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Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: The BFG
Dahl, Roald
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lovely lovely book. I started off reading this to my 6 year old, but it's kinda scary so we stopped. I just had to finish it on my own. I love how the BFG talks and how whimsical the story is as a whole. It's Roald Dahl, what's not to love?

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
If I Was Your Girl
Russo, Meredith
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Earlier this year, I read If I Was Your Girl, and it is one of the most timely books I have ever encountered. Meredith Russo’s tale of a young girl moving to a new town is so much more than your standard teen romance.

Amanda just moved to Lambertville, a small Tennessee town where the big events are high school football games and church socials. She’s nervous about getting a fresh start for her senior year of high school, but she quickly makes a handful of friends. However, she’s hiding two big secrets. One, she attempted suicide while she was at her old school. Two, Amanda is transgender. Amanda is not expecting to fall in love, but encountering Grant, a young man with secrets of his own, leaves them both struggling to be honest with each other.

Amanda’s parents are separated, and she moves from a larger city where she lived with her mother to a small town where her father is still coming to terms with his daughter’s identity. If I Was Your Girl tells Amanda’s story almost flawlessly, interweaving flashbacks to her old life and helping the reader understand Amanda’s reasons for transitioning and her acceptance in her new home. Meredith Russo blends some of her own life experiences into Amanda. As readers, we’re shown an incredibly deep look. We see the psychological effects, glimpses into the recovery from the surgical procedures, and her experiences with a local support group prior to the move.

As has been mentioned in many reviews of this book, If I Was Your Girl covers a fairly easy take on transition. Amanda knows from a young age who she is, and has no trouble covering the costs of hormone therapy and various surgeries while she is still young. It’s an idealized version of transition, and it is important to note that this is currently quite rare in reality (I personally was waiting for tragedy to strike throughout my read, because everything seemed to be going too well). This is also noted by the author. “I’m worried that you might take Amanda’s story as gospel, especially since it comes from a trans woman. This prospect terrifies me, actually! I am a storyteller, not an educator. I have taken liberties with what I know reality to be.” However, this does not diminish the importance of a book by a transgender author, starring a transgender character, and featuring a transgender model on the cover in a year when transphobia is at a terrifying high.

All in all, I loved this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a much-needed beacon of hope in what has been a very dark year for LGBT+ folks around the country.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Genres:
Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City's Most Colorful Neighborhoods
Chavouet, Florent
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I read this book twice! I made a one-month trip to Japan, and this book had come up when I was looking for guidebooks about Tokyo. Once I started reading, I could read through it in several hours. The author is from France and lived in Tokyo for half a year. He describes what he experienced in colorful illustrations with animated characters. His observations were very keen in details, and location spots marked by the major train routes and police stations will let you know that Tokyo would be a fun and safe (and curious) place to visit. After my trip I checked it out again to assimilate my experiences. It was great to review my memories there. Thank you, author!

Reviewer's Name: Chi I.
Nine Women, One Dress
Rosen, Jane L.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I have to admit, I chose to read this book based on the title alone! I liked the title and I loved the book. Classic chick-lit. The main character of the book is the LBD (Little Black Dress) of the season. The dress that every woman, no matter her age or size, wants! The dress affects the lives of not only the nine women, but a few men too! If you are looking for an easy read, this book is for you! It made me laugh and smile. A fun read! I can't wait for Jane L. Rosen's next book.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Awards:
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen
Gilmore, Susan Gregg
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore is not a new book (2008), and I found it quite by accident. It was one of those books whose title intrigued me and front cover graphic caught my eye. It looked like a Fannie Flagg book, so it had to be good, right? I was not disappointed.

This is the coming of age story following Catherine Grace Cline, born and raised in a small, rural town in Georgia in the early 1970’s. A spunky kid with a great sense of humor, Catherine Grace spends her Saturdays at the local Dairy Queen, contemplating ways to escape her small-town and move to Atlanta to reinvent herself. When she is old enough, has graduated high school, and with the help of a close buddy, she finally leaves family, friends, and her boyfriend behind and does make it to the big city. She’s in her element now. However, before things really take off in the city, and much to her dismay, she must soon return to the old homestead when tragedy strikes the family. Once back and over time, Catherine Grace comes to realize maybe her small town life is not so bad after all.

Characters in the book bring out the best and worst in Catherine Grace and are vital to the story. They offer words of Southern wisdom to this dreamer and help her through the good times and bad. These characters include a younger sister (Martha Ann), her Baptist preacher father, a once-close friend of her mother’s (Gloria), and her boyfriend (Hank).

If you’re looking for an action-packed, fast moving story, this is not the book for you. Like its Southern setting, this is a story that must be soaked up with leisure while lying on the lawn being warmed by the late afternoon sun with a glass of wine in hand. Enjoy!

