Recommendations & Book Reviews

Here are some of our recent favorites; newest recommendations are listed at the top.

Once Upon a River

Diane Setterfield

paperback fiction

In a small village on the Thames, some time long ago, there is a gathering place for villagers, and those who live along the river’s banks, and travellers passing through. This is the Swan, an ancient inn reknowned for its storytelling nights, and the center itself of a story and a mystery that sprawl outward—bewitching in plot and language.
Uniquely wonderful book!

Georgiana

Labyrinth of the Spirits

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

paperback fiction

 

Terrific writing, fascinating characters, excellent plot lines…welcome back to Barcelona, with all the characters you know and love plus an intriguing new protagonist, Alicia.  You can read the books in the quartet [earlier titles are The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven] in any order, and this one just may be the best of all—which is very, very good indeed.

Debbie

The Ensemble

Aja Gabel

paperback fiction

Absorbing story of the lives of four young musicians who form a quartet, and the way music and their relationships with each other shape their lives over the years.  Great story and wonderful glimpse into the world of music and musicians.

Georgiana

The Optimistic Decade

Heather Abel

fiction

Can one leave behind the pressures of society, the maddening news and the forces of change to establish authentic, optimistic retreat in nature? A charismatic camp founder, the original ranchers of the land, a college age girl raised on activism, and a dedicated  teenage boy, all come together in the summer of 1990 in a scenic Colorade Rockies location. Here they try to make sense of their surroundings, their dreams and their visions for the future. With flashbacks to the Reagan years, and ideas relevant to their own times, this is an intelligent, astute and compelling debut.

Yvette

The Overstory

Richard Powers

paperback fiction

Interlinking stories of people whose lives have been affected and shaped by trees.  Each story is engaging in a different way, and though at first the number of strands may be a bit overwhelming, they come together and form a powerful and intensely meaningful whole–a breathtaking view into the natural world.

Georgiana

My Ex-Life

Stephen McCauley

fiction

Just in time for summer reading pleasure comes this sparkling novel of family and ex-family and the bonds that last. When his boyfriend leaves him, David least expects to stay with his ex-wife under a roof he starts to repair. Nor does he expect his relationship with Julie and her teenage daughter Mandy to be so easy. But this is the magic of McCauley’s novel – witty, nuanced and with spot-on dialogue – that you will want to move in as well. This is McCauley’s best novel so far – and that is saying a lot!

–Yvette

Huntress

Kate Quinn

fiction

This is a remarkable and heartwrenching work! Be prepared to stay up late repeating “just one more chapter!” Based on real characters and events–reading the author’s notes is as awesome as reading the novel!

Sandi

Mr. Flood’s Last Resort

Jess Kidd

fiction

Move over Ove, there’s a new cranky old man in town. And what a feat of imagination Cathal Flood is! Swathed in cardigans, he lives on a vast estate populated by cats and a pet fox, where rooms of curiosities are barricaded by walls of ancient magazines. Into this situation comes Maud, a young caretaker with secrets of her own and saints literally watching over her. Magic and joyous with the perfect balance between dark humor and heartfelt sorrow.         

   –-Yvette

How to Find Love in a Bookshop

Veronica Henry

fiction

A simply wonderful story of loss and love and finding your passion. I love the role that books play in the characters’ lives. This book stole my heart!

Sandi

Happiness

Aminatta Forna

fiction

An American wildlife biologist, a Ghanaian psychiatrist and an English fox literally collide on Waterloo Bridge. What follows, as the lives of the characters weave together and a search for a missing child intensifies, is a unique picture of modern London and a profound meditation on trauma and the meaning of happiness. Vivid and fascinating novel.

Yvette

Code Girls

Liza Mundy

non-fiction

This book reveals a hidden army of female cryptographers whose work played a crucial role in ending World War II. Unmarried, bright young teachers and women who had excelled in math and languages and liked to do crossword puzzles were recruited by the US Army and Navy from small towns, especially from the “Seven Sisters” posh east coast colleges. Ten thousand women moved to Washington, DC, to Arlington Hall to begin their training in the meticulous work of code breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history. Now, through dazzling research and interviews with the surviving code girls, Mundy brings to life this riviting and vital story of American courage, service and scientific accomplishment.

