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Staff Book Reviews

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.
My Lady Jane
Hand, Cynthia, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was just delightful.

My Lady Jane is a semi-historical semi-fantastical look at the life of Lady Jane Grey, cousin to King Edward VI, who was queen for 9 days and then swiftly deposed and subsequently beheaded by Mary I (aka Bloody Mary). The book looks at the events through the perspectives of Edward, Jane, and Jane's new husband, Gifford Dudley (call him G). The authors decided to rewrite history a bit to give some folks shapeshifting powers and to give our Lady Jane a happy ending. The result was a charming, whimsical read written in the sarcastic and snarky prose of today, and it was marvelous.

The book is even more impressive when you consider that it has three authors, but felt as though it could have been written by one person (I'm sure that each author wrote from a different character's perspective, but it was never jarring). The characters were well fleshed out, each perspective was funny and interesting, and I never felt myself racing through one character's chapter to get to a character I liked better (because I liked them all). I'm a big sucker for court intrigue, and there is obviously a lot of that here. The fantasy elements are pretty small, and honestly, the book could've sort of been done without them, but they do give the authors an out for some of the less historical aspects of the book (like Edward's survival, for example).

I gave the book four stars instead of five as, though I loved the tone for most of the book, by the end it was feeling a bit twee. The book was also a bit overlong. Overall though, this is a great read that I would recommend to people who like quirky, well-written books about strong women with a touch of fantasy. I hope these authors team up to write another alternate history, because I'd so be there. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Obelisk Gate
Jemisin, N. K.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I previously reviewed the first book in this series, The Fifth Season (http://ppld.org/book-reviews/fifth-season). This was a strong second entry, and on reflection I ended up liking it even more than the original book. The plot is far more linear than in The Fifth Season, but there are still unexpected twists and turns, and for me the characters really came into their own here. You will see some old, familiar faces along with a number of new additions to the cast from regions of the world we hadn't previously been exposed to. There was one character in particular whose story-line took a surprising turn that caused me to do a complete 180 on how I saw them. For me, it hit all the right notes: deeper world-building, strong characterization, and a complex plot that held up to closer scrutiny.

If you haven't finished the first book, the next part of this review will include minor spoilers. The Obelisk Gate picks up where The Fifth Season started, with Essun discovering her murdered son just as the Season hits. While the previous book then went back and forth in time to explore how she had arrived at that point, this one moves us into the future as she sets off in pursuit of her husband (Jija) and daughter (Nassun), hoping to rescue Nassun before she meets the same fate as her brother. The chapters alternate between Damaya/Syenite/Essun's journey and her daughter's, with the odd interlude featuring someone else. The narration is still in its distinctive second person format, but in this book we finally learn who the speaker is. In my opinion, Jemisin answered just enough questions from the first book while still leaving mysteries for the finale, and I can't wait for the third and final entry in the series (projected release in 2017). Highly recommended to lovers of fantasy!

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Chbosky, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book was surprising good! It was very well written and told from a fascinating narrative viewpoint. The book is written as a series of letters which serves the story line well. It wasn't overly adolescent so it appeals to both teens and adults. Charlie is optimistic and sees beauty in the world. I also liked that he listens to great music and reads great literature, which allows the reader to check out the titles he mentions. Great book!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Anansi Boys
Gaiman, Neil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I'm not going to try to describe this book, because there is a lot going on and I wouldn't really know where to start. Here's what you need to know:

It's a companion novel to American Gods, but you do not need to read American Gods first. In fact, I found this book to be vastly superior to American Gods, though the internet does not necessarily agree with me on that one.

Do you like Loki? Or like, the idea of Loki? Or just trickster gods in general? Anansi is the African trickster god, and this book is a TRICKSTER god of a novel: its clever, tricky and pure fun.

I listened to this book, and the narration was stellar. Lenny Henry nails the Caribbean accents, the humor, the eeriness, and well, all of it. I'd strongly recommend consuming this in audiobook format.

Oh, and while the characters never felt super fleshed out to me, it didn't matter, because this book was all about stories. And Anansi's stories are the best stories.

