The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Do you ever wish you could read some classic Russian literature, updated for the 21st century but still retaining that essential everyone-ends-up-unhappy, nihilistic vibe? Look no further than The Family Chao, the newest offering from Iowa Writers’ Workshop maven Lan Samantha Chang! However, if you aren’t familiar with Dostoevsky’s parricidal classic The Brothers Karamazov, fear not–The Family Chao is still a good read, and you will be surprised with the twist at the end.

The Chao family are five: parents Leo and Winnie, who migrated to the U.S. from China and run the Fine Chao restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin; and sons Dagou, Ming, and James. As the story opens, Winnie has recently left the womanizing Leo, and the sons have all returned to Haven for the restaurant’s annual Christmas party. Each son has a complicated relationship with his parents. Dagou, a gifted chef, works at the restaurant but struggles with the demands and cruelties of the temperamental Leo. Ming is a very successful real estate broker in New York who wants to bury his Chinese heritage entirely. College freshman James loves his family deeply but is pulled in different directions by his loyalties to father, mother, and brothers.

When Leo Chao is found dead the morning after the Christmas party, the question is not who had motive to kill him, but rather who didn’t? What follows is not a whodunit in a traditional sense, but rather a family drama that happens to involve a murder. The characters–especially young James–are brilliantly drawn and vibrantly real, and the reader empathizes with each of them in turn. The twist ending will surprise non-Dostoevsky readers, and even satisfy those of us who knew what was coming. Just don’t look for anybody to end up happy; we all know that it is better to be content than to be happy, anyway.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC CHANG)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Reviewed by Holly (Library Patron)

This is a classic who dun-it mystery. As I read the book I was reminded of how much detective work has advanced in recent years. The book was written in a different time and place. Of course, Christie’s excellent writing transports the readers to that time and place. The characters are well developed and keep you guessing if they did it. I found myself playing a perpetual game of CLUE in my head. The ending was not an easy guess as it is in some murder mysteries. I found it to be a very pleasant read.

Available through the Bridges Library System

The Retreat by Sarah Pearse

Reviewed by Cassidy Hammel (Library Staff)

After devouring The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse, I had high expectations for her second novel titled The Retreat; however I have mixed feelings after finishing it. Was I compelled to finish the book after getting to know all the characters? Yes. Was I thinking all along that the novel seemed suspiciously similar to her first one? Yes. That disappointed me and I can’t mention much so I don’t spoil anything but it seems she stole the recipe from her first novel and just chose the exact opposite setting, a summer beachside instead of winter mountains and in/on a suspicious location.

There was one small detail that surprised me near the very end but I’d say The Sanatorium packs more chills. Of the two Pearse has written, I’d recommend trying that one, or if you already have, skip this in favor of any of the other titles currently buckling your bookshelf. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent mystery but I had higher hopes.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC PEARSE)

The Self-Made Widow by Fabian Nicieza

Reviewed by Cassidy Hammel (Library Staff)

My fingers were itching to get Fabian Nicieza’s newest title, The Self-Made Widow after reading his first novel, Suburban Dicks. What can I say? The man has a way with catchy titles.

Andrea Stern is a former FBI profiler who’s been juggling five children and a growing sense that she chose the wrong direction in life. Stern lives and breathes profiling. A tragic incident in her childhood forever altered her outlook on the world, she approaches things with a hard cynicism and couldn’t change the way her mind is wired even if she wanted to. Stern takes in all details, each angle, considers every possibility and does so in seconds flat. Her husband does not see her anymore, seems to be up to something nefarious, again, and discourages her from following the work she was born to do. When Andrea is confronted with the shady circumstances of her friend’s husband’s sudden death, she has to choose if finding the truth is more important than steamrolling all the people it will hurt in the process.

I like this novel because it’s honest and gritty. Parents don’t like their kids all the time, relationships are messy and hard work, time changes how people feel and, sometimes, it’s all you can do to hold still long enough to ask yourself if your life is what you want it to be.

If you liked Suburban Dicks, you will enjoy the mysteries in The Self-Made Widow. If you haven’t read either one, read both!

Available through the Bridges Library System

Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton

Reviewed by Cassidy Hammel (Library Staff)

I eagerly picked up Local Gone Missing after reading Fiona Barton’s earlier novel The Suspect. That one I struggled from page one to put down and I did get to that point with this novel but it took 1/3rd to ½ of the book to reach it. It is steeped in mystery, a seaside town split into “the locals” and “the weekenders” at odds with each other over the town’s aesthetics. When one of their own goes missing, fingers point in all directions and it was that overarching mystery that kept me reading however the onslaught of characters at the beginning made it difficult for me to identify with a specific one. There’s one thread of the story I still wonder about, for the character’s sake, I wish she had addressed before the end.