Nance

The Philosopher’s Flight

Tom Miller

science fiction

The Philsopher’s Flight introduces us to an imaginatively vivid world, where magic (philosophy) is used for protection, transport, warfare, and more.  Set in Boston during World War I, the book follows Robert Weekes as he enrolls at Radcliffe to pursue his dreams of joining an elite medical resuce and evac unit, despite philosophy typically being a woman’s pursuit.  As Robert struggles to overcome the prejudice against a man on his chosen path, his more accomplished classmates strive to promote philosophy as a valued and noble practice, more than just woman’s tricks.  The book is fast-paced, gripping, and draws parallels to the social dynamics of today.  I strongly recommend this book–AND, it’s the first of a trilogy!

–Sam Miner

Peculiar Ground

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

fiction

If you love the dense, detailed, historical and multigenerational novels of A.S. Byatt, this is for you. Set in the landscaped grounds and grand house of an English estate, first in 1663 and then in 1961, this novel explores historical change through family drama and social detail. Absorbing and interesting!

Yvette

Love and Ruin

Paula McClain

paperback fiction

The author of Paris Wife introduces us to Martha Gellhorn, another of Hemingway’s wives.  Unlike Hadley (his first wife), who just gets left behind, Martha was a determined, high-spiritied journalist who was Hemingway’s match professionally and personally, with her own passionate presence on the world’s stage.  Paul McLain brings her story richly to life.

–Nance

Need to Know

Karen Cleveland

paperback fiction

This is one of the few books I could NOT put down…gripping from beginning to end!    Here are the words various major authors use to describe it, and I can’t put it any better: 
“Terrific”–John Grisham;
“Superb”–Lee Child;
“Heart-poundingly suspenseful”–JP Delaney;
“Relentless gripping”–Chris Pavone;
“Breathtaking”–Louise Penny.   
Great read! 
Nance

Macbeth

Jo Nesbo

paperback fiction

Nesbo’s latest!!   It’s not a Harry Hole mystery, but its plot and characters are as complex and riveting as the Hole series.  Using Shakespeare’s work as the bleak plot framework is ingenious, as it showcases the criminal characters and the greed and evil of men.

–Nance

(Hope you weren’t looking for something cheery!)

Long Ships

Frans Bengtsson

fiction

Viking adventure on the open seas! Fierce battles, blood feuds, romance, epic heroes! This is the novel I dreamed of as a boy. Red Orm’s exploits are told in the form of the Icelandic Sagas, with very few adjectives, and the effect is straightforward and spellbinding. Frans Bengtsson’s novel is a BLAST!

Eric Johnson from KOMO news.

The Power

Naomi Alderman

fiction

Inventive, complex, original, distrubing and a total page-turner! Imagine a world where women have the power–literally. With a touch they can inflict pain. How will they use this force? Will the world be a better place? Is this society another case of absolute power corrupting absolutely? To say too much would spoil this one-of-a-kind novel. Read it and find out!  

–Yvette

Radium Girls

Kate Moore

non-fiction

This is the fascinating, tragic, and inspiring story of the young women who painted the luminous dials on time pieces and aviation equipment in the early 20th century. Their work was necessary, precise, and deadly; and to their employers, the women were basically an expendable and renewable resource. The bravery of the afflicted women is astonishing. One of the most interesting books I’ve read.        

 –Debbie

The Newcomers

Helen Thorpe

non-fiction

The subtitle spells it out: “Finding Refuge, Friendship and Hope in America.” This is a true account of a classroom in South High School in Denver and the students in the beginner-level English class. While their personal stories of how and why they came to the USA are heartbreaking, the overall message is one of HOPE, tolerance and understanding. Give this inspiring story to a favorite teacher.  