The villain was absotively the worst in the best kind of way.

Anyway, if you are looking for a funny, fast, excellently crafted mythological type of read, look no further. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Crooked Kingdom
Bardugo, Leigh
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

WOW. This was awesome. Spoilers ahead for Six of Crows.

Crooked Kingdom picks up right where Six of Crows left off. Kaz and crew have just been pulled off the heist of a lifetime and then were subsequently stiffed 30 million kruge. Van Eck, the double crosser, stole not only their money, but their comrade/crew member Inej as well. Needless to say, the crew is mad and ready for revenge. The question is...just how far are they willing to go to bring down Van Eck and his cronies?

The answer: pretty far. And it is fantastic.

Bardugo hits all of the right beats in this novel. The heisty stuff is twisty and surprising. The intensity level is insanely high for the duration of the novel. The emotional beats are EMOTIONAL. Like in Six of Crows, each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, and Bardugo uses this technique to develop a rich backstory for each character. I found myself vacillating between loving the characters for who they are and wanting to adopt them off the mean streets of Ketterdam to fix them and give them a loving, safe home. They've all been through a lot, and it informs their lives and choices in a believable way. The villains are semi-developed as the book progresses, and Van Eck at one point does something so terrible that I just sat there and thought WHAT? NO. for like 10 minutes. Bardugo also does a really great job of introducing the very real horrors of human trafficking into a fantasy novel. I hope the book raises some awareness about this very real, terrible issue.

Oh, and a fun bonus: If you've read Bardugo's other series, there are a couple of exciting cameos in store.

Anyway, for me, this was a practically perfect fantasy novel. It made me laugh, cry, and will be something that I'll come back to and re-read every few years. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
P.S. I Like You
West, Kasie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Lily is a hopeful songwriter who is struggling in chemistry. After her teacher bans her from having her notebook in class, she writes on the desk instead. This sparks an ongoing conversation through notes with an unknown pen pal. As the letters continue, more and more personal information is shared, and more feelings surface inspiring Lily to write lyrics. With a typical cast of characters – the best friend, the mean girls and boys, the crush(es) – P.S. I Like You isn’t anything too different from many of the other cute, light romances, but it’s still a quick, enjoyable read.

Reviewer's Name: Becca
Genres:
Stitches
Small, David
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is an autobiographical graphic novel of the author, David Small. The book focuses on his early childhood to early adulthood. It shows the progression of his relationship with his father, a doctor, and his mother, a homemaker in a very reserved and controlling dysfunctional household. As a young man, he ends up with a tumor on his neck that is removed but damages his vocal cords, and doctors say he won't speak again. Along the way, he discovers who his family and himself are and finds out more than he bargained for.

This book is very dark and the color scheme is perfect for the tone of this book as well, using black, white, and shades of gray primarily. The art is contemporary in its quality and color scheme but has a more retro feel to its style of art as well, especially in the faces, which gives it the feel of the era the book was set in. This book is the type of book you would be able to, and due to its page turn-ability you likely will, finish in one sitting. It's easy to get invested and feel all the emotions and heartbreak of the author along the way. It can be a bit hard to read since it is darker in its focus and has a realistic feel. It also has a few twists and turns along the way which help keep you even more entranced by the book. I really enjoyed reading it as a change of pace for myself since I typically deal in a bit lighter fair in terms of topics. It addresses issues of mental illness and controlling behavior well without being preachy or self pitying. I might not read this book again but I certainly won't forget it either. If you like dark, realistic graphic novels, this just might be your next favorite book!

Reviewer's Name: Will
Dragons Love Tacos
Rubin, Adam
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This story has it all, from tacos, to laugh out loud humor, to dragons, to colorful illustrations, and most importantly you also learn about why NEVER to give dragons totally mild salsa with jalapenos. The results are action packed, disastrous, and hilarious. Luckily, the dragons make everything right in the end.

This book is just plain old fashioned silly, and even a bit absurd, fun! The pictures in this book really capture the tone and elevate and enhance the story rather than get in the way. I'd even argue that they might be the main draw of this already entertaining book. The illustrator, Daniel Salmieri, didn't take the illustrations too seriously and you can tell they had as much fun making the book as you will reading it. Enjoy this lighthearted, humorous romp and feel free to enjoy a few tacos along the way when reading!

