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Book Buzz Book Reviews

Staff Picks 2022

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 The Marrow Thieves

Reviewed by Dana Sanchez 
Youth Services Librarian, Point Loma/Hervey Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 20 November 2022 
 
The Marrow Thieves, by award-winning Métis author Cherie Dimaline, is a haunting yet familiar survival story about a post-apocalyptic world in which the Indigenous populations of North America are hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, a precious resource that holds the key to recovering something that the rest of the non-Indigenous population has lost: the ability to dream. With themes of cyclical histories, humanity’s relationship with nature, and the power of preserving language through storytelling, readers are treated to a compelling tale set in the not-so-distant future that teaches us the valuable lessons of both preserving and celebrating nature and Indigenous cultures. 

Bullet Train Book Cover

Reviewed by Steven Torres-Roman 
Librarian II, Central Library, San Diego Public Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, November 6, 2022 
 
Nanao, also known as Ladybug, is a professional criminal plagued by anxiety, and quite possibly the unluckiest person alive. He has one simple task: to board the Hayate high-speed bullet train, obtain a specific briefcase filled with ransom money, and exit the train at the next stop. Simple, right? Except the train's other passengers include: the son of a mob boss; several professional hitmen with colorful noms de guerre like Tangerine and Lemon, the Wolf, and the Hornet; and an adolescent psychopath, most of whom seem determined to keep the case out of Nanao's hands. Bullet Train is a fast-paced, action-packed, outrageous, and cynically humorous thriller, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. 

Book cover for Terciel & Elinor

Reviewed by Linda Dami
Library Assistant 3, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, October 23, 2022 
 
Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix is good as a stand-alone book but really shines as a prequel to Sabriel and answers many of the questions you're left wondering about Sabriel's parents. Terciel and Elinor is mostly set in the Old Kingdom, a place with both free and charter magic (magic bound with symbols, used by mages and humans) that features threats from the living and the dead. This book explores how Terciel and Elinor meet--before Terciel is an Abhorsen, who is tasked to keep the dead in death; and how Elinor finds the Old Kingdom, her ties to it, and the magic she didn't know existed. If you are expecting a romance novel this isn't really it, but it does explain how Terciel and Elinor end up together. You also find out more about Wyverly College and why they unofficially teach charter magic. 

Cover of The Last House on Needless Street

Reviewed by Misty Jones
Director, San Diego Public Library
San Diego Union Tribune, October 9, 2022
 
In a dilapidated house at the end of a cul-de-sac lives alcoholic recluse, Ted Bannerman, his rebellious and often violent daughter, Lauren, and a Bible-reading cat named Olivia. They have a tenuous relationship at best, with Ted often disappearing for days, and Lauren and Olivia, who are not allowed to leave the house or even be in the same room together. When Dee shows up looking for her sister who was kidnapped years earlier, things begin to spiral out of control for all of them. Any further details would give away too much except to say there is a twist you won’t see coming but will stick with you for a long time after.

Cover of When We Cease to Understand the World

Reviewed by Jolanta Danaziene 
Library Assistant II, Carmel Mountain Ranch Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, October 2, 2022
 
“It was not politicians who would destroy the planet … but scientists like them who were ‘marching like sleepwalkers towards the apocalypse.’” Chilean author Labatut presents readers with an opportunity to know more about some of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, provides insights into their minds and decisions, and masterly blends fact and fiction as he navigates the topics of the scientists’ ambitions, sense of responsibility, and troubled lives and legacies. This semi-fictional book, with its five connected stories, explores the heights and horrific consequences of scientific discoveries, and forces us to reckon the horizons of knowledge and consider how far our explorations may go--a necessity to better understand our world--and the potential downfall and risks of self-destruction.  

