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Staff Book Reviews

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
Awards:
Genres:
Wild Born
Mull, Brandon
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Every year in different countries in Erdas, children of the age of ~12 get a chance to call a spirit animal - an animals that will be attached to them forever, and gives them the chance to join a group of folks called the "green cloaks" who use their spirit animals to protect Erdas from threats: especially the conquerors. Our four protagonists all call spirit animals - but they aren't just any spirit animals. They are four of the fallen: spirit animals that helped the green cloaks during the last time the conquerors threatened Erdas. As the conquerors begin to attack Erdas anew, the four children must pick a side and learn to fight.

This was quite fun! It was a little generic, and the writing was a little simple, but hey, this IS a book for middle grade readers. I listened to it as I was running, and I've continued listening to the series on long runs as it is easy to follow even when you zone out, its extremely entertaining and at times it manages to be quite clever. It also seems like no one side (green cloaks vs. conquerors) is completely good or evil, and I appreciate that kind of complexity.

Is your family going on a road trip this summer? This would be a great choice to listen to, as I would think the material would be appropriate for all ages. The narration, while not fantastic, is perfectly serviceable. If you want a great middle grade series for your kids, this could be the perfect one to start them with - the entire series has been published, and there are like 10 books in it, so it should keep them busy for a while. That, and it's pretty captivating from the start. Or hey, if, like me, you like to listen to books on long runs, this series is perfect for that sort of thing.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Scorpion Rules
Bow, Erin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Greta Stuart has been a hostage for most of her life. Well, technically, she's one of the "children of peace". You see, long ago, after the world was ravaged by the effects of global warming, an AI named Talis put himself in control, and decided to almost completely eradicate war by having the leader of each country turn over their heir to be a "child of peace" until the child reached the age of 18. Should that country go to war, the child will be killed. Greta's nation, the Pan Pols (Canada) are about to go to war over water, and Greta knows that her death is imminent.

This book is hard to explain. Basically, the world-building is pretty detailed, but not without some holes (many of which are explained by the end of the book), and most of the first half of the book was spent explaining the world that Greta and her fellow hostages lived in. Also, Greta is the proverbial ice princess - she is fairly stoic, even in her own head, and so I didn't think she was very likable for the first half of the book.

However, as the book progresses, Greta really comes into her own. Her stoicism and propriety have given her a certain amount of power in regards to the fellow children of peace, and it's really fun to see her step up and wield that power. And then, stuff goes terribly, horribly wrong, and the pacing and intrigue of the story really pick up.

I'd give the first half of the book 2 stars, and the second half 5. So, over all, like a 3.5 or something. By the end, I was loving it. If you like really complex dystopian novels (this is more like 1984 than Divergent), then this one is not to be missed.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures
Fadiman, Anne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

An insightful look at intercultural conflicts in the medical field. This book follows the case of a young Hmong girl named Lia Lee, the daughter of refugees, who presented with epilepsy in her infancy. The author, Anne Fadiman, follows both the parents and the doctors involved in the case, interviewing the key parties and untangling the miscommunication that led to Lia’s eventual brain death. The author is respectful to both sides and manages to explore the conflict that arises over the medical care without placing blame, instead asking what both sides viewed as good medicine, what they hoped to accomplish, and why they were unable to communicate their ideas to one another and agree on how to handle Lia’s treatment. The edition I read also had a helpful afterword in which the author updated readers on where the people she interviewed are now, some 20 years later, and how the hospital in Merced (and other hospitals throughout the country) are starting to change how they train their staff to interact with a multicultural community that might have very different ideas about what good medical care looks like. This book always makes top non-fiction lists, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it I can say that for me it lived up to the hype.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
The Crooked House
Kent, Christobel
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

This was a very disappointing read. The novel follows Alison, who was the sole survivor of the massacre of her family when she was a teenager. She has since moved to London, changed her name, and tried to put her past behind her, but a wedding invitation from her boyfriend’s ex draws her back to the community she thought she’d left behind. The book came well-recommended, and I went into it expecting a better story than the one I got. This was sold to me as a psychological thriller that follows Alison’s attempt to investigate the massacre, which had been treated as a murder-suicide committed by her father. Unfortunately, the characterization was clumsy, the writing was poor, and the ending, without spoiling anything, was badly explained and unsatisfying. I came to hate every character in the book, and by the end of it I was reading out of a sense of obligation rather than any actual interest in the plot (if you’re paying any attention, you’ll figure the ‘mystery’ out an agonizingly long time before our oblivious protagonist catches on).