Reviewer's Name: Will
Awards:
Six of Crows
Bardugo, Leigh
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In the city of Ketterdam (imagine an alternate Amsterdam), Kaz is the first lieutenant of one of Ketterdam's most notorious and successful gangs. He's is approached by a city government official with an impossible task - rescue a scientist from the world's most well protected prison. And the prize? 30 million kruge. Kaz, of course, accepts. And he assembles a team of six to pull off what amounts to the world's most ambitious heist.

The story alternates between the POV of five of the six team members, and each character's story is gripping. All characters are developed throughout the course of the books, and each has their own distinct, fascinating voice and story. There's a sharpshooter, a magician, a traitorous solider, a demolitions expert, a wraith (read and find out!) and of course, the fearless leader, Kaz. And, to make things even better, they are a diverse group of people hailing from all over the world.

This book was really fun, and I've never really read anything quite like it. I will be booktalking this one and forcefully shoving it into the hands of anyone who comes into the teen center (I kid. I'll lovingly hand it to them while gushing effusively.). 5 stars

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Serafina and the Black Cloak
Beatty, Robert
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Serafina is the Chief Rat Catcher at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. She and her Pa secretly live in the basement, where he is basically the electrical engineer of the place. Serafina's presence in the house is a secret so she mostly traverses the estate through tunnels and doesn't go outside. One night, she witnesses a man in a black coat magically abducting a child, which changes everything.

I listened to this book, and the narrator didn't really do it any favors. Her Southern accent was pretty terrible, but thankfully, she kept forgetting to use it. Narration aside though, this book had some problems. The author took a cool premise and an even cooler setting and then wrote a really boring book. There were kind of two main things going on that should have been really interesting, but weren't. The first thing was the identity of the man in the black coat, which was painfully obvious from the start. Had Beatty done a kiddo type version of an Agatha Christie novel (these are the people at the Biltmore estate...and one of them is guilty of MURDER MOST FOUL), I'd probably be typing a really different review right now. Alternatively, he could've played up Serafina's secret a bit more, and that might have made things more interesting. As it was, even though there was a lot going on, nothing of importance ever seemed to really happen.

I also found myself getting annoyed by a fictional Vanderbilt named Braedan (weird name for a kid of Dutch origins in 1899, dontcha think?) who is a bit of a love interest. Every part featuring him was pretty painful as Serafina basically becomes a useless quivering mess when he's around. Blegh. Oh, and at one point, a character says something along the lines of "you don't call girls heroes, you call them heroines" which, just, are you trying to say that girls can't be heroes? Because if so, gross. I'm paraphrasing, but that's what I took away from the statement.

But on the other hand... look at that cover! Gorgeous.

If 1.5 stars was an option, that's what we'd be doing here. I liked the beginning, the premise and the setting, but wish the author had done more with the latter two elements.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Hidden Empire
Anderson, Kevin J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Hidden Empire is the start to the "Saga of the Seven Suns" series by Kevin J. Anderson, an author of dozens of Bestselling and award-winning sci-fi books. If you haven't heard of Kevin J. Anderson, it's probably because a great deal of his writing is done for other pre-existing franchise licenses (Star Wars, Dune, movie novelizations, etc...) where the author’s name tends to less noticed. Having had no previous familiarity with the author myself, I took a gamble on this one when I passed by his publisher’s booth at Denver Comic Con, and had a bit of money still burning in my pocket. I've been pleasantly surprised and now that I’m 3 books in, I think the series is holding up fantastically.

Hidden Empire tells the story of human ingenuity turned reckless by greed. When the Terran Hanseatic League ignites a gas giant into the first man-made star, they awaken a slumbering threat, and inadvertently start a war that threatens to destroy all of human civilization. The enemy is ruthless and unimaginably powerful, and worse yet, the various factions of humanity are divided by their own conflicts and prejudices.