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow Book Cover

Reviewed by Isabella Wood
Youth Services Librarian, North Clairemont Library
San Diego Union Tribune, September 11, 2022
 
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is a book about two things: video games and love. This novel is a beautiful ode to artistry and collaboration, and it masterfully depicts many different expressions of platonic and romantic love, emphasizing how rare it is to find someone that inspires you to create. The central relationships in this narrative are complex and evolve drastically over time, which makes them feel real and relatable. Zevin also explores the many dualities of video games: how they serve as an escape from and a model for the real world; how they allow players to either isolate from or connect with others; and the false duality of marketability and easy entertainment versus games that are compelling works of art in their own right. The intricately crafted narrative and unique protagonists in Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow will keep you absorbed until the very end. 

Book Cover of The Library of the Unwritten

Reviewed by Debbie Taylor
Librarian 2: Valencia Park / Malcolm X Library
San Diego Union Tribune, 28 August 2022
 
What happens to books that are unfinished by their authors? They end up in the Unwritten Wing, a neutral space in Hell. Running the library is no nonsense librarian Claire Hadley who believes that one could never have too many pockets, too many books, or too much tea. Claire’s job is mundane, mainly repairing books and making sure characters stay in their book bindings. When a character, Hero, escapes his book in search of his author in Seattle, Claire must leave the library to retrieve him. Assisting Claire are her bubbly assistant, Brevity, a Muse, and a teenage Demon, Leto. What should have been an easy retrieval takes a turn when fallen angel Ramiel begins to pursue them, thinking that Claire is in possession of the elusive Devil’s Bible, a powerful resource in the struggle between good and evil. Grab a cup of hot tea and settle in for a thrilling adventure ride through several mythological realms.

Truffle Hound Book Cover

Reviewed by Angie Stava 
Librarian 2: Children & Teen Materials Selector, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 14 August 2022
 
Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about truffles—they sounded vaguely exclusive, that’s all. Rowan Jacobsen, however, reveals a fascinating story of contradictions—truffles aren’t just about wealth, tradition, & taste, but also climate change, cutting-edge biotech, and mystery. Truffles are a multi-million-dollar industry, but until 10 years ago, scientists didn’t even fully understand how they reproduced. Jacobsen delves into the notoriously exclusive world of truffle hunters in Italy and France, but he also interviews unpretentious truffle farmers in places like Oregon and North Carolina. He hunts with dogs who come from pedigreed lines, bred exclusively for truffle hunting - but he also meets Gustave, a rescued Chihuahua who won the North American Truffle Dog Championship out of nowhere. This is an entertaining, readable pick for armchair travelers, and it’s also a reminder of how much we still have to learn about the living world all around us. 

The Sandman Book One Cover

Reviewed by Steven A. Torres-Roman 
Librarian 2, Humanities Librarian, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 31 July 2022  
 
Long before geek culture dominated popular culture, a relatively unknown writer named Neil Gaiman wrote the very first issue of a horror-fantasy comic book entitled "The Sandman," concerning Morpheus, the King of Dreams, and his interactions with the mortal realm. Thirty-three years later, Neil Gaiman is a household name among readers, and his stories in "The Sandman" were instrumental in making graphic novels a commercially viable medium, which in turn led to comics becoming even more popular, and their transformation into multimedia sensations. Coming full circle, "The Sandman" television series will soon debut on Netflix. Why highlight this comic? Because beyond Gaiman's brilliance, beyond the historical importance of the series itself, is the fact that stories--whether they be ancient myths and legends, fairy tales … or even comics--are newly discovered by each generation, and “The Sandman” deserves to be discovered and rediscovered for generations to come. 