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
On Such a Full Sea
Lee, Chang-Rae
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

On Such a Full Sea opens in a futuristic Baltimore (“B-Mor”). The protagonist, Fan, is the descendant of refugees from a Chinese city whose population was transplanted to America to work in fisheries after the complete environmental collapse of their homeland. The US at this time is in crisis, with limited resources divided unevenly among the heavily stratified classes. There’s a very rare chance for children to be “promoted” into the upper classes via a national exam, as indeed Fan’s brother was, but most of the country lives in labor colonies and has their career set at birth -- in the government-controlled regions, that is. Outside the carefully controlled urban production centers, there’s nothing but lawless wilderness across most of the country (the so-called “open counties”).
The plot kicks off when Fan’s boyfriend (and father of her unborn child) goes missing -- possibly taken by government officials -- and she sets out into the wild open counties outside of B-Mor to search for him, encountering a bizarre, violent world. Fan is a bit flat -- in fact, nearly all of the characters are -- but what really stood out was the way the story was narrated. It’s told not from Fan’s perspective but from the point of view of the community back in B-Mor, always speaking as “we”. The narrator relates to us the legend that has grown up around Fan since her escape, speculating on what it was about her and this incident that sparked so much fascination -- and briefly protest -- in an otherwise defeated community. What we “learn” about Fan’s adventures is thus largely a compilation of the stories that have grown up around her since she left B-Mor. Her characterization makes a bit more sense when you think of her as a folk hero, but some readers may dislike the lack of insight into what she’s thinking or feeling. We move back and forth between events in B-Mor and episodes in Fan's search for her boyfriend, which (despite the weaknesses I mentioned) were inventive and compelling.
It’s not an entirely original setting, and the narration style was a bit (okay, a lot) off-putting at first, but the writing itself was beautiful and I ended up enjoying it much more than I had expected. If you like dystopian fiction, I’d recommend giving this book a try.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
Genres:
A Brief History of Seven Killings
James, Marlon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A very heavy, difficult book to get through, in part because it was written in dialect, which always takes some getting used to, but largely because it was so relentlessly depressing that I couldn’t read it for too long of a stretch. A Brief History of Seven Killings tells the fictionalized story of the (factual) 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley, referred to throughout simply as “The Singer”. Told from a staggering number of different perspectives, ranging from the young would-be assassins themselves, to the unemployed daughter of a middle-class family pretending to be pregnant with Marley’s child in an attempt to get out of the country, to a CIA agent assigned to keep communism from spreading to Jamaica, it’s a grueling, violent read, but there’s a lot worth hearing. The story begins with the assassination attempt, then jumps forward to sections set in the 1980s and 1990s, with close attention to Jamaica’s changing political scene and the lasting mark that violence leaves on the characters. The writing is strong and Marlon James does an excellent job juggling the huge cast (though if you’re like me you’ll probably have to refer back to the character list provided at the beginning of the book at least a few times). I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the right word, but I felt like I got a lot out of it, and it was certainly a deserving winner of the Man Booker Prize. I will say that the word “brief” in the title is a bit of a stretch -- it weighs in at 688 pages. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Book Review: Guilty Wives
Patterson, James
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I started out highly annoyed by this book. It seemed so formulaic. But then the main character took off running, so to say. I found myself riveted by her ability to survive, stay true to herself, and uncover the truth. But then I ended up annoyed again by the formulaic ending. It was the opposite of a crap sandwich.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: East of Denver
Hill, Gregory
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I can relate to the subject matter of this book as I live in Colorado and my dad has dementia. I fully enjoyed the storyline and the writing style. The characters and situations were realistically portrayed and the subject matter was not in any way sugar coated. I actually expected it to be more of a heartwarming tale of a small town pulling together to help the main character and his father. But that's not how this book rolls, and I'm glad for it. But the part of me that needed a happy ending gives this book 4 stars instead of 5.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
Mr. Splitfoot
Hunt, Samantha
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

20-something-year-old Cora is dissatisfied with her life. She’s bored of her office job, she still lives with her mother, and she’s just found out that her tumultuous affair with an older, married man has left her pregnant -- and he’s not as enthusiastic about the child as she is (to understate the matter). Then her long-missing Aunt Ruth shows up at her house, mysteriously mute, and draws her into an epic cross-country journey on foot. Chapters alternate between the present, as told by Cora, and the past, as told by Ruth, detailing her childhood with her adopted brother in an orphanage run by an abusive religious cult, their career pretending to channel the dead, and the long road that led her to her niece’s door a decade later. There’s an eerie, supernatural tone throughout the book, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a horror story, and I thought it was a surprisingly tender, thoughtful look at family and finding one’s place in the world. I stumbled across this book by chance and I was glad I picked it up. It’s a quick read with admittedly little in the way of action that nonetheless managed to keep me turning pages like it was a thriller.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Highly Illogical Behavior
Whaley, John Corey
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In the middle of school one day, Solomon Reed took off all of his clothes (save his boxer shorts) and climbed in the school fountain. He went home from school, and then he didn’t leave his house again for the next three years. But aside from the agoraphobia that led to crippling panic attacks, he was pretty happy.

Enter Lisa. Even though she hasn’t seen Solomon since the day he climbed in the fountain, she’s thought about him a lot. So when the opportunity to get a scholarship to the school of her dreams hinges upon an essay about her experience with someone with a mental illness, she decides she’s going to do whatever she has to to become part of Solomon’s life. But as she and her partner Clark become closer and closer friends with Solomon, she realizes that “fixing” Solomon may not be possible, or even something that she wants to do at all.

