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Book Reviews

My Father the Pornographer: A Memoir
Chris Offut
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4 Stars

In this compelling memoir, screenwriter and novelist Offut, tries to make sense of his relationship with his deceased father. Set in Eastern Kentucky, this is a coming of age story of a son grappling with the complex relationship with his father who was the author of more than 400 pornographic novels. A remarkable,  moving autobiography recommended if you enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy or the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

-Sean

Posted 11/26/21

 

Guantanamo Voices 
Sarah Mirk
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5 Stars
If you’ve ever felt like you’ve wanted to know more about the seemingly far away Guantanamo Bay, look no further than this exceptionally informative, uniquely imaginative, and stunningly cohesive non-fiction graphic novel. This anthology has a different artist assigned to each chapter and everything from their picturesque landscape depictions, to stylistic speech bubbles will absolutely wow you. The cohesive miss-mash of interview transcriptions, retold stories, and the prison’s horrifying statistics composed by Sarah Mirk will doubtlessly shock you. It’s the truest scary story we never wanted, but never needed more.
-Josie
Posted 11/23/21
The Enchanted
Rene Denfeld
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4 Stars

Narrated by an unnamed death row inmate, The Enchanted explores the inner workings of prison culture and the ugliest parts of humanity with haunting, lyrical prose. This atmospheric novel looks with unflinching honesty at the evil – and good – that everyone is capable of. Coupled with aspects of magical realism that serve to emphasize this contrast further, it is an unforgettable look at the world we live in that pairs well with Stephen King’s The Green Mile.

-Amity

Posted 11/22/21

Love Your Life
Sophie Kinsella
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4 Stars

Ava wants nothing more in life than to commit to the perfect partner and career path. And yet, she can’t seem to translate her enthusiasm for her hobbies and matters of the heart into success. Determined to change this, Ava decides to attend a whirlwind writers’ retreat in Italy where everyone must drop the excuses and adopt a new persona. Ava becomes “Aria”, a better version of herself which attracts “Dutch.” With gelato-melting passion and perhaps little-to-no forethought, the pair decides to give life together a try for real. What ensues is an engaging and witty romantic comedy about the quirky couple’s attempt to reconcile differences and remain in love with their lives and the introduction of each other in it. 

-Hannah

Posted 11/10/21

 

The Reality Dysfunction 
Peter F. Hamilton
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4 Stars

Looking for more sprawling space sci-fi like Dune—but with a strong dose of dark, mature Dean Koontz-like horror? In The Reality Dysfunction, book 1 of the Night’s Dawn trilogy, humans have colonized much of the galaxy and are largely at peace with their alien neighbors—but humanity itself is far from unified. Monotheistic nation-states, imperial star kingdoms, cybernetic utopian republics, and even independent rogue factions all struggle for power, wealth, and resources. But on the distant, backwater colony of Lalonde, a terrifying enemy too monstrous to conceive is about to be unleashed on the galaxy. Author Peter F. Hamilton’s slow-burn narrative masterfully and patiently unfolds by diving deep into the various factions at play before revealing the explosive heart of this epic trilogy.

The Reality Dysfunction is available on paperback, as well as eAudiobook.

-James

Posted 11/1/21

Get a Life, Chloe Brown
Talia Hibbert
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5 stars

Plucky protagonist Chloe Brown exists in three ways: chronic pain, behind a computer screen and solidly in her comfort zone. But Chloe no longer wants her existence to be mundane, which prompts her to concoct a checklist of items to live her life to the fullest. Enter Redman “Red” Morgan: Chloe’s hot and fiery-haired next-door-neighbor who agrees reluctantly to help Chloe reach her goals. The two embark on exhilarating and steamy endeavors strictly as friends. If Chloe can overcome her physical pains, can she also open herself up to the emotional highs and lows of falling in love? This book is a mix of witty banter and candid discussions of struggles.

Chloe is the oldest of three sisters, who are also given their own main character moment by author Talia Hibbert with ability-diverse, quirky and complex characters running throughout the series. Book 2 is Take a Hint, Dani Brown followed by Act Your Age, Eve Brown.

