Book Reviews

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Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up in what appears to be an idyllic English boarding school – but not everything is what it seems. The children at this school are groomed for a specific and special purpose. They are genetically engineered clones, bred to end their lives as organ donors for the rest of the population.

It is almost impossible to review a book like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go without giving away major plot points. This is because the author gives you all the information you need to know from page one. The plot is not what makes this book remarkable; this is a book about characters, and the ways they react to extraordinary circumstances.

Kathy narrates the story, relating her memories of her childhood, and her friendship with Ruth – a manipulative but sensitive classmate – and Tommy, a kindred spirit with a volatile temper. The narration moves from memories of the children’s years at Hailsham, the boarding in the English countryside, to their time spent together after graduating, to Kathy’s present, as she reviews the path her life has taken.

What scares you most about yourself? Is it the other person you hide just beneath your facade? The one you pretend doesn’t exist – the one capable of performing acts you could never commit on your own? That primeval fear is confronted in Stephen King’s new book, Full Dark, No Stars.

First, let’s clarify what Full Dark, No Stars is not. It isn’t a classic Stephen King horror story filled with vampires, scary monsters or zombies. It won’t have you looking under your bed at night for a pair of glowing eyes or wondering what’s lurking in your closet while you cower beneath your covers. Instead, you’ll be pondering a much darker thought, “Am I the real monster disguised in a costume of skin and hair?”

Talk about synchronicity. When I decided that I was going to re-read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time for the Library’s Building Bridges Book Club, I already happened to be reading Henry Louis Gates’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, a collection of profiles of prominent African-American men.

The first profile in Gates’ book is of James Baldwin, whose writing Gates fell in love with while in high school (Gates even got in trouble with his teacher for using too many commas in imitation of Baldwin’s architectural style) and whom he finally got to meet as an adult.

Baldwin had been so highly regarded as one of the voices of Black America in the early ‘60s that Time magazine featured Baldwin on its cover when The Fire Next Time was published. But by the time Gates met him, Baldwin had been bypassed in favor of more radical voices. 

Baldwin fell into the shadows in his later years because the time called for strong and strident voices, whereas he had always been very careful in his language and balanced in his thinking. For Baldwin, there were no easy answers – he’d likely do poorly in the current sound-byte political climate – and his style reflects that careful consideration and reflection on ideas.

Spectacular Now

Every now and then, we spend a little time doing something we know is wrong. Sometimes, especially if we get caught, we admit to the crime. But sometimes the crime feels a little too good to let go. Such is the case with Sutter Keely, a senior in high school on the brink of graduation. He has the world at his fingertips — and an ice-cold glass of 7&7 in his actual fingers. Constantly.

Through the expert recommendation of Central Youth Services Supervisor Jamie Mayo, I stepped outside of my reading comfort zone and gave The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp a try. It’s very straightforward and deals with very real issues, so that wasn’t necessarily a stretch. But I was also thrown an extra challenge — to listen to the book as an audio novel.

Only one word can describe it: Spectacular.

Reader MacLeod Andrews’ honey drawl brings the book to brilliant life, and gives an understanding and compassion to the characters that is unforgettable. Through the entire book, you’ll want to smack the self-titled "Sutterman" upside the head, hug him back in euphoric joy, and bite your nails at who might die at his hands.

And you’ll forgive him for all of it.

About the Author

Love warps the mind more than a little. In every woman’s past is a tale of a love gone wrong. These tales usually make for great conversation over brunch with the gals. “What were you thinking?!” “He was never good enough for you!” “Good thing you got out of that one alive!” For readers who want to avoid all the ooey-gooey-I-love-you-tooey sentimentality of the holiday of hearts, try one of these heart-shakers.

It’s one thing to fall in love with the wrong man, but what happens when the man wants to be the woman? This dilemma faces Allison Banks in Trans-Sister Radio by Christopher Bohjalian. With his distinctive grace and appreciation for ordinary people in extraordinary situations, Christopher Bohjalian plots the simple and complex changes endured when Allison’s boyfriend, Dana Stevens, confides his greatest secret—he longs to be a woman.

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