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Staff Picks: Books

Of Fire and Stars

I love a good, fun fantasy. The world building in Audrey Coulthurst’s debut novel, Of Fire and Stars, is thorough and interesting, as is the character development. Right from the start we are introduced to a girl who discovers she has an Affinity for fire, and while parts of the world are accepting of that, she’s already betrothed to the prince of a kingdom that believes magic use to be heretical. What gives this story a great twist is the romance that blossoms between our protagonist and the sister of her betrothed. I found it refreshing and interesting to read a world where their priorities were flipped - the main challenge of these two women being together wasn’t that they were both women, but that one was betrothed to the other’s brother. Oh, and she can use magic, which is kind of a big deal. Especially when magic-users might be involved in an assassination (or two). There were so many layers to this fantasy, and each one made me want more, even days after finishing the book.

Cat Rackham

Cat Rackham is a cat. Specifically, Cat Rackham is a cat with a lot of issues. Depression? He's got it. Existential dread? Same. Self-doubt? Yes. On the other hand he's also got a nifty green t-shirt, a squishy tuft of hair, and a friend in exuberant, speech-impedimented Jeremy Squirrel, but aside from that he's still pretty much a mess. Mostly wordless, each Cat Rackham vignette in this collection illustrates the poor feline's coping with life's difficulties, with varying degrees of success. Originally published as an infrequent online comic, Cat Rackham is a more-or-less literal embodiment of creator Steve Wolfhard's personal struggles with depression, along with a love of cats and a desire to entertain. Wolfhard's day job as a storyboard artist and animator for sorta-for-kids-although-maybe-not-I-don't-know cartoon Adventure Time shows through, with blobby character designs and a morbid sense of humor dominating each page. If you're struggling, if you like cats, or both, maybe Cat Rackham can help. Or not. He's having a hard time himself.

Towers Falling

I remember how nice the day was. How I didn’t want to go to school. I remember being bored in my Focus on Freshman class when the assistant principal ran, red faced and huffing, into the classroom, handed our teacher a piece of paper, and then ran out. I remember the whole class asking if we were on lockdown, if there was an active shooter in our school, or in the high school across town. I remember the teacher struggling with how to explain what had just happened to a bunch of 9th graders. I remember thinking the world was about to change.

It’s hard to imagine that something that happened not that long ago, something I can still remember so vividly, could be a foreign concept to someone else. In Towers Falling, fifth grader Dèja Barnes wonders how something that happened before she was born could have to do with her. How could this bit of history, something that happened 15 years ago, have any impact on her now? The story follows her as she realizes that 9/11 may have happened before she was born, but the effects have touched everyone around her, and ripple outward to affect her life in ways she did not previously understand. This book does such a fabulous job of showing how we are all connected through our small communities that build outward and how we’re all connected as Americans to 9/11 and how history is never something that exists only in the past tense.

Six of Crows

 I just finished this book, and it is so great that I just have to tell you all about it! It’s called Six of Crows, and it’s written by Leigh Bardugo. It’s a heist novel, set in a fantasy world, and normally I don’t go for these types of stories, because I’m more into nuanced character studies, but that’s part of why this book is so great. 

Each and every character on the team for the big job in this book is fully three-dimensional, with worries, fears, and short comings. Also, it’s a diverse cast of characters, which is really refreshing. The leader of the team Kaz, is 17 and has to walk with a cane due to an injury, and the author wrote that she included this because she herself has to walk with a cane due to a disability.

A lot of times disabled people are erased from narratives, or if they are included in the story, they are defined by their disability. So I was elated to see a strong, complex, interesting character like Kaz.

I love this book, and I’m excited to start on the sequel. Don’t miss out!

Looking for a shorter, high interest book to read?

Try the Rapid reads series! These books are all in the 100-something page range. They are high interest books, geared toward teens and adults that are reluctant readers or looking to improve their reading skills. KPL recently added another great title from this series, The innocence device, about a future where the world is made up of only prisoners and guards. There is overcrowding in one prison, and a machine named the Innocence Device is introduced that supposedly can determine innocence or guilt, with the result being instant freedom or death. Prisoners discover the machine is rigged and riot to claim control of the prison.

Check out other titles in this series, and also search the subject High interest-low vocabulary books for more books like it.


The Last Boy and Girl in the World

The town of Aberdeen is pretty much drowning as the local river waters rise. Residents are caught trying to decide whether to stay and tough it out or stay and leave their home and break up their community. Keely and her friends decide to make the most of what will likely be their last days together in Aberdeen. In the end, The Last Boy in the and Girl in the World is another great teen novel, telling a compelling story and asking questions about the deeper things in life at the same time.

Girl Mans Up

Girl Mans Up is a teen book by M-E Girard about Pen, a girl who just doesn't fit in the way people want her to. She has to navigate the normal challenges of high school, which include supporting a new friend through an accidental pregnancy, figuring out her changing relationships with her guy friends, and dating for the first time. In addition, she is living the truth of her gender identity and sexuality, while fighting the intense disapproval of her traditional Portuguese parents and others at school and in public. Pen's honest, funny, and thoughtful perspective drew me into this novel, and the other characters were just as interesting. Pick Pen for your new favorite LGBTQ/teen protagonist.

Don't Miss Out!

 In case you didn’t know, right now in theatres there is a brilliant movie called the Queen of Katwe. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, and David Oyelowo, it follows the journey of a young girl named Phiona living in the slums of Uganda who learns the game of chess and quickly skyrockets through the ranks to be a national champion, even competing in international competitions for the rank of Grandmaster. In the process, she is able to improve life conditions for herself, her family, and uplift the community as a whole. 


Right after the credits rolled, I headed straight to the bookshelves to find out more about this incredible individual. The biographythe movie is based on, by Tim Crothers, fleshes out the inspirational tale a bit more to  include the political climate of the country at the time, and gives more details about some of the great challenges Phiona Mutesi was able to overcome.  Don’t miss out on this great story of true life triumph! 

Ask Me How I Got Here

Written in verse, Ask Me How I Got Here, gives us a quick glimpse of life for a pregnant teenager. Addie is a good student, star runner who attends a Catholic school for girls. With the support of her parents and boyfriend, she gets an abortion. The poems that follow as Addie struggles through morality class, pep assemblies and quitting the cross country team are short but powerful. Addie gives poetic thought to religion, women’s rights, choice and her own story of self discovery. The book ends with a list of community and national resources to help ensure that no one ever has to face an unplanned pregnancy alone.

The Serpent King

Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is that rarest of young adult books; one about normal teens in a small town wasteland, quietly struggling with sadness and pain and the realization that darkness is part of many of us, hidden just below the surface. It's a book that doesn't sugarcoat the problems the characters face, but also doesn't exploit them- you can understand the quiet desperation and the need to make a change, if only you could just figure out how.

Lydia, Dillard and Travis are three friends united by their outsider statuses- Lydia for her outrageous fashion sense and smarts(not an easy thing in rural Tennessee, apparently), Travis by his love of a Game of Thrones-type fantasy world, Internet girlfriend, and ever-present wood staff, and Dill by his preacher father's horrific fall from grace and his family's long, dark past. The three form an unlikely triangle, with each holding up the others as they navigate the end of high school and the difficulties of rural life. Religion and faith play a large part in The Serpent King, but it's never trivialized or ridiculed, and it's a testament to first-time author Zentner's skills that he writes Dill's faith with sensitivity even in the face of powerful external forces.

The Serpent King is a powerful debut novel, and I can't wait to see where Mr. Zentner goes from here.