–Yvette

The Ruin

Dervla McTiernan

mystery

Welcome to a new mytery series!  This police procedural takes place primarily in contemporary Galway, Ireland, and is a welcome addition to the shelves of those of us who like Tana French and Benjamin Black.  

–Debbie

Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell

young adult

Seeing this beautiful new edition (finally in paperback!) makes me a fangirl all over again! If you love teen romance, Harry Potter, fanfiction and snow, this is for you. The characters are so believable you want to befriend them. Funny and tender in equal measure, this is a treat. 

Yvette

Paris in the Present Tense

Mark Helprin

paperback fiction

Mark Helprin’s writing is full of passion and certainty; and it’s impossible to resist being swept up and carried away into the worlds he creates–in this case, to Paris, and the life of 74-year-old musician Jules LuCour.  Jules has lived a fantastic life, and the book is the story of his past and how it’s led him to his present, and a rumination on music, love, ageing, and–true to Helprin–thousands of other things.  The cover calls it a powerful and rapturous novel, and that is perfect.

–Georgiana

Nomadland

Jessica Bruder

non-fiction paperback

Between the Great Depression and age discrimination, older adults take to RV’s as they travel the country picking up temporary jobs to supplement social security checks.  Fascinating, heart-breaking, and hopeful.

–Kathryn

My Absolute Darling

Gabriel Tallent

paperback fiction

Totally blown away by the power of this book–the story of Turtle, a 14-year-old girl growing up isolated after her mother’s death, with her brilliant but tortured survivalist father on the northern California coast.  The sense of place, the story, and the writing are all extraordinary, and set this title apart from any others I’ve read in a while.  It’s dark, but brilliant and beautiful too.

Georgiana

Sourdough

Robin Sloan

paperback fiction

If you enjoyed what Robin Sloan revealed about books and booksellers in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, just wait to see what he can do with bread! Lois receives a sourdough culture that is out of this world. Her forays into the cutting-edge foodie scene of San Francisco are balanced by the sage advice of the Lois club in this funny, freewheeling and fulfilling novel.         

–Yvette

Savage Country

Robert Olmstead

paperback fiction

A literary western about a fiercely independent young widow trying to save her farm and the people it employs by joining forces with her solitary brother-in-law on a dangerous and soul-searing buffalo hunt in 1873. Brilliant writing; great story.

Georgiana

Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks

short stories

Tom Hanks (yes, that one) collects old typewriters that serve as the inspiration for these 17 short stories. Photos of the typewriters at the beginning of each story set the scene for these quirky, very human stories.

–Kathryn

South Pole Station

Ashley Shelby

paperback fiction

This is a funny novel about big, serious themes – scientific research, climate change, suicide;  a warm hearted novel about the coldest place on earth, and a sympathetic novel about the misfits and loners thrown togther at the bottom of the world. Plus: Apsley Cherry-Garrard! Captain Scott! Birdie! Polar geeks rejoice.

Yvette

Scribe of Siena

Melodie Winawer

paperback fiction

Part medieval mystery, part love story (spanning hundreds of years), part time travel thriller. And I’m always a sucker for stories of the Plague. I love the writing and the sense of wonder I experienced throught this character. 

–Sandi

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman

paperback fiction

The author presents a warm, humorous look at loneliness, social awkwardness, and marching to a different drummer that will captivate readers from beginning to end. This is a charming story that is both heart-wrenching and amusing.           

–Nance

My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues

Pamela Paul

non-fiction

“Bob” is an acronym for Book-of-Books, and is the author’s list of all the books she’s read for the last twenty-eight years.  Just the the titles conjure memories for her of what was going on in her life at the time.  She shares connections and anecdotes that most readers can relate to.  As the cover says, it’s a love letter to books.              

–Debbie

Mozart’s Starling

Lyanda Lynn Haupt

non-fiction paperback

This is a fascinating book for any bird brain and music lover (like me!), written by a Seattle author. Inspired by the true story of Mozart and his pet starling, the author adopts one of her own. Using this as a starting point, she writes about her charming pet, about the general destructive nature of the species, and about Mozart’s life and history. By the way, her bird’s favorite composer is…Bach!

