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Book Review | The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis

From the publisher: A delightful novel about alien invasions, conspiracies, and the incredibly silly things people are willing to believe—some of which may actually be true. Part alien-abduction adventure, part road trip saga, part romantic comedy, The Road to Roswell is packed full of Men in Black, Elvis impersonators, tourist traps, rattlesnakes, chemtrails, and Close Encounters of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth kind.

The Road to Roswell is a screwball science fiction romantic comedy. A woman travels to Roswell to be her best friend’s Maid of Honor and is kidnapped by a tumbleweed alien while she is wearing a neon green, glow-in-the-dark bridesmaid outfit. The tumbleweed takes her on the run, then kidnaps a con man, a true believer of alien conspiracies, a professional gambler, and the driver of a large mobile home.

There’s nothing particularly original here, but the story is a lot of fun (if a little long). The author works in a lot of pop culture references that add to the story, and I enjoyed the southwestern setting. This book would probably be especially fun to listen to on a long road trip.

This is science fiction that doesn’t take itself – or humanity – very seriously. There is a lot of sly, subtle humor, and even the unlikable characters are likable. The many references to western movie tropes were especially fun, and there are a lot of nods to “kidnapped by an alien” tropes as well. There are some plot twists – not very well hidden plot twists – and commentary on the gullibility of humans who Want to Believe in whatever conspiracy theory they’ve latched on to. I found the ending a bit flat.

The Road to Roswell reminded me of the author’s book Crosstalk but also Men in Black, Little Miss Sunshine, the funny episodes of the X-Files, and Project Hail Mary.

The Galesburg Public Library owns The Road to Roswell and other books by author Connie Willis in multiple formats.

New Adult Fiction Releases — October 2023

As the leaves don their fiery autumn attire and the air takes on a crisp, inviting chill, we bibliophiles know that it’s time to cozy up with a book that promises to whisk us away to distant realms, provoke thought, and maybe even raise an eyebrow or two. Enter October 2023, with a dazzling array of literary delights for the discerning reader. From pulse-pounding thrillers to introspective tales of love and self-discovery, this month’s book releases are poised to cater to a variety of tastes. Prepare to be drawn into the world of these upcoming adult fiction releases, whether you have a penchant for well-established authors or an insatiable appetite for fresh voices in the literary scene.

So, grab your cherished blanket, brew that steaming cup of tea or coffee, and join us on a journey through the pages of these remarkable stories that are sure to make your October nights all the more enchanting. Welcome to the realm of October 2023’s literary treasures; you’re in for a treat!


The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok

The Leftover Woman is a gripping novel that weaves together the lives of two remarkable women in the bustling backdrop of New York City. Jasmine Yang, a determined Chinese immigrant, seeks her lost daughter while escaping her oppressive past, while Rebecca Whitney, a seemingly privileged publishing executive, faces the unraveling of her picture-perfect life. As their paths intersect, this suspenseful and emotionally charged story delves into themes of identity, motherhood, and the unbreakable bonds that transcend cultural and economic divides in a city of contrasts.


Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

In Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward, readers are taken on an emotional journey through the harrowing world of American Slavery, guided by the resilient Annis. From the Carolina rice fields to the New Orleans slave markets, and the brutal Louisiana sugar plantation, Ward’s storytelling paints a vivid portrait of a dark and painful history. Annis’s story, shaped by her memories of her mother and the tales of her African warrior grandmother, is a testament to the enduring strength of heritage and the human spirit. Ward’s narrative blends history with elements of the supernatural, offering a profound exploration of resilience and hope amidst unimaginable adversity.


My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon

In Jennifer McMahon’s spine-tingling psychological thriller, a woman named Alison, initially resistant to the approaching holiday season, is compelled to confront her traumatic past when her estranged, terminally ill mother, Mavis, seeks reconciliation. Despite her reservations stemming from a history of alcoholism and abuse, Alison reluctantly agrees to welcome Mavis into her Vermont home, hoping for a chance at healing and a better relationship. However, as mysterious and paranormal events unfold upon Mavis’s arrival, Alison becomes increasingly suspicious of her mother’s true nature. The holiday festivities take a nightmarish turn, forcing Alison to grapple with the unsettling possibility that something malevolent is targeting her family, leading to gut-wrenching choices to protect her loved ones.


