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Staff Book Reviews

Dark Matter
Crouch, Blake
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Jason Dessen is a physics professor who lives with his wife and son in Chicago. One night as he is walking home, he is abducted by a man in a geisha mask, made to drive to an abandoned building on the outskirts of town, and drugged. He regains consciousness surrounded by strangers who say they’ve been anxiously awaiting his return.

The title itself is a bit of a spoiler for what it takes Jason the first 100 pages to figure out, which is an unrealistically long time, as he is purportedly a “brilliant experimental physicist.” The narrative is tainted with passive misogyny as well, and the whopping total of two female characters are barely characters at all, and the author makes it quite clear how easily disposable either of them are. Once Jason’s situation becomes clearer, the description of the book's technology is both imaginative and logical (really the only part of the book I enjoyed). Following this plot point, the squishy-brained version of Jason whom we have no option but to see as the protagonist makes stupid decisions as overgenerously as Peter Jackson makes Hobbit films.

The story Crouch attempts to tell has literally limitless potential, yet he explores, well… not very much of it. The strongest characters fail to live up to even their basic outlines, and overall the book falls face-first into disappointment and unintentional humor. It’s a science-fiction story written in the style of a supernatural drama. Crouch should not have strayed so far from Wayward Pines.

Reviewer's Name: Andy
Number the Stars
Lowry, Lois
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a powerful quick read with an engaging story line. Yes, Holocaust books are a dime a dozen, but this one is on top of the heap. The location of the book in Denmark also separates it from the rest. I was struck by the idea that it's easier to be brave when you don't know more than you need to to complete a task. Well done.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Steptoe, Javaka
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a beautiful book. It won the Caldecott Medal, so that's saying something. The artwork is fantastic. The book tells the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat's life in a free form jazz-inspired style. I'm not familiar with Jean-Michel Basquiat's work and now I want to see it for myself. There's a biography in the back. I only read this book once to my daughter. If I had read it more than once, I'd probably give it 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
Warren, Andrea
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

There are a crap ton of holocaust books out there. That said, this is a good one. The author interviews a survivor and recounts his horrible tenure in the death camps. The result is riveting. This book is classified as juvenile, but it's best for upper elementary and older, including adults.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin
Griffin, Kathy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kathy Griffin is remarkably well spoken. I enjoyed reading this book because it seemed like she was just talking to me. She dishes on celebrities, which is fun. It will come as no surprise that she's funny, but she's also very smart and loyal to her friends and family. Good memoir!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Anna and the Swallow Man
Savit, Gavriel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In Poland in 1939, seven year old Anna's father went to work one day, never to return. As such, she finds herself learning to survive under the care of a stranger that she knows only as "the swallow man". Together, they escape Russian and German soldiers and travel the Eastern European countryside as they try to survive and make sense of the world that seems to be crumbling around them.

As this won the Odyssey Award (excellence in audio production) last year, I decided to give it a listen and I'm so glad that I did. The narration was excellent, but it would've been great even with a lesser narrator. This is a brilliantly written book that covers so much ground physically, metaphysically and metaphorically. Many things the Swallow man says or that Anna thinks are steeped in rich allegory and open for interpretation. Some of the things said are merely simple truths. Almost all of it feels somehow important and relevant. For example:

“The world as it exists is a very, very dangerous place.”

and

“Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive.”

and

“Normally, her mind was like a busy beach - all day long she would run back and forth, leaving footprints, building small mounds and castles, writing out ideas and diagrams with her fingers in the sand, but when the night tide came in, she would close her eyes and allow each wave of rhythmic breath to wash in and out over her day's accumulation, and before long the beach would be clear and empty, and she would drift off to sleep.”

That, folks, is how you write prose. Insert clapping emoji here.

Plotting takes the background as this book is all about character development and parables and life lessons. It's about the importance of language, and people, and what it takes to stay alive when there's a war on. It's about being human and growing up. It's about family and love and necessity. It's about war. It's brutal and human and tender all at same time. And it's very, very good. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Genres:
The True Tails of Baker & Taylor: The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town and the World
Louch, Jan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Do you love libraries? Who doesn't? So everyone should love this book. Baker and Taylor are two Scottish Fold cats adopted by a small library in Nevada. This library has a mouse problem so Jan Louch, Assistant Librarian, researches good cat breeds for libraries. First Baker is adopted and the fun is doubled when Baker's nephew, Taylor, is added to the staff. Patrons, staff and even a fan club comprised of a 4th grade class add to these heartwarming tales. Adorable pictures complete the delightful mix.

Reviewer's Name: Cele
A Man Called Ove
Backman, Frederik
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I absolutely loved this book. On the cover it said you would laugh and cry as you got to know a Man Called Ove. And it was true! Ove is a man with blinding grief after losing his wife and then being forced to retire from his job. He has no purpose and doesn't want to live. But one by one, people (and a cat) come into his life and gives his purpose. Friedrik Backman was able to tackle so many social issues in this book. I was very impressed how he handle things and didn't really have to "hit" you over the head with the issues. This book is a fast read and great for book discussion groups. I can't wait to read more by Fredrik Backman!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Genres:
Beneath Wandering Stars
Cowles, Ashlee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In a lot of ways, Gabriela’s life has felt just like Homer’s Odyssey: one never-ending journey with no place to call home. From birth, she has been learning that “people are the only home the Army issues” as she moves from base to base at the whim of her father’s marching orders. Now that her boyfriend’s back in Texas and her older brother has abandoned her to enlist, Gabi decides that their new post in Germany is her last. She dreams of her escape the minute she graduates from high school in a year's time.