Yvette

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk

Kathleen Rooney

paperback fiction

New Year’s Eve 1984. Lillian decides to walk around her beloved Manhattan after dinner. During her 10 mile journey she recounts her career, marriage, and her single life. At 80, Lillian is gutsy, smart, funny, perceptive and charming. She’s a character you would love to have known. Enjoy her journey.

–Nance

A House Among the Trees

Julia Glass

paperback fiction

Julia Glass, a master at creating living, breathing, sometimes frustrating but always believable characters, takes us deep into the world of Mort Lear, famous children’s book author. The plot is simple–Mort dies, the past is revealed–but the story is rich and layered and the characters complex. Spend some time in this house among the trees!

–Yvette

The Leavers

Lisa Ko

paperback

This novel puts a very human face on the story of immigration. Polly came to New York from China, created a family and was deported–but the story doesn’t stop there. It is told in sections alternating between Polly’s brash, bold, determined, loving and frightened voice and that of her son Deming’s (then Daniel’s) confused, lonely and troubled one. Ambitious and compelling, it will open your eyes and your heart.

–Yvette

Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

Theodora Goss

paperback fiction

What a fun book – and on thread with the recognition of women in history and literature. So many amazing characters come to life, including Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and even Frankenstein’s monster – no offense meant to the monster community. You’ll be enchanted!

–Sandi

The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry

paperback fiction

Steeped in Victorian detail but written in a distinctly fresh voice, this novel will transport you directly to the foggy, salty Essex marsh. There questions of science and faith, medicine and ritual, love and friendship are centered on the mystery of what lies in the water. This is a big novel of ideas, but also a vivid and well plotted story.

–Yvette

Small Great Things

Jodi Picoult

paperback fiction

For those of you looking for a book club selection, this book will inspire a much-needed conversation about race and prejudice in America. The story is told from three viewpoints: Ruth, an African-American nurse; Turk, a white supremacist; and Kennedy, Ruth’s white public defender. The dialogue is at times upsetting and frustrating, but it is a compelling and intense story. 

–Nance

Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance

nonfiction paperback

Just (and finally!) released in paperback–a must-read to help us understand what happened in November 2016.

I was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio–the setting for this account of a culture that was and is still struggling with poverty.  The abusive behavior and closed, conservative attitudes described here was prevalent as I grew up in the 50’s and continues today.  It was no surprise to me that Trump had–and has–the support of those who agreed with his behavior and views. 

–Nance

My Antonia

Willa Cather

paperback fiction

A quietly beautiful novel, imbued throughout with deep feeling for the lost American prairie landscape. It’s the story of some of the first people to populate and make a living from these prairies–immigrants from the U.S. east coast and from Bulgaria, Hungary, “Bohemia”– and how they learned to live with the land and with each other. Quietly powerful characters and story–loved it even more the second time around.

–Georgiana

Magpie Murders

Anthony Horowitz

paperback fiction

Agatha Christie fans will recognize the English setting, the intriguing plot, and the character Pund as a Poirot-like sleuth in this mystery within a mystery. Well written, easy to follow plot which alternates between a present day mystery and one from 1955. Just the right amount of twists and turns to keep the reader enthralled. Good read.

–Nance

The Thirst

Jo Nesbo

paperback fiction

Harry Hole is back! Nesbo pulls Harry back from his blissfully peaceful state as a lecturer at the Police College and the husband to his great love, Rakel, to hunt for a serial killer. Oslo’s finest are frustrated and getting nowhere on this case. Harry’s experience and skills are needed, as the killer’s MO is similar to that of one killer who escaped Harry and still haunts his dreams. This novel os one of Nesbo’s best, featuring skillfully developed characters, intricate plot and suspenseful twists, all hallmarks of a master storyteller.

