Staff Book Reviews
White Is for Witching is a difficult book to describe. I suppose you could say that it's the story of a young woman, Miranda Silver, who suffers from pica, a condition which compels sufferers to crave and eat inedible foods: chalk, plastic, metal, rubber. The story follows her life -- loosely -- from her mother's death when she was a little girl up until her mysterious disappearance in her late teens/early 20s. The story is told from the perspectives of Miranda, her twin brother, her college girlfriend, and the (possibly evil) house/bed & breakfast she lives in, along with a few brief POV sections from side characters. They're nominally piecing together the events that led up to Miranda's disappearance, but that thread often gets lost in the meandering chapters. Fair warning: the plot is difficult to follow and it wasn't until I reread the opening that the story started to click into place. There's a strange, dream-like atmosphere, none of the narrators are anything close to reliable, and it wasn't always clear to me (read: it was almost never clear to me) what was going on. To give a sample of just a few of the plot threads: There are a string of assaults/murders of refugees happening in Dover, England, where Miranda and her family live. Is she connected to them somehow? Some passages seem to suggest so, but we certainly never find out. The house she lives in seems to hate immigrants and may or may not have eaten her female ancestors to keep them from leaving, but don't expect either of these points to be brought to any sort of conclusion. The closest thing to a central thread was the obsession with the possibility that Miranda was or was controlled by a soucouyant, a sort of vampire/shape-shifter in Caribbean traditions. So race, identity, and immigration are obviously big themes, but it's less clear where Oyeyemi is going with everything.
For me, the actual story-line wasn't very satisfying, but the writing style and atmosphere made it worth it. I've read almost everything Oyeyemi has written, and a lot of her stories fall apart at the end; she's great at creating interesting characters/evoking an eerie, ominous mood, but in my opinion resolving a plot is not her strong point. This might be frustrating for some readers, but if you're interested in something a little more experimental and don't mind that it's a bit rough around the edges, you might like this book. I would recommend Oyeyemi's first book, The Icarus Girl, for anyone interested in reading something a little more accessible by her. If this had been the first thing I read by her I might not have picked anything else up, but I enjoyed it for what it was.
The Redeemer has an unusual profession: he's a "fixer," paid to calm tempers and smooth over the difficult situations that arise in the criminal underworld of the unnamed Mexican city where he lives. Armed only with a gift for talking his way out of difficult situations, he works as a sort of middle man. When our story starts, an outbreak of a new strain of flu has led to a state of emergency. The bodies are piling up, people are panicking, and most of the city is locking themselves up at home to let the illness run its course. The Redeemer would gladly join them, but duty calls. In the middle of all this, two feuding crime families have, through a strange series of coincidences, ended up with the corpses of the other's child (you might be getting some Romeo and Juliet vibes at this point). It's The Redeemer's job to set things right before more violence breaks out.
This book has been out for a while but was just recently translated into English. It's more of a novella -- just 100 pages long -- but I enjoyed the read and felt that it wrapped everything up in a satisfying way. The characters are interesting and well-drawn even in such a short space, and there was a good balance of humor and more sad, reflective moments as we move back and forth between The Redeemer's attempts to seduce his neighbor ("Three Times Blonde") and his investigation of the children's deaths. I would recommend this to lovers of noir, but I think it has a broader appeal as well.
This review contains spoilers.
This is the second time I've read this book. I got more out of it this time. It helped to google Auggie's condition to see what he would have looked like. There were a few chapters about friendship, betrayal, and bullying, that were so powerful I got misty-eyed. I liked that the school ultimately accepted him and loved him. I also liked Via's friend's storyline. Perhaps my favorite part was at the end when he got the award and said that they saw something exceptional, but he just saw himself as a normal kid. But hey, he'd take the award if they wanted to give it to him. :-)
This book has recommendations from heavy hitters like Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver that make it sound like the greatest thriller they've ever read. I picked it up based on a good review and the Colorado setting, which I usually enjoy. Disappointing all the way around. Generic tough guy antics and prose that fails to capture the feel of Colorado's high country do not add up to the second coming of Elmore Leonard. And this guy's a native, so we can't blame it on the out of state writer doing it by the numbers. For a much better written crime story with a Colorado setting, read The Painter by Peter Heller.
I really enjoyed this book! I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, but Jeanne Marie Laskas kept me interested in all of the stories of Hidden America. I learned so much. I have to admit, I never really think about how my fresh fruit gets to me, but after reading the chapter on migrant workers, I am not sure I will look at my daily apple the same way. Also, I thought she did a great job when she went to Yuma, Arizona to the gun shop. That story didn't turn out like I expected it to. But the best chapter is about our trash and the people who tend to it. I just thought a landfill was a place where our garbage went to never be seen again. But there is a lot that goes into landfills and garbage. This was such a fascinating book! A great read and a really good book for a book group. So much to discuss!
