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Staff Book Reviews

Steeplejack
Hartley, A.J.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Anglet is a steeplejack, a person who climbs buildings for a variety of work related reasons (chimney work, retrieval, the building of things, etc.). One day, at the end of a shift, she discovers a dead body on the ground. As being a steeplejack is quite dangerous, she isn't completely alarmed at first, until she realizes that the person did not die of natural causes - he had been stabbed in the back. After that, she takes it upon herself to solve the murder mystery as well as a few other mysteries that crop up along the way.

I feel like I should've liked this book more than I did. The beginning is extremely slow, but only due to the author having to do some serious world-building, which is something I often like. The world itself was pretty cool. It's a newly colonized version of South Africa, which made for a unique setting. Actually, the racism/discrimination bits were so well done as to be hard to read. The main character is likable. She's that lovely combination of fierce and vulnerable that is common in YA, but rarely successfully pulled off. Hartley pulls it off. He knows what he's about - this book was extremely well written.

So why didn't I like it? I'm kind of asking myself the same question here, but my overall feeling was definitely just "meh". I think that, for me, the book lacked any real tension or emotional impact. I liked Ang, but I never really cared that much about her, or anyone else in the story. I definitely didn't care about Berrit, the murder victim. Actually much is made about how NO ONE cares about Berrit and his life was one that wasn't going to be worth living anyway, so...who cares who murdered him, really? Aside from a few terrifying scenes featuring her would-be rapist/boss (and a few other emotional but spoilery scenes) the book went from action scene to action scene with no real emotional impact, and without feeling like it was fast paced. Somehow, in the midst of all of the action, the book felt like a really slow read, mostly because I just couldn't make myself care about the fates of most of the characters.

With a more compelling mystery and better developed characters, this book could've been very likable. Still, I think many will like it, and I'm definitely not opposed to picking up the sequel. 2 stars - it was ok.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
A Monster Calls
Ness, Patrick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Patrick Ness keeps writing books that resonate with me. His work tends to focus on emotional journeys with characters either growing from a painful experience or coming to accept something about themselves. This book is no different. At a glance, this book appears to be a horror story. "A Monster Calls" is a cryptic title and the description implies a monster is after a teenage boy. The story follows Conor, a boy who has nightmares about one monster but is visited by another. The other monster wants to tell him 3 true stories and, when the third story is done, Conor must tell it a 4th...or else the reality Conor fears will happen.

In actuality, this book is not scary - at least not in a horror sense. It contains a few unsettling moments and any scary moments come from human fears we carry with us throughout our lives - fears of loss or change or the unknown. It examines them in such a way that is poetic and compassionate, particularly as it relates to grief. Ultimately this book is about learning to cope - it just happens to explore this concept with monsters, nightmares, and a tree. This book made me cry at work - which is a good thing, but you know...kind of awkward nonetheless. Would recommend to lovers of reality based fiction, modern faerie-tales (in a way), unsettling stories, or emotional stories.

And seriously, have the tissues at the ready.

Reviewer's Name: Meagan
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Strayed, Cheryl
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I finished this book about 3 weeks ago so my review is clouded by the passage of time. This book is written from the perspective of an inexperienced hiker embarking on a harrowing adventure. I often found myself wondering why she didn't just give up; how she could possibly have survived hiking in the snow and ice without succumbing to hypothermia or sustaining injury; how she could continue hiking on severely damaged feet; or how she could have hiked for an extended period of time without encountering the powerful thunderstorms so prevalent in the high country. Also, it was a bit long for my taste. Still it was very good and I recommended it especially to hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey
Buck, Rinker
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Have you ever daydreamed about what it was like to cross the American West in a covered wagon during the 1800s? Well, I have, and apparently Mr. Buck and his brother Nick have too. The idea to "See America Slowly" was planted by their father, who took them on a covered wagon trip from New Jersey to Pennsylvania which ended up being featured in LOOK magazine in 1958. Before setting out on their epic journey, Buck gives the reader fascinating background on wagons (it's not a Conestoga!), mules and their unsung contribution to America's development, and getting cheated (just like the early pioneers) by outfitters who sell inappropriate equipment at outrageous prices. The cast is filled out by three mules - Jake, Beck and Bute - and a filthy Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, our merry band will experience many of the hardships encountered by travelers in the nineteenth century (storms, lack of water, and dangerous terrain) and some new ones (semi trucks, miles of fences, and inferior truck stop coffee). Buck also gives the reader lively background sketches of the many colorful characters who made their way over the trail originally and the contemporary controversy over the LDS church's efforts to re-brand the route as the Mormon Trail. So hop aboard, partner, and let's go "see the elephant! You'll have a great trip.

Reviewer's Name: Alan
Awards:
Genres:
This Savage Song
Schwab, Victoria
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Three monsters plague the US in the future: the zombie like Corsai, the vampiric Malchai, and the soul-stealing Sunai. Kate Harker has always been safe from the monsters - her father is the man who controls the monsters in the northern part of Verity City. After her mother died when she was a young child, Kate's father has done all he can do to keep Kate out of town to keep her safe from the monsters in Verity. But Kate wanted to come home, and so she made sure to get kicked out of every boarding school possible, until the only one left is Verity's own Colton Academy. On her first day at Colton, she befriends a fellow new student named August. Unbeknownst to Kate, August is a Sunai. His father is in charge of southern Verity City, and is working to eliminate all of the Corsai and Malchai in the area. After a botched assassination attempt at Colton, Kate and August find themselves on the run from monsters - but which of their fathers sent the monsters after them? Or was it BOTH fathers? Or could it somehow be neither?

Phew, that was hard to explain. Clearly there is some pretty complex and creative world-building happening in this book, but I would expect nothing less from Schwab. I picked up This Savage Song because I've been reading Schwab's Shades of Magic series (if you are reading this review, just stop and check out A Darker Shade of Magic, you can thank me later), and in both series the world building is quite well done. In fact, the first third or so of This Savage Song was spent on world building, and I found that part to be the most enjoyable. It seemed like the book might then start to veer into "do they like each other" sort of romance territory, but my fears about having to read about teenage angst for the next 300 pages or so were pretty quickly assuaged as Kate and August find themselves running for their lives. For me, the "running from the monsters" parts of the book were ok - there wasn't a ton of new ground covered and it read as a fairly standard on the run type of novel. The mystery of who, exactly, put the hit out on them was interesting and made the running parts of the book more enjoyable. Neither character seemed to have a ton of personality or got a lot of development, but I definitely liked August more than Kate, and feel that I got to know him a bit better over the course of the book.

While this book was not without its problems, the last page or so was AMAZING. Like, ensures you'll read the next book in the series AMAZING. Well played, Schwab.

3 stars. I liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Dog Master: A Novel of The First Dog
Cameron, W. Bruce
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Dog Master: A Novel of The First Dog will appeal to dog lovers, scholars and those with inventive imaginations. The novel attempts to answer the fascinating question of how and why the lives of humans and canines might have become so intertwined. W. Bruce Cameron brings to life the daily challenges of prehistoric humans so vividly that the characters become readily accessible to the reader. Despite the necessary leaps of creativity involved in writing a novel about early humanity, Cameron grounds the story with details based on his own extensive research of the time period and wolf behavior. The resulting story is both realistic and fanciful. It was fast-paced and entertaining, but also made me want to raid the nonfiction section to study ancient history after I finished the book. The book hops between timelines and story-lines, so can sometimes be a bit difficult to keep track of, but the different perspectives are relevant and add depth to the story. The subject matter appeals to our deepest curiosities of what it means to be human and its portrayal of the beginning of the human/dog relationship is relatable to anyone who has formed a bond with a dog.

Reviewer's Name: Bethany
Genres:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Thorne, Jack
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Harry Potter made a return to the forefront of pop culture at the end of July with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a screenplay of the new stage play that takes us back to the magical wizarding world. It’s a bold new direction for the story, taking place nineteen years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (please note that this review will assume that you have read or, at the very least, watched the final entry in the series), and the world is a very different place for Harry and his friends.