Gabi’s plans are put on hold when her brother, Lucas, gets seriously wounded in action. In one of his last letters, Lucas requests that if anything were to happen to him; Gabi, Gabi’s father, and Lucas’ best friend Seth walk the Camino de Santiago—a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain—for him. This is harder than it sounds since Gabi thinks Seth is the reason Lucas enlisted and Gabi’s dad has responsibilities he can’t abandon to walk the trail. As Gabi starts out on her adventure, she is determined to discover how much Seth really is to blame for her brother’s injuries, and what exactly is keeping her and her father from understanding each other.

While I'm not quite a military brat, I grew up moving back and forth from overseas and I love how Gabi (the main character) expresses some of the struggles she faces moving, moving again, and adapting to new cultures--even on base.

While being age-appropriate for the average teen, this book covers a lot of the tough issues that all of us, and especially military brats, come up against on a regular basis. Cowles allows you to think it all through and has her character come up with some answers, but doesn't force you to decide what you think by the end of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who have ever felt like a wanderer.

Reviewer's Name: Danielle
Genres:
And Then There Were None
Christie, Agatha
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I often have a hard time with mysteries, but And Then There Were None was classic, suspenseful and just plain enjoyable. The audiobook version was especially entertaining, perhaps because the original story was written as a play under an alternate (and controversial) title. The characters feel like they were the predecessors to the characters found in the game Clue. They are equally sinister and sympathetic. I am particularly intrigued with the connecting reason all of them have been brought to the island and the psychological effects of that reason. To the very end Agatha Christie teases your deductive reasoning skills. You always feel like you are on the cusp of finding out who the killer is, and then you're wrong! I was completely at a loss by the end. Thanks goodness for the epilogue. This is a timeless mystery classic.

Reviewer's Name: Danielle
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Skloot, Rebecca
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book tells three intertwining stories and spans decades, centering on an immortal line of human cells, taken from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks in the 1950’s. She was afflicted with an aggressive form of cervical cancer, and through deception, gave her consent for the doctor to take cell samples. Her cell sample was coded as HeLa, and her real identity was not known. This event starts a fascinating, disturbing tale of medical ethics gone awry, capitalism in medicine, investigative journalism, and the contrasting lives of Lacks descendants.

The discovery of Henrietta’s immortal cancer cells, laid the foundation for most of the scientific discoveries we have made, and created a multi-billion dollar industry where her cells were sold all over the world as an infinite supply of scientific testing material. At the same time companies and hospitals were selling the HeLa cells, the Lacks family were living in extreme poverty, with no medical care. Author Rebecca Skloot bounces back and forth between Henrietta’s final days, and the present day, as she attempts to gain the trust of the Lacks family, discover who HeLa was, and how medical ethics were not always a reality. For a non-fiction book about cellular biology, it is a riveting detective story that also exposes medicines sordid past, and makes the reader question whether advancement of medicine is worth it at any cost.

Reviewer's Name: Michael
100 Skills You'll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It)
Spagna, Ana Maria
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This little book is full of more information than you can imagine. Each section is just enough to get you started, to pique your interest. (But if there is an entry that speaks to you, remember to check the library for a more in-depth book!)

From Bartering to Foraging and even Porch Sitting, each passage is illustrated delightfully. I chuckled every other page. Written playfully, yet with much seriousness - it is easy to quickly get sucked in and keep reading until you think your brain might burst from all that delicious information!

As soon as I got to the Hoarding passage, I sincerely wished Ana were my friend, or at the very least, nearby if and when the world (as we know it) ends.

Reviewer's Name: Morgan
Caraval
Garber, Stephanie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Scarlett Dragna's impending marriage to a total stranger is her only hope. It'll get her away from her abusive father and allow her to save her younger sister. Her one regret is that she'll never have the opportunity to participate in Caraval - a traveling carnival/magic circus that patrons play like a game. She's written annual letters to Legend, the man in charge of Caraval. He's never responded. Until this year, when he replies to her request with a pair of tickets for this year's game. After a series of escalating events, Scarlett finds herself enmeshed in the strange game of Caraval, where nothing and no one are what they seem, and where one's thoughts, senses and "friends" are not to be trusted.