This book is written in prose. This annoyed me for about 20% of the book. Then I got used to it and started enjoying it. It's a powerful true story about a brave woman who stood up for the rights of working women and children. Whenever I read stories about brave women, I ask myself if I would have had the moxie to do what they did. The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. This one I'm not sure about. It take real guts to stand up to bullies (in this case sweatshop owners and their thugs). I've never been good at that. She was so determined and stubborn, and she persevered! Amazing.
Bonus: I read this book over Labor Day weekend and didn't realize it until after I had finished.
I'm not a fantasy reader. I'm not even a fantasy watcher, but like so many other readers of Game of Thrones, the sheer awesomeness that is the series led me to read the book. This book VERY GOOD! This is high praise coming from a non-fantasy reader. I actually was glad I had seen the series because it helped me better visualize everything. I'm not going to continue on with the series because the books are really very long and I just can't commit to that. But I'll keep watching and loving the series! 4 stars because the book was too long and dragged in some places.
Kaidu is new to the Nameless City. This is a city so frequently conquered that no name, despite thousands, sticks. He's trying to become a warrior, make friends, and know his father but all three tasks seem unlikely for the shy boy. Then he meets Rat, a street-smart girl who has the ability to think on her feet and run quickly. They form a friendship and manage to save their city from an upcoming threat that could change who runs the city. Fans of Avatar the Last Airbender comics or TV show would adore this series. It's new, it's refreshing, and follows an interesting and still developing story arch. I couldn't put it down as I turned page after page of beautiful illustration and compelling story. There are many cultures at war with one another in the still, albeit temporarily, peaceful city. The first in the series, I look forward to watching the story take shape and tackle complex issues about identity, war, friendship, and trust. It was really enjoyable and I highly recommend it!
Peter Grant has just finished training to be a PC (police constable) in London. Right as he's about to get assigned to the paperwork unit (not his first choice) he chats up a ghost witness to a gruesome murder. After that, he discovers that he has some magical ability, and begins training to be a wizard copper whilst trying to solve the murder.
This was so fun! If I were to describe it, I'd say it's like the Dresden Files (both are urban fantasy series about crime solving wizards) but like a billion times better. It's fairly similar in premise, but different in most other ways. It has a lighter tone, a more likable protagonist, diverse characters, and was just a more enjoyable reading experience for me. The author used to write for Doctor Who, so fans of that show may also like this read. My only complaint is that it read like an ARC. Did anyone bother to edit this thing? The grammar was terrible (some of which was probably intentional, but some of it clearly wasn't), and occasionally character names were just wrong. Like, all of a sudden, a character who wasn't in a scene would "say" something and it was clear that her name was just transposed with the other lady main character - this happened at least twice.
Anyway, lack of editing aside, this book was an absolute joy to read. I've already checked out the next in the series and would strongly recommend this to urban fantasy readers. 4 stars.
Anglet is a steeplejack, a person who climbs buildings for a variety of work related reasons (chimney work, retrieval, the building of things, etc.). One day, at the end of a shift, she discovers a dead body on the ground. As being a steeplejack is quite dangerous, she isn't completely alarmed at first, until she realizes that the person did not die of natural causes - he had been stabbed in the back. After that, she takes it upon herself to solve the murder mystery as well as a few other mysteries that crop up along the way.
I feel like I should've liked this book more than I did. The beginning is extremely slow, but only due to the author having to do some serious world-building, which is something I often like. The world itself was pretty cool. It's a newly colonized version of South Africa, which made for a unique setting. Actually, the racism/discrimination bits were so well done as to be hard to read. The main character is likable. She's that lovely combination of fierce and vulnerable that is common in YA, but rarely successfully pulled off. Hartley pulls it off. He knows what he's about - this book was extremely well written.
So why didn't I like it? I'm kind of asking myself the same question here, but my overall feeling was definitely just "meh". I think that, for me, the book lacked any real tension or emotional impact. I liked Ang, but I never really cared that much about her, or anyone else in the story. I definitely didn't care about Berrit, the murder victim. Actually much is made about how NO ONE cares about Berrit and his life was one that wasn't going to be worth living anyway, so...who cares who murdered him, really? Aside from a few terrifying scenes featuring her would-be rapist/boss (and a few other emotional but spoilery scenes) the book went from action scene to action scene with no real emotional impact, and without feeling like it was fast paced. Somehow, in the midst of all of the action, the book felt like a really slow read, mostly because I just couldn't make myself care about the fates of most of the characters.
With a more compelling mystery and better developed characters, this book could've been very likable. Still, I think many will like it, and I'm definitely not opposed to picking up the sequel. 2 stars - it was ok.
Patrick Ness keeps writing books that resonate with me. His work tends to focus on emotional journeys with characters either growing from a painful experience or coming to accept something about themselves. This book is no different. At a glance, this book appears to be a horror story. "A Monster Calls" is a cryptic title and the description implies a monster is after a teenage boy. The story follows Conor, a boy who has nightmares about one monster but is visited by another. The other monster wants to tell him 3 true stories and, when the third story is done, Conor must tell it a 4th...or else the reality Conor fears will happen.