Barton’s novel is unique in that the reader gets to know one of the main characters fairly well before he dies. My usual murder mysteries present a dead body right away and the reader works backwards to understand who they were and what happened to them. This involves the death of an incredibly flawed character, one running from one problem to the next and the author did a fantastic job drawing the reader through a rollercoaster of emotions while following him. Though I’d rank it second to her earlier novel, this is still an exciting mystery to spend the weekend with.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC BARTON)

The Man Burned by Winter by Pete Zacharias

Reviewed by Cassidy Hammel (Library Staff)

Investigative journalist Rooker Lindstrom has given up on life. He’s lost everything and is spiraling downward in a house that’s doing the same, threatening to trap him forever in his father’s house of horrors. They’d do more than that too, “People say if walls could talk, these walls would scream.”


This is where Detective Tess Harlow finds Rooker. She looks at the once famous investigative journalist, the empty booze bottles surrounding him, the bones poking out of a frame that obviously doesn’t care about feeding itself, a man whose eyes all but scream that he’s waiting to die and she gives him a chance. Will he help her uncover who is killing women in the same fashion his father once had? Will Rooker have enough life left in him to scrape himself out of his chair, leave the bottles alone and face the life he’d tried so hard to run away from? This is the author’s first novel and if you enjoy a good underdog story, this one is right for you.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Reviewed by Anonymous (Library Patron)

The first book in the Truly Devious trilogy by Maureen Johnson is a unique mystery filled with unsolved crimes and new dramas. It takes place at Ellingham Academy, a school started by the great for the great. Stevie Bell, a new student there, has a fairly normal experience until a project goes wrong. I enjoyed the book because it was able to hook me in and I want to read the rest of the trilogy. The main character, Stevie, loves true crime and it’s the reason she is at the academy, this makes her character very relatable and seem like an ordinary person who got to experience her dreams of being a detective. I love mystery stories and I would recommend this series to people who like to be the detective as they read.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC JOHNSON)

The Looking Glass by Janet McNally

Reviewed by Avery H (Library Patron)

I really enjoyed this story of falling in love, experiencing heartbreak at the ends of tragedy, all the while being on a quest to search for answers. In this novel, Sylvie, a ballerina, sets out to find her older sister, Julia, who left a year ago leaving no clues or any traces of where she’s gone behind. When Sylvie receives a package in the mail from her, everything changes. The book follows her on a journey that ends up changing her forever. I think this story is beautifully written with it’s touches of magic here and there and the way it goes deep into Sylvie’s past to show how she develops as a character. I would categorize this novel as fantasy/fiction. Anyone who loves a good mystery with touches of romance and fantasy, this one’s for you.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC MCNALLY)

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

I’ve always enjoyed Harlan Coben’s standalone novels, but for whatever reason I was always hesitant to read his Myron Bolitar series. After multiple people told me I had to read them, I decided to take the leap and try the first one, and I am so glad that I did.

Myron Bolitar is a sports agent, and while he can be hotheaded, he is also compassionate. In Deal Breaker, Myron’s client, Christian Steele, is entangled in the disappearance and suspected death of his ex-girlfriend. Myron attempts to find out the truth of what happened and who is responsible while dodging the underbelly of the crime and sports world.

Clearly I should have read this series sooner because I’ve already finished the second one, and I’m about to start on the third! So if you are looking for a new series that has some mystery, action, sports, and memorable characters, try the Myron Bolitar series.

Available through the Bridges Library System

The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

Jazz Ramsey, an administrative assistant at a Catholic Girls School, is passionate about cadaver dog training. She takes a certified dog to the girls’ career day and hides old bones into the unused fourth floor for a demonstration. Everything becomes unraveled when the dog finds a skeleton of a former teacher that supposedly left the school a few years before.

Jazz starts investigating into Bernadette Quinn’s past, and finds more suspects than the detective working the case. Her on again, off again cop boyfriend helps too.

This book was very predictable and I knew how it would turn out way before the end of the book. The storyline veered into many uninteresting directions . The bestselling author may have a devoted following, but the book just wasn’t for me.

I’ll give it one star – something to read on a rainy night, but I’m not clamoring for more.

Available through the Bridges Library System