-Hannah

Posted 10/28/21

 

The Echo Wife
Sarah Gailey
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4 Stars

Evelyn Caldwell is great at creating human clones but bad at maintaining relationships with non-programmable people. In her quest to find scientific success, her marriage with fellow scientist, Nathan, falls into disrepair. Nathan takes advantage of Evelyn’s findings to create Martine: a perfect wife who wants to solely be a homemaker and bear his children. When Martine finds herself embroiled in a murder cover-up and asks for help, Evelyn is forced to confront her own insecurities. This intensifying and creepy novel answers the question if humans can be created. But when incubated individuals like Martine start to search for autonomy, author Sarah Gailey explores how truly humanistic a human clone should be. 

-Hannah

Posted 10/27/21

Heir to the Empire
Timothy Zahn
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5 Stars

Looking for more classic adventures in a galaxy far, far away? A long time ago, before Star Wars was revitalized by Disney and even before The Phantom Menace, fans were starved for more adventures from the Skywalkers, Solos, and the Rebel Alliance until Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. Fast-paced and full of spacefaring swashbuckling, Heir takes readers back to the sweeping magic and high drama of the original trilogy. Five years have passed since Return of the Jedi and the defeat of the Emperor, but new challenges plague Luke, Leia, Han, and the others as the remaining soldiers of the Empire and powerful servants of the dark side of the Force scheme to bring down the New Republic. Zahn successfully captures the voices of Star Wars’ most beloved characters and introduces several new compelling ones for new generations of readers, both young and old.

Heir to the Empire is available in hardcover.

James Albright

Posted on 10/22/2021

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
John Carreyrou
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4 Stars

How did this happen? This is the question I kept asking myself over and over as I read this nonfiction book about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. I remember when this was going on and even at the time that basic question did not change. Comprehensive but easy to understand, it’s still incomprehensible this went on as long as it did. Fascinating and shocking I could not put this book down.

-Michelle Hoffmann

Posted on 9/13/2021

 

The Black Count
Tom Reiss
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4 Stars
In this compelling and richly detailed biography, Reiss traces the rise of the mixed-race swordsman and father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas.  The Black Count is also a fascinating history of the sugar trade and slavery in France and “America” (Saint-Domingue), the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon.  The Black Count is recommended for fans of popular narrative nonfiction as well as for both casual and serious students of French history.
-Sean Birmingham
Posted on 8/10/2021
Malibu Rising
Taylor Jenkins Reid
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4 Stars
Looking for a novel that is character driven, atmospheric with a range of emotions? Malibu Rising is for you. A coming of age story for the four Riva children and their rock star father Mick Riva. Filled with likeable and spirited characters, it’s heartbreaking, funny, sad and haunting all wrapped up into an engaging story.
-Michelle Hoffmann
Posted on 8/10/2021
Mexican Gothic
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
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5 Stars

Gruesome and creepy, Mexican Gothic was everything it was promised to be. Lush descriptions pull the reader into the story creating a high drama story that had my heart pounding, and kept me up at night. Creating a strong sense of place, the family house High Place, a seemingly living entity, carves out it’s own place among the list of characters. Suspenseful and just plain scary, it’s a story of loss, strength, well guarded secrets and finding a way out against all odds. A great summer read.

-Michelle Hoffmann

Posted on 7/27/2021

The Push
Ashley Audrain
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4 Stars

Determined to be a better mother than her own and give her husband the picture-perfect life he longs for, Blythe tries to dote upon her daughter Violet. Violet doesn’t make it easy, though: she is a difficult baby and a mystifying toddler with a mean streak, who seems set on making Blythe miserable. Motherhood finally clicks for Blythe with the arrival of their second child, a son named Sam, with whom Blythe bonds and feels the unwavering love she never felt for Violet. After a shocking tragedy changes their family forever, Blythe wonders: is she overreacting, or is there something genuinely wrong with her daughter?

Short, hard-hitting chapters make this compelling exploration of motherhood hard to put down. Reminiscent of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin while being its own unique story, this disturbing family drama will stay with you long after you read the last page.

