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Book Reviews

Join us to read monthly book reviews, written by our very own board member Kim McGee. 

Make sure to check out more of Kim's book reviews on her website: kimsbookstack.com 

  • May 01, 2021 8:00 AM | Anonymous

    PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir
    Only Andy Weir can take us to deep space, immerse us in science but explain it in a way "anyone" can understand and tell it with wicked good humor. We begin with a science teacher turned last minute astronaut who is sent out to deep space with little training to save the Earth when the sun stops giving us heat. Easy right? Dealing with problems and variables he can't control he teams up with an unlikely partner to save the world from extinction. So much fun to read and smart - this is the one space book everyone should read. Weir's "Astrophysics For Dummies" approach that doesn't make you feel like a dummy makes us all want to be armchair astronauts. Can't wait for the tv/movie of this one! 5 stars

    GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead
    An engaging saga of early female aviators, artists and early 1900's Montana combined with a dual story of a child actress hoping to jump start her failing career by playing Marian. Marian and Jamie's story takes us from prohibition Montana where Marian gets involved in a tangled relationship with a bootlegger rancher. Jamie looks to California for a fresh start and dreams of becoming an artist. Years go by and both are involved in the war as Marian goes to Europe and Jaime goes to Asia which brings them back full circle. Marian is obsessed with flying the circumference of the Earth from pole to pole. The modern story of Hadley whose life mirrors Marian's and whose career will come full circle with this movie. It is a love story, history lesson and vivid adventure with nods to Steinbeck, "Legends of the Fall" and THE GOLDEN HOUR by Beatriz Williams. It is the kind of book you want to go back later and reread to discover what you missed the first time through. 5 stars

    SORROWLAND by Rivers Solomon
    Vern has run away from the strict cult she was born into. She gives birth to twins alone in the woods and raises them on the run from unseen demons. Always alert to those who would take her or her children, she is trying to get to the only people she knows who have escaped. On the run and free for the first time, Vern's body is changing and she is learning firsthand the new power she is being given as a host to a fungus. Vern and her children are both strange and familiar in this deep, dark tale of love, community and good vs. evil. Think Frankenstein tripping on some bad mushrooms after escaping Charles Manson's family.  4 stars

  • April 01, 2021 8:00 AM | Anonymous

    THE SOCIAL GRACES by Renee Rosen
    During the Gilded Age in New York you had to have money to play but you had to have old money to be a player in Caroline Astor's court. When upstart Alva Vanderbilt tries to compete for the top hostess spot she finds herself shunned publicly time and time again. Decades pass and these two women watch their children grow up and make bad choices, their husbands leave and make bad choices, and they are still locking horns. What seems frivolous and extreme gossip was social death back then. Even without social media, the society pages and gossip mill was damaging enough. Powerful families head by powerful women who left quite a cultural legacy behind. Think of this as mean girl historical fiction. 4 stars

    WHEN STARS GO DARK by Paula McLain
    A change for historical fiction author Paula McLain. She goes deep and dark with this thriller to tell the story of a damaged police detective who goes home again to Mendocino to heal, and instead gets pulled into the disappearance of a young girl and possibly others in 1993. Anna knows her stuff as she usually deals with runaways in San Francisco but coming back home forces her to deal with her past and her future. While the subject matter of child kidnapping and abuse is difficult to read, the author handles it in a way that is heartfelt and compassionate. Paula McLain is a welcome addition to the growing market of thrillers with deeper characters with flaws and important social issues. 4 1/2 stars

    ALL THE CHILDREN ARE HOME by Patry Francis
    A couple, unable to have children, become foster parents to a cluster of irresistible misfits. Agnes arrives unable to do little more than grunt and understand that she is allowed to eat at a table. She is supposed to be there only a few days but manages to make herself a part of this family forever. As a small undernourished six year old, Agnes has only known unkindness but once she lands on the Moscatelli's doorstep their lives will all be changed forever. Parents Dahlia and Lou teach by example so that the kids know that even at the darkest point of the kids lives they will always have someone on their side. This is a timeless story of love and compassion that is beautifully told and leaves you begging for more about the Moscatellis. Beware, this book is a heartbreaker that will have you finishing the last page with a deep sigh and sniffle and wondering what the next chapter will be like for all of them. This book will appeal to anyone who wants deep characters who 
    have had a hard life without losing themselves or their humanity. Fans of Willy Vlautin and Andrew Graff's RIVER OF STARS will find much here. 4 1/2 stars

  • March 01, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker
    The small Californian coastal town has seen much pain beginning with the hit and run accident that left a young girl dead and a local teen in prison for years. Vincent is out of prison and his best friend, Walk is now the Chief of Police wanting to believe in the best of his friends and trying to keep the peace any way he can. The murder of another of their friends leaves Vincent looking at going right back into the cell they just let him out of and Walk trying to do right by the victim's kids, the self-proclaimed outlaw Duchess Day Radley, and her young brother. Suddenly, everyone's sins past and present are coming to light. The tension ramps up dramatically and it feels like every character is just one errant lit match away from flaming out. Raw, violent, and gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Your heart will melt and bleed for the tough-as-nails-on-the-outside Duchess, innocence personified Robin, and the kind heart of Thomas Noble. I can't wait for another book by this author. For any reader of soulful character-based thrillers the likes of Tana French, Jane Harper, and of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. I also listened to the audiobook which had perfect narration but the language does not make this a kid-friendly listen.  5 stars 