Nance

Lilac Girls

Martha Hall Kelly

paperback fiction

Based on real events and  people, this is the story of the Ravensbruck Rabbits–74 women prisoners in the Ravensbruck concentration camp.  We meet three women:  an American socialite who volunteers to help French citizens obtain asylum in the U.S. as Hitler’s armies invade Europe, a German docctor who serves the Reich at Ravensbruck camp, and a young Polish girl who joined the resistance before being captured and sent to Ravensbruck.  Drawing upon a decade of research, the author reconstructs what life was like in Ravensbruck.  More than a war story, this is a tale of how the strength of women’s bonds can carry them through the most difficult situations.  A compelling historical read.

–Nance

Beartown

Fredrik Backman

paperback fiction

The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove tells the story of a hockey town paralyzed by scandal.  Jobs are disappearing and Beartown is slowly dying; so for its citizens, hockey is everything.  This is the story of what happens to the town when 15-year-old Maya attends a party at the star hockey player’s home.  Things get out of hand, and this affects Beartown forever.   Ove provides rich character development and skilled handling of the tragedy and its effects on an insular town.  Dark at times; but love, sacrifice and the bonds of friendship and family shine through, offering hope and redemption.

–Nance

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

Annie Spence

nonfiction

Spence is a librarian and her book is an exquisitely funny collection of love letters and break-up notes to various books in her life.  Spence’s insights into her feelings about the books are witty, thought-provoking, and hilarious.  At the end, she offers wonderful suggestions of “Book Hookups (You and Two Books,” “Readin’ Nerdy (Books about Librarians,” “Blind Date (Good Books with Bad Covers,” “For Keeps (Books I’ll Never Break up With),” and many others.  This is a book for all book lovers.  Great gift!

–Nance

The Female Persuasion

Meg Wolitzer

hardcover fiction

Meg Wolitzer shines a beacon on what it means to be a woman living today. In her keely observant, multilayered and compelling novel, she brings to life four vivid main characters: Greer, fresh out of college and seeking a mentor; her boyfriend Cory; her best friend Zee; and Faith Frank, a stylish and persuasive leader in the women’s movement. As the lives of these characters unfold, Wolitzer explores themes of friendship, “sisterhood”, ambition, sexual harassment, feminism and loyalty. While these themes are up-to-the-minute, the novel reads like a timeless classic.

Yvette

The Dry

Jane Harper

paperback fiction

The oppressive heat in drought-plagued Australia is as much a character in this book as the people are. A tragic event brings Aaron Falk back to the struggling town he was forced to leave twenty years before. Sometimes small towns contain too many memories and secrets to return to… Really good police procedural!

Debbie

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Matthew Sullivan

paperback fiction

A quirky independent bookstore is the setting for this mystery that will have you rooting for Lydia to solve the clues left after one of her favorite customers dies. This is not a cozy but rather a convoluted, intriguing, rather dark foray into secrets and relationships both old and new. It’s excellent!

Debbie

Salt to the Sea

Ruta Sepetys

young adult

Chances are that you’ve never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff 1945 maritime disaster. That really happened. This terrific young adult novel follows four young people from vastly different backgrounds as they try to escape from Prussia when the Nazis are invading from the west and the Russians are encroaching from the east. This is emotionally engrossing historical fiction.

Debbie

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Joanna Cannon

paperback fiction

Quietly wonderful story of a neighborhood in England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy has gone missing, and 11-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to spend their summer vacation finding her. The story progresses through their eyes and those of other neighborhood residents. Very charming and wise. As another reviewer said, “reminiscent of Scout Finch with shades of Flavia de Luce.” 

Georgiana

Good Morning, Midnight

Lily Brooks-Dalton

paperback fiction

This is a quiet, often sad, novel that asks the question: what endures when everything else is gone? A lonely astronomer, looking up, stays at the Arctic research facility after everyone else evacuates. A team of astronauts returning from Jupiter looks down and desperately listens for a signal. Something draws these two together. Read this novel for the beautiful language, vivid Arctic scenes and spinetingling revelation at the end.  

