’s like to live in the absence of safety. Janine Di Giovanni’s memoir of living with PTSD offers a glimpse of how journalists experience that insecurity long after their assignment is over.

I first encountered Janine Di Giovanni’s work in Best American Travel Writing 2014. Her essay on covering the Bosnian War was so engrossing that I pursued her other works, including a piece about Syria in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014. To find her thought-provoking and candid coverage of conflict zones all over the world, search for her name in the library’s EbscoHost Academic Search Complete  database.

Her new book, Seven Days in Syria, is due out this summer.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee (Builder) Williams

 

 

…I stumbled into a new sort of “happiness,” one that didn’t hinge on always getting what I want, but rather, on wanting what I have. It’s the kind of happiness that isn’t tied so tightly to being comfortable (or having money or property), but instead is linked to a deeper sense of satisfaction—to a sense of humility and gratitude, and a better understanding of who I am in my heart.”  – Dee Williams, The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

We all have those days that are just overwhelming and make us want to escape for a little while. Whenever the struggle of the daily grind starts to stress me out, I begin to fantasize about selling all my worldly possessions and cramming my life into a tiny house by the sea, or in the mountains…or movable between the two. That’s why I was immediately drawn to The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir, by Dee Williams.

When faced with the reality of struggling to exuberantly live while suffering from congestive heart failure, Dee Williams philosophizes on how much lighter our metaphorical loads would be if only we could literally lighten our physical loads. She challenges herself to take control of her life by simplifying her living space through building a tiny house she then transports from her home in Seattle to Olympia, Washington. Williams takes the reader along on her personal journey through an honest portrayal of the challenges and successes she faces as she builds her new home and adjusts to a new life in her friends’ backyard. Through her conversational tone and humorous self reflections she details the realities of her drastic life change, resulting in a really heartfelt memoir. Although this book does not quite prepare the reader to follow her path to pair down your possessions to merely 305 items and commit to living in a structure you’ve created with your own hands, Williams’ story is inspiring and has drastically increased my perusal of tiny house materials available within LFPL.

For further proof that tiny houses can actually be built and inhabited by the average person check out the documentary Tiny: A Story About Living Small. This beautifully rendered independent film is an extremely honest portrayal of the struggles of the physical process of creating a tiny house as well as the interpersonal conflicts of convincing others in your life that this is a worthwhile pursuit.

 

If you’d like to lust after some well-appointed tiny houses in a beautiful, appropriately tiny, coffee table book check out Mimi Zeiger’s Tiny Houses.

 

To see some examples of small houses throughout history, including Henry Thoreau’s cabin, as well as some modern addaptations check out Lester Walker’s Tiny Houses: Designs for 43 Tiny Houses for Getting Away From it All. This book not only includes beautiful photos, but also some historical background and design sketches of each house featured.

If you’d like a bit more exploration of the philosophy behind the “tiny house movement” and logistical considerations for the planning phase of actually building your own tiny house Ryan Mitchell’s Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building & Living Well in Less the 400 Square Feet is a good place to start.

Those brave souls who may actually live the dream and build their own tiny house should consult Jay Schafer’s DIY Book of Backyard Sheds & Tiny Houses: Build Your Own Guest Cottage, Writing Studio, Home Office, Craft Workshop, or Personal Retreat for a glimpse at some practical and executable designs with tons of helpful tips on the actual building process.

 

Format: Book (Regular Type)

Reviewed by Magen, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch 

 

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

earthgirl

It’s the year 2788.  Through space exploration and terraforming, other worlds now have become home for many humans.  Freedom to travel (“portal”) from one world to another within a cluster of settled planets, each with its own culture and distinctive life styles, have caused prejudices that are hard to overcome.  For those living on Earth, it has become a world that exists for only two reasons.  One is to study our past history in search of knowledge lost during wars, the Exodus, and solar storms that wiped out thousands of databases.  The second is as home to those who are handicapped.

Jarra’s eighteenth year is coming up, she has just completed school and is looking forward to entering college to become an archeologist studying pre-history.   Jarra, an Earthling, is one of the handicapped.  She is what off-worlders call an “ape,” a throw-back.  Because of her faulty immune system, leaving Earth would be a death sentence.  Over the years, vids have been a window into other worlds and their inhabitants.  She has learned the hard way that many “exos,” those who exited Earth for other worlds, see the handicapped as lesser beings.  In turn  Jarra has set up defensive walls and has difficulty overcoming her  hard feelings towards the off-worlders when she has to interact with them.

Since she was eleven Jarra has worked on excavation digs, crumbling ruins of cities left behind hundreds of years ago.  She has gained much knowledge and skills needed to excavate artifacts of old Earth, its history, environment , the ruins left behind.  It will be sorely needed in the months to come.  Jarra is tough, smart and wants to prove that she, an “ape”, is just as good as those who can move freely from one planet to another.  Living and working side by side with a group of “exos” shows Jarra that seeing only one side of a person doesn’t tell the whole story.  This dystopian world has friendship, romance, interplanetary exploration, action and adventure all wrapped up in a burlap sack of tolerance towards others.

Earth Girl gives us some background for this dystopian world and a smattering of what it might be like to search out and live on other worlds.  It’s a coming of age sci-fi tale with characters that can get under your skin and make you wonder what you would do in a particular situation.  It is an older teen book with some sexual content, not graphic, and verbal abuse, name calling mostly.  Conflicts don’t just completely go away but you can see how changes might take place. There is some repetitiveness in the story but it captures teen viewpoints well and points out adults can learn, too, if they take time to talk with teens.  All in all a good read for older teens and some adults.

This is the first in a trilogy, followed up by Earth Star and Earth Flight.

The author, Janet Edwards, has written several short stories about the characters in the books that you might also want to read. They are all free at her website.

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch