This is for an in-depth review of a book, this is not to be confused with the staff recommendations page.

Henry IV, Part 1 (William Shakespeare)

Henry IV, Part 1 (Modern Library Classics) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812969245
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Modern Library - August 25th, 2009

If you only read one Shakespeare play in your life, read HENRY IV, PART 1. Don’t be put off by the title--it's really more about the future Henry V, and despite the “Part One,” this gem of a play stands alone. It’s the story of three Henrys: King Henry IV faces a rebellion led by heroic Henry “Hotspur” Percy, while his oldest son Prince Henry, called Hal, spends his days in taverns avoiding his responsibilities and committing various (hilarious) petty crimes with his best friend, the roguish old mischief-maker Sir John Falstaff. Hal purposefully cultivates his terrible reputation, to make his eventual "reform" that much more meaningful, but Hotspur’s rebellion forces Hal into growing up sooner than he’d anticipated.

HENRY IV, PART 1 has every genre you can ask for. You want tragedy? Hotspur's pride and devotion to his cause back him into a corner there's no escape from. Here for the broad comedy? Those famous “Shakespearean Insults” all come from Act II, Scene IV, as Hal and Falstaff one-up each other with over-the-top banter and practical jokes. It's laugh-out-loud funny, but more than that, Hal and Falstaff’s relationship forms the emotional heart of the play. Hal and Falstaff tug at your heartstrings almost as much as Hal’s emotional scenes with his father, or Hotspur’s painfully difficult scenes with his semi-estranged wife, Lady Percy.

The histories are full of wonderful, flawed people who all just did what they thought was best. HENRY IV, PART 1 is something for everyone: young adults trying to figure out what they want from life, heroes trying to stay true to their ideals, and the older crowd who've watched the world change and aren't sure if they've changed with it. It's also a pure example of dramatic pacing at its finest: this play flows from the austerity of court to the rollicking taverns of Cheapside and the wilds of Wales, to the inevitable conclusion where two armies clash on the plains of Shrewsbury. Inevitability is the heart of this play--war are death are inevitable, and as Hal's royal duties clash with his tavern games, maybe the breakup of Hal and Falstaff’s friendship is inevitable, too. Nothing in this play will last, so everyone fights, laughs, and lives fully while it does.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (Genevieve Valentine)

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781476739090
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Washington Square Press - June 30th, 2015

Jo, known as “The General” to her younger sisters, is the unwilling intermediary between her eleven sisters and their authoritarian father. Restricted to the upper floors of their Fifth Avenue mansion their whole lives, the twelve sisters have absolutely no interaction with the outside world--except at night, when they slip from the house and flock to their true home: Manhattan’s whirling underground of speakeasies and jazz clubs. Genevieve Valentine’s THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB re-imagines the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in Prohibition-era New York, exploding the original story into a full-color fable of family, independence, and gut-wrenching sacrifice. The true drama of THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB lives in the bonds and conflicts between the sisters, and most especially in Jo, torn between keeping her sisters safe and close (and worrying if she’s becoming just an appendage of their father) and letting them lead their own lives. When their father decides to marry them off, Jo has to decide, too: to keep her sisters together, or keep them safe. From the first page to the last, THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB is as intoxicating and fast-paced as the girls’ favorite champagne and Charlestons--you won’t want to sit this dance out.

Dark Aemilia (Sally O'Reilly)

Dark Aemilia: A Novel Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781250070982
Availability: Out of Print - Not Available for Order
Published: Picador - June 2nd, 2015

This (literally!) spellbinding tale of passion, poetry, and a mother’s love will entrap you from the start. Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, a historical contender for the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s later sonnets, comes vividly to life in this bewitching novel. Her powerful voice refuses to be silenced through the betrayal of lovers, the despair of plague, and more. Famed for her intelligence and “dark” looks, Aemilia lives comfortably at court as the mistress of Lord Henry Hunsdon--until a young William Shakespeare ensnares her, heart and soul. Their passionate, violent affair, short-lived though it may seem at first, binds them together for the rest of their lives, as Aemilia strives for recognition as a poet and playwright in a world where women can be no such things. Sally O’Reilly beautifully paints Aemilia in enchanting, lyrical prose: a Lady Macbeth swinging between lucid, sharp fury and a dreamlike daze of pain. There’s plenty here for Shakespeare fans to love: though the man himself (probably rightfully) doesn’t come off as a prince, exactly, a reverence for the work above all else shines through in dozens of tidbits and treasures--including a brilliant origin story for The Scottish Play (and its curse). With wonderful detail and agonizing sensuality, DARK AEMILIA spins a compelling tale of a secret, forgotten literary affair that might have been.