Almost two decades have passed since the Battle of Hogwarts. Since Voldemort’s defeat, our original heroes have attempted to move on with their lives. Harry is a Ministry of Magic official now, head of the Office of Magical Law Enforcement. He’s happily married to Ginny, and father of three children. Hermione is Minister of Magic, and married to Ron, who has taken over operation of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. At the outset of the play, Harry and Ginny’s second child, Albus, is bound for his first year at Hogwarts. While on the train, he meets his fellow first year, Scorpius Malfoy, and despite their fathers’ history, they become fast friends. In short order, the boys arrive at school and are both sorted into Slytherin, much to Albus’s surprise.

The following years pass quickly (we are only shown hints of events during the first three years that Albus and Scorpius are in school), showing the lack of real communication between Albus and his father. Being the son of The Boy Who Lived, it turns out, is not easy. Albus has Scorpius as a friend, but neither of them seem to be the children their fathers hoped they would be. You see, a rumor has been flying about the wizarding world that Draco Malfoy isn’t actually Scorpius’s dad. Gossip is that Malfoy wasn’t able to have a child, and so he illegally used a Time Turner in order for his wife to conceive a son with Lord Voldemort. This rumor is given more credence when the Ministry of Magic confiscates what is believed to be the last Time Turner in existence, one that doesn’t appear to have the one-hour-back limit of previous ones. But if someone could go back more than one hour in time, what would they seek to do with that power?

In their fourth year, Albus and Scorpius learn about the existence of the Time Turner and ask themselves that question. When Amos Diggory arrives at the Ministry to implore Harry to go back and save his son, Cedric from Voldemort, Harry refuses, for fear of what disrupting the past might do. When given the opportunity, though, Albus and Scorpius leap at a chance to change the world in the hopes of finding their place within it. However, the threat of Lord Voldemort doesn’t only linger in the past.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn’t a Harry Potter novel. It’s a play based on a story by J.K. Rowling, but the heavy lifting of the writing was done by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. It’s a vastly different sort of read because of that, and we don’t get anywhere near the level of insight into each character. It doesn’t move in quite the same way, but it is no less magical. Cursed Child is to the Harry Potter series what The Force Awakens was to Star Wars: a return to a beloved world that retreads some familiar moments while still laying the groundwork for a younger generation. New perspectives on classic moments left me feeling more connected to the characters than I had since first finishing Deathly Hallows.

Having read through the entirety of the screenplay, I only want one more thing from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I want to see it on stage.

(Note: This review orignally appeared here: https://swordsoftheancients.com/2016/08/10/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-c... )

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Genres:
End of Watch
King, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This final book of the Bill Hodges Trilogy finds retired police detective, Bill Hodges, investigating a string of suicides involving survivors of the Mercedes Massacre. Along with his private investigation agency, Finders Keepers, and his partner, Holly Gibney, Bill must figure out why survivors who have spent the past five years rebuilding their lives suddenly decide to commit suicide. The only item that seems to connect the individuals is that they have all received a free handheld video game called a “Zappit”. Are the video games consoles really hypnotizing users and telling them to do something they would not normally do? Why does it only affect certain users? With the help of Holly, the tech wizard of the duo, Bill races to find answers before a suicide epidemic ensues. In classic Stephen King style, this crime thriller pits good versus evil and includes an element of supernatural suspense that makes the story even more engaging.
Once again, King takes current events and imagines a “what if” scenario that plays on some of our worst fears. King’s character development and storytelling style quickly pulls readers into the book and carries them through to the last page. Don’t let the pink and blue fish on the cover fool you. This book has some twisted, creepy characters and gore filled scenes that may be unnerving to some readers. As a life-long King fan, I found it hard to put it down. To get maximum enjoyment of the book, I suggest starting at the beginning of the trilogy with Mr. Mercedes and continuing on into Finders Keepers before diving into End of Watch.