Most of the blurbs I've seen make this book seem similar to The Night Circus, but really all it has in common with that book is a ton of magical imagery and the concept of a travelling circus cloaked in mystery. Caraval is more like an extremely watered down version of The Magus by John Fowles. As I (unpopular opinion time) thought the Night Circus was only just ok, this was actually a plus for me as The Magus is a book that I LOVED. Unfortunately, however, the promise of Caraval's premise was never fully realized as the author got in her own way a lot. First, Scarlett has this weird power to see emotions as colors. I'm not sure why, as this never really went anywhere in terms of the character or plot. It does, however, give the author an opportunity to flex her purple muscles - the prose was not doing this book any favors. I skimmed a ton as the writing was overwrought. The characters were pretty bland - I can tell you that Scarlett loves her sister, is scared of her father, and has been obsessed with the Caraval since she was a child. That's about it. Scarlett falls into instalove, which has never not been annoying. The other major downside for me was that the premise had a ton of unrealized potential. Garber could have done a lot with unreliable narrators (remember, the concept is that once in the game, you can trust no one/nothing), or the mystery and atmosphere of the circus. There's relatively little chicanery. I'm hoping for more of...basically everything in the sequel.

Despite the lackluster characters and questionable writing, I found myself getting swept up in the story. Myriad problems notwithstanding, I liked it! I'll definitely check out the sequel, and I can see a lot of teens really loving this one. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales
Kohn, Sherab Chödzin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A great book for reading on break or at lunch. The tales are interesting and amusing. Some were more obviously lessons while others just seemed to be stories. Thumbs up!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Art of the Pie : A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life
McDermott, Kate
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I don't like pie, but every so often I take a few bites just to see what the fuss is all about. Now that I eat gluten-free, I'm rarely pie curious. When I saw the title of the latest ebook Big Library Read, Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott I wasn't the least bit tempted until I read the subtitle, A practical guide to homemade crusts, fillings and Life. Intrigued by the pie/life connection, I clicked the download button.

Even in electronic form this book is beautiful. The photography is stunning, and let's face it, pies can be pretty. The book is in story format, not page after page of (boring) recipes. It is clear that Kate McDermott has mastered the pie art, and she explains every detail with engaging narrative. I didn't actually commit to the book until McDermott admitted that she was now gluten-free too. Her pie making changed from gluten-full (her term) to gluten-free. That gave me hope gluten-free baking might eventually transcend bitter bean flour, tasteless rice cookies and hard slab pizza crust.

I enjoyed McDermott's stories about her journey as a pie maker, especially her tales of woe about awful school lunches, her red-plaid metal lunch box, and scary lunch ladies. I chose to read Art of the Pie on a whim, and I'm glad I did. It's a gentle read that almost inspired me to learn the art of gluten-free pie making.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen
Gilmore, Susan
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I could take or leave this book. I finished it at least. It was so slow paced and so obviously Southern that I just found myself annoyed by it. I wish it had been more lighthearted and catchy, as the title implied, but no luck.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
84, Charing Cross Road
Hanff, Helene
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I really loved this book - a book of letters about books! With a little history thrown in about England after World War II. I like books that are composed of letters whether they are fiction or non-fiction. This particular book I enjoyed because just like Helene Hanff, I am a Anglophile and when I went to London, I just had to go to 84, Charing Cross Road. I knew the bookstore wasn't there, but I just had to still see the "spot". While reading this, I realized that there will never be another book like this. Not many people write letters anymore. Plus I don't think two complete strangers would connect like Helene and Frank did through letter writing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
The Girl Before
Delaney, J.P.
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Would you like to read a book about psychopathic men exploiting vulnerable women? Well then, do I have the book for you!

After having a stillborn child, Jane needs a new start. What better way to start over than in a new apartment? One Folgate Street has weird rules to be sure, but the minimalist life style required by the owner actually sounds like the perfect way to reinvent herself. But after she moves in, Jane learns that a previous tenant, Emma Matthews, was murdered in the apartment. As Jane learns more about Emma, she finds that they have much in common - and that she might be the apartment's next victim. The Girl Before goes back and forth between Jane and Emma's stories.

This was...not good. The beginning of the book was intriguing, and until about 1/3 of the way through, I was thinking it'd be a 2-3 star read for me. And then, like a conversation with a stranger or a first date, the book took an unfortunate turn. This was, sadly, to be the first of many unfortunate turns. Ultimately, I finished the book as it truly is an easy read - there was almost no imagery or description, you spend most of the time in the main characters' heads or watching them do incredibly stupid things (have these women never heard of a hotel?). Oh, and as is often the case in these domestic thrillers, the characters were all extremely unlikable.

This genre is pretty hit or miss for me (for example, I liked Gone Girl but HATED Girl on the Train), and The Girl Before was no exception - I found it to be kind of terrible. It's apparently being made into a movie, and I think with some plot/character changes, it may be more successful in that format. Stay away from the book unless you just can't get enough of psychological thrillers. 1 star - I did not like it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Schumer, Amy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very funny memoir. I enjoyed hearing about her childhood and her personal life because she was both forthright and self-effacing. I did, however, learn a bit too much about her lady parts. Also, the stand-up comedy sections didn't interest me as much. What you see is what you get. If you like Amy Schumer, you will like this book. If not, you won't.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Boyne, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I read this book in almost one sitting. It was very good and very sad. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt, but that's my only complaint. I think it would make a good play.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:

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