The Exchange: After The Firm by John Grisham

In The Exchange by John Grisham, readers are reunited with Mitch and Abby McDeere, the courageous couple who exposed the criminal activities of Memphis law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke in the previous blockbuster thriller, “The Firm.” Fifteen years have passed, and the McDeeres have relocated to Manhattan, where Mitch has risen to the rank of a partner at the world’s largest law firm. However, their peaceful life is upended when a mentor in Rome calls upon Mitch for a favor that propels him into a web of intrigue with global repercussions. As he becomes entangled in a sinister plot that threatens not only his own life but also the safety of his colleagues, friends, and family, Mitch must once again rely on his wits and cunning to outsmart his adversaries. In this high-stakes sequel, Grisham keeps readers on the edge of their seats as Mitch McDeere faces an adversary with nowhere to hide, showcasing his unparalleled talent for crafting gripping legal thrillers.


What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

In What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, a family’s secrets and the enduring consequences of their choices unfold across two timelines. In 1999, the Kim family grapples with the mysterious disappearance of Sunny, their mother, leading to an unexpected discovery in their backyard—a stranger’s lifeless body clutching a letter addressed to Sunny, unleashing a cascade of questions about the stranger’s connection to their mother. Meanwhile, in 1977, we follow Sunny, pregnant and disillusioned in Los Angeles, as she yearns for the American dream she had envisioned, her isolation punctuated by a fateful encounter at a bus stop. This powerful and suspenseful narrative explores the family’s profound secrets and the intergenerational silence that shapes their lives, all while meditating on themes of identity, migration, and the enduring pursuit of dreams in the American landscape, offering both a captivating page-turner and a poignant family saga.

Book Review | The Death of Us by Lori Rader-Day

From the publisher: The discovery of a submerged car in a murky pond reveals betrayals and family secrets that will tear a small town apart.

The Death of Us has a great premise. A man cheats on his young wife, and the woman he slept with has a baby. One night, his wife answers the door, and the other woman hands the wife the baby and promptly disappears. Although fifteen years pass for the characters, the mystery of her disappearance is solved quickly in the book. A submerged car is found in an old flooded quarry on the family property. Inside is a baby carrier and some bones.

The husband and wife are now separated, as his ability to stay faithful hasn’t improved. They’ve been raising the child that was left behind together. Liss, the wife, loves her stepson fiercely. Because of the unknown status of his birth mother, Liss has never formally adopted Callan, but she IS his mother. Her husband Link is a man-child, spoiled by his mother, but Liss has broken things off with a man who loves her to try to salvage her damaged marriage.

The Death of Us is a great, fast read. The character development is good – I liked and sympathized with Liss and felt sorry for the teenager who is not quite sure how to handle his emotions when his missing mother is discovered. The marshal investigating the discovery is Liss’s recent lover; the man he replaced is the husband Link’s father. It’s a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.

I guessed one of the big bads early on, but that did not affect my enjoyment of the book. The author still had to spin out her plot, and I liked watching it unravel. There’s a bit of Hollywood blockbuster nonsense at the end, but the author paints some great pictures. Surprisingly, this is my first book by Rader-Day, but it won’t be my last.

I read an advance reader copy of The Death of Us. It is scheduled to be published on October 3, and the Galesburg Public Library will own the book in print, as an ebook, and in audio. The library owns Rader-Day’s previous six books, if you want to try one now. 

Book Review | A Light in the Dark: Surviving More Than Ted Bundy by Kathy Kleiner Rubin and Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi

From the publisher: The first book by a confirmed survivor of Ted Bundy, and the only memoir to challenge the popular narrative of Bundy as a handsome killer who charmed his victims into trusting him.

I haven’t read that much true crime. I’ve read a lot about John Wayne Gacy because I was in high school in the Chicago area when his horrors were discovered, but I didn’t know much about Ted Bundy going into this memoir. I held the popular beliefs that he was charming and intelligent in addition to being a serial killer. Kathy Kleiner Rubin was one of the young women he attacked when she was sleeping in her sorority bedroom, and she has a lot to say about how Bundy is viewed in popular culture.

The author makes the case that what we believe about Bundy is wrong. He was not charming; most women he approached found him creepy. Most of his victims were not lured into his car by a sad tale that he spun but were attacked in their beds or from behind by Bundy. He was not intelligent or learned; he was a poor student who had no aptitude for the law or anything except killing.

I had no idea how many suspected victims Bundy had. I knew he was brutal but didn’t know his preferred technique was to bash his victims in the head first, before violating them. The author is only a few years older than me, and I found her passionate defense of Bundy’s victims very moving. The memoir very much gave me “there but for the grace of god go I” vibes.

