Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January 2016 Staff Book Recommendations

January 26, 2016 

The Girl on the Train 
By Paula Hawkins 

Since this past summer, when the weather was more hot and humid than bitter and biting, I’ve wanted to read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This domestic noir novel had reached number one on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2015 list and I was intrigued. The novel, as it turns out, was an exciting read which kept me reading past my bedtime trying to figure out whodunit. 

The reader is introduced to Rachel, an alcoholic having trouble pulling her life back together. Her train ride to and from London, Monday through Friday, passes a life lost, an ex-husband, Tom, with a new wife, Anna, and a new baby in the very same house she shared with Tom. The train route is a daily reminder to Rachel of the life she used to have, the life she screwed up, the life she desperately wants back--the life that Anna, the new wife has now. A few doors down from the ex-husband lives a couple, a distraction for Rachel. She often sees the pair outside while passing on the train. She imagines the kind of perfect, loving life they lead and has even gone so far as to name them. Jess—beautiful, petite, and blonde—and Jason—masculine, strong, and protective—are the ideal couple to Rachel. However, her image of the ideal couple is shattered when Rachel, from the train, witnesses Jess kissing another man and subsequently goes missing. 

From here on, Rachel’s life becomes wrapped up in the disappearance of Jess, or rather, Megan Hipwell, as identified in the papers. Rachel believes the kiss is a clue and worries police will go directly for Jason (Scott Hipwell) without pursuing the potential lover. She does not yet have a complete picture, partly because she is an outsider to Megan and Scott’s world, and partly because of her alcohol addiction and tendency to blackout when drinking. 

The larger story is fleshed out through not only Rachel’s perspective, but Megan and Anna’s as well. Rachel’s world is full of gin and tonics, wine, missing memories, drunk dials, trouble with Anna, the police detectives, her roommate/landlord, etc. Megan’s story leads up until her disappearance and reveals her past and somewhat troubled life. Anna’s perspective focuses on the trouble Rachel causes her would-be perfect life with her perfect husband, perfect baby, and perfect happiness. 

Hawkins lays out this exciting novel with accounts of regret, infidelity, addiction, and mistrust which kept me interested and guessing throughout the novel. Domestic noir is a genre I have yet to delve into but based on this novel I would definitely consider adding another one to my reading list. I invite you to do the same (after reading this book first, of course!)

 --Jen

January 19, 2015

The Goblin Emperor
By Katherine Addison 


The Goblin Emperor tells the story of Maia, a young half-Goblin who suddenly becomes Emperor of a major kingdom. Hated by his father the Emperor, exiled from the capitol, and far to the back of the line of succession, Maia never expected to hold any kind of power. However, when his father and half-brothers are murdered by unknown forces, the politically naive Maia must take the throne and learn to rule while overcoming prejudice, plots and a lack of political skill, all while attempting to determine who caused the deaths of his family. 

I greatly enjoyed The Goblin Emperor for its uniqueness. The novel is a bit different from many other fantasy novels in that you won’t find epic battles between giant armies or wizards fighting monsters. Instead, most of the battles play out in the political arena as forces both inside and out of the empire attempt to maneuver against the new leader. The book’s political focus is somewhat similar to the A Song of Ice and Fire series, while being far less dark and ultimately more hopeful. One of the appeals of the book is that Maia genuinely tries to be a good ruler despite the backstabbing nature of the empire, and the characters are well-written and sympathetic. 

One potential drawback, however, is that there are a lot of characters. Plus, the way Addison uses surnames means that it can occasionally get confusing as to who is who. Even as an experienced reader of fantasy, I often had to check the index at the back of the book in order to figure out who had done what. Still, the world building is very well done, and the book definitely didn’t feel derivative as fantasy novels sometimes do. I highly recommend this one. 

--Alex

January 13, 2016 

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future 
By A.S. King 

When Glory O’Brien was four years old, her mother, Darla, committed suicide. Since then her life has been haunted. Darla, unlike many dead parents in young adult (YA) literature, maintains a presence throughout her daughter’s story. The aftershocks of her suicide rumble through every page of the book: “My mother wasn’t conveniently dead, like so many stories about children…She didn’t die to help me overcome some obstacle by myself or to make me a more sympathetic character.” Glory has anxiety and panic attacks; she worries that her mother’s suicide is hereditary and that one day she will follow in her footsteps. 

On the eve of her high school graduation,Glory and her best friend/neighbor/non-friend, Ellie, drink the ashes of a bat that gives them the ability to see into the future. Yeah, you read that right. Glory can see people’s “infinities”: their ancestors and their descendants, events from the future and the past. She begins writing down these visions in a book called The History of the Future. It becomes startlingly clear that the future of the country is bleak. Glory sees a future in which women are subjugated to men, causing society to break down and a new civil war to arise. 

Reading this book felt like reading the psychedelic YA prequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. King writes with a prophetic and spiritual tone. She also captures the reality of living in the wake of your loved one’s suicide really well. Despite the somewhat “out there” plot, this book is about death and life and moving on. These are things that everyone can relate to and are important for young people to investigate. You won’t need to suspend your disbelief to read this novel because from the beginning it’s clear that it’s about more than a prophetic bat. Read if you like Margaret Atwood or anything that bends genres. 

--Chelsea

January 2, 2016
Stand Off
By Andrew Smith

Have you read my review of Winger?  Stand Off is Andrew Smith’s impressive follow up.  

In this new novel, Smith continues the story of Ryan Dean West, rugby player, comic artist and youngest member of the senior class at Pine Mountain boarding school.  At the start of his senior year Ryan Dean is still grieving his best friend, Joey, who died the previous year.  He has developed an anxiety disorder and is terrified that another tragedy will befall him.  This fear is personified in his comics as a creature called NATE (Next Accidental Terrible Experience) who stalks Ryan Dean’s every move.  On top of all this the headmaster-with-the-unpronounceable-name has decided that Ryan Dean would make a great roommate and mentor for the school’s newest genius child: a twelve year old claustrophobic freshman named Sam Abernathy who is intent on destroying the social standing to which Ryan Dean barely clings.  And, finally, Ryan Dean attempts to find private time to finally have sex with his girlfriend, Annie Altman.

So… a lot going on here.  The novel perfectly captures the hectic drama of teenage life.  
Ryan Dean is a believable teenage boy: he can be immature, he can overreact and he is almost always thinking about sex.  But the character is more complex than that.  He’s deeply affected by his friend’s death and tries to deal with it in his own ways.  He breaks into their old dorm building and visits Joey’s former room.  He (somewhat awkwardly) tries to befriend Joey’s younger brother.  He pushes away new attachments because of his fear and anxiety.  

Despite some of the serious subject matter, Stand Off continues the tone of absurd humor introduced in Winger.  This series is a great choice for reluctant readers.  The humor and illustrations make it a quick read and help to break up the heavier emotional bits.
--Chelsea

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