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FDL Reads: Empty Hands

Cover image for Empty Hands, a MemoirEmpty Hands: One Woman’s Journey to Save Children Orphaned by AIDS in South Africa by Sister Abegail Ntleko

Reviewed by: Dawn Dickey, Reference Specialist

Genre: Autobiography

Suggested Age: Teens, Adults

What is the book about?: Empty Hands tells the story of Sister Abegail Ntleko, a nurse and health activist who was born into an impoverished family during the time of apartheid in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The second youngest of 13 children, Abegail’s mother died when she was about 3 ½. The remaining children were then split up, and soon, at a very young age, Abe found herself the sole caretaker of herself and her father, cooking, washing, tending to animals and crops. Abe has an intense desire to help people, and she wants to become a nurse, but her traditionally minded father does not believe in education for women. Finally entering first grade at age 14 when her father relented on Abe’s education, she went on to graduate from nursing school, adopting the first of her dozens of children while still studying nursing. Sister Abe brought together many people and resources to provide rural health care services. When the AIDS crisis hit, Sister Abe was in the thick of it, advocating for better training and education about the disease and offering care and comfort to the sick and survivors by providing or finding “psychological, medical, and legal assistance.” Sister Abegail received the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award from the Dalai Lama in 2009.

My Review: This is a powerful story, told in Sister Abe’s own matter-of-fact language. Despite innumerable obstacles, Abe worked tirelessly to help others throughout her long career, even through heartbreaking times when her own children died of AIDS. Early on in the retelling of her life story, Abegail introduces us to the concept of ubuntu, the “Zulu understanding that you are a person because of other people, and it is the reason for your helping others and others helping you. . . . a natural sense that we are all in this together, a sense of belonging to a community, that by doing for others, you help yourself.” This understanding seems to be Sister Abe’s foundation for the remarkable work that she did. What an exceptional woman!

Three Words That Describe This Book: inspiring, uplifting, humbling

Give This a Try if You Like…  real life heroes.

Rating: 5/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: Universal Harvester

Cover image for Universal harvesterUniversal Harvester by John Darnielle

Reviewed by: Carey Gibbons, Reference Specialist

Genre: Weird Fiction, Horror

Suggested Age: Teens, Adults

What is the book about?: It’s the late 90s and Jeremy is working at a small video renal store in a small town in rural Iowa. Day to day life isn’t all that exciting until people start complaining that there’s something wrong with the video tapes they’re checking out. Jeremy decides to see for himself and finds parts of other videos spliced into the movies on the tapes. Weird videos. Creepy videos. His boss, Sarah Jane, gets involved. She starts coming to work less and less and doesn’t want to talk about the weird tapes. Jeremy doesn’t really want to either, but when one of the regular customers insists that someone nearby might be getting hurt, he takes reluctant action. And then things start to get weird.

My Review: I had to sit with this book for a while and think about it before writing a review. I had read it back in February. I originally thought of this book as horror. The first half of it literally made my skin prickle because it was so creepy. The book as a whole is creepy for sure, but without giving anything away, the story changes partway through into something that isn’t quite horror but also isn’t conducive to the warm fuzzies either. This book has elements of horror but it’s not a gore fest or supernatural in any way. It’s more of a meditation on loss and how loss shapes our lives. It’s about how some people go about their day to day lives dealing with loss and how others… don’t.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Creepy, isolating, sad

Give This a Try if You Like…  The Ring (movie), cults, music by The Mountain Goats

Rating: 4/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: Salt to the Sea

Cover image for Salt to the sea : a novelSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Reviewed by: Susie Rivera, Reference Specialist

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Suggested Age: Teens, Adults

What is the book about?: Four narrators bring each of Ruta Sepetys’s characters to life within the setting of WWII. 1945 brings the reader into the last stages of the war when the tide has shifted and the Russian army begins its encroachment into Germany.  Perspectives switch between a German, Polish, Prussian, and Lithuanian who are trapped, trying to escape the chaos that ensues.  Salt to the Sea has received quite a bit of praise in 2016 and 2017 by Booklist, Goodreads, YALSA, and others.  It is also on the 2018 Abe Lincoln Award list which includes books chosen by Illinois librarians, teachers, and high school students.

My Review: I enjoyed this book though I was a little thrown off at the very beginning.  Sepetys brings in all four perspectives very quickly and it was somewhat difficult to sort them out in my mind at first. Once acclimated, I found myself liking certain characters more than others, but I felt that the very short chapters led to bit of detachment I wouldn’t necessarily feel if Sepetys had focused on developing just one or two characters. The author does a nice job of weaving in a bit of mystery surrounding each narrator and revealing the truth behind these mysteries over the course of the novel. Though I felt this book did not quite live up to its hype, it was still a good read and brings light to a chapter during WWII that is not as well known.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Brisk, Tragic, and Dramatic

Give This a Try if You Like…  WWII fiction, historical fiction, Between Shades of Grey

Rating: 4/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: An Ember in the Ashes

Cover image for An ember in the ashes : a novelAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Reviewed by: Joscelyn Lockwood, Children’s Department

Genre: Fantasy

Suggested Age: Teens, Adults

What is the book about?: 

The Martial Empire rules the land with an iron fist. Separated into classes, the Scholars are the lowest of the low. Leia and her family are Scholars, with her parents being killed by the Empire for being part of the Resistance. When her brother is arrested, Leia takes it upon herself to join the Resistance in an attempt to save him. It is on a special mission for them that she encounters Elias. Elias couldn’t be more of her polar opposite. Trained in the school for the Empire’s soldiers, he’s one of the best students and one of the most unwilling. Together, along with several other characters, they will discover things about both the Empire and the Resistance that could change everything.

