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Reading @ the Matthews Family Library: New Books for Jan/Feb

New Books!!

Before I Fall

If you could relive your last day, what would you do differently? This is what Samantha asks herself when, after a fatal accident driving from a party on Friday, she wakes in her bed to find she must repeat the entire day again. And again. As Samantha lives through multiple Fridays, desperate to prevent her death, she is struck by how even the most insignificant acts, like running late for school instead of being on time, can change everything. Suddenly she is noticing uncomfortable things—about her friends, about herself—she has never noticed before. It’s the ultimate learning experience, and it takes Samantha seven times—not to save her own life but to leave with one she can be proud of. Oliver, in a pitch-perfect teen voice, explores the power we have to affect the people around us in this intensely believable first novel. Samantha grows from an entitled, popular, yet insecure girl to one with the compassion and guts to make the right decisions. This is a compelling book with a powerful message that will strike a chord with many teens.

The Mothers

California native Bennett’s debut novel, set in the U.S. Marine Corps base city of Oceanside, unflinchingly examines the consequences of secret decisions born of pain and fear as they play out in the lives of three young people, decade by decade. The story is narrated in part by the eponymous mothers, a ­chorus of elder church women who—­having lived through it all—demonstrate no compunction in judging and discussing the choices made by their fellow parishioners of the Upper Room Chapel. Seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner, beautiful, brilliant and broken by the recent suicide of her mother, hastily falls in love with Luke, the pastor’s son, who is literally broken, having suffered a college career-ending football injury. An unplanned pregnancy followed by the decision to terminate ends their relationship as quickly as it began. Nadia befriends Aubrey, who is harboring her own deep, if unseen, wounds. Nadia’s eventual escape from Oceanside ends when she returns to care for her ill father, and, inevitably, the secrets all three have been keeping from each other are exposed in an eruption as shattering as one would expect, with life-altering fallout. Bennett’s writing is both wrenching and light. She deftly blends the complex and serious situations her characters face with innate humor and understanding in this deeply affecting coming-of-age story.

The Case Against Sugar

aubes takes the topic of his best-seller, Why We Get Fat and What to Do about It (2011), one step further in his latest. Beyond implicating carbohydrates as the enemy in modern diets, Taubes lays out, as his title suggests, the prosecution’s argument if sugar alone were to be tried in criminal court, charged for causing the Western World’s plagues of diabetes and obesity. Imagined concept aside, Taubes deals in science and fact, and what he relays is staggering. Namely, that the refutable “calories in versus calories out” theory of weight management has taken responsibility for illness away from sugar for more than a century; that the twentieth-century decision to blame fats and salt for heart disease is an overly assumptive and sadly immovable one; and that modern studies of the manifestation of diabetes and obesity in recently Westernized populations suggest that “we’re likely to be facing grave new problems moving forward if our sugar use isn’t dramatically curbed.” Acknowledging that responsible public-health policy and good nutrition science won’t always overlap, as well as the difficulty in testing the effects of any single food in our diets, Taubes confidently recommends giving a severe reduction in sugar intake a try.

Scythe

In a world where humanity has conquered death and a fraternity called Scythes are the only ones allowed to kill people in order to curb overpopulation, Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch must cope with their newfound and terrible responsibilities as apprentices in killing. A brilliant and gripping sci-fi thriller that acutely explores the consequences of worldwide immortality and asks readers to think critically about the nature of morality.

The Regional Office Is under Attack!

You might want to get a firm grip on your socks before cracking open this one; otherwise, Gonzales is likely to knock them off. It’s very difficult to categorize this mind-bending novel. Is it comedy? Science fiction? Thriller? Spoof? Whatever it is, it’s pure excitement. The story involves a shadowy organization called the Regional Office, described by its mission statement as “a barrier of last resort between the survival of the Planet and the amassing forces of Darkness”; as the book opens, the Regional Office is being attacked by those very forces. As the mayhem progresses, the focus zooms in on two women: Rose, who’s leading the attack, and Sarah, who’s fighting for her life defending the Regional Office (even as her colleagues are dying around her). The story jumps back and forth in time, showing us how Rose and Sarah became the women they are today: Rose is a trained assassin, Sarah is a potential killing machine with a cybernetic arm. The prose is lively and self-aware (the author clearly knows his story is way over the top and has fun with it for that very reason); meanwhile, though, the action is pretty much nonstop, and there’s a thread of melancholy running throughout—Rose and Sarah might have been ordinary young women if certain events, and the machinations of highly placed individuals who saw them as weapons, had not intervened. All in all, a brilliant genre-blender.