Reviewer's Name: Melanie
Ithaca
Dillon, Patrick
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ithaca is an Odyssey retelling, but told from the perspective of Odysseus' son, Telemachus. The first third of the book focuses on Telemachus' experiences on Ithaca up to the present day of the book. Odysseus has been gone for 16 years, and has been missing for eight, and other, strange men have started to live on Ithaca in hopes of becoming its new chief and marrying Penelope, Odysseus' wife. Telemachus eventually decides to take a journey to see Nestor on Pylos in order to find his father, and ends up travelling a little more extensively than he perhaps originally intended. In the next third of the book, we basically get the events of Odysseus' trip home from Troy as explained by Odysseus and a bard. The last third of the book follows Telmachus as he returns from his trip to find Odysseus, and then discovers that the man himself has come home.

The decision to retell the Odyssey from Telemachus' point of view was a great one, and it's those parts of the book that were, to me, the most successful. The book actually ends up being a great coming of age tale set against the backdrop of Greek mythology and culture. It made for an interesting read, and Telemachus' character and his relationship with his parents was flawed in a really genuine way. A+ for character development. However, the second third of the book, the sum up Odysseus' return journey bit, I could've done without. I read The Odyssey ages ago (in high school, like one does), but it's still enough of a pop culture reference (and yeah, I've read the Riordan books too, so that helps) that I knew the story already, and that part felt a little disjointed. I get why it was necessary, but ultimately, it harmed the narrative a bit. You are kind of pulled out of Telemachus' story to read the "best parts" version of Odysseus' journey, and it just felt rushed.

The Odysseus part aside, though, I really liked this book. I find myself liking it more and more the more I think about it. It's one of those books that stays with you for a while. If you are looking for a fantastical, gory, and ultimately very human coming of age tale, then this is for you. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Novak, B.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ever wonder what your grandmother might be up to in heaven? Or maybe why it is that there are some people who just give the best advice? BJ Novak, writer and star of The Office, explores these topics and much more in his refreshingly hilarious One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. Tales run the gamut of the absurd to the seemingly mundane: from a peek inside a blind date with a warlord, to a boy who is not allowed to eat sugary name-brand cereals. Each story is almost like two sides of the same coin, all at once being achingly funny and heartbreakingly human. The collection, while as a whole is mostly always humorous, ebbs and flows with a sincerity that demonstrates Novak’s keen ability to not only write about human emotion, but to make the reader feel it as well. One More Thing shows that Novak’s writing is intelligent, his command of language sharp and his wry humor at its best.

Reviewer's Name: Heidi
Illuminae
Kaufman, Amie and Kristoff, Jay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

It seems like a typical day on her small, icy planet when Kady breaks up with her boyfriend Ezra. Little does she know, hours later she'll save Ezra's life when a megacorporation attacks their planet. The survivors of the attack are picked up by a passing fleet and Ezra and Kady are separated. As the two teens are trained to fill the staffing gaps on the military fleet, Kady begins to notice that the commanders are hiding a virus on one of the transport vessels which puts the safety of the whole fleet at risk. Soon, Kady finds herself reaching out to Ezra in an attempt to gain more information on the effects of the virus.

Illuminae tells a great story with the right mix of humor, code speak, and action. A unique premise and the authors’ attention to detail lead to a well-developed sci-fi world. The excellent story is enhanced by the inventive format – the novel reads like an investigative report made up of IM conversations, journal entries, and scientific reports.

The interesting format allows for the authors to provide a variety of relatable perspectives. Even though they’re living in a galactic warzone, Ezra and Kady provide a realistic and often humorous picture of a complicated relationship. The authors manage to make their interactions feel realistic despite the fact that Ezra and Kady never inhabit the same physical space at any time in the book. While Ezra and Kady are excellent characters, Kaufman and Kristoff have developed a varied cast of secondary characters which provide humor and empathy to the story.

Illuminae will appeal to a variety of sci-fi fans. It includes elements of intergalactic warfare and intrigue similar to Star Wars, apocalyptic elements along the lines of The Fifth Wave, strong kids and teens as savior figures like Enders Game, and survival instincts and humor along the lines of The Martian. Pick up Illuminae for a funny, fascinating read!

Reviewer's Name: Corrie
Booked
Alexander, Kwame
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Nick Hall has everything going for him: he's doing well in school, he's got a solid flirtation going with his crush (or...limerence as it were), and most importantly, he made the soccer travel team. And so, of course, everything starts to go wrong. His parents separate, he starts to get bullied and his best friend ends up on a soccer team 30 miles away.