-Amity Davis
Posted on 7/8/2021

 

Amid the Crowd of Stars
Stephen Leigh
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5 Stars
A disaster on Earth cut off the colonists on Canis Lupus for generations. Left to their own devices, many died. Those that didn’t perish adapted to the new diseases, discovered what could be eaten and how to live a low-tech life, came to a symbiosis with the planet. But in so doing, did they stop being entirely human?
When an Earth ship finally arrives, the Lupusians hope they can return to Earth, if only for a visit – but the diseases to which they have adapted pose a threat to the home planet. As the doctors work on that problem, Saoirse, a woman from one of the island clans meets Ichiko, the ship’s anthropologist. As the two women become friends, Saoirse and Ichiko together discover the danger posed by the planet’s native intelligences.

This look at how an alien world and disease can rework what it means to be human reminds me of Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite. Readers would also enjoy Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population for its thoughtful feminist look at aliens and an alien world.

-John Bradford

Posted 6/29/2021

The Overstory
Richard Powers
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5 Stars
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and recently recommended by both Barack Obama and Bill Gates, The Overstory is worthy of the hype. Richard Powers’ monumental novel has the rare power to change how one sees the world. Through lyrical writing, Powers tells the interlocking stories of nine human characters. The true protagonists of the book, though, are the trees that bring these people together. Structured like a tree itself (with sections titled Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds), the allegorical narrative spans generations of transformation. Readers are sure to become more attuned to the natural world and gain an appreciation for trees in particular. In a profound way, The Overstory can also alter one’s sense of time, providing a perspective that reaches beyond the span of a human life.
-Brian VandenBos
Posted on 6/29/2021
Homegoing
Yaa Gyasi
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4 Stars

With a large cast of characters spanning over 300 years of history, Homegoing is well-researched and richly detailed novel of two family lines that begin in Ghana. Effia and Esi are half-sisters born into different villages; one is sold into slavery and taken to America, the other is married off to an Englishman. This is the story of their descendants, told through the eyes of each family member: one line in America faces slavery, civil war, migration and the dope houses of Harlem. The other line remains in Ghana to face centuries of war and British colonization. Filled with strong female characters, it’s a bittersweet story of survival and family.

-Michelle
Posted 6/15/2021

The Order of Time
Carlo Rovelli
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5 Stars

The common understanding of time is an illusion. In the mind-blowing book The Order of Time, Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli explains why this is and how current science looks at time. Rovelli has written a popular science book that is an accessible synthesis of physics and philosophy. His writing is often poetic and, for the most part, free of scientific jargon. English actor Benedict Cumberbatch narrates the audiobook. His appealing voice and unhurried delivery make the complex concepts easy to understand. The Order of Time is an astonishing and concise look at perhaps life’s greatest mystery: time. 

-Brian
Posted 5/29/2021

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie: A Novel
Marie Benedict
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4 Stars

Prior to reading this historical novel, I did not know about much about the life of Agatha Christie, and this twist on her life was enlightening read.  While this was a leisurely paced novel, it did build in the end to a satisfying ending.  Melancholy and moody, the story has characters that are unlikeable and flawed, along with sympathetic characters that bring the reader to an unconventional ending.

-Michelle
Posted 5/10/2021

There There: A Novel
Tommy Orange
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4 Stars

Intensifying and character driven, There There is an important and encompassing novel.  A sweeping generational story that follows twelve characters’ lives as they navigate what it is to be an urban Native American.  Filled with authentic and complex characters, this intricately plotted story is real, moving and emotionally intense.

-Michelle
Posted 4/22/2021

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life
George Saunders
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5 Stars

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to attend a creative writing seminar led by a New York Times best-selling author? If so, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is the book for you. For twenty years, writer George Saunders has taught a class on the Russian short story at Syracuse University. This insightful book is a version of that class. It includes seven stories (in full): three by Chekhov, two by Tolstoy, and one each by Turgenev and Gogol. Saunders provides witty and personal instruction on each story in the form of essays. Although he uses the stories to illustrate useful writing advice, I disagreed with some of his story interpretations. Nonetheless, Saunders shows the value of close reading and proves that literature has the power to transform the reader.