A Field Guide to Lies

A crash course in Skepticism 101."Much of what we read should raise our suspicions," warns Levitin (Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience/McGill Univ.; The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, 2014, etc.). Indeed, lies abound, and "bad statistics are everywhere." Averages can be manipulated. Graphs can distort. Misinformation proliferates in books, websites, videos, and social media. What to do? Levitin says we must engage in critical thinking, and he spells out in this lucid text exactly what that means when encountering words and numbers and trying to decide what's true and what's not. Using vivid examples from major media, the author shows how easily--whether accidentally or deliberately--data can lead us astray. For one thing, statistics are gathered by fallible people. Have terms been properly defined? Has a representative sample been taken? Have credible experts been cited? Are the sources reputable (peer-reviewed articles, books from major publishers)? Be suspicious of all information. "You shouldn't trust everything you read in the New York Times," he writes, "or reject everything you read on TMZ." With common sense as a first line of defense (if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is), readers must be mindful of the scientific method, a major focus of the book. Where's the evidence? Where's the control group? What are the possible alternative explanations? Levitin takes pains to emphasize that once misinformation takes hold, many people can believe things that aren't so. 

Without Annette

Mason’s YA debut is an authentic, bittersweet story of friendship, first love, and finding one’s way. Josie moves with her girlfriend, Annette, from Minnesota to Connecticut to attend Brookwood Academy, an elite boarding school. Josie wants a school that will challenge her, but more than that, she wants to save Annette from Annette’s alcoholic mother. However, Annette fits in too well, spending all her time with the “soleets” (social elites), becoming unrecognizable, while Josie struggles with feeling homesick and isolated. The girls agreed to keep their relationship a secret at first, but when Josie is ready to come out, Annette wants to wait. Josie falls in with her artistic roommate and a group of boys, while Annette heads for a self-destructive path. Mason captures the tangled, painful feelings of hanging on to love when it’s no longer working, and learning when to let go. With relatable writing and well-rounded characters, as well as a sensitive depiction of lesbian romance, this is a strong contemporary novel for older readers.

A Dog's Purpose

Like cats, dogs have multiple lives. At least, Bailey, the canine narrator of this first novel, has more than one. Bailey’s first life is spent as a feral puppy who learns to trust humans after living with a loving but slightly dotty woman who owns too many dogs to suit the county. Bailey is removed by animal control, and his next life brings him to young Ethan, the human Bailey will love and search for through all his subsequent lives, first as part of K-9 Search and Rescue and then as a dumped and mistreated mutt. Through all these lives, Bailey contemplates his purpose in a voice full of curiosity and humor. He ruminates on the usefulness of cats (“none”) and the strange natures of humans (“Am I a good dog or a bad dog? They can’t decide”).

Hillbilly Elegy

Things could have so easily turned out differently for Vance. Growing up in a working-class family riven by strife and seemingly incapable of escaping its rural Kentucky roots, Vance spent his youth bouncing between homes, a succession of father figures, and ever more explosive situations. The story of how he overcame his upbringing to graduate from Yale Law School and embark on a stable and happy adulthood poses the bigger question of how the obstacles facing other such “hillbillies” can be surmounted. Vance compellingly describes the terrible toll that alcoholism, drug abuse, and an unrelenting code of honor took on his family, neither excusing the behavior nor condemning it. Instead, he pulls back to examine the larger social forces at work for white, working-class Americans with ties to Appalachia. The portrait that emerges is a complex one, where die-hard cultural beliefs contribute to a downward spiral for Vance’s family and those like them. Unerringly forthright, remarkably insightful, and refreshingly focused, Hillbilly Elegy is the cry of a community in crisis.

All We Have Left

Two separate narratives run parallel to each other in this thoughtful, poignant novel about the 9/11 attacks. In 2001, Alia, a Muslim teenager, goes to her father’s office in the World Trade Center to make peace after an argument. In 2016, angry teenager Jesse writes a racial slur on the Islam Peace Center in her hometown. The two are connected across time by the events of September 11: Jesse’s brother, Travis, died in them, and her father has been in a booze-fueled hate spiral ever since. Alia, who is in the towers when the planes hit, meets Travis, and the two attempt to escape together. Alia’s fight for her life, and Jesse’s struggle to overcome a lifetime of prejudice and fear are equally compelling. When discussing anti-Muslim views in America, this strays toward heavy-handedness, though forgivably so: it’s an important topic that deserves more dialogue than it receives. A moving portrait and important look at the lasting effects of one of our country’s greatest tragedies.

Adult Fiction

Teen Fiction

Nonfiction and Graphic Novels