Monday, October 12, 2020

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer


From the publisher: When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella's side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward's version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

The year is 2008. It’s November 21, and it’s finally started to get cold. I stand in line outside the tiny theatre with 17 other girls from my sophomore English class, as well as the three teachers from the English department. I’m about to spend the $30 my parents gave me on too much popcorn, soda, and Twizzler’s, and I’ll definitely have a stomachache by the end of the night. But it doesn’t matter — because we’re about to watch Twilight. I don’t think any teenager in the late aughts could truthfully say they don’t have a similar memory.

Fast forward to 2020, and Stephenie Meyer announces her remedy for the pandemic: Midnight Sun, aka Twilight, from Edward’s perspective. The book had been teased for years, ever since an unfinished draft was leaked on the Internet in 2008 and Meyer put the project on hold indefinitely. But in August, a final version was released (and promptly sold more than a million copies in the first week, proving I’m not the only one suckered in by teenage nostalgia for the series.) I took one for the team and read the 627-page novel and I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s exactly what you’re expecting.

Is Midnight Sun good? No. Is Midnight Sun entertaining? Absolutely. It’s the perfect book to read on a cold, autumn day to distract from the real world — you know, the one without sparkly forever-teenaged vampires.

Midnight Sun is available for checkout from the Galesburg Public Library in hardcover or audiobook, as well as through ADML as an eBook.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher


From the publisher:


Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance.

But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…


Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Ursula Vernon writes awesome children's books, including the popular Dragonbreath series. But some of her books for older readers can be a bit dark, and rather than risk scarring children for life, she also write under the name T. Kingfisher. I've loved Ursula's writing and artwork for decades, and her earlier books were comfort re-reads during the spring quarantine. So the odds were pretty good that I would enjoy this one. And I did.

As described by the publisher, Mona's talent lies in bread. She can make cookies dance, tell the muffins they don't want to burn, and then there's Bob. Bob is the sourdough starter she 'created' when she was younger, who now lives in a bucket in the basement and blorps happily in greeting when she comes down to feed him flour. The book opens with Mona discovering the body of a young woman on the bakery floor, and unfortunately her day goes downhill from there.

As stated above, it was likely that I would enjoy this book, but I definitely think it will appeal to new readers as well. The characters are well thought out, the magic system makes sense and the focus on one particular aspect (like bread) allows for further imaginings. The situations and dialog are frequently humorous, such as arguing over whether baked goods created for wartime situations should be smiling or not (and whether angry frosting eyebrows will make things better or worse). There is drama and tension, and I did cry at the end.  As with many of the author's characters, minimal physical description is given, so the characters, for the most part, don't read as one race or another. 

Yes, the protagonist is 14, but this is a perfectly fine book for Grown Ups, and would be suitable for some younger readers as well. The book does open with a dead body, there's a carnivorous sourdough starter (not the most terrifying creature in the junior fiction section, I can assure you), and Mona must deal with the fact that the adults don't have everything under control, and even the People in Charge sometimes can't fix everything.

If you're looking for a fantasy that will make you hungry, I highly recommend this one. 

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking is available at Galesburg Public Library via inter-library loan.

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Windsor Knot: A Novel by SJ Bennett

 From the publisher:

The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

It is the early spring of 2016 and Queen Elizabeth is at Windsor Castle in advance of her 90th birthday celebrations. But the preparations are interrupted when a guest is found dead in one of the Castle bedrooms. The scene suggests the young Russian pianist strangled himself, but a badly tied knot leads MI5 to suspect foul play was involved. The Queen leaves the investigation to the professionals—until their suspicions point them in the wrong direction.

Unhappy at the mishandling of the case and concerned for her staff’s morale, the monarch decides to discreetly take matters into her own hands. With help from her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi, a British Nigerian and recent officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, the Queen secretly begins making inquiries. As she carries out her royal duties with her usual aplomb, no one in the Royal Household, the government, or the public knows that the resolute Elizabeth will use her keen eye, quick mind, and steady nerve to bring a murderer to justice.