Reviewer's Name: Margaret
Genres:
The Thorn Birds
McCullough, Colleen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is an epic love story that spans, not only generations in Australia, but follows them around the world. Yes, it was made into a mini-series in the 1983 (worth watching), but you would be doing yourself a disservice if that is your only exposure to The Thorn Birds.

Reviewer's Name: Jennifer
Genres:
Darcy and Fitzwilliam
Wasylowski, Karen V.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is another telling of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". This story follows the trails and tribulations of the famed courtship from the point of view of Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam. Fans of "Pride and Prejudice" will enjoy receiving more insight into the classic romance.

Reviewer's Name: Jennifer
Genres:
The War of the Worlds
Wells, H. G.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

At only a smidgen under two-hundred pages, this book appeared to be a concise and quick read. Surprisingly, my experience was quite the opposite. The War of The Worlds presents a typical scenario that many novels have sadly claimed. The initial third is gripping and chocked full of descriptors and entertainment; the second third is nearly pointless to the main plot; the concluding third wraps the story up, leaving enough aspects unresolved for the imagination to expand upon, but doesn't carry on the initial third's promise. Thus, leaving the reader confused and with a feeling of wasted time.

Initial Third:
After reading the beginning chapters a sense of urgency becomes the overlying theme. Peril soon engulfs the novel's setting as its characters realize the grave situation. The Author takes his time here by writing pages of description to meticulously set the scene. The story progresses to a small climax at the end of this third, which casts a shadow of high expectation on the other two thirds. This initial third is a marvel of a opener that brings honor to the class of classic English-literature.

Second Third:
If paper could speak to its reader it'd ask that they'd grip their new-found excitement and trudge through the muck. The majority of this third's viewpoint comes from that of a flat secondary-character with little importance to the story. This characters presence only delayed the objectives that the first chapter created. Their travels were hectic; slightly smile inducing at times. Taking this character shift seriously was difficult as the pages grew thinner and crucial answers were yet to be disclosed. The author even goes as far as giving a figurative apology for sidetracking the reader at this third's close; H. G. Wells' canny sense of humor makes an unexpected appearance here.

Concluding Third:
After hope for the story as-a-whole was drained, Wells restored the glorious successes of the initial third, but not fully. Excitement and intensity were brought back as the conclusion drew nearer. The story abruptly shifted to the round, main-character, again; swapping character who're in different settings is usually abrupt, so this isn't a true issue. This character goes on to see the conclusion, which wraps up most of the events and questions that the previous content created.

My Take:
I didn't find this novel to be terrible or great. It proved to me that it's a mediocre work glossed with wild literary technique and vocabulary. Wells' persistence use of over description dimmed the natural flow and appeal of his writing. There's little reason to use half a page or more to describe minute details. It would have been better if he spent the time to detail the larger picture, rather than tiny scenes. Character development was superb at first, but fell flat due to the second third's character shift. If the second third was omitted in its entirety and, then rewritten without the secondary-character's perspective the novel would be vastly improved. Wells wasn't an illiterate fellow with corn for brains. His derailing of the story added multiple perspectives and was most likely an attempt to add another dynamic. The incessant over-descripting showcased his incredible vocabulary while portraying him as an over confident writer. Paying closer attention to the plot and character development will lead to a better story than any amount of impressive vocabulary ever could. It's clear that H. G. Wells is a gifted and skilled writer, but this certainly isn't a jewel.

Reviewer's Name: Joe K.
Monstress: Volume 1, Awakening
Liu, Marjorie M., Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a hybrid human/monster called an "Arcanic", as she tries to free fellow Arcanics from human cruelty and avenge her mother's death at the hands of a powerful group of human witches. Oh yeah, and Maika herself keeps turning (at least partially) into an old-world style monster that kills almost everything in its sight, regardless of whether they are friend and foe. As we follow Maika in her quest for revenge, we get flashbacks that inform us of her motivations and murky past.

This was definitely one of my favorite graphic novels of the year.

Maika is a layered anti-hero with a disability (she's missing an arm). I liked her more and more the more I learned about her. She's not shy about killing people, though, hence the anti-hero label. In fact, she's probably more of a villain than an anti-hero, but that really only added to the story for me. I mean, this title earns its "M" rating. It's very very bloody. Maika does not do nice things to her enemies.

The art was GORGEOUS. SO PRETTY. I'm fairly new to graphic novels, but this just might be the best art that I've seen. The cover is actually relatively simple compared to the insanely intricate steampunk/art deco panels on the inside. Art lovers, check this book out for the artwork alone (but be prepared for a rather gory experience).

So even though I very obviously loved this title, it was not perfect. Like in many graphic novels, there is little by way of introduction to the characters, and you are just thrown right into the story with background info being filled in later. Because the world-building was so complex, I found myself having to read certain parts several times (or having to revisit prior pages/storylines). This could just be a me thing because I have this problem in a lot of graphic novels, but I also found some of the action scenes to be incomprehensible.

