Review of Helene Wecker’s The Hidden Palace – sequel to The Golem and the Jinni

Book cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

Fans of Helene Wecker’s award-winning historical fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni, rejoice – after eight years of waiting, we finally get a sequel!

The Hidden Palace comes out on June 8 and picks up shortly after the end of the first book (don’t worry – there are unobtrusive reminders in the text to get you up to speed with the preceding events). The evil sorcerer who had imprisoned jinni Ahmad in a metal vial (spoilers!) was defeated at much personal cost in the first book. Ahmad and Chava, the golem, now must weather the rapid changes at the turn of the twentieth century in New York City: the sinking of the Titanic, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and the beginning of the Great War, as well as changes in their relationship to each other and their communities.

Once again, Wecker has crafted an immigrant chronicle for the ages that grapples with the dual problems of the diaspora: attempting to assimilate into a new culture while at the same time keeping close one’s native culture, all while trying to find a place in the world. The Hidden Palace is a sweeping character-driven epic of a family forged in love, not blood ties, whose members fight and love and learn, falling apart and together organically. Even though I only read The Golem and the Jinni once many years ago, this new book felt like coming home, as if I never really left Ahmad and Chava’s world and was now spending time with treasured friends. The tone is melancholy with measured pacing so that readers can truly immerse themselves in the world, and while no one gets a happy ending, exactly, Wecker ends her novel on a hopeful, bittersweet note. The Hidden Palace is a worthy successor to its smash hit predecessor and will wrap you again in a fully realized world you won’t want to leave.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!

Discover@RRPL

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

It’s 1917 when 19 graduates (1888-1914) from Smith College formed the Smith College Relief Unit and headed to Grecourt, France. The French government had asked the volunteers to work there. People were desperate. Their lives and homes had been totally disrupted and destroyed by the Germans. They needed basic necessities.

There are three main characters in the novel including: kindhearted Emmie Van Alden, Kate Moran a good friend of Emmie’s who was a scholarship recipient at Smith, and Dr. Julia Pruyen disliked by Kate and a cousin of Emmie’s. All of the women came with necessary know-how and willingness to learn new skills including assembling a truck delivered with all the parts in boxes, driving, taking care of livestock, and basic nursing care.

The story is based on real-life experiences found in documents stored in the Smith College Archives. Those records include directors’ reports, financial information, letters, journals, photographs and albums, news clippings, correspondence with the War Service Board and information about the reconstruction. The novel showcases bravery, perseverance, a little romance and a few secrets revealed in the midst of constant danger. This is a treat for fans of historical fiction.

~Emma

 

 

Review of Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer – Noir Eco Thriller

Hummingbird Salamander catalog link

Security consultant ‘Jane Smith’ receives a mysterious note with a key that leads her to an abandoned storage locker. Within is a taxidermy extinct hummingbird and a set of clues left by an infamous eco-terrorist named Silvina. As Jane follows the trail to find the matching salamander, she is plunged into a dangerous world where she races trained killers to find answers. Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, Hummingbird Salamander, is an intricate noir eco-thriller.

This latest offering from VanderMeer explores themes of trauma, identity, generational abuse, and environmentalism. It is more grounded and easier to follow than the surreal Annihilation and the Southern Reach trilogy, so it is a more accessible entry point for people new to VanderMeer’s unique brand of eco science fiction. But fans of those earlier novels shouldn’t worry, as there is still the same pervasive aura of unreality and surrealism that devotees have come to expect.

For fans of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

Look for Hummingbird Salamander to come out on April 6, 2021. Click the book cover above to be taken to our catalog, where you can place an advance hold with your library card number and PIN.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!

Discover@RRPL.org

The Paris Library

by Janet Skeslien Charles

In 1939, Odile Souchet is working her dream job at the American Library in Paris. She loves being surrounded by books, co-worker friends, and wonderful subscribers (patrons) including her boyfriend who shows up on a regular basis. When the Nazis occupy the city, the library director, Miss Reeder, cannot guarantee the safety of the collections, employees or patrons.  Soon the Nazis dictate who cannot use the library, especially French Jews, and what materials can be available.

Much later in 1983, Odile is living in rural Montana. 7th grader Lily Jacobsen befriends her elderly neighbor. Odile becomes Lily’s confidant and support when her mother becomes ill and dies. At times Odile’s home becomes an escape after Lily’s father remarries and she has two brothers to help take care of. Regrettably Lily snoops through Odile’s things, and their friendship is almost destroyed. By invading Odile’s privacy Lily uncovers decades old secrets.