'"Oh, not at all," Humphreys said, with an indulgent smile. "You underestimate President Putin."

The Queen considered that she did not underestimate President Putin, thank you very much, and resented being told she did.'*


Let me start this review by saying that neither mysteries nor the British royal family are my usual interests. I'm aware of them, I occasionally read them or pay attention past the headlines, but that's about it. So I'm not the best to speak on the quality of the plot compared to the rest of the genre, nor the accuracy of the Queen and Prince Philip (the only members given much attention). I can, however, say that this was a fun read. In this series, Queen Elizabeth has been solving mysteries since she was a girl, often with the help of her Assistant Private Secretary. Now as her 90th birthday approaches, the Queen finds herself on the case again, this time with a brand new APS. 

I found this book to be a lovely escape. The diverse cast of characters is well written and differentiated, and the dialog flows well. I found the wrapping up of the murder case itself to be a little murky, but as stated above, this is not my usual genre, and it may be crystal clear to others. Overall I would definitely recommend this book, and I look forward to reading future volumes in the series. 

 The Windsor Knot will be available from Galesburg Public Library when it is published in March of 2021. Thank you to William Morrow and Custom House and NetGalley for the e-ARC.  

 *Above quote is from an advanced copy and will be checked against final publication.

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik


From the publisher: From the New York Times bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic.

The Scholomance is a legendary school from folklore that author Naomi Novik has claimed for her own in A Deadly Education, the first book in a new series. I love Novik’s Temeraire series and enjoyed her two fairy tales Uprooted and Spinning Silver as well.

It took me about 80 pages to get into A Deadly Education. I was asking myself who wrote it, as Novik normally captivates me from page 1, and that did not happen with A Deadly Education. However, it finally clicked in, and I enjoyed the last two thirds of the book. I feel I need to start over and see what I think of the first third the second time through.

The world building is amazing if at times a little too detailed. There are definitely info dump passages. There are new vocabulary words that are a little too similar and I could have done with a glossary. The character development is surface level – hopefully we will get to know these characters better in book two. The protagonist Galadriel is a little too stereotypically an anti-hero; the hero Orion is a little too stereotypically a hero.

There is a fun obligatory Lord of the Rings reference for Ringers, and the ending is a shock and a slam dunk and makes me wonder how I can wait a year for book two.

My one big issue with A Deadly Education is that Novik’s main character, Galadriel aka El, is a mean bully. She’s smart, talented, powerful, and resourceful. But she’s also throwing herself a lifelong pity party, which got old with her as the first person narrator, and she is a mean, rude, bully. Especially right now, that strikes a very wrong note with me.

I will read book two for the action and wonder, but I hope El shows some serious growth as a person, and I hope we see character development in the rest of the cast. If you enjoyed Harry Potter and might enjoy reading another series about a magical high school, I recommend A Deadly Education. It’s available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook.

I read an advance reader copy from Netgalley, but I did check the final copy to make sure there was no glossary. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Swedish author burst onto the American book scene in 2014 with A Man Called Ove. Backman has a very distinct writing style, and it’s on full display in his new novel Anxious People. I’m sure his style is not to everyone’s taste, but Backman really speaks to me. I loved A Man Called Ove and Beartown; maybe I didn’t love Anxious People quite as much but I still loved it. There are a lot of characters in this book and no main character, and I didn’t quite feel like I connected with anyone like I did with Ove. I still enjoyed this earnest, heartfelt story.

I heard Fredrik Backman speak in a webinar recently, and he suffers from anxiety. Anxious People was not supposed to be about anxiety, but that’s what it turned into. Backman can’t keep thoughts on anxiety and suicide out of his books, but they are somehow happy anxiety books. By that I mean, people who are depressed and anxious and who feel inadequate carry on and do the best they can and do some things very well.

The story in Anxious People is “spoiled” for us by the narrator straight off. The story meanders all over, doubling back to explain things we’ve already read. It’s repetitive, in an OCD kind of way. And yet to me it does not feel like Backman is trying to be clever. I believe this is how his mind works.