Dilla Time Book Cover

Reviewed by Robert Surratt 
Branch Manager, Balboa Branch Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, July 17, 2022   
 
James Dewitt Yancy, a.k.a. Jay Dee a.k.a. J Dilla, arrived on the Hip Hop scene by contributing production to The Pharcyde’s 1995 sophomore release, “Labcabincalifornia.” From his earliest credits till his death in 2006, J Dilla reshaped the sound and feel of Hip Hop. As a member of several renowned collectives including Slum Village, The Ummah, and Soulquarians, Dilla’s seminal work was not only definitive, but challenged listeners with unconventional techniques that to the untrained ear might sound slipshod or even amateur. However, upon closer inspection, his use of swing programming revealed a sophisticated understanding of rhythm that would ultimately influence a generation of beat makers. “Dilla Time” explores the settings, conditions, and events that shaped J Dilla’s life and art, and the impact of his work on Hip Hop and popular music. 

Book cover of Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados

Reviewed by Cora Lee Womble-Miesner 
Library Assistant 3, College-Rolando Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, July 3, 2022  
 
The subject of this playful, invigorating debut novel is near and dear to my heart: female friendship. Isa and Gala are codependent 21-year-olds traipsing around New York City, always on the lookout for free drinks and a plate of oysters to share. Their hedonism is tempered by their scrappiness—unable to legally work (as non-US citizens), they take on a series of under-the-table odd jobs to fund their party-girl escapades. The coltish, spirited prose is anchored by Isa’s discerning observations. She records the joys and pitfalls of her friendship with Gala, and how that bond is tested by the world they inhabit. Marlowe Granados packs this novel with scenes that capture the mischief and mirth of young womanhood. “Happy Hour” is a perfect summer companion—read it at the beach, at the bar, or while waiting for your best friend to finally decide on an outfit for the night. 

The Deeper The Roots Book Cover

Reviewed by Isabella Wood 
Youth Services Librarian, North Clairemont Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, June 19, 2022  
 
Michael Tubbs was born and raised in Stockton, CA, at a time when the goal for many residents was to escape Stockton. However, young black men like Tubbs are rarely expected to succeed. Enraged by the systemic inequality that tangibly affected his life, eager to disprove the negative expectations that surrounded him, and consistently supported by the three women that raised him, Tubbs did escape Stockton by attending Stanford University, travelling the world, and interning at the White House. Tubbs then returned to his hometown with his new experiences, perspectives, and connections. He channeled everything he gained into improving the lives of Stockton’s citizens. By the age of 30, Tubbs worked as a high school teacher, served on Stockton’s city council, and led Stockton as the city’s mayor. His list of accomplishments is incredible and demonstrates that citizens benefit from policymakers who have deep roots in the communities they serve. 

The Ride of Her Life Book Cover

Reviewed by Kristina Garcia 
Librarian II, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 5 June 2022 
 
Life is a great adventure. That sentiment is captured in every chapter of The Ride of Her Life. What I picked up as a distracting, light read turned out to be a meticulously researched, page-turner of a tale. In 1954, Annie Wilkins, age 63, left her farm in Maine on horseback with the idea of riding to California. With no family left to tend the farm and her health in jeopardy trying to meet its upkeep, Annie had few options for her future. Annie chose to pack up and hit the open road for California with everything but a map to get there! Instead, Annie relied on hard work, a gift of gab, a love for animals and faith to move her forward. A unique story even 60+ years ago, author Letts creates an interesting juxtaposition of pioneer life with the burgeoning industrialism that we know so well today. 
 

Woman, Eating Book Cover

Reviewed by Amanda Lorge 
Librarian 1, Sciences Dept., Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 22 May 2022
 
Lydia is a vampire and performance artist who is finally moving out of her mother’s place for a prestigious museum internship in London. As glamorous as it sounds, the dull reality is Lydia struggles to find a source of fresh blood without her mother’s help, her internship is exploitative and her boss is a creep, and her flirtation with neighboring artist Ben is underwhelming and unsatisfying. In this debut novel, Claire Kohda reflects the unique anxieties of contemporary young women, using vampire folklore to examine parental relationships, race, and exploitation. Woman, Eating is a perfect literary vampire novel for the disillusioned millennial who grew up reading Twilight and is ready to sink their teeth into something a little more complex. 