Booked is absolutely in no way the type of book I would normally pick up, but despite that, I thought it was fantastic. It's a sports fiction novel written in verse neither of which are my thing, but man, I get why Crossover won that Newbery if it was anything like this. In very few words, Alexander manages to develop complex characters, create humor, and develop and subsequently neatly (a little too neatly, perhaps, but hey, it is a book for kids) tie up several plot lines. Oh! And the words! There is a fun little subplot in which Nick's dad wrote a dictionary, and it leads to some really awesome word play. I also learned a few new fun vocabulary words to throw around.

Anyway, my final thought is really just...wow. I'm impressed. I'll definitely be booktalking this one. And even though, like I said, it's not my thing AT ALL, I'll probably read Crossover, Alexander's other book. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Murder at Brightwell
Weaver, Ashley
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Amory Ames has left her philandering husband for a vacation by the sea with her erstwhile fiance on the pretense of talking his younger sister out of marrying her dastardly fiance. After a day of vacation, the dastardly fiance is murdered and the erstwhile fiance is suspect #1. Amory is convinced her old fiance is innocent, and works to clear his name.

At first, I was not at all sold on this book. The beginning is very slow and weighed down by constant descriptions of the sartorial choices of the many characters. The main character also initially comes off as a bit of a prickly doormat. Fortunately, about halfway through the book, the pacing picks up, the story gets really interesting, and our main character gets much less annoying. Her relationship with her husband, however, never ceases to be annoying because...did people not talk to each other in 1930s England? It was an unapologetically unhealthy relationship that was ultimately frustrating to read and was left (purposefully) unresolved at the end.

I don't read a ton of mysteries, but this one ended up being a lot of fun! Its kind of like an old school mystery where there is a cast of characters/suspects in one setting and you KNOW one of them did it...but which one? Based on what other readers have said, it's Agatha Christie-esque. I was able to guess the "who" but not the "why", and the book ended up being entertaining enough that I immediately checked out the sequel, Death Wears a Mask. I'd recommend it to mystery lovers who like their mysteries with a historical setting and a touch of fashion. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
A Criminal Magic
Kelly, Lee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After the 18th amendment passed, magic became illegal. Shine, an addictive hallucinogen created as a by-product of sorcery, is the main reason behind the prohibition. So, of course, a seedy underworld of gangsters trafficking in shine immediately springs up, and it is embroiled in this underworld that our two main protagonists, Joan and Alex, accidentally and not-so-accidentally find themselves. As they are both sorcerers, Joan and Alex must figure out how to use their sorcery to survive the crime syndicate and it's machinations.

This is a fun fantasy read that is fairly original in it's premise and setting, with likable and believable characters. The premise does most of the heavy lifting, as gangs set in the 1920s trafficking magic gives Kelly lot to work with. She doesn't disappoint. The gangsters are pretty fearsome and the body count ratchets up quickly. The pacing is tight, and the magic is both deadly and beautiful. Joan is a performer, and the descriptions of the performances themselves are somewhat bewitching.

I did have a few problems with the book. First, while the two main characters were fleshed out and developed, almost none of the other characters got any development, and those that did were then basically ignored for the rest of the book. So when the secondary characters started dying, I didn't really care all that much. And then there's the relationship between Joan and Alex. I didn't mind it at first, but it did that thing that relationships in books often do of getting too serious too fast. It's not instalove, but it's instalove's cousin or something. I also felt that aspects of the 20s were wasted on this book - I wanted more flappers, insane clothing, and awesome music. We really only got the gangsters and the cigarette smoking.

For all it's problems, this fantasy novel was ultimately a great read. The ending was pitch perfect, and left the door open for a sequel. I'd recommend it to light fantasy readers looking for something without a ton of substance that is endlessly entertaining and a little different. I'd probably give it something like 3.5 stars, but since that's not an option, we'll go with 4. I quite liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Krakauer, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

John Krakauer, author of Under the Banner of Heaven, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air, brings his literary non-fiction style to addressing the topic of rape and sexual assault at the University of Montana, which is located in the titular city, Missoula. Krakauer examines the assaults of five young women with ties to this university during the period of 2008-2012. These case studies examine the culture of sexual assault and how these cases are dealt with by the criminal justice system and the university. Readers should be warned that this book does have some graphic content due to the nature of this topic.