Kathy Kleiner Rubin is very resilient and a true survivor. She has one son, Michael, and he didn’t find out until he was 37 years old that the attack she suffered in college was at the hands of the notorious Ted Bundy. When he found out, he called her in shock. Toward the end of her book, she writes, “Michael was a big part of my happiness in life. During that phone call, as he kept repeating ‘you were so normal’ he brought up the pool parties I hosted for his birthday and other things I did to make his life as ordinary as possible. To me, this was one of my great accomplishments in life. Bundy was on a sick and twisted journey and he dragged his victims down the path. After I survived the attack, I dug in my heels so that he could pull me no further.”

There is some information about the author and her husband surviving Katrina which felt like filler, but aside from that the narrative flowed. The author has a lot of encouraging words for others who are fighting battles. Her words and memories are very inspirational. Appendix A is a list of the women and girls who lost their lives to Bundy, which is very reverential and which I read with great care. As the author points out, none of them are to blame for being murdered by a monster. Appendix C has a helpful list of ways to replace his narrative with remembrances of his victims.

If you like memoirs of people who have overcome great obstacles, or if you’d like to know more about Ted Bundy’s victims, I recommend A Light in the Dark.

I read an advance reader copy of A Light in the Dark. It is scheduled to be published on October 3, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it.

New DVDs — September 2023

The chilly season is upon us, as it’s now officially fall. Grab one of these new DVDs, a good blanket, and your binging buddy to watch the latest flicks!

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

The Little Mermaid

The youngest of King Triton’s daughters, Ariel is a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. Longing to find out more about the world beyond the sea, Ariel visits the surface and falls for the dashing Prince Eric. Following her heart, she makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to experience life on land.

Director: Rob Marshall | Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem | Runtime: 2 hr 15 min

The Collective

Director: Tom DeNucci | Starring: Ruby Rose, Lucas Till, Don Johnson | Runtime: 1 hr 26 min

Prisoner’s Daughter

Director: Catherine Hardwicke | Starring: Sarah Anderson, Maynard Bagang, Kate Beckinsale | Runtime: 1 hr 40 min

Past Lives

In Korea, Na Young, a girl and Hae Sung, a boy are school mates and good friends. They often walk back home together after school. Na Young moves to Canada and then to New York with her parents. Hae Sung continues living in Korea, does his engineering course, goes through a short spell of military service and then takes up a job. Both keep in touch periodically through video chats where they talk of their past and general stuff. Meanwhile in New York, Na has changed her name to Nora, made a name as a playwright and is happily married to Arthur, an American. Hae is keen to meet Nora and visits her in New York where he spends some time with her and Arthur. What has the future in store for Nora and Hae in their relationship?

Director: Celine Song | Starring: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro, Moon Seung-ah Runtime: 1 hr 45 min

Biosphere

Director: Mel Eslyn | Starring: Sterling K. Brown, Mark Duplass | Runtime: 1 hr 46 min

George & Tammy

The limited-series chronicles the country music power couple, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, whose complicated (but enduring) relationship inspired some of the most iconic music of all time. Remembered as the “First Lady of Country Music,” Wynette’s most successful song “Stand by Your Man” remains one of the most iconic and best-selling country singles by a female artist. George Jones’ song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” is still widely called the greatest country song of all time. With over 30 number-one country songs between them, including duets “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring” and “Near You,” George and Tammy’s legacy, both musically and romantically, remains one of the greatest love stories ever told.

Creator: Abe Sylvia | Starring: Jessica Chastain, Michael Shannon, Steve Zahn, David Wilson Barnes | Episodes: 6

 

Book Review | Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose

From the publisher: A perplexing murder in a renowned Oxford University library and a suspicious fire at a famous inventor’s London laboratory set Wrexford and Lady Charlotte on two separate investigations in this masterfully plotted, atmospheric Regency-set mystery.

Are you looking for a new historical mystery series? Check out Wrexford and Sloane by Andrea Penrose. Charlotte Sloane is a widowed lady of quality with a secret. She is a satirical cartoonist under a pen name. She uses her pen to cast light on injustices and misbehavior. Circumstances bring her together with two orphaned guttersnipes who she comes to love as her own, and with the intimidating Earl of Wrexford. This series has a nice mix of mystery, historical details, and found family. The relationships feature romantic love, parental love, family love, and deep friendships.

The book that introduces these characters and other series regulars is Murder on Black Swan Lane, and book seven in the series is due out in September. This is a great time to start reading, because if you like the first book, you can move right on to the next, but the number of books already published is not intimidating. Set in Regency London, the author likes to spotlight legitimate scientific innovation of the time period. Real scientists make occasional appearances in her stories.