I can't believe I almost forgot this amazing detail, but there are talking cats. You know what makes almost every story better? A talking cat.

This was definitely an excellent read. Graphic novel fantasy lovers, you would be remiss to not check this book out (but stay away if you don't like blood). 4 stars.

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

A Monster Calls is an award winning, simple, easy to read book about a very complicated, emotional issue. A young boy, Conor, faces the stark reality of his mother’s terminal illness. He has been suffering from a recurring nightmare and suddenly a new dream-like monster comes to him to see him through this upheaval. It is a short book that will have you emotionally tied up in knots written for young adults, but applicable to all people that are dealing with loss, closure and guilt. Conor’s internal struggle vividly comes to life in the form of the monster in this book. If you’re looking for a quick read that will pull you in and hold you, this is the book for you.

Reviewer's Name: Jenny G.
Book Review: My Brother Sam is Dead
Collier, James Lincoln
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When I started this book I could not understand why it had been banned. It seemed so innocuous. I only read it because it was in the free pile where I work. I looked it up and it was for violence, language, and an unpatriotic view of the Revolutionary War. Fair enough. It is violent and unpatriotic for sure, which is why I liked it. It's also a very good story and is about as accurate an account of the Revolutionary War era as can be reasonably expected from a work of fiction for young people.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: The Art of Practicing
Bruser, Madeline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I skimmed the parts of this book that didn't apply to me. But stretching and relaxing before practice and performances, thorough memorizing as a tool to help you quickly recover when you make a mistake, finding something to love in each tune (even those you don't love - I'm looking at you, Loch Carron), and recognizing the bravery of performance and competitions resonated with me. A good read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Impyrium
Neff, Henry
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

3000 years ago (aka present day), the earth suffered from "the Cataclysm" - an apocalyptic event that changed the literal shape of the earth (because earthquakes) as well as all of its political structures. In this future version of earth, technology has been all but outlawed, and magical folks are treated in a vastly superior way to those without magic. Hob Smythe is a non-magical miner living in the Dusk (outside of present-day Vancouver) who is recruited by a secret society called The Fellowship that wants non-magic folks to have the same rights as magic folks. He is quickly whisked away to the capital (Impyrium) where he is to spy on Hazel Faeregrine - the princess third in line to the throne that the Fellowship suspects is massively powerful. Meanwhile, Hazel is trying to learn how to wield her great magical power, while maneuvering and investigating interesting goings on in the palace.

As you can probably tell from that description, there is a lot of world-building that happens in this book. As a result, the beginning is a little slow, but after a few chapters, I found myself engrossed. Neff creates a dynamic world full of magic, demons, and dragons. The characters themselves are intelligent, likable (if a little gullible), and independent. If you like your heroes with pluck, you'll love Hazel and Hob. The story, once it gets going, is fairly complex, but in a really great way. There's a lot of plotting and conspiracies and it's really fun to try to figure out what is happening along with Hazel and Hob. A lot of little threads are introduced, and many plot points are tied up in the end while still paving the way for the next installment in the story. Additionally, there is fun social commentary in terms of non-magic vs. magic folks and their respective treatments.

I liked this enough that I immediately put the author's companion series, which is called The Tapestry and tells about the events of the Cataclysm, on hold. This is probably my favorite non-sequel middle grade read of the year. Recommended for fantasy readers of all ages. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
 Superman, Volume 1: Before Truth
Yang, Gene Luen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In this Superman comic written by Gene Yang, Superman is being blackmailed by a mysterious agency (or person) called HORDR. He's also got a new ability (solar flare) that destroys everything in his immediate vicinity, but that leaves him human/vulnerable for the 24 hours immediately following the flare's use.

Even though this is labeled "Volume I", the issues in it are marked as 40-46. As such, the first issue was super confusing. It took me a hot minute to figure out what was happening, but basically, the Justice League was testing Superman's new power: solar flares. Honestly, you could skip it and be fine.

Anyway, so after that bizarre first issue, we enter the main story. I think it's my fav Supes story (I mean, it's the first one I've read, but I've seen *some* of the movies), just because in my opinion, Superman is usually a little over powered (OP), which makes him a lot less interesting as a character. It was nice to see him being a human, and we get a few cute moments as a result (hangover!). The story has a nice, easy to follow progression, the characters (for the most part) act in ways that make sense, and the last issue leaves the door WIDE open for future issues. If you have no knowledge of Superman, it would be really hard to follow. Movie watchers will be fine, but if you are totally new to Superman, start elsewhere.

