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Book reviews by library staff and guest contributors

Madams, morality and the mob

Cover of Empire of Sin: A Story of
A review of Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

Empire covers New Orleans history and culture from the 1880s to the 1930s and reading it while situated in a world that seems obsessed with the vice of others made for a nicely synergistic experience. Krist focuses on the New Orleans vice district, Storyville, and the far-reaching impact the it had on the city's politicians, power-brokers, mobsters and the black population who saw New Orleans fall under the worst of what the Jim Crow south had to offer.

Sep 26, 2023

Discomfort is the point

Cover of Leave the World Behind
A review of Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Alam starts his novel on the most ordinary of notes. Amanda and Clay and their two kids, Archie and Rose, are headed to a rural area of Long Island for a summer vacation. They've rented a house, a very nice one, on an isolated country road and plan on limited contact with the world. For the next few days they swim in the pool, hit the small local grocery store and make a trip to the beach. Nothing too exciting, but that's the goal. Late on the third night that goal is upended when there's a knock on the door.

Sep 25, 2023

Gift of learning

Cover of Rivka's Presents
A review of Rivka's Presents by Laurie Wallmark
Adelina Lirius

Set during the 1918 flu pandemic, “Rivka’s Presents” brings us into the world of a little girl who wants nothing more than to learn. Rivka, a young Jewish girl, isn’t able to go to school because her Papa is sick with the flu, and her Mama has to work at the shirtwaist factory in his place, leaving Rivka responsible for her younger sister, Miriam. Rivka is desperate to learn and makes deals with her neighbors, trading her work for lessons in reading, mathematics, and American history. In the end, Rivka receives the greatest gift of all, knowledge.

Sep 22, 2023

Queen Bey plays muse

Cover of There Are More Beautiful T
A review of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker, poet author of the explosive collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, leaves the title open to interpretation, but with one exception: She isn’t suggesting that Beyoncé isn’t beautiful, because Beyoncé is beautiful. Like the rest of us, Parker is clearly a fan. She is however suggesting that her muse -- the “flawless” Queen Bey -- might not actually be the be-all, end-all for American popular culture or Black womanhood.  

Sep 21, 2023

Dynamic duo

Cover of The Janes
A review of The Janes by Louisa Luna

Alice Vega is something of an enigma to those who know or have heard of her. But one thing that is known about her is that she's good at her job as an investigator and in particular she is excellent at finding the missing. So though it might be unusual to be hired by a police department to look into the deaths of two unidentified girls and how they relate to other missing girls who are being trafficked, Alice is willing to take on the job. Two Jane Does have been found in San Diego and it's clear that they were sex trafficking victims and killed by the same person.

Sep 19, 2023

What's in the book?

Cover of Open this Little Book
A review of Open this Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier
Suzy Lee

If you and your little ones love books, Open This Little Book is the perfect choice. It's a story within a story, a book within a book -- and it's all a lot of fun! Madison native, Jesse Klausmeier, along with illustrator-extraordinaire Suzy Lee, have created an imaginative and exciting picture book that will have your kids asking to read it again and again. But what's inside the book? You'll have to check it out and find out for yourself!

Sep 15, 2023

Mannerling wants your soul

A review of Daughters of Mannerling Series by Marion Chesney

I’m not one who typically goes back and reads classic romance authors since I often have my hands full of newly released titles, but when a colleague extolled the virtues of Marion Chesney’s Regency-set romances, I was intrigued enough to check out the audio recording of The Banishment, the first title in Chesney’s Daughters of Mannerling series. It was short, and the audio appealed as much as the print version’s dated and ugly covers did not. Well, dear reader, I did not know what I was getting into.

Sep 12, 2023

The world is dangerous and mysterious

Cover of Big Tree
A review of Big Tree by Brian Selznick

And totally worth saving.  

Louise and Merwin are tiny sycamore seed siblings preparing to take flight from their mother's seed pouch when disaster strikes. The forest is on fire and creatures are fleeing the area. A stampede of dinosaurs knock over mama and her seed pouch bursts open. The two little seeds make their way into the terrifying world earlier than planned, sooner than they were prepared for, and without great prospects for finding a suitable place to put down roots.

Sep 11, 2023

Becoming buoyant

Cover of Starfish
A review of Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery-Hofstein
  That's my name,
  My bestie, Viv,
  and my parents call me
  Ellie or El.
  But most people call me Splash
  or some synonym for whale.
  Cannonball into a pool,
  drenching everyone,
  and wear a whale swimsuit
  to your Under the Sea birthday party
  when you're a chubby kid
  who grows up to be a fat tween
  and no one will let you live it down.

Sep 8, 2023


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