My Review: Admittedly, I went into this a little hesitantly. It sounded like a million other YA and dystopian fantasy novels that are currently on store and library shelves. I am glad I read it, though, because I really would have missed out! Laia isn’t your typical Mary Sue character that has every power to right all the wrongs and make everything end happily ever after. She’s a girl like any other, living in fear of the Empire she lives under and trying to keep what’s left of her family together (and alive). Both perspectives the story is told in, from Laia’s point of view and Elias’s, are well written and engaging. Major scenes and action kept me wanting more when I had to take a break from reading. Even though this was originally meant to be a standalone novel, I’m glad the author has written a sequel and am really looking forward to further adventures in the world she has built.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Compelling, Fast-Paced, Brutal

Give This a Try if You Like…  Dystopian fantasy, Political Unrest, A Bit of Violence in your Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: Green Lanterns Volume 1: Rage Planet

Cover image for Green Lanterns. Vol. 1, Rage planetGreen Lanterns Volume 1: Rage Planet by Sam Humphries

Reviewed by: Dave Gibbons, Library Volunteer

Genre: Graphic Novel, Superheroes

Suggested Age: Teens, Adults

What is the book about?: Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz couldn’t be more different. Simon is brash and impulsive and Jessica is overwhelmed by anxiety. They are also the newest members of the Green Lantern Corps. They have been tasked with defending Earth while the original Green Lanterns are busy across the galaxy. This shouldn’t be a huge problem except that the Red Lantern Corps arrives on Earth intending to build a gigantic rage fueled tower.

My Review: I was initially skeptical about a new pair of Green Lanterns. After all we have had five Green Lanterns of Earth already. Other titles have suffered with DC’s “Rebirth” relaunching. This is one that has gotten better. Both Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are very three dimensional characters with whom I could instantly connect. Defying the super hero archetype, they both struggle with very real problems – Simon with the way his Muslim faith is perceived by the community at large and Jessica with crippling anxiety. However, they both manage to persevere and prove themselves worth of the Green Lantern mantle.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Dynamic, Exciting, Fun

Give This a Try if You Like…  Guardians of the Galaxy, Justice League, superheroes

Rating: 4/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: Wolf Hollow

Cover image for Wolf Hollow : a novelWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Reviewed by: Sylvia Shults, Circulation Assistant

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Suggested Age: Teens, Tweens

What is the book about?: Annabelle, a girl growing up just after the Great Depression, must face a bully who terrorizes her friends, including a WWI veteran.

My Review: Okay, this book rocked my world. Think To Kill A Mockingbird, only with a smaller scope … and the heroine gets to interact with Boo Radley throughout the book, not just at the end. Do not be fooled by the fact that this is a children’s book. It has adult themes–death, war, PTSD–but they are treated head-on, like a part of life. The death is traumatic, to be sure, but it doesn’t break up the main character’s life, the way it does in Bridge to Terabithia. This is a powerful, muscular book that is not in the least afraid of roughing up its characters. It is well worth the read.

Three Words That Describe This Book: thought-provoking, terrifying, compelling

Give This a Try if You Like…  To Kill A Mockingbird.

Rating: 5/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: Howl’s Moving Castle

Cover image for Howl's moving castleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones

Reviewed by: Sarah Baker, Circulation Assistant

Genre: Fantasy

Suggested Age: Adults,Teens, Tweens

What is the book about?: Sophie is the eldest child, a role she feels dooms her to failure.  After helping her sisters find their way, she resigns herself to running her late father’s hat shop.  But she crosses paths with the Witch of the Waste who puts a curse on her, making her an old woman!  So Sophie leaves home, seeking to remove her curse.  Along the way she meets and often helps many different people, including the terrible Wizard Howl.  But like Sophie herself, nothing is at it appears at first glance.  And it seems that almost everyone in this world faces a curse of their own.  Will Sophie be able to save herself, or anyone else?

My Review: My first intro to this story was the Studio Ghibli movie, which I loved.  But the movie is NOTHING like the book.  The only thing they have in common is character names and some very basic plot points.  The book gave us a deeper look at their world and the rules that magic follows.  It gave us a better rationale for Sophie’s actions, and her frustrations as well; we actually get to meet her family and to see how their drama affects her and causes some of the decisions she makes.  She’s not afraid to speak her mind or express her irritation with Howl.  We get a history on Howl that is surprising and makes him easier to relate to.  AND (the best part) this is book 1 of a series!