Saga of the Seven Suns is a classic space opera of galactic proportions with a close focus on its characters. It skips the focus on justifying realistic technology that is common in "hard" sci-fi, and though the plot revolves around a war, it is not "military" sci-fi either, in that it's less about space marines and more about xeno-archaeologists and politicians. This is a people-centric story all the way, with the spotlight on the struggles of the individual characters as they each try to navigate the webs of intrigue, conflicting cultural values, and ancient secrets that surround them. Think the grand scale of Star Wars mixed with the plot style of Game of Thrones, featuring a varied cast of Point-of-View characters whose stories conflict, intersect, and illustrate the plot from different perspectives.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, did I mention that this 7 book series has already been completed and fully published? You get all the thrill of binge-reading a sweeping saga that will keep you entertained for months, without have to wait around for 5 years for the resolution to that torturous cliffhanger! There's also a handy glossary at the back of the book to help you keep track of the different people involved in this intricate story.

Note: This book is not to be confused with Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card. While Card's name is likely more recognizable, Anderson's book was published 2 years prior.

Reviewer's Name: Daniel Perez
Spy vs Spy Danger! Intrigue! Stupidity!
Prohias, Antonio
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a republished work from The All New Mad Secret File On Spy vs Spy. Prohias' compendium of the popular comic strip Spy vs Spy, which appears in MAD Magazine, does not disappoint the Spy vs Spy fandom. Done with great detail and care, each story takes an unexpected turn and you never REALLY know which of the two spies, black or white, will actually be the victor of that particular strip. They all end creatively, typically humorously, and you'll never know how the story will develop.

Prohias is originally a refugee from Cuba and after receiving death threats from Fidel Castro moved to the USA. While it's easy to be caught up in the simplicity of this wordless story, it also is an allegory for the struggle and fruitlessness of the Cold War in the opinion of the author. I love both its simplicity and complexity contained within just a few drawings. Both those who are looking for an easy laugh and those looking for more than that should be satisfied by this collection.

The panels have been blown up so you can really soak in all the detail and hard work Prohias has put into each strip. This can either be interpreted as a good or bad thing. Individuals who are familiar with the strip might enjoy it more since you can really see all the details and take your time examining each panel, taking in all the details that MAD Magazine is famous for. That said, since each page takes up a whole panel what originally took up an eighth of a page can now last five or six full pages of the book. I could see how this could be frustrating for those who are used to graphic novels/comics that are jammed packed. Again, the beauty is in the seeming simplicity of this strip with the underlying complexity, whether it be the story or the art itself. I'd recommend fully for those who are familiar with the strip, while, if you are a Spy vs Spy novice, I might suggest something a bit denser to get a better feel for the comic. Four Stars.

Reviewer's Name: Will
https://pikp.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/PPLD/search/results?qu=High+Rise+J+G+Ballard&te=
Ballard, J. G.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

High-Rise (1975) begins with one of the most memorable first lines I’ve ever read, "Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months". Laing is a new tenant in a futuristic high rise apartment building on the outskirts of London. The high rise is a microcosm containing restaurants, playgrounds, a swimming pool, and even its own supermarket. There is social order: the wealthiest tenants occupy the building's upper floors with the best views, while the middle-class tenants reside in the lower half of the building, constantly at the mercy of falling champagne bottles from the upper floors. Before long, tensions arise between the tenants of the upper and lower floors. Alternating between Laing and another tenant, Richard Wilder, we witness first-hand the deterioration of ethics and social order within the high rise. Elevators are commandeered, rooms are barricaded, alliances are formed, and blood is shed. Little by little, the layers of human behavior are peeled back, exposing a terrifyingly animalistic core at the heart of the high rise tenants.

Reviewer's Name: Brian M.
The Sword of Summer
Riordan, Rick
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Popular mythology author Rick Riordan strikes again! He has series delving into Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and now NORSE mythology. This series follows Magnus Chase, son of a Norse god. Which god, you ask? Read the book and find out!

Riordan’s writing style is very distinct, playing to his youthful audience. The chapter titles were humorous and made no sense until I reached those parts of the book. (I read through them initially and thought, “What the…?!”)

