Year in review

December is a slow month for new releases, so our usual Tuesday post wasn’t published. As a special bonus, however, a few staff members and I are sharing our reviews of some of the books we have read over the past year. All of them are available at HPL, so check them out!


Adult Fiction

Available Downtown and as an e-book.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton
Review by Bridget

Be prepared for mild, but not unpleasant confusion when you read The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton.  This creative novel will pull you in as you literally travel within eight different characters – each of whom has some connection to the death of Ms. Hardcastle. The plot and timelines can be a challenge to follow, but readers who enjoy a good mystery will find it worth the effort as the author slowly reveals the entire narrative through the eyes and experiences of different characters and points of view.  The timeline is both linear and circular – lots of jumps between recent past and present.  This is a period piece, set in what seems to be the early 20th Century on an aging English manor estate; it’s a murder mystery, but with a good dose of mystical fantasy. This is Turton’s first novel, an impressive debut!  I’ll certainly keep an eye out for future books by this author.


Available Downtown, at Park, and as an e-book.

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Review by Johana

Station Eleven is the kind of book that once you finish you need to give yourself a minute to pause for everything to sink in…..and then once that moment‘s over you want to push it into everyone’s hands to read so you can discuss the overwhelming magnificence of it.  Right from the beginning this book grips you with intrigue when a famous actor playing King Lear suffers from a heart attack on stage and dies.  We then learn that there has been an outbreak of some kind and that it’s not only fast acting but also  spreads quickly, resulting in the death of 99% of the world’s population.   The main parts of the story are told 20 years into the future and told through the perspectives of multiple characters, including a group of musicians and actors striving to keep art and Shakespeare alive in this new electricity-less world.  We meet a paparazzo turned doctor, religious cults, a comic book writer, a woman that had been 8 years old when she played an extra during the King Lear performance, an archivist, and other fascinating characters.  “Survival is Insufficient,” is the main theme that resonates in this novel.  Mandel does an impressive job weaving everyone’s story, jumping back and forth through timelines, while still maintaining the reader thoroughly invested.  This book might be written off as another apocalyptic story but the care and attention to plot, philosophical queries, well-developed characters, and the feeling you get that this future seems completely plausible makes this a truly exquisite, enjoyable, and unforgettable book.


Available at Camp Field, Downtown, and as an e-book.

Time’s Convert
by Deborah Harkness
Review by Jennifer

It is hard to beat historical fiction written by a history professor. Every aspect of Time’s Convert is well researched, and gives an enjoyable twist on the early US history lessons with which we are familiar. Fans of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy will enjoy this addition to the stories of the extended Bishop-Clairmont family. The chapters alternate between Phoebe Taylor’s conversion into a vampire, and the story of her fiancé, Marcus Whitmore, when he transformed in the 18th century. Added in is time with the characters who were introduced in the trilogy. Diana and Matthew’s twins are growing up, and their respective witch and vampire tendencies are beginning to take hold. Those not familiar with the first books will be able to enjoy Marcus and Phoebe’s story with only a few questions as to who a character may be (I had read the trilogy, but didn’t remember all of the characters). Even if witches, vampires, and daemons are not generally your go-to choice in literature, this is a very well written book, with characters you will wish you could meet in real life.

The original trilogy comprises A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. I chose to read A Discovery of Witches because the author’s name sounded familiar. It turns out she was a professor at my university while I was there, and the university is mentioned in The Book of Life.


Adult Non-Fiction

Available at Camp Field, Downtown, Dwight (Large Type), the Library on Wheels, as an e-audio book, and as an e-book.

Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover
Review by Kaitlin

Growing up in rural Idaho in a strict Mormon family, Tara’s father thinks the end of the world is coming. Her father views the government as dangerous and forbids his children from public places including schools, hospitals and the majority of the town.  As Tara ages, she finds the drive to pursue her calling: she wants to go to college.  She teaches herself enough grammar and algebra to pass the ACT and applies to Brigham Young University, where she is accepted. From then on, her perspective on the world changes and she starts to create her own ideas and options instead of mirroring those of her family.

When I first started seeing how often this book was being checked out and placed on hold here at HPL, I knew that there had to be something special happening in those pages.  I heard a few people mention what an amazing story she told about going to college after never going to grade school and my interest was piqued, as personally, I could not even imagine facing that kind of challenge.  I placed the book on hold and waited patiently for my change to read it.  A few days later, it came in.  I rushed home, made some tea, sat on my couch and began to read.  Immediately, I was hooked and didn’t put it down for two days.  Not only is the story so incredible, Tara’s perspective on education and personal growth is refreshing.  In an interview with Bill Gates afterwards, she states, “I think education is really just a process of self-discovery—of developing a sense of self and what you think. I think of [it] as this great mechanism of connecting and equalizing.”  She points out that through her own genuine curiosity she was able to learn about the world and more importantly, about herself.  Having an open mind, continuing to better ourselves and do things that scare us are important lessons I’ve taken from Tara.