-Brian
Posted 4/13/2021

The Mountains Sing: A Novel
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
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4 Stars

Character driven, medium paced and set in Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing was a beautifully written, sweeping, multi-generational story. Atmospheric, bittersweet, and filled with strong female characters, the reader follows Huong as she navigates life in Viet Nam after the war, learning about herself and her complex family history. A Compelling and hopeful novel, with a strong sense of place, that was an enjoyable read.

-Michelle
Posted 3/12/2021

The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles
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4 Stars

Set in Paris shortly before the German occupation during WWII, courageous Odile is a Parisian who works as a librarian for the American Library in Paris. A compelling historical fiction novel, The Paris Library tells the story of the difference a library and their staff can make in so many lives. Emotionally intense and dramatic, this heartwarming story will stay with you after the final page.

-Michelle
Posted 3/12/2021

Good Neighbors: A Novel
Sarah Langan
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4 Stars

Former pageant-queen Gertie Wilde moved her family to Long Island for a fresh start. She thought she had found that on idyllic Maple Street. Her family may not fit in perfectly, but things are looking up when she befriends Rhea, the Queen Bee of the block. However, after a misunderstanding, Rhea drops Gertie from her life. And when Rhea’s daughter falls victim to an unfortunate sinkhole accident, Rhea will stop at nothing to lay blame on the entire Wilde family.

This novel about the everyday horrors of suburbia and how rumors can quickly spiral out of control is tense and compulsively readable. The flawed, complex characters who make up the main cast are not always sympathetic, and their actions are often uncomfortable to read. Still, the framing narrative of interviews and news articles that refer to the “Maple Street Murders” will surely keep readers hooked until the dramatic conclusion.

-Amity
Posted 2/11/2021

The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories
Joy Williams
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5 Stars

The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories is an essential read for fans of short stories. It is a career-spanning collection of forty-six stories by American writer Joy Williams. These are stories of dark humor and impeccable prose. Characters are often troubled and find themselves in situations that border on the absurd. This strangeness of plot can lead to a perplexing reading experience. Thus, these stories of death and loss are not for all tastes. Readers that appreciate imaginative fiction, though, will discover writing of the highest caliber.

-Brian
Posted 2/11/2021

The Midnight Library
Matt Haig
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4.5 Stars

Angst filled and bittersweet, The Midnight library is the story of Nora and complex choices. Nora has a chance to begin a new life through her missed opportunities, but is that what Nora truly wants? A story filled with heartache and happiness, Nora takes a look at her own life’s regrets and realizes that missed opportunities often best left alone.

-Michelle
Posted 2/11/2021

Readers Advisory Staff

Looking for that great new read? The Villa Park Public Library has a fantastic Readers Advisory staff that is happy to recommend novels. Whether you’re looking for new authors like your old favorites, or you’re ready for something completely new, our RA staff is here to help. They run reading groups and book discussions to help make reading a more social experience. These folks know their stuff!

Looking for a Recommendation?

If you’re looking for a recommendation you can contact one of the readers advisory staff.

Amity
Favorite genres:
Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult Literature
Amity’s bookshelf on Goodreads.
Brad
Favorite genres:
Young Adult Literature, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Nonfiction, Thrillers, Graphic Novels
Caitlin
Favorite genres:
Fantasy, Thriller/Mystery, and Historical Non-Fiction
Denise
Favorite Genres:
Mysteries, Graphic Novels
Denise’s bookshelf on Goodreads
Hannah
Favorite Genres:
Contemporary Romance, Mystery and Thrillers, and the occasional Young Adult novel
Hannah’s bookshelf on Goodreads
John
Favorite Genres:
Alternate History Fiction, Suspense
John’s bookshelf on Goodreads
kandice k
Kandice
Favorite Genres:

Chick Lit, Suspense, and Mysteries

Michelle
Favorite Genres:

Historical Fiction, Psychological Thrillers
Michelle’s bookshelf on Goodreads
Nancy
Favorite genres:
Literary Fiction and Regional American History.
Nancy’s bookshelf on Goodreads
sean_final
Sean
Favorite Genres:

True-life biographies, Non-fiction
Sean’s bookshelf on Goodreads
Sandy
Favorite Genres:
Fantasy, Film

 

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