Three Words That Describe This Book: Magical, Funny, Satisfying

Give This a Try if You Like…  Howl’s Moving Castle (the movie), Harry Potter

Rating: 5/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Cover image for The long way to a small, angry planetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Reviewed by: Carey Gibbons, Adult and Reference Services

Genre: Science Fiction

Suggested Age: Adults, Teens

What is the book about?: Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer as the ship’s clerk. This is her first time living out in the vastness of space and she’s not doing it just for fun. The Wayfarer is also a special sort of ship – the kind that makes black holes, which serve as interstellar superhighways for all of the sapient races in the universe. The Wayfarer’s crew is a jumbled mix of members, from the reptile/bird-like pilot Sissex, to the scatterbrained human techs, Jenks and Kizzy, to the ship’s AI, Lovey, to Ashby, the human captain who wants the best for everyone. We journey with these crew members, among others, as they take the biggest job of their lives – creating a black hole in uncharted space for a warlike tribe who can’t seem to keep their aggression under control. Along the way, we learn about all of the crew, including the secret that sent Rosemary to work on the Wayfarer in the first place.

My Review: This is very much a character driven book. Plot happens, but it happens and is resolved episodically, much like a television show. Many people who have reviewed this book liken it to the show Firefly, and I would agree. I enjoyed this book, but it took me a little while to get used to how it was written. Rosemary is only kind of the central character. The book skips around from one character to another and large sections go by without us seeing one or more of the people on the Wayfarer. But I eventually came to enjoy reading about the day to day lives of the people on this ship and their personal conflicts. The large overarching story – that of building a space highway near a hostile planet, doesn’t really kick in until quite late, much like the season finale of a television show. But if you’re a more character driven reader, you’ll like this book a lot. Also, this books looks like hard sci-fi, but it isn’t, so don’t be intimidated or turned off by talk of black holes and interstellar travel. The bulk of the book is about the characters.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Character-driven, compassionate, warm and fuzzy

Give This a Try if You Like…  Firefly, Star Trek TNG, Mass Effect

Rating: 4/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: The Trespasser

Cover image for The trespasserThe Trespasser by Tana French

Reviewed by: Dawn Dickey, Adult and Reference Services

Genre: Mystery

Suggested Age: Adults

What is the book about?: Antoinette Conway is both the only female in the Dublin Murder Squad and a newbie. At the end of an all-night shift, Conway and her partner, Steve Moran, are called to investigate a murder case. The victim, Aislinn Murray, who appears to have been living a squeaky clean life, has been found dead in her apartment after an anonymous phone call alerted the police to a woman who had “fallen and hit her head.” Conway’s position on the squad is tenuous. Except for her partner, the other detectives do not like her, they want her gone, and she has been subjected to harassment. This uncomfortable position forms the foundation of Conway’s inner dialogue, and it also adds to the intrigue of the plot. Conway must not only find out who killed Aislinn Murray, she must also discover who is behind the harassing and who amongst her squad is giving her truthful or false information about the case.

My Review: Conway is a flawed character with a hot temper, but that is part of what makes this book such an engrossing read. Since the book is written in the first person point of view, the reader “hears” all of Conway’s thoughts:  outrage, anger, frustration, disappointment, puzzlement. This makes Conway into a sympathetic character. The inner dialogue and complicated work situation together make for a taut, gotta-finish-this-soon mystery!

Three Words That Describe This Book: gutsy, complex, believable

Give This a Try if You Like…  Lynda La Plante mysteries, especially Prime Suspect (Jane Tennison mysteries) or La Plante’s Anna Travis mysteries.

Rating: 5/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

FDL Reads: The Killer of Little Shepherds

Cover image for The killer of little shepherds : a true crime story and the birth of forensic scienceThe Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas P. Starr

Reviewed by: Sarah Baker, Circulation

Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime

Suggested Age: Adults

What is the book about?: At the end of the nineteenth century, a killer stalked France.  Yes, all of it.  His name was Joseph Vacher, a former soldier and patient of 2 different mental asylums. In his wanderings as a vagabond he killed at least eleven people in locations all around the country.  His favorite targets were young shepherds, isolated and helpless.  His attacks were violent and brutal. During this same time, the new fields of forensic science and psychology were developing at a rapid pace.   Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the preeminent head of forensics in France, was investigating more accurate and thorough methods for autopsy and for determining the age and physical aspects of unknown corpses.  Methods for tracking repeat offenders were being developed, as were set procedures for crime scenes.  The causes of criminality (nature vs nurture, the “inherent criminality” determined by physical traits, and even mental illness) were being put under the microscope as well. These worlds were brought together after Vacher was caught, and the full weight of scientific evidence was used to determine his guilt, and his competence to stand trial.

My Review: This was eye-opening.  I knew that forensic science had to begin sometime, and Starr did a great job showcasing its beginnings and the obstacles it had to overcome.  This book also raised the question of how one could determine sanity, especially in light of apparent sane-ness and or episodic madness.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Engrossing, Intriguing, Informative

Give This a Try if You Like…  CSI, Sherlock Holmes

Rating: 4/5

Find it at the library!

About FDL Reads

FDL ReadsWelcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.  Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available.  If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently.  We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!

imagine, inform, inspire