Readers of Krakauer who enjoyed Under the Banner of Heaven will find a similar style of reporting found in this work. Krakauer champions the stories of the five women whose assaults he details as he works to debunk many of the myths surrounding the topic. Most interesting to this reviewer is the research that he presents that not many men commit sexual assault, but those that do tend to be repeat offenders. And many of these perpetrators fail to even realize that their actions are criminal.

Krakauer thoroughly takes to task members of the criminal justice system who oversee the charging and prosecution of these crimes. Other reviewers have found his treatment of those officials to be harsh and one-sided, claiming this to be a departure from Krakauer’s normally unbiased reporting style. This reviewer found that the critical lens Krakauer uses when discussing the many missteps of the criminal justice system to be warranted. He also is critical of the football culture of the area that strives to protect its athletes even if they have harmed others. We see how university officials try to navigate bringing offenders to justice in this type of culture. This book is really more about the culture of sexual assault than it is about Missoula. While it is an emotionally challenging read, it is a worthwhile read and it will hopefully bring more attention to sexual assault and ways that we as a society can prevent these crimes.

Reviewer's Name: Deb
Awards:
Grunt
Roach, Mary
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Mary Roach covers military science in a way that seemingly only she can: by covering the weird, little known aspects like genitalia injuries, shark repellent, military fashion, and, of course, diarrhea. The result is an interesting, engaging and very accessible non-fiction read.

I listened to this book, and I think that was probably a mistake. Mary Roach tends to jump around from topic to topic even within a larger topic (in a chapter about shark repellent you may jump from sharks to polar bears pretty abruptly), which can be fun to read, but was hard to listen to. Zone out for a minute, and you'll find yourself completely lost. My listening enjoyment was also hampered by the insane amount of acronyms used by the military. I had a lot of "wait, what does that stand for again?" moments, and in an audiobook, there's not really a way to go back and check, and its not like I'm going to google whilst driving. Oh yeah, and the narrator was not to my taste. Her voice just didn't do it for me.

But overall, it managed to be both informative and funny which is not an oft found combination. I really enjoyed it, and I'll be booktalking this one in the fall.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
The City Stained Red
Sykes, Sam
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I’ve been following Sam Sykes on twitter for a while, and given my affinity for both well-crafted fantasy worlds and action-adventure stories, it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy of The City Stained Red, the first book in Sam’s Bring Down Heaven series.

At almost 650 pages, The City Stained Red is a doorstopper of a book, but a fast, fun, vicious read. The book follows Lenk, an adventurer that some readers may recognize from Sykes’ previous series, The Aeon’s Gate Trilogy (though reading that series first is by no means a prerequisite for Bring Down Heaven). Lenk has finally decided that he’s done with killing, and wants to put aside his sword and pick up what he believes will be a normal life in the trade hub city of Cier’Djall. He and his friends, Denaos the thief, young wizard Dreadaeleon, khoshicht (Sykes’ clever take on elves) archer Kataria, healer/priestess Asper, and dragonman Gariath have killed scores of people and monsters. With the money owed to them for their services, they could happily retire from their violent lives. However, the man who owes them is not so easily found.

Cier’Djall is a massive, sprawling city, and the wealthy who rule over it have made their gold by selling silk produced by enormous spiders. However, the beautiful silk-draped spire that towers over the city leaves long shadows. In darker corners of the city, some of the poor are disappearing, and the ruling fashas may be to blame. Two rival churches seek to position their armies within the city, and tensions are running high as negotiations between them loom. Then, there’s the small matter of the local thieves guild and their ongoing conflict with a new but powerful cult that claims to have demons backing them. This is reality in the city where Lenk hopes to find Miron Evenhands, the priest at whose behest they have been doing what they do best. Cier’Djall is a bonfire piled high, drenched in oil, and awaiting a spark, and Lenk and his friends are unwittingly bringing lit torches through the gates.