Lucky Us (Amy Bloom)

Lucky Us: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812978940
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - July 7th, 2015

I dove into LUCKY US expecting a straightforward coming-of-age story and surfaced in a complex, complicated family tale--which I found infinitely better! This story of two sisters, smart, sharp-eyed Eva and poised diva-to-be Iris, weaves in and out of the oft-overlooked stories of the displaced and marginalized of America’s war years. The sisters’ relationship forms the heart of the novel, in the very real way anyone with a sibling can understand: affection and resentment pulse under the surface of their interactions in equal measure, as Eva and Iris circle each other like magnets, drifting apart or rushing together, depending on the moment. Iris relentlessly pursues her dream of acting, leaving Eva to sew the sequins on her dresses and care for the family they collect along the way, while searching for a calling of her own. 

I discovered this book at one in the afternoon, devoured the first part on my lunch break, and finished it that night. It’s hard to review this novel without summarizing Eva and Iris’ lives, or the various impulses and tragedies that drive them across countries, cities, and oceans; it all unfolds with a sense of inevitability, though the specifics of their dire or pleasant circumstances surprise when they hit. Whether it’s in Eva’s dry voice, or in the deeply revealing letters of her family and friends, Bloom’s clear, gorgeous prose will make you catch your breath--I dog-eared pages in my copy just to go back and read certain sentences over. LUCKY US is a beautiful story of selfishness, forgiveness, and the complexity of love, when the people you care for aren’t the people you thought they were--or wanted them to be.

The Girl From the Well (Rin Chupeco)

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The Girl from the Well Cover Image
ISBN: 9781492608684
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Sourcebooks Fire - May 1st, 2015

This chilling, beautiful ghost story, told by the ghost herself, will keep you up late racing to the finish--but don’t worry, you’ll be able to sleep when you’re done! Okiku is the worst nightmare of the guilty: she’s an onryuu, a ghost, who frees the spirits of murdered children by extracting horrible vengeance on their killers. But for the first time in three hundred years, she finds herself breaking from her habits when a tattooed boy with evil trapped in his skin and his kind, brave cousin draw her attention. 

Okiku’s story is definitely not for the faint of heart (be careful if you find gruesome imagery squicky), but if you can stand the shivers, this book’s phenomenal writing will give you chills of a totally different kind. This gorgeously written story reads like poetry--despite the demons and the violent deaths, Okiku finds beauty in spirits at peace and ordinary human bravery. Okiku sees everything, and her voice is as wise as her years would make her and as passionate as the teen she once was. Whether alive or dead, these characters are more real than some people I’ve met, and I’ve never heard a voice like Okiku’s before in all my years of reading fiction. A must-read for horror fans!

Lock In (John Scalzi)

Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future Cover Image
ISBN: 9780765381323
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Tor Science Fiction - August 4th, 2015

LOCK IN takes place a few decades into the future, after a meningitis-like pandemic has swept the globe, killing millions and drastically altering the brain shapes of a small percentage of survivors. Most of these survivors become “locked in”—unable to control their voluntary nervous systems, unable to communicate, but completely conscious and aware. After the United States government funds an enormous public health initiative to find a cure for Haden’s syndrome (so named for the most famous sufferer of lock in: Margie Haden, the First Lady) a whole host of treatments are developed: neural networks which allow the locked in to communicate, personal body-shaped transports, and the use of Integrators—people who aren’t locked in, but whose brains were changed by the virus enough that a Haden’s patient can piggyback onto their brainwaves and control their body. Of course, this practice is highly regulated and licensed, and impossible to take advantage of—right?

Here begins LOCK IN. Chris Shane is one of the highest-profile Haden’s patients, having been locked in as a toddler and growing up in the public eye—Chris's first steps were taken in a child-robot-esque personal transport, on national television. The book opens on Chris’ first day as an FBI agent, and first case: a case involving an Integrator, a murder, and corporate espionage of the highest order—just a few days before an enormous protest in favor of Haden’s rights is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC. Chris’ personal insight on Haden’s cases gives an insider perspective for the reader, but carries an outsider perspective on the world in LOCK IN; Chris inhabits the “marked” category, being the one who’s different from everyone else. Chris' empathy for other outsiders, and the marginalized communities being taken advantage of in LOCK IN, keeps a very human angle on this very technical future.

Most interesting, though, is the way the world of LOCK IN is still recognizably ours, being set so near in the future. It has the same topography, the same groups of people with their same ideas and biases. The people being taken advantage of today—minorities, the disabled, the marginalized—are still being taken advantage of, and one thing LOCK IN does, with Scalzi’s signature humor and tact, is give these groups of people a voice and agency. This similarity to our world is what makes near-future stories so interesting and so powerful: they’re still uncannily close to real life. Near-future stories give us a chance to see where we’re going and maybe, if we don’t like what we see, a chance to avoid it. Scalzi avoids handing down an easy answer to any of the uneasy questions posed by a post-Haden’s world—you’ll have to decide on your own how LOCK IN will shape your ideas of personhood and “real life.” It’s not a clear-cut answer, but that’s okay. LOCK IN makes sure you’ll have fun getting there.