Young Adult Fiction

Available at all branches, and as an e-book.

All-American Boys
by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Review by Johana


On the cover of this book is an image of a teenager with his arms raised in the air with police lights shining in front of him.  This cover is so relevant to some major issues in this country right now and it didn’t disappoint.  The book is told through two different perspectives, Rashad a black teenager and Quinn a white teenager, and what transpires when Rashad is mistaken for stealing from a convenience store.  Quinn witnesses the violent arrest that night but struggles with what he saw because the officer involved is someone who he’s looked up to as a brother ever since his own father died.    The authors each focused on a different character to tell the story from, Reynolds told it through Rashad’s and Kiely told it through Quinn’s perspective which enhanced the confusion and frustration with both character’s stories.  This book did an amazing job of helping you understand where each side comes from and makes you think and talk about what’s occurring right now.  This book doesn’t have the answers to the problems but it does bring the topic up for discussion in a profound yet approachable manner.  I listened to this book in the audiobook format and it was worth it to actually hear the hopes and struggles of the young men in their own voices.


Children’s Graphic Novel

Available at Albany, Barbour, Camp Field, Downtown, Dwight, and Park.

The Cardboard Kingdom
by Chad Sell
Review by Johana

This book focuses on the summer spent in a neighborhood full of imaginative kids  At first glance this book comes off as simple fun read but the multiple themes each child deals with – bullying, divorce, identity, confidence – are handled realistically in a heartfelt manner.  Each child uses cardboard to construct what they want their reality to be and through that they’re able to shine.  Each chapter is told through the perspective of different child with some chapters being solely dependent on the whimsical art rather than text.  Some characters make appearances in other character stories and the results are superb.  This was a surprisingly emotional yet funny read that transports you back to a time before video games.   When afternoons were filled with nothing but long imaginative play with the kids in the neighborhood and is an amazing read which should be enjoyed by all.



Children’s Non-Fiction

Available at Albany, Camp Field, Downtown, Dwight, Park, and Ropkins.

Turning Pages: My Life Story
Written by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Review by Johana

Sonia Sotomayor provides us with an amazing insight into the power and the influence books have had in shaping her life.  Sotomayor’s love for books and libraries shines through, “The library was my harbor, and books were little boats that helped me escape sadness at home,” all the way to the end of the book.  She tells us how books gave her the strength to deal with her diagnoses as a diabetic, comforted her when she lost her father at a young age, and also gave her the launchpad to dream.  I loved seeing how the illustrator portrays the pages of books as steps to the Supreme Court, paper boats, and the reflection of Puerto Rico.  This book was an informative, enjoyable, and inspiring read for anyone who would like a glimpse into Sotomayor’s life.  The power of books, the importance of following your passion, and believing in yourself are messages that shine through strongly.



Children’s Chapter Book

Available Downtown, at Dwight, Park, and Ropkins.

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome
by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown
Review by Johana

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is the first book in a new chapter book series inspired by Sarai Gonzalez, the breakout star of Bomba Estéreo’s “Soy Yo” music video.  Sarai is a fourth grader full of dreams, ambition, love, and devotion to her family.  When her grandparents are forced to move Sarai decides to team up with her sisters and cousins to earn money to help them buy their house.

I’m a huge fan of the “Soy Yo” video which depicts a little girl full of confidence and unabashedly proud of her uniqueness.  This character resonates well in the book as well as her drive to persevere and stay optimistic even when things don’t seem that way.  Throughout the book we get a strong sense of how supportive and important Sarai’s family is to her as well as learn about some delicious Peruvian food.   The illustrations are lively and lighthearted showing Sarai dancing with her grandfather, scheming with her cousin and sisters, and waking up to a message hanging above her saying “You are Awesome.”  Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is a fun, short, yet meaningful book that gets kids thinking about what they can do to make things better which is an important lesson for all.


Children’s Picture Book


Available at Albany, Camp Field, Downtown, Park, and Ropkins.

Drawn Together
Written by Minh Lê, Illustrated by Dan Santat
Review by Johana

Building a bond proves challenging between a grandfather and grandson with their difference in age, culture, and language until they discover their love for art connects them.  There are few words in this book, but the award winning illustrator does a masterful job telling the author’s story through his art.  Starting the characters in separate panels and then having them come together while still depicting the grandson’s whimsical modern style and the grandfather’s traditional Asian style.  Before you even open the book the illustrator’s attention to detail is see with the title cover font blending the Thai and Western alphabet as one.  This book perfectly illustrates how words aren’t needed to build an emotional and loving link between people.


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