–Yvette

A Catalog of Birds

Laura Harrington

paperback fiction

Can you ever recover from the experience of war?  Set in the 1970’s, this lyrical novel explores the impact of the Vietnam War on pilot and painter Billy Flynn and his large family.  Told with a playwright’s pacing and ear for dialogue, and infused with a keen sense of the natural world, this is a hearbreaking, beautiful novel. 

–Yvette

Strong Heart

Charlie Sheldon

fiction/young adult

Ballard resident Charlie Sheldon has worked to protect the beauty and resources of the northwest coast and Olympic Peninsula for many years. His deep affinity for and extensive knowledge of the region shines through in this engaging story of a local man’s journey into the Olympic Peninsula wilderness with some friends and his reluctant granddaughter.  Great read for all lovers of nature, adventure, or PNW history–adult or young adult. 

Simple writing, good story, very satisfying ending. 

–Georgiana

Snowblind

Ragnar Jonasson

mystery

Are you looking for another nordic/ Scandinavian mystery series??? Here you go—a thoughtful police procedural set in snowy (very snowy) northern Iceland.  This is not as graphic and gory as some others of its ilk, which is kind of a refreshing change!  I think you’ll like it.

–Debbie

LIttle Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng

hardcover fiction

“More than meets the eye” are words to remember in this excellently written novel about what happens when the (seemingly) picture perfect Richardson family meets free-wheeling single mom Mia and her daughter Pearl. Everyone (and every situation) has more layers than you think. I really liked this!

–Debbie

History of Wolves

Emily Fridlund

paperback fiction

As mysterious as a snowy forest, and as beautiful as thin ice, this book pulls you forward into the lives of the characters and never lets you go. It is primarily a coming of age story. Linda seems to find her purpose taking care of little Paul from across the lake, but things are not exactly as they seem and her actions have far reaching consequences. I can’t wait to see what this author does next. Finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. 

-Yvette

Perfect Little World

Kevin Wilson

paperback fiction

Happy families are not all alike. The one in this book is really a research project. The premise pulls readers in right from the start; the complex and believable characters drive the original plot forward and Wilson’s compassion is evident throughout. For readers looking for smart and quirky fiction.  

–Yvette

Swing Time

Zadie Smith

paperback fiction

A multilayered novel that begins in a London housing project and follows the lives of the narrator and her childhood friend Tracy on their disparate journeys to adulthood – Tracy becomes a professional dancer, and the narrator a close assistant to a celebrety with a charity program in Africa. Filled with illuminating details and bright perception. Engaging and intelligent.  

–Georgiana

Moonglow

Michael Chabon

paperback fiction

Although the scope of this novel is vast – ranging from the invasion of Germany, to retirement living in Florida, with a lot of details about the golden age of the space program inbetween – this is also Chabon’s most personal and intimate book. Read it as if you are listening to a fascinating grandparent tell an epic life story.  

–Yvette

To the Bright Edge of the World

Eowyn Ivey

paperback fiction

Eowyn Ivey (whose previous book “The Snow Child” is also wonderful) writes a love letter to Alaska in this visually beautiful, richly constructed, historically accurate and magically real novel. Like the state itself, this book is filled with adventure and romance. Every character is fully realized; every section wonderfully told. It is 1885 and Colonel Forrester explores the vast untamed area of the Wolverine River, while his wife waits, but not idly, in Vancouver, WA. This is an amazing book.  

Yvette

News of the World

Paulette Jiles

paperback fiction

Captain Kidd travels through Texas, giving readings from mostly current newspapers to an audience. It is 1870 and Texas is unsettled and wild. At a stop, he is offered a large sum of money to return a young girl, previoulsy held captive by the Kiowa, to her relatives. The girl is reluctant to leave her new family, but the two set out into danger and adventure. This is a western for people who don’t usually like Westerns.

–Yvette

The Dry

Jane Harper

paperback fiction

Great book!

–Megan