The novel is based on some historical facts. Dorothy M. Reeder was the director of the American Library. During WWII, the library did manage to stay open. It started the “Soldiers’ Service”, providing books and magazines to British and French troops. When Jews were barred from the library, Miss Reeder and her staff personally delivered materials to them putting themselves at great risk.

This is a great book for lovers of historical fiction. 

~Emma

 

 

Review of ‘Sorrowland’ by Rivers Solomon – Seminal Gothic Horror

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon catalog link

Vern flees into the woods to escape the cult she grew up in, heavily pregnant. As she and her babies scrape out a living in the forest, they are pursued by a hellish fiend and the hauntings, visions that afflict her and everyone else belonging to the cult. Her body begins to change, becoming something more, something stronger and faster. When she and her children are forced from the safety of the trees, Vern must reckon with her upbringing and return to the place where it all began.

This excellent Gothic horror novel set in the present day United States features well-drawn characters and a mostly LGBTQ+ and BIPOC cast. Solomon deftly explores themes of identity, transformation of self, human intimacy, and grappling with generational trauma. A salient and incisive addition to the horror genre, this book is a deep meditation on the lasting effects of white supremacy and systemic racism.

For fans of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Changeling by Victor Lavalle, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Kindred by Octavia Butler.

Look for Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon on May 4, 2021. Click the book cover above to be taken to our catalog, where you can place an advance hold with your library card number and PIN.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!

What We’re Reading Now

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

I am currently reading The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin. It’s January 1888
on the Nebraska-Dakota border when an unseasonably warm day turns into a deadly blizzard just when school lets out for the day. Despite heroic efforts 235+ people died that day. Also, I am just starting Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession. Leonard writes articles for children’s encyclopedias. Paul is a substitute postman. These good friends both in their 30’s live in the parents’ homes. They meet regularly to play board games. I know there’s more to come since this book was highly recommended by a co-worker. Emma

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

I’m listening to The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Not only is the French Revolutionary history itself fascinating, but the author reveals the travel and effort he put into the research. This book is about the novelist Alexandre Dumas’s father who was also named Alexandre Dumas. The senior Dumas was the son of a French aristocrat and a Caribbean African slave. He achieved the rank of General in the French military, for a time equal to the up and coming Napoleon. How did this happen? I was clueless about the Civil Rights Movement in Paris in the mid 1700s that allowed former slaves and children of slaves freedom, education, and position in society. This was specific to Paris, did not apply to the American colonies, and the progress would later be undone by a new wave of racist policies. Still, General Dumas was an adventurous swordsman and leader of the cavalry who would repeatedly inspire characters in his son’s novels including the betrayal faced by Edmond Dante in The Count of Monte Cristo. Byron

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

I started reading The Queen’s Gambit shortly after seeing that Netflix has released a new series based on the book. I had seen some very positive reviews of the book and learned that the author, Walter Tevis, also wrote the novels, and excellent Paul Newman films, The Color of Money and The Hustler. However, I was skeptical that competitive chess would be edge-of-your-seat thrilling material, but The Queen’s Gambit is as much a story of loneliness, addiction, and genius as it is of chess. Had The Queen’s Gambit been just a book about chess, then I would have still been wrong because the chess bits are thrilling. Trent

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

Agent of the Library Irene is sent to obtain a certain book by any means necessary and is drawn into an art heist, complete with a rag tag team of misfits, carefully laid plans, and secret island lairs. This new chapter in the Invisible Library series is a fun romp through heist movie tropes, with a twist.
Shannon

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington

I have just finished The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington and loved every second of it. Written by the artist and author Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) this collection of stories spans throughout her career. The surreal stories within were best enjoyed when I allowed the narrative to unfold with their own internal dreamlike logic. A great introduction to Carrington’s work. Greg

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. This book is about a group of magic-filled children, seen as utter misfits by the world, but you will immediately fall in love with each and every one of them. It is about two kind, smart, and brave men who stumble forward into a friendship and gentle love. As TJ Klune has said himself, “it’s important, now more than ever, to have accurate, positive queer representation in stories”. Finally, it is about the false promise of blind faith and the courage to challenge that promise. I simply love this book. I implore you to read it now, you will not regret it. Mary

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I just started reading this book on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and am very much enjoying this weird and riveting story thus far. Written by one of Japan’s most highly regarded novelists, this book follows Toru Okada as he searches for his wife’s missing cat in a Tokyo suburb. He soon finds himself looking for his wife as well in a strange underworld that lies beneath the surface of Tokyo, full of odd and sometimes menacing people. I have no idea how this will end but look forward to getting there! Nicole