Book seven, Murder at the Merton Library, starts with the murder of an Oxford librarian. It deals with fallout from the Napoleonic wars and intrigue around competition to create a marine propulsion system utilizing steam engines. (If that sounds boring, don’t worry – the author makes it interesting.) The Regency details seem perfect, and the author believably makes her female characters as important to the action as the male characters. I’ve found some of the other books in the series a bit draggy at times, but this one moved along briskly for me.

This series is a lot of fun for the serious historical mystery reader.

I read an advance reader copy of Murder at Merton Library from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be published on September 26. The Galesburg Public Library will own it in multiple formats, and we already own the first six books in the series.

Staff Picks — Anne

As a run-of-the-mill literary fiction fan, the novels on this list will not surprise anyone, however, I challenged myself with a few memoirs. Here are five recent reads I highly recommend.

Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

As a craft beer enthusiast, this book had me at ‘hello’ and bonus points for a Mid-Western setting. The story follows two generations of women brewers, both talented chemists and business professionals, and illustrates how entrepreneurial spirit can lose its way in stuffy board rooms and bottom lines.

Driftless by David Rhodes 

Perhaps I’m biased (I was born in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin) but this was a fantastic read. Small town, small farm characters are fleshed out in each of their own chapters, lives intertwining, as is true. It’s a substantial book and beautiful to read.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Why did I choose this book? Well, the hold list at the library indicated something was going on here. When my copy finally came in, I went along for the ride through this high energy, mid-century setting, hitting sexism head-on with humor, a sentient dog, and many good digs at the patriarchy. ‘This would make an excellent movie’ – I said before I realized it has been made into an Apple TV series!

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl

As a Gen-Xer, musician Dave Grohl’s memoir of the hard work and lucky breaks that led to his fame with Nirvana and Foo Fighters, is pop culture candy. The audiobook kept both my husband and I entertained for hundreds of miles in the car, and the audio book narrated by Dave himself really comes to life with his authentically goofy and riotous voice.

Epilogue by Will Boast

Initially, this memoir peaked my interest because of my familiarity with the settings of Boast’s coming of age (small-town Wisconsin and Knox College), but I whole-heartedly recommend it as an undeniably powerful story in its subject and craft.

Book Review | Starter Villain by John Scalzi

From the publisher: Inheriting your uncle’s supervillain business is more complicated than you might think. Particularly when you discover who’s running the place.

Charlie, the narrator of Starter Villain, is something of an affable idiot. Divorced and living in the childhood home he doesn’t even own due to complications with his siblings after his father’s death, he was laid off from his job as a journalist and is now working as a substitute teacher. He wants to buy a beloved local pub, but he has no money and no collateral. The best thing he has going for him is his relationship with his cats.

Then Charlie’s estranged Uncle Jake dies, and his lawyer shows up asking Charlie to attend his uncle’s memorial. Charlie is hesitant, and finds the request a little weird, but he agrees. And so his life as a starter villain begins. Yes, his uncle owned a large chain of parking structures, but he had other, bigger, more nefarious interests as well (mwa ha ha).

I enjoyed the Chicago area setting, and our narrator is an affable naïf who is fun to spend time with. Scalzi is clearly a cat lover and that certainly resonated with me. In the super villain business, it’s not dogs who spy for villains on other villains. (Yes, the cats are intelligent spies who can type on a computer using a special keyboard. Including Charlie’s cats.) I learned a new word – quisling! (“A traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country” according to the OED.) The narrative is pro-union, and against cats murdering birds. Intelligent talking dolphins also come into play, and I couldn’t stop myself from singing “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” every time they made an appearance.

Charlie does better handling the various super villains that he meets than one might expect, and as he doesn’t take things seriously it was hard for me as the reader to take things seriously either. I perhaps did not enjoy Starter Villain as much as I enjoyed The Kaiju Preservation Society; the whole thing came off as a little less original, and the “starter villain” idea began to wear a little thin. Still, Starter Villain was a fun read with some genuine laughs for me.

 I read an advance reader copy of Starter Villain from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on September 19 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort That Never Was by Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer

From the publisher: A fascinating look at Walt Disney’s last, unfinished project and the controversy that surrounded it, including the budding environmental movement that made sure the resort never saw the light of day.

I’m a huge fan of Disneyland, Disney World, Disney movies, and their creator, Walt Disney. Walt Disney revolutionized animated films and theme parks. He truly was an American genius. (And I think he’d be appalled at some of the things being done in his name today.) When I saw a book was coming out about his attempts to build a Disney ski resort destination, I wanted to read it.