This book addresses the need to understand that everyone is out there struggling and the need for kindness and empathy. It’s a rare book that makes me cry, and I can legit say I was crying at the end.

I read an advance reader copy of Anxious People provided by Netgalley. The book was published in early September 2020 and is available at the Galesburg Public Library in print, audio, and digital.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

From the Publisher: HARRY DRESDEN IS BACK AND READY FOR ACTION, in the new entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files.

When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, joins the White Council's security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago—and all he holds dear?

Harry Dresden is back in the 16th book in Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series, and the first full-length novel since 2014's Skin Game. This far into the series, fans likely know what to expect: explosive action, snarky humor, lovable secondary characters (a great many of whom appear in this book), and ever-increasing stakes. 

Readers new to the Dresden Files series might prefer to start with the first book, Storm Front, also available for checkout at GPL. You also might want to stop reading here, to avoid spoilers for other books in the series.

The big thing thing to know about Peace Talks is that it's an incomplete story - the manuscript was large enough that the publisher split the book in two. As a result, many plot threads begin in Peace Talks that won't be resolved until the next book, which leaves the story feeling incomplete. Thankfully, Battle Ground, the next book, comes out on September 29th so it's not too long of a wait.

Peace Talks begins with Harry, Chicago's only practicing wizard/private detective, balancing his duties as a Warden of the White Council, as Knight of the Winter Court, and as a father raising both a human child and a spiritual one. The peaceful, domestic bliss is short-lived though, as several big events hit at once:

  • Harry's vampire brother Thomas informs Harry that he's expecting a child
  • The White Council of wizards is holding in inquest whether to revoke Harry's status as a member of the Council, even as...
  • Queen Mab of the Winter Court is holding a peace talks summit between signatories of her Accords, which will bring important members of the supernatural community from all over the world to Chicago. As both a Warden of the White Council and the Winter Knight, Harry will have to represent both groups at the event and put his divided loyalties to the test.
  • The Accords are disrupted even before they begin by an assassination attempt made against the king of the Svartalves, and the assassin turns out to be someone very close to Harry.
With all of this going on, things are even crazier for Harry than ever before. The peace talks bring all sorts of characters from previous books and short stories back to Chicago, which is a fun treat for readers. Harry's trademark sarcastic wit is still very much on display, but Butcher has also done a great job developing our favorite wizard/detective into a wiser, more mature Harry with a family to protect. 
However, because the story was split into two books, many of the plot threads set up in Peace Talks are left unresolved until the next one. While hardcore fans will be eager to devour this new entry into the series, more casual fans might prefer to wait until they can read the whole story at once.

Peace Talks is available for checkout from Galesburg Public Library in hardcover format, and through the library's ebook collections using the Libby and Axis360 apps.

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

WHY hasn’t this book been made into a movie? It’s hilarious with a cast of characters actors would love to sink their teeth into.

If you love Jane Austen, you’ve probably discovered Georgette Heyer. Her Regency novels are well researched and a lot of fun. This one was a little slow starting, but once I got past the overly long set up I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our timid hero His Grace the Duke of Sale was a sickly child born early to a mother who died in childbirth. As his father was already dead, he was a duke from the day he was born. He has been cossetted and bullied by his hovering relatives and servants his entire life. The only person who knows there is more to Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware (aka Gilly) than meets the eye is his cousin Gideon. When another cousin finds himself in a scrape, Gilly disguises himself, escapes his retinue, and sets off on an adventure to solve the problem and learn about himself.

Some of the great characters in this novel include our undersized hero, his oversized cousin, his well meaning but bullying uncle, the charming villain of the piece, the dim beauty who will go off with any kind man who promises to buy her a purple dress, the wild teenager Gilly rescues on the road, and Gilly’s shy intended Harriet.

If you enjoy well written, true to the times Regency fiction and have not yet discovered Georgette Heyer, check her out! And somebody please make The Foundling into a movie!

The Galesburg Public Library has The Foundling as a book and an ebook available through Overdrive/Libby.