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry Book Cover

Reviewed by Monnee Tong 
Service Area Manager - Sciences, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 8 May 2022 
 
It was 1982 in Detroit when Vincent Chin went out to celebrate his bachelor party. The evening started with friends and fun, but ended with Chin bludgeoned with a baseball bat at the hands of Michael Nitz and Ronald Ebens. Nitz and Ebens never spent time in prison for the murder. 
 
Chin’s killing is typically included in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies courses, but author Paula Yoo introduces the story for the general public. Yoo mixes meticulous research with keen character development, enveloping readers in the heartbreak of Vincent Chin’s death.  
 
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This APA Heritage Month, I honor Vincent Chin, Vincent Chin’s brave mother Lily Chin, and the writer Paula Yoo, for this incredible book that so vividly illustrates the start of a civil rights movement. Don’t be fooled by the young adult designation--this is a page turner for adults, too.  

Book Cover - Ultraluminous

Reviewed by Cora Lee Womble-Miesner 
Library Assistant 3, College-Rolando Library
San Diego Union Tribune, 24 April 2022 
 
This book demands your attention from the onset. Faw writes with an unflinching, visceral prose that drags you into a world of Duane Reade sushi and high-end prostitution. “Ultraluminous” charts a year in the life of a New York City escort with a weekly rotation of ultra-rich clientele through paragraphs that are as vivid as they are concise—each compact scene sears with the raw intensity of an exposed nerve. The novel’s cyclical pattern creates order from the chaos of drugs, sex work, and an ever-gentrifying Brooklyn, and that sense of routine adds to the mounting tension threaded throughout the plot. Beneath haunting memories, unsexy sex scenes, and copious amounts of heroin lies a piercing critique of capitalism and misogyny, and the places in which the two intersect. 

Book Cover - Big Black: Stand at Attica

Reviewed by Jimmy Lovett, Jr. 
Teen Services Librarian, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, 10 April 2022
 
When authorities reclaimed Attica maximum security prison on Monday, September 13, 1971, the prison would never be the same—law enforcement had shot at least 128 men and killed ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates.  
 
Prison officials took it upon themselves to dole out punishment to the inmates, and sought out those prisoners they believed led the insurrection, including Frank “Big Black” Smith. The guards beat him, tortured him, then placed a football under his chin, against his throat, and told him if it should fall, he would be shot to death. 
 
Big Black: Stand at Attica is an unflinching look at the price of standing up to injustice in what remains one of the bloodiest civil rights confrontations in American history, and shines a spotlight on the treatment of incarcerated citizens in American penitentiaries. 

An Unkindness of Magicians book cover

Reviewed by Vanessa Gempis
Manager, Pauline Foster Teen Center, Central Library
San Diego Union Tribune, 13 March 2022
 
“Fortune's wheel has begun its turning.” That is the message that signals change to the Unseen World, the world of magic and magicians that operates covertly in New York City. The words signify the start of the Turning, a mandatory tournament amongst the magical families (or Houses) that decides who has control over their world. For some, it’s a chance to break into this insular world of power. For others, it’s a way to strengthen the power they already have. And for Sydney, a mysterious and powerful magician who no one seems to know, it’s a chance to bring down the system that made her. Captivating characters, vengeance, murder, and political machinations shine against the fascinating world building. If you’ve ever wanted a book that combines elements of the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, but for adults, then this delightful and twisty tale is for you!

Book Jacket of The Bullet Journal Method

Reviewed by Craig Wimberly
Library Assistant III, Central Library
San Diego Union Tribune, February 27, 2022
 
If you've browsed the Internet in the last few years, you may have encountered the artsy dot grid journals that have been popularized by many influencers. Social media has abbreviated this practice to “bujo,” but it’s officially known as the Bullet Journal method. The Bullet Journal Method was developed by Ryder Carroll in his book of the same name. It’s easy to be intimidated by the picture-perfect layouts that you’ll find on Pinterest, but Carroll breaks down his go-to method into five short sections. He walks the reader through setting up their first notebook, implementing handwriting as a daily habit, and utilizing bujo as a creative outlet. This is a quick and easy introduction for anyone who wants to try bullet journaling but has had no idea where to start. Grab a ballpoint and a composition notebook because it really is as simple as putting pen to paper!

