The Wolf and the Woodsman” by Ava Reid

In the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” we know something very clearly — the wolf is the monster and the woodsman is the hero. The wolf has gone out of his way to trick and eat innocent people, and it is only through the woodsman’s intervention that he can be stopped.

“The Wolf and the Woodsman” by Ava Reid is not quite so clear-cut.

This high fantasy novel centers on Evike, one of the famed wolf girls of the Ezer Szem forest. Wolf girls are the last relicts of the country’s pagan followers, preternatural creatures who look like ordinary young women but dress in wolf skins and wield powerful magic. As such, they are targeted by the nation’s king, who has sworn to uphold a new religion, the Patrifaith and root out all paganism.

But even in this extraordinary world, Evike is not like the other wolf girls. She is, in fact, the only young woman in her village without any magical ability. She has spent her entire life ostracized and bullied, wishing desperately for a shred of magic and power. When she was just a child, her mother was taken by the Woodsmen, the king’s fanatical military sect. She has been alone and unloved ever since.

As a barren wolf girl, Evike expected to remain in her village for the rest of her life. Woodsmen only took powerful magic users, after all. But when they come for the village’s young seer, Evike’s guardian decides to disguise her and send her with the Woodsmen. Will she be killed? Tortured? Worse? She doesn’t know, and her people do not care.

However, among the Woodsmen is the king’s only legitimate son, a disgraced young man called Gaspar. Gaspar is hated by his father and much of the kingdom because he was the product of a political alliance between his nation and the warring nation of the south. He wishes to find a mythological creature and use its power to finally stop the ongoing war. If Evike can help him find this creature, he is willing to let her live.

And yet, this is only the beginning for Evike and Gaspar. As they travel across the nation, through monster-laden woods, along treacherous riverbanks and across the wind-swept tundra, they learn that the other is not nearly as monstrous as they were always led to believe. Both have been victims of incredible cruelty, both straddle two different worlds, and both simply wish to belong and have control over their own destinies.

“The Wolf and the Woodsman” is an extraordinary novel. It is an epic story crossing numerous cultures and addressing such themes as to what it means to belong and what would you do to have power. The characters are incredibly complex, especially Evike and Gaspar, and the central villains of the story — King Janos, his illegitimate fanatical son, Nandor, and Evike’s lifelong tormentor Katalin — are truly terrifying. I had difficulty putting the book down and read some of the sections over and over again, simply delighted in the imagery. I also had difficulty anticipating what would happen next as, just when I thought I knew what to expect, the author would introduce a new twist or complication. And, the storytelling within the book! It’s something you must experience.

If you enjoy epic fantasies with nuanced worlds, political intrigue and the enemies-to-lovers trope, “The Wolf and the Woodsman” will be a rare treat for you. It will make you wonder who is the real monster, the wolf, the woodsman, and the granny, and who is simply made to seem like one.

— Review by Cindy Butor, Paul Sawyier Public Library reference librarian

“The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music” by Dave Grohl

Nirvana and Foo Fighters band member Dave Grohl penned an entertaining and upbeat memoir of extraordinary moments and events in his life. Some of the more standout incidents he brings to the pages include his friendship with Kurt Cobain, as well as time spent with Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop and more. Filling the pages are also heartfelt moments with his mother, wife and kids. These are what makes you realize that Dave Grohl is just one of the guys.

This book is not for those looking for inside gossip or revealing facts about musicians. Rather, it is a story about an idyllic childhood, being raised by a single mom who encouraged him to play drums at a jazz club, and making sure he gives his children as much attention as he can.

When the pandemic hit, Grohl started writing short stories about his experiences and posted them to his Instagram page. From those stories, he was able to perfect this book. He acknowledges his mistakes and, at the same time, expresses how fortunate he feels to have led the life he has led. Overall, an engaging read for anyone who love music and enjoys a good story.

— Review by Paul Sawyier Public Library staff

“The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn

In June 2014, Kate Middleton officially reopened Bletchley Park, after it had been shut down after the war in 1945.  Kate’s grandmother, Valerie Middleton, had been employed at “BP” in Hut 6, whose purpose was to break the codes used by the Germans in communications. This work was highly secretive, and those who were recruited had to sign the Official Secrets Act of 1939. The recruits were instructed: “Do not talk at meals. Do not talk in the transport. Do not talk travelling. Do not talk in the billet. Do not talk by your own fireside. Be careful even in your Hut.”

The staff for the project were university types, but there was also the unconventional recruitment. The newspaper, “The Daily Telegraph,” organized a crossword competition, which resulted in a number of promising candidates being asked to help with “a particular type of work as a contribution to the war effort.”

Osla is the debutante who has everything, but wants to prove that she can do much more than smile and flirt. She uses her fluent German to help interpret the codes. Mab, who had been a typist, now works the code-breaking machines, but is also on the lookout for more suitable husband material than is available in the east-end of London.  They both notice their landlady’s shy daughter, Beth, who can handily solve any word puzzle. And, Beth becomes one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.

The pressures of war and the secrecy required at the Park takes its toll on many of the workers, and a betrayal among the three friends destroys their relationship and leaves one of them confined in an asylum.

Post war, England excitedly prepares for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip of Greece. However, a mysterious encrypted letter appears to threaten the royal event. It will take all three of the former BP analysts to crack the code before it is too late. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings them closer to danger and the real enemy.

This story, based on well researched characters is unforgettable, but is also a tale of friendship, betrayal and forgiveness.

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

“A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers is a Hugo Award winning writer, who with this book launches her new series “Monk and Robot.” Only 160 pages, Chambers has written of a world several hundred years into the future. Humankind has decided to occupy only one-half of the planet and to leave the other half to the natural world. Panga is the major city and is built vertically instead of sprawling out from the center.

Dex has had a career change and decides to live a quiet life as a tea monk administering his unique brews to help solve the worries and concerns of the people he visits along his travels. Dex finds this ministry very comforting and fulfilling — until it isn’t. Dex wants to explore beyond Panga and discover the places where crickets can be heard chirping.

Venturing into the protected wilderness, Dex soon encounters the robot “Mosscap.” Robots haven’t been seen in centuries, but Mosscap seems to be on his own mission — “What do people need?” The answer to that question depends on who you ask and how. Robots left Panga to study the wilderness, but now have been awakened with their final mission of “checking in.” The odd couple, coming from different places, join together and decide to travel the broken roads to the station where they both hope to find what they seek.

There is a hint of a disaster that had taken place in the past, but there is also a lush, beautiful world that seems to have survived whatever happened. Traveling alongside of these two unlikely friends, I wanted to experience their world and become one of their group.

What is mankind’s purpose? Is this future world a place where humanity actually makes the right decisions? Can this smart, gentle book show us the way to heart and hope? Enjoy!

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books