The City Stained Red takes a page from A Song of Ice and Fire by presenting chapters from the perspectives of each member of Lenk’s band of adventurers. After arriving in Cier’Djall, they split up to try to located Miron, each using their unique skills and connections to make their way through the city. Denaos has connections from his previous life in the thieves guild, the Jackals. Dreadaeleon seeks the assistance of the Venarium, the wizard’s alliance. Asper, a follower of the same church as Miron, travels to the various temples in the city. Kataria finds herself in Shichttown, a slum where the non-humans try to live out of the way of the fiercely racist upper class. Gariath attempts to gather information from another dragonman who works as a bodyguard for one of the fashsas. Lenk is trying to cope with the fact that his pursuit of retirement may lose him the closest thing he’s ever known to a family. None of them are remotely ready for what they find.

After a footwar between the Jackals and the Khovura cult spills from the back alleys into the streets, every faction with an interest in controlling the silk trade comes out of their corners swinging, and Lenk and company can do little more than hope to survive.

I absolutely loved this book. Sykes blends dark humor and trope deconstruction beautifully. I’m already reading the sequel, The Mortal Tally, because I couldn’t wait to see what happens to these folks next. Reading about these characters is like watching my college Dungeons and Dragons group in action. There’s violence and bloodshed, but also fervent emotion. It’s a wonderful thing.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
The Dark Days Club
Goodman, Alison
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Lady Helen has lived almost her entire life in the shadow of her dead, treasonous mother. Because her mother did some shady stuff before she died, Helen has had to be the perfect demur lady, no small task for a quick witted woman in the Regency period. But as new information comes to light surrounding her mother's life and death, Lady Helen realizes that her mother had magical powers...that she passed along to her daughter. Soon, Lady Helen finds herself pulled into the dark underbelly of London as she works with the Dark Days Club to try to keep Londoners safe from a group of demons.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. There's a lot of world building, and Lady Helen is a very likable character who I think behaves in ways that make sense given the time period. There's a great build up to the reveal of the demons, and the mystery of Helen's mother and her powers unfolds very slowly and deliciously. The problem arises when the demons themselves are revealed. While I'll give Goodman points for originality with the demons and how they interact with humans, really, as villains go, they were pretty low-stakes and unfortunately kind of lame. I don't know, I mean, most of them follow rules and don't do anything bad, but they are hated by humans in the know just by virtue of the fact that they are human parasites, which really, isn't their fault. Things get a little more high stakes by the end, but I really couldn't make myself care. I actually put the book down for a week or so because I wasn't dying to know what happens, which is pretty rare for me.

I liked the setting, world-building, and the characters, and would maybe give the next book in the series a shot as the villains get a bit more villainous and less lame by the end. That and Goodman can write. She also clearly did her Regency homework. Overall though, for me this was just ok. 2 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Rivers of London: Body Work
Aaronovitch, Ben
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Peter Grant is part of the Special Assessment Unit, a police group in London that is called in to investigate the weirder cases. And the first case is pretty weird - it seems like there are a few cars in London that have developed a murderous bent. Grant and crew do their best to figure out what is going on...before someone else finds themself dead at the hands of their car.
This was really fun! The mystery was different from anything I've ever read, the world building happened quickly but thoroughly, and the characters were likable. While not spectacular, the art was pretty and made the story easy to follow. Oh, and major bonus, the characters were diverse! I liked this one enough that I just put the regular novel Peter Grant books on hold, and I'll definitely be checking out all future graphic novel installments. Harry Dresden fans, check this series out ASAP!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Zevin, Gabrielle
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is the perfect summer book! It is a feel-good character centered book. A.J. Fikry is a young widower who isn't coping very well with the death of his wife. He owns and operates a bookstore that he seems not to care about, and is very judgmental about the books he sells and reads. Then one day his life changes when a baby is left for him to care for. A.J. transforms. He loves the baby and gives his all to her. He develops friendships and even falls in love again. But with all good books, there is a little twist! You will have to read it to find out! I highly recommend this book as a vacation book or if you just need a change of pace from what you usually read.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
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