Horrorstor (Grady Hendrix)

Horrorstor: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594745263
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Quirk Books - September 23rd, 2014

This story of a haunted Ikea knockoff is designed like a catalog--which makes its initial too-normal horror even creepier. Because we all agree, enormous soulless home stores are creepy, right? Naturally, when things get supernatural, its bland and generic setting ups the horror ante, making everything seem twice as terrifyingly twisted when set against the sterile backdrop of a massive home goods showroom. The design of this book adds a wonderful visual touch to Hendrix' incredibly graphic writing style: chapters are prefaced with the catalog pages of the home goods items described (and also destroyed) in the chapter--items that grow steadily more unsettling as the book progresses. HORRORSTOR has all the horror fixtures you could want: a resilient heroine, a terrifying villain, and amazing set design and atmosphere. A perfect Halloween read!

Not My Father's Son (Alan Cumming)

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Not My Father's Son: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062225078
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Dey Street Books - May 5th, 2015

I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too--oh, great, another celebrity memoir, I remember thinking; I love the guy, I hope this isn’t another rambling, self-indulgent actor book. Alan Cumming has never yet disappointed me with his work, and I’m happy to say that his streak continues unbroken: this memoir is not only a suspenseful and deeply emotional unraveling of a family mystery, but a beautiful, gripping tale of survival in the face of shattering abuse. Cumming uses his appearance on British genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? to frame his story, as he signs on to explore the mystery of his maternal grandfather Tommy Darling, a WWII courier whose disappearance and subsequent death (in a “gun accident” in Malaysia) left his family with scores of unanswered questions. His probe into the past, however, prompts a call from his estranged father Alex Cumming--a tyrannical abuser who held Alan’s family hostage to his shifting moods, and whose psychological terrorism and explosive violence made Alan’s childhood a nightmare. Alex drops an emotional bombshell of nuclear equivalent into Alan’s world, and it’s Alan’s search for the truth of his father’s words that drives this unflinchingly honest memoir.

These twin mysteries give the story a shape, keeping it from veering off-course into disconnected reminiscing, while giving Cumming plenty of opportunities for illustrative scenes of his childhood or early career, when his father’s abuse was at its worst (or when his repressed memories of the worst were wreaking their subtle, awful effect on him). Every flashback or family story serves a purpose, and all of them take a brave and clear-eyed look at the elder Cumming’s abuse and Alan’s recovery from it. Cumming’s voice is just as you’d expect: funny, straightforward, and delightfully off-color at times, and it’s that sense of humor that keeps a sense of hope and lightness, even when he’s telling you about his very worst memories. Joy abounds in Cumming’s escape from his father’s reign of terror and his finding a way forward from his past. As he untangles the threads of his family mysteries, you’ll feel the same powerful catharsis Cumming does, and like the man himself, you’ll emerge lighter and freer at the end.

The Just City (Jo Walton)

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The Just City (Thessaly #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780765332660
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Tor Books - January 13th, 2015

I've never read Plato's Republic, but I certainly did send up  invocations to Pallas Athene as a child, studying Greek mythology and wanting to be like all the heroines I read about. I wonder if that would have qualified me for entrance into THE JUST CITY--an experiment, by Pallas Athene, to create the Republic. The city in these pages is populated by scholars taken from all eras of time, robot workers from the future to do the heavy lifting, and ten year-old children from Greek city-states to learn, grow, and become philosopher kings. Oh, and it's on Atlantis. This captivating novel trades viewpoints between students of the city, masters taken out of their own times, and Apollo, who's decided to be born as a mortal to see what all the fuss is about. It all runs smoothly until Sokrates turns up, and--well, I won't spoil it for you. Enjoy it.

Out of Darkness (Ashley Perez)

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Out of Darkness Cover Image
ISBN: 9781467742023
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Carolrhoda Lab (R) - September 1st, 2015

Ashley Hope Perez is a wizard. OUT OF DARKNESS is one of the most sophisticated uses of multiple narrators I’ve ever seen. This immensely skilled novel is a love story set against the backdrop of the New London school explosion—a 1937 gas explosion that killed nearly 300 students and teachers, and the worst school disaster in American history. It’s a lot of darkness to claw its way out of, and nearly every single page of this book gave me chills—but its bright points are so incredibly bright. A love affair across racial lines in 1930s East Texas seems doomed from the start, but Naomi and Wash’s love and hope makes you want to believe everything will be okay. This book is set less than a generation ago, and Perez’s writing makes you feel how immediate and real the racism, abuse, and pain its characters experience still is. It’s an incredibly important—and timely—book.

Great for: Eager weepers who re-read THE BOOK THIEF and Romeo & Juliet for fun
The moral of the story: Love may not always be enough, but hope matters more.