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Once upon a time, all women had a little magic- a few words to make dishes sparkle, a rhyme to mend a seam. And some knew stronger things, such as a spell to break a fever, dry up a cough, or help a woman through a difficult labor. But that all changed with the Salem witch trials. Witches were burned at the stake with their children watching; witchcraft was deemed illegal, and women were treated worse than ever with no power to protect themselves. But witching was never completely gone. It was passed on by grandmothers and mothers in fairy tales and innocent sounding nursery rhymes that were actually spells. Spells that could work magic if a woman had the words, the way, and the will. Led by the three Eastwood sisters (magical things always come in threes), the downtrodden women of New Salem have enough will to make up for any lack of words or ways, and they are determined to bring real magic back into the world to set right some of the many, many wrongs they have suffered at the hands of men. Sara

Discover Gaming @RRPL

I’ve always liked playing video games but in the past, could walk away from the action pretty easily. In this last year, though, I’ve become more of a gamer than I ever have been, and now I find that my husband and I are constantly vying for the controller, especially when it comes to the newest game in our household, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

Released at the end of 2020, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an action role-playing video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It is the twelfth major installment and the twenty-second release in the Assassin’s Creed series, but players don’t have to have be familiar with any of the franchise’s previous story lines to enjoy it. Set in 9th-century Europe, this game allows its players to take control of a Viking warrior who is embarking out from the frozen lands of Norway to (violently) raid the shores of England and to start a new settlement there. Not only is this game a visual treat, it has finely crafted story content. I love the mysteries I am encouraged to solve as the viking Eivor, the high-seas adventures I get to take on my longboat, and the open-world exploration that the game encourages.

That said, it can be hard to make a commitment, even when you know you love a franchise and have read all the good reviews. Why not ‘try before you buy’ when it comes to your next video game? Did you know that Rocky River Public Library has an impressive selection that you can borrow? It’s true. Search our catalog and discover your own new obsession. -Carol

Reconnect@RRPL

By Amy Poeppel

Best friends cellist Bridget and pianist Will founded the successful Forsythe Trio while attending Julliard 30+ years ago. They are searching for a new violinist again to complete the trio beginning in the fall. For the summer Bridget moves back to her rundown Connecticut country home. She is expecting her author boyfriend to join her for a relaxing summer, but her 20-something twins move home instead. In addition Bridget’s 90-year-old world renowned conductor father announces he is getting married. Due to a fire at her father’s home, Bridget’s dilapidated barn becomes the venue for the wedding, and major repairs commence.

This a heartwarming story filled with secrets revealed, music, friendship, romance, family and chaos. Some issues are resolved, but some aren’t. Here’s hoping for a sequel!

~Emma

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer Review

Departing from her usual science fiction and fantasy offerings, Marissa Meyer has released her first YA contemporary romance with a hint of magical realism and it is delightful.

Prudence Barnett is the stereotypical overachiever. She’s judgmental and difficult to like at times, especially when she’s lashing out at her horrible lab partner, Quint Erickson, the well-liked slacker who is dragging her and her final grade down. After an accidental head injury, Pru discovers she has the ability to bestow instant karma on those around her. The only problem is that Quint seems immune to her new power, much to her dismay. She and Quint have been given a second chance to improve their grade, but he continues to frustrate her.

Things aren’t all fluff, teen angst, and typical romance tropes. The story has real meat to it as both teens deal with family issues. Pru is also forced to confront her own assumptions about her friends and classmates and make some tough decisions regarding how to use her unusual gift. Throw in some environmentalism, an aquatic animal rescue, and some karaoke, and you have fun, refreshing, and thoughtful cautionary tale. The queen of retellings has struck gold with this one.

As the weather grows colder and the days get shorter, treat yourself to this sunny beach read. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.

~Megan

Reconnect@RRPL

Truths I Never Told You

by Kelly Rimmer

The story flips back and forth between the 1950’s and the 1990’s. Beth and her 3 siblings had been told that their mother, Grace, died in a car accident when they were very young. Their father, Patrick, was left to raise four young children. Decades later after their father died, Beth is cleaning out his padlocked attic when she comes across notes written by their mother that indicate something else happened.

Both Beth and her mother suffered from postpartum depression. The way the condition was treated in the 1950’s for Grace is very different than the help Beth receives. Secrets must have haunted Patrick for decades and sadly even at the end of his life he was unwilling and eventually unable to share the truth. His children were left to sort out exactly what really happened to their mother.

This is not a happy-ever-after book, but it’s a good story. It compares the roles of women and their healthcare in the mid and late 20th century. 

~Emma