chat loading...

Staff Book Reviews

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.
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:

Pages