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Book Buzz Book Reviews

Staff Picks 2023

San Diego Public Library staff write short book reviews of their favorite titles for the San Diego Union Tribune, which are published every other Sunday. Here is a selection of the titles we've recommended. Checkout information may be found in the library catalog.

For more book recommendations and reviews check out our YouTube Channel for video reviews by staff.


Book Cover for Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Reviewed by Cora Lee Womble-Miesner
Library Assistant III, College-Rolando Branch Library, San Diego Public Library
San Diego Union Tribune, March 12, 2023
Animal is a brutal novel that I can’t get out of my head. In it, Joan moves from New York to Los Angeles to track down a woman she’s never met, seeking closure from an ominous and violent past. Taddeo delivers Joan’s story in tense, muscular sentences. She fills in bits and pieces like a paint-by-number, until the fragments come together to reveal a complete image. No synopsis of the plot can do it justice—it’s best enjoyed without knowing what is to come. Taddeo's writing is dynamic, crisp, and alarmingly original. Despite the depraved ferocity of this novel, it ends on a sentimental note—Animal is a book charged with rage and torment, but also fueled by a tender capacity for love. 

Book Cover for It's One of Us

Reviewed by Kelly Verheyden 
Supervising Librarian, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, February 26, 2023 
Olivia Bender is a chic interior designer desperate to have a child. She has tried numerous fertility treatments, without success. She is ready to tell her husband, Park, that she is ready to stop trying when the police arrive with shocking news: DNA testing shows that the prime suspect in several murders is genetically Park’s son. Olivia feels shocked and betrayed to learn Park donated sperm in college. Park has no idea how many children he has, and one of them is a killer. J.T. Ellison’s emotional thriller unwinds quickly, questioning nature vs. nurture, genetic privacy, and marital trust. Olivia becomes increasingly suspicious of Park, after all, he fathered a murderer, so what might he be capable of, and what is he hiding from his past? If the police know the killer is genetically related to Park, does the killer know too, and will he come looking for his “father”? 

Book Cover of The Devil Takes You Home

Reviewed by Steven Torres-Roman 
Librarian II, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, February 12, 2023 
Mario’s daughter died, he lost his job, and his wife has left him, but in an effort to reclaim his life Mario may also sacrifice his soul. Out of desperation, Mario takes a job to hijack a truckload of drug cartel money, but soon finds himself out of his depth and mired in criminal violence and supernatural horror. Iglesias's latest book is a brilliant and bleak blend of crime and occult horror fiction, as well as a sharp denouncement of institutional poverty and racism. And while some of the dialogue is written in Spanish, the native language of the author and many of the characters, much of the important Spanish dialogue is translated to English, though some readers might find Google translate helpful. Despite the similarities between noir and horror fiction, there aren’t enough books that blend the two effectively; fortunately, Iglesias effectively bridges cultures and genres with equal skill. 

Book cover of Gallant by VE Schwab

Reviewed by Yvette Jackson 
Library Assistant II, North University Community Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, January 29, 2023 
Gallant is a beautifully spun, darkly written book I've recently had the pleasure to enjoy in both text and an exceptional, energetic, and emotionally vivid audiobook. The main character, Olivia, was left with an orphanage as a baby, with nothing but a journal written by her mother to connect her to the past. Olivia cannot speak, but she can see ghosts and ghouls haunting her world. Her dismal life at the orphanage comes to a halt when she receives a letter from her uncle telling her that he has been searching for her and instructing her to come home to Gallant. What seems like an orphan's dream come true, a discovery of family, leads to mystery, magic, and revelations that will keep you turning pages.

Kings of the Wyld

Reviewed by Steven Torres-Roman 
Librarian II, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, January 15, 2023 
In his youth, Clay Cooper belonged to the greatest crew of monster slayers in history, the Kings of the Wyld. Bands of warriors like theirs were treated like heroes and feted like rock stars. But age catches up to everyone, and Clay has retired. He has a wife and child now, so no more adventures for him… until a former bandmate, Gabriel, shows up at his door, begging for his help. Gabriel’s daughter Rose is a warrior like her famed father, and she’s trapped in a city under siege by fiends and horrors. Gabriel needs the aid of his fellow adventurers to break the siege and rescue her. For better or worse, Clay knows that, if they’re to complete this mission, it’s time to put the band back together. Eames’s novel is a must-read fantasy adventure full of action and humor with a “we’re too old for this” twist. 

Cover of The Body Keeps the Score

Reviewed by James Leftwich 
Library Assistant 3, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, January 1, 2023 
This book is a great introduction to the subject of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Written in an accessible narrative style, The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, gives light to a woefully neglected topic: the profound effects of trauma and its treatments. Van Der Kolk makes a valid distinction between PTSD and Complex PTSD: you don’t have to have an acute traumatic event to experience PTSD; rather a long-term toxic situation is in many ways equally damaging. The basic message is that trauma is an injury to the brain, and changes how we think and feel. Interestingly Van Der Kolk goes beyond the brain and relates how these events are actually stored within the body. The effects of trauma are far-reaching. In a hopeful message Van Der Kolk devotes chapters to various treatments, and new insights and treatments are evolving rapidly.