    EVERY LAST FEAR by Alex Finlay
    One sitting, heart-pounding thriller joy! There is so much happening in this story at such a fast pace that you would think the author has no time to have us become invested in these characters or even take a breath before the next chaotic turn of events. But care we do, especially about Matt who has already been through so much having his older brother convicted and sent to prison for the murder of his girlfriend and the years of having the bandaid ripped off at each news story, parole hearing or false lead. This latest heartbreak is the loss of the rest of his family while on a last minute vacation to Mexico. You, lucky reader, get to piece together whether it was a tragic accident or something more sinister. A dedicated FBI agent feels there is more to the story than Matt just having incredible bad luck. A tight, well-constructed mystery sure to delight fans of DEFENDING JACOB, Lisa Jewell, Karen Slaughter, Lisa Gardner and the other Killer Queens. Where other thrillers quietly seduce you in a slow tango, this book pulls you in like a screaming hard rock band at a rave. Be prepared for a full night reading. 4 1/2 stars 

    SPARKS LIKE STARS by Nadia Hashimi
    In 1978 a young Afghan girl lives a life of privilege and beauty in Kabul where her father is a trusted advisor to the President. In one night of terror it is all taken away. She sees her family gunned down but she is spared as a soldier grabs her and brings her to the home of an American woman and her mother. These two women rescue Sitara and get her out of Kabul and to the states where they raise her. Years later, Sitara now named Aryana after her sister, will come into contact with the soldier who was responsible for her family's demise and her escape. She realizes that she must face her grief, fear and answers to the questions that have plagued her since that night, so she travels back to Kabul. This is an amazing story that you hope is based on true events because it is an amazing story of survival, love and family. This is a journey of extremes - the violence and anguish of Kabul mixed with the determination to find answers and the love and compassion from those that came to her aid. The writing is soulful and takes your breath away. Recommended for any reader of nonfiction accounts of immigrants brought here by war as well as war inspired historical fiction.  5 stars

  • February 01, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    AT THE EDGE OF THE HAIGHT by Katherine Seligman
    Maddy, her small tribe and Root, the dog, don't consider themselves homeless. They live in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco following a set schedule, keeping under the radar and living life on their terms. Life is ok until the day that Root takes off leading Maddy to the body of a young guy in the bushes. Most of the people in the park take little notice of Shane's murder but Maddy ends up a witness and gets unwanted attention from Shane's distraught parents. As much as she wants to do things her own way, she ends up getting pulled deeper and deeper into Shane's demise and helping the grieving parents understand. This powerful, non-judgmental look at the young homeless population shows a group that is sometimes trapped by their non-conformance to society as well as running from an even worse situation at home. They are family, they are community, and they try to take care of each other any way they can. After reading this you might feel compelled to smile at the next person you see on the corner instead of looking the other way. Readers of LONG BRIGHT RIVER will enjoy this book.

    BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME by Julia Claiborned Johnson
    Reno, Nevada, was known for one thing in the 30's - quickie divorces. Ward is a good-looking, hard-working young ranch hand looking to find himself, and he finds more than he bargained for at the Flying Leap Ranch. Emily is new to the ranch and struggling, so the fearless Nina who is a return customer takes her under her wing. They need a partner in crime for the six weeks at the ranch so they turn to Ward. Together they ponder marriage, divorce, love, sadness and the search to find themselves. Wonderful honest characters - flawed but they steal your hearts as easily as they keep your secrets. This is historical fiction with a slice-of-life look at an area we haven't explored before. Readers of CITY OF GIRLS and Kate Quinn's books will love these spunky brave women searching to find their place and maybe someone to share it with. 

    THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah
    A heart wrenching look at a dark time in this country. The Depression hit hardest in the big cities and for a while, farmers felt lucky that they still had the land, until a drought came, dust storms plagued them constantly, and crops were destroyed. After years of this, the land had no more to give and everyone's root cellar was empty. Elsa and her two kids knew hard work and hardships from working the family farm alongside her inlaws. Her husband gone and with no work to be found anywhere, she makes the hard decision to pack up and move to California. The journey there is hard enough but how they are treated once they arrive changes her forever. Once content to work hard, follow the rules, and obey the law, Elsa and her fiery daughter Loreda find that they must fight for their rights because no one will. Historical fiction at its best, Kristin Hannah does an excellent job of putting us right alongside the migrant families, capturing their hard work, determination, and grit perfectly. A must-read for historical fiction fans as well as those interested in battles for social injustice.

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