This might be really stupid, but I hated Superman's costume update. The jeans just looked silly. Like, go full tights/ridiculous superhero costume, man, or just do nothing at all. Also, like, shave or don't shave, don't walk around with that spiky stubble all the time, it's distracting.

Somehow worse costume aside, I liked this Superman story, and I'll likely check out the next volume. 3 stars - it was pretty good.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Secret Rooms
Bailey, Catherine
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I really was intrigued by this book. It was promoted as a mystery and I love a good mystery. Especially a true-life mystery surrounding the death of John Manners, the 9th Duke of Rutland. In the beginning I was very intrigued and couldn't put the book down. But after awhile, I just couldn't take it anymore. Catherine Bailey took an interesting piece of British history and some how turned it into a tedious, uninteresting story. Plus, she never really delivered on all of the mysteries she found surrounding John Manners. I think this book could have been much more interesting with A LOT of editing. I do admit, I did learn some interesting tidbits. Not enough for me to recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Awards:
Book Review: Mindsets for Parents: Strategies to Encourage Growth Mindsets in Kids
Ricci, Mary Cay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

My daughter's teacher recommended this book. It focuses on what parents can do to help children succeed. It comes from a place that all children have tremendous potential for growth, not just ones identified as 'gifted'. The advice that I took to heart was to talk with Zoe about how her brain works, how it gets stronger when she works hard and challenges herself. How difficult work is worth the effort and setbacks and failures are necessary for growth. I learned a lot and highly recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Raven Boys
Stiefvater, Maggie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Blue Sargent has unusual name, but she is an unusual girl. She lives in the small town of Henrietta, in a house filled with psychics, including her mother. Ever since she can remember she has been told that she if she kisses her true love he will die. Up until now Blue has tried to stay away from boys, especially the preppy rich ones that go to the boarding school in town. But when she gets involved with four boys from the Aglionby School who are searching for the burial site of a mythical Welsh king, Blue’s plans go out the window. As the hunt for the grave becomes more dangerous (ghosts and Latin speaking trees included), so too does Blue’s relationship with one of the boys named Gansey. Will Blue be able to be part of the quest without killing one of the Raven boys?

The Raven Boys is a dark and gritty fantasy, which turns the ‘true love’s kiss’ cliché on its head. For anyone looking for a more modern take on the fantasy genre or are interested in the paranormal, this is the book for them.

Reviewer's Name: K. S.
One Mile Under
Gross, Andrew
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Colorado is the setting for best-selling author Andrew Gross’ thriller, One Mile Under. From the Roaring Fork River, which starts at the Continental Divide and runs through Aspen to Glenwood Springs, to the state’s eastern plains, the central theme of the book is water.

After being summoned by his god-daughter, a rafting guide, to investigate a suspicious white water kayaking death, security specialist Ty Hauch joins Danielle Whalen in search of clues to the fatality on the Roaring Fork.

The investigation leads to Weld County, where water is every bit as important to farmers and ranchers as it is to the outdoor recreation industry in the mountains, and there is one more player in this adventure - the oil and gas industry. As Ty and Dani soon find out, extracting ore from far beneath the earth’s surface involves water…and lots of it.

The controversial process is commonly known as “fracking”, an issue that is a hot topic in Colorado today. One Mile Under is fast-paced, educational and a really good read.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Arsenic with Austen
Hyde, Katherine Bolger
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I really wanted to like this book. I read a review that said it was a literate, well-written, tightly-plotted mystery with shades of Jane Austen. I was ready for a really good mystery - and it had a charming cover. Each chapter begins with a quote from one of Austen's books, but that's where the similarity ends.

Fiftyish Emily Cavanaugh inherits loads of money, property and a library of hundreds of valuable and first edition books. The inheritance allows her to leave her position teaching college literature and move into her aunt's Victorian estate in Stony Beach, Oregon. What's not to like? Upon arrival she learns that her aunt's death may not have been natural, the other legatee wants her inheritance as well as his, the mayor and his realtor girlfriend want her land for a massive development scheme and the man she loved who vanished from her life 35 years earlier is the town's chief of police. A number of felonies occur in attempts to gain her property. Emily sees all the suspects as characters from Jane Austen's novels.

The book started well and had real possibilities, but the author seemed to lose track of her original ideas and fall back on predictable story lines. The conclusion wrapped everything up too quickly and unrealistically. Original or at least interesting plot lines weren't developed. This is Katherine Bolger Hyde's first book. She had a good idea, but lost it in the details. It could have been so much better.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Genres:
When Breath Becomes Air
Kalanithi, Paul
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This memoir by a brilliant neurosurgeon who contracts lung cancer movingly describes the anguish of terminal illness from the doctor and patient perspectives simultaneously. An accomplished writer with an astonishing grasp of literature, he side steps all the easy answers and leaves the reader in love with life and astonished by living, not intimidated by disease.

Reviewer's Name: David R.

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