Magnus Chase was vaguely--well, maybe more like strongly--reminiscent of Percy Jackson for me. Although Magnus has had a much rougher life so far, his voice is very similar to that of Percy. Magnus Chase is barely 16 years old, but he has been living on the streets for the past 2 years since his mother’s death. After an...interesting encounter with a fire giant, he finds himself gracing the halls of Valhalla with other Norse warriors killed in battle. Along with his valkyrie, a dwarf, and an elf, he goes on a quest to retrieve the Sword of Summer and stop the wolf Fenrir from escaping his bindings.

A interesting read for those die-hard Riordan fans or anyone who loves mythology interpretations. I was very entertained by the story, as I always am with Riordan’s mythologies, but despite the gods changing, the stories are starting to run together. The overlap of stories definitely doesn’t help the blurring of the lines. (Oh, hi Annabeth!) Crossing over from the Percy Jackson series, Annabeth, last name Chase--I guess we could have seen this one coming--has a couple nice little cameos in this book, foreshadowing a larger role later in the series. I’ll be interested to see where this goes.

Reviewer's Name: Nicole
Flying
Jones, Carrie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Mana is going along in her perfectly normal life as a high school teenager with two best friends, one of whom is a boy and crush interest. All of a sudden a guy (codename China) taking out an alien, who happens to be hiding out as a cute boy at her school, interrupts a basketball game, and Mana’s world drastically changes. She finds out her mom is also an alien hunter and has disappeared, presumably kidnapped by aliens because of a chip with information she has. To top it off, Mana starts having some weird abilities, like being able to jump really high and do crazy gymnastic stunts. The rest of the book has Mana, her friends, and China on a mission to find Mana’s mom and save the world.

I really liked Carrie Jones’s series, Need. This was definitely a different kind of book. It was lighthearted and, at times, a bit silly, but overall, still a nice, light, fun read.

Reviewer's Name: Becca
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Schumer, Amy
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

For whatever reason, I've read a lot of comedian/actor memoirs in the last few years, and this one has pretty similar fare as to what you'd find in, say, a Mindy Kaling or Tina Fey offering. For me, it's in the middle of the pack in terms of quality (Bossypants > Lower Back Tattoo > either of Kalings's books), but was still an interesting, funny listen. It's part anecdotes, part advice, part social commentary, and part random page filler. For instance, one chapter is her fictional funeral rider, which, while it was kind of funny, was mostly a waste of my time. In this book, Schumer's at her best when she's a little raw - telling a sad/funny story and just letting it be what it is.

Even though I mostly enjoyed the book, the editing was not so great. Schumer calls part of the female anatomy by the wrong name for the entirety of the book. I can't believe that no one noticed that. Also, she was constantly saying "remember earlier in the book when" which you know, yes, we do remember, we're capable of basic memory recall. The persistent references to earlier chapters made me think that she maybe thought this book was going to be read by 8-year-olds or something when they were clearly not the target audience.

I mean, if I learned anything from this book about Schumer herself, it's that she's kind of a ridiculous person. For example, in one chapter, she talks about her "genetic predisposition" to black out whilst drinking, and then she lists the drinks she would normally have on a night out in college:

2 beers while pregaming followed by
4 vodka martinis straight up or a little dirty
Various other drinks

It's not genetics, Schumer, it's the martinis.

With that being said, I do admire her courage in telling stories that were real and painful for her, especially since those stories might offer some solace for people in similar situations, or may help young women avoid those situations entirely. I also like that she's found a cause (gun violence, particularly as it pertains to women), and she isn't shy about sharing the facts or her opinions in the book. Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable listen, and it helped pass the time on a longish car trip. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Mistress of the Art of Death
Franklin, Ariana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in medieval England, Adelia, a female surgeon, is hired by King Henry II as a forensic expert to investigate a series of murders taking place Cambridge. Even though it is a fictional novel, Franklin adds lots of historical details to the story, creating multiple layers to the plot. The murders are not the only mystery in this story, the characters themselves have their own veil of intrigue making the story all the more exciting!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa S.
Awards:

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