This is the second John Corey Whaley book I've read (Noggin being the other one), and his books will now be automatically put on my TBR list - he's funny, he has a simple and accessible way of writing, and he manages to pull at your heartstrings while usually making a really good point. I actually liked this one better than Noggin, which is saying something, because I quite enjoyed that read. The mental illness angle is a hugely interesting one, and Whaley doesn't fall into the same trap that some authors do in which their character is magically healed by the end of the book. Ultimately, this is a coming of age tale for Simon and Lisa, and it's a great one. The character development supersedes the plot, which is fine, but it's the reason that I didn't give the book 5 stars.

I would highly recommend this book to readers of any age who enjoy contemporary fiction, John Green or Sarah Dessen. 4 stars - I really really liked it (maybe that's 4.5 stars).

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Christie, Agatha
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

When I was a teen, I read all of Agatha Christie's books and developed my love of mysteries! When I was a teen reading the mysteries set in England and other far off places, they seemed so exotic! But I always enjoyed the characters and trying to figure out who done it! After listening to the first in the Hercule Poirot series, the mystery still stands! Set during WWI, wealthy Emily Cavendish-Inglethorp is found dying of strychnine poisoning. Who did it? The younger husband? The step-sons? Or someone else after her fortune? I was intrigued and trying to figure it out the whole time! Knowing more about Agatha Christie's life and about the mystery genre in general, I enjoyed
the book even more the second time around!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Genres:
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir
White, Neil
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I admit, I didn't know much about leprosy before reading this book. I didn't realize that patients were segregated from society. I thought the disease had been eradicated decades ago! I was impressed with how Neil White told the story of the patients at Carville. Unlike the prisoners housed there, they didn't feel sorry for themselves. They just went on with their lives despite their disease. There was no reason to feel sorry for them.

What I didn't like about the book was Neil White's personal story. I do feel he was remorseful for taking money from innocent people to pay for his big dream of being a magazine publisher and living large. I just didn't like the examples he used when he was trying to express regret like when the first black family moved into his neighborhood or how he blackballed fellow students from joining his fraternity. The worse example was when White discussed how the patients had been disfigured by the disease and how he could "relate" because of the scar on his forehead. That passage really bothered me.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
The Short Drop
Fitzsimmons, Matthew
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Short Drop was recommended to me. I finally got around to reading it and was blown away! The book is a mystery/thriller. The basic plot is that the vice president's daughter was kidnapped. Who kidnapped her? What happened to her? This is a mystery that went on for 10 years until Gibson Vaughn, who grew up with the vice president's daughter, is asked to help solve the mystery. There is a lot of action and many twists and turns!
Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, it changed and I found myself wondering how it was going to end. I liked that Matthew Fitzsimmons didn't tie up all of the loose ends and now I have to wait until fall to see
if he picks up any for the next installment in the series! Definitely a fast read and well worth your time!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Illuminae
Kaufman, Amie and Kristoff, Jay
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Kady and Ezra are citizens of the Kerenza colony - an illegal mining colony in a remote corner of the universe. One day, the colony comes under attack from rival mining company Beitech. Kady and Ezra manage to escape on two of the three spaceships that survive the attack. Unfortunately, in the process of escaping Kerenza and battling Beitech's ships, the Kerenza ships are massively damaged and unable access their jump drives to escape to the nearest jump station. The remaining Beitech ship is chasing the Kerenza ships through space in order to eliminate ALL survivors from the Kerenza colony.

Illuminae is a collection of the electronic communications between Kady and Ezra juxtaposed with a variety of different things: ship diagrams, dialog between the different ships' commanders, Wikipedia type pages, video
transcripts, thoughts from the AI controlling one of the ships, pictures of victims, etc.

I have really mixed feelings about this one. First, I really enjoyed the layout of the book. I'm not sure that I've read anything quite like it; I guess I would maybe label this as a more modern take on the epistolary
format. Some of the pages (usually when they were in space) were prose set to artwork, which was really cool to see. However, the layout was not easy to read on a kindle - luckily I had the book checked out as both a physical book and an eBook which I would recommend as the book itself is basically an anvil.

I really liked the plot of the first 54% (thanks, eBook!) of the book, and then it went a little off the rails for me. At this point, the book kind of changes from a mystery/exploration of the use of AI to an episode of the
Walking Dead set in space, which is decidedly not my thing. The last half of the book is actionactionaction, which never gives the characters or the readers a chance to breathe. The characters themselves are pretty generic sarcastic teens - I thought they were both pretty funny, but their personalities weren't really developed much beyond the snark. Oh, and the romance. I know I'm not the intended audience, but the romance felt forced, melodramatic, and icky. I skimmed those parts...because gross.

I don't think I'll check out the next book as I was not a fan of the last half of Illuminae, but I did really enjoy the reading experience. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a really unique sci fi read with a
healthy helping of romance. 3 stars. I (mostly) liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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