I’m afraid to say I did not find the entire book to be “fascinating,” no matter what the blurb says. Parts of the book I did indeed find fascinating, but I think this book could have been a great essay. The book appears to have been exhaustively researched. There are 18 pages of footnotes, a 2 page bibliography, and a 7 page index. There is no doubt that the authors did indeed find the subject fascinating.

The book opens just three months before Walt Disney’s death from lung cancer in December 1966. Right up until the end of his life, he was excited about goals he had for the Disney company. If he had managed to turn California’s Mineral King valley into a Disney resort, it would probably have been amazing. This book tells the story of the environmentalists who were determined to stop the resort from being built. (I got a definite sense that some of the people who already lived in the valley wanted to keep it pristine for themselves. It reminded me of a quote, attributed to Dennis Miller, that I heard my environmentalist brother-in-law repeat more than once: “A developer is someone who wants to build a house in the woods. An environmentalist is someone who already has a house in the woods.”)

I did find parts of the book interesting, and I learned things that I did not know. It’s only about 200 pages (not counting the footnotes and index). If you are attracted to all things Disney, you may want to read Disneyland on the Mountain.

I read an advance reader copy of Disneyland on the Mountain from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be published on September 13, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it.

Book Review | The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

From the publisher: Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders. But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

Fair to say I’m not the #BookTok demo — for my taste, tropes are bugs, not features, books older than five years are a-okay, and I’m not being sponsored to promote Barnes & Noble. And then we have to consider the genre’s favorite trope: the spicy scene, which, in my experience, few authors know how to actually write in a way that doesn’t rely on repetitious language encounter after encounter. In other words, the whole phenomenon seems fundamentally limiting from a reading perspective, located within some venn diagram nexus of fantasy, young adult, and lightly erotic rom (plus maybe some com). That said, I decided to give Fourth Wing a go anyway, based largely on the then (insanely inflated) Goodreads 4.8 star rating. (*Check notes* — it’s still at a 4.66 with just under 390,000 ratings.)

In fairness, the novel starts off pretty well. Briefly, Fourth Wing follows Violet, a frail 20-year-old aspiring scribe in a violent, war-mongering world where she is forced by her general mother to join an elite school wherein students either become bonded with a dragon and take up the coveted mantle of warrior riders, or they die. Of course, there’s also a dangerous bad boy who also happens to be pathologically irresistible to Violet, as these things go. Given the presence of dragons and schools of fantasy and broody young men, it’s no surprise that the novel is marketed to the #BookTok-endorsed New Adult genre that straddles the Adult/Young Adult line. But make no mistake: we’re pretty firmly in YA territory from the get — meaning the psychological and emotional continuums presented are fairly histrionic and unhealthy.

For all that, the world-building is actually pretty intriguing, even if the structural skeleton in the early going is entirely cribbed from Divergent, which is a woof of a novel in itself. But much like Stephanie Meyer — yes, I’m just name-checking a bunch of YA touchstones here so you understand exactly how derivative this is — Yarros shows skill with ending chapters, encouraging readers to push through with speed, even if there’s a bevy of eye rolls along the way. But the organization of the world built here is fairly appealing from a fantasy perspective, at least enough to encourage investment in watching it unfurl further.

But given the marketing angle, I’d be remiss if I didn’t get to the spice. Sorry, let me be more specific to this novel: the deranged approximation of some pubescent fantasy of sex, which feels dredged up from the perspective of some middle school diary. We’ll keep it PG here, but suffice it to say that the book’s attempts at an R-rating are not likely to please readers going in for such books. The brooding #badboi also claims that the main character here “is going to be the death of” him a dozen or more times, because Yarros just doesn’t seem to have any idea how to write characters who aren’t operating from a place of emotional stability. Instead, she just keeps recycling the same cliches ad nauseam, all of which indicate the need for therapeutic intervention rather than wedding bells. The whole thing scans more like the abandoned script for some SNL sketch sending up super-nerd fanfiction. I’ve read sexier phonebooks.

Again, a good half of this offers easy-reading and propulsive fantasy fun; plus the ending introduces a wrinkle that promises an expansion of the established world, which should appeal to fans of expansive series development. And readers inclined to this sort of thing already aren’t likely to find the faults I did; it’s classic mileage-may-vary kind of book, and I’m absolutely not the intended audience. But as a quick PSA to curious but perhaps hesitant fantasy fans: if you’re happy to take your novels sans loonies slobbering all over each other and decrying life’s meaning in the absence of unhealthy obsession, you should probably pop on over to the next shelf.