Story of a Goat Book Cover

The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan; translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman
Reviewed by Jolanta Danaziene 
Library Assistant I, Rancho Bernardo Library  
San Diego Union Tribune, February 13, 2022 
 
An elderly couple receives a strange gift from a mysterious visitor - a weak newborn goat that they name Poonachi. No one believes this poor kid will survive, but she thrives and delights in their care. Thus begins this sad, painful, wise and very beautiful story of a goat—the story about all us humans, from the goat’s perspective. 
 
Readers can approach this novel as an allegory or a fable-fairy tale about human’ connection with animals and nature. Yet it is also a vivid story about the bureaucracy and corruption rampant in India, about the impoverished daily life of poor south Indian villagers, about their wisdom and folly, about their brutal survival, all mixed into a novel of magical realism. 

Supergods book cover

Reviewed by Steven Torres-Roman 
Humanities Librarian, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, January 30, 2022 
 
If you’ve enjoyed comic books any time in the past twenty-five years, then you likely already have a favorite story written by Grant Morrison. He’s written some of the best-known award-winning works for an amazing cast of characters from both Marvel and DC, including Superman, Batman, and the X-Men, down to the source material for the current Doom Patrol television series. In “Supergods,” Grant Morrison gives us a tour of the various historical cycles, or “ages,” of superhero comics, from the Golden Age to the twenty-first century, as well as informative and sometimes scathingly humorous anecdotes about the business of comics from an insider’s perspective. Morrison’s experience as a comics creator and researcher of the medium informs his most valuable insights regarding the persistence and importance of the superhero as symbol, and how our deepest fears and noblest aspirations are reflected in nearly a century’s worth of stories. 

Book Cover The Girl in the Mirror

Reviewed by Kelly Verheyden
Manager, Kensington-Normal Heights Library
San Diego Union Tribune, January 16, 2022
 
Iris and Summer are mirror twins, which means they are mirror images of each other. Iris is the insecure twin, always jealous of Summer’s charmed life and perfect husband Adam. Iris’ marriage has ended, so when Summer calls asking if she will sail with her from Thailand to the Seychelles, Iris agrees. During the journey, Summer is washed overboard and when Iris finally arrives at port, how does she explain her sister’s death? She doesn’t—she decides to become Summer. Can she fool Summer’s husband? Will she be able to get pregnant and inherit the millions her father left to his first grandchild? This multilayered psychological thriller will leave you guessing. Debut author, Rose Carlyle, is a sailor and has sailed across the Indian Ocean with her family. The authenticity of the sailing adds depth to the first half of the novel and numerous plot twists create tension in the second half. This book is a quick and exciting read.

Book Cover of Burnout

Reviewed by Melissa Giffen  
Youth Services Librarian, Scripps Miramar Ranch Library
San Diego Union Tribune, January 2, 2022 
 
Sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski have created a book that’s a scientific and empathetic look at stress-related “burnout” including what it is, why so many people (especially women) have it, and what science says about what we can do to manage--not just cope with--our stress. Through their own personal anecdotes and those of close friends, the Nagoskis share concrete examples of the consequences of being overwhelmed by stress and how implementing these scientific methods designed to dismantle stress frees us from carrying it in our minds and bodies long term. Those who are scientifically minded will appreciate the Nagoskis’ science-based approach and thorough citations. For the rest of us, it’s an accessible read that will give hope and practical help to anyone who feels overwhelmed by everything they have to do (and be) on a regular basis.