In actuality, this book is not scary - at least not in a horror sense. It contains a few unsettling moments and any scary moments come from human fears we carry with us throughout our lives - fears of loss or change or the unknown. It examines them in such a way that is poetic and compassionate, particularly as it relates to grief. Ultimately this book is about learning to cope - it just happens to explore this concept with monsters, nightmares, and a tree. This book made me cry at work - which is a good thing, but you know...kind of awkward nonetheless. Would recommend to lovers of reality based fiction, modern faerie-tales (in a way), unsettling stories, or emotional stories.
And seriously, have the tissues at the ready.
I finished this book about 3 weeks ago so my review is clouded by the passage of time. This book is written from the perspective of an inexperienced hiker embarking on a harrowing adventure. I often found myself wondering why she didn't just give up; how she could possibly have survived hiking in the snow and ice without succumbing to hypothermia or sustaining injury; how she could continue hiking on severely damaged feet; or how she could have hiked for an extended period of time without encountering the powerful thunderstorms so prevalent in the high country. Also, it was a bit long for my taste. Still it was very good and I recommended it especially to hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Have you ever daydreamed about what it was like to cross the American West in a covered wagon during the 1800s? Well, I have, and apparently Mr. Buck and his brother Nick have too. The idea to "See America Slowly" was planted by their father, who took them on a covered wagon trip from New Jersey to Pennsylvania which ended up being featured in LOOK magazine in 1958. Before setting out on their epic journey, Buck gives the reader fascinating background on wagons (it's not a Conestoga!), mules and their unsung contribution to America's development, and getting cheated (just like the early pioneers) by outfitters who sell inappropriate equipment at outrageous prices. The cast is filled out by three mules - Jake, Beck and Bute - and a filthy Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, our merry band will experience many of the hardships encountered by travelers in the nineteenth century (storms, lack of water, and dangerous terrain) and some new ones (semi trucks, miles of fences, and inferior truck stop coffee). Buck also gives the reader lively background sketches of the many colorful characters who made their way over the trail originally and the contemporary controversy over the LDS church's efforts to re-brand the route as the Mormon Trail. So hop aboard, partner, and let's go "see the elephant! You'll have a great trip.
Three monsters plague the US in the future: the zombie like Corsai, the vampiric Malchai, and the soul-stealing Sunai. Kate Harker has always been safe from the monsters - her father is the man who controls the monsters in the northern part of Verity City. After her mother died when she was a young child, Kate's father has done all he can do to keep Kate out of town to keep her safe from the monsters in Verity. But Kate wanted to come home, and so she made sure to get kicked out of every boarding school possible, until the only one left is Verity's own Colton Academy. On her first day at Colton, she befriends a fellow new student named August. Unbeknownst to Kate, August is a Sunai. His father is in charge of southern Verity City, and is working to eliminate all of the Corsai and Malchai in the area. After a botched assassination attempt at Colton, Kate and August find themselves on the run from monsters - but which of their fathers sent the monsters after them? Or was it BOTH fathers? Or could it somehow be neither?
Phew, that was hard to explain. Clearly there is some pretty complex and creative world-building happening in this book, but I would expect nothing less from Schwab. I picked up This Savage Song because I've been reading Schwab's Shades of Magic series (if you are reading this review, just stop and check out A Darker Shade of Magic, you can thank me later), and in both series the world building is quite well done. In fact, the first third or so of This Savage Song was spent on world building, and I found that part to be the most enjoyable. It seemed like the book might then start to veer into "do they like each other" sort of romance territory, but my fears about having to read about teenage angst for the next 300 pages or so were pretty quickly assuaged as Kate and August find themselves running for their lives. For me, the "running from the monsters" parts of the book were ok - there wasn't a ton of new ground covered and it read as a fairly standard on the run type of novel. The mystery of who, exactly, put the hit out on them was interesting and made the running parts of the book more enjoyable. Neither character seemed to have a ton of personality or got a lot of development, but I definitely liked August more than Kate, and feel that I got to know him a bit better over the course of the book.
While this book was not without its problems, the last page or so was AMAZING. Like, ensures you'll read the next book in the series AMAZING. Well played, Schwab.
3 stars. I liked it.
The Dog Master: A Novel of The First Dog will appeal to dog lovers, scholars and those with inventive imaginations. The novel attempts to answer the fascinating question of how and why the lives of humans and canines might have become so intertwined. W. Bruce Cameron brings to life the daily challenges of prehistoric humans so vividly that the characters become readily accessible to the reader. Despite the necessary leaps of creativity involved in writing a novel about early humanity, Cameron grounds the story with details based on his own extensive research of the time period and wolf behavior. The resulting story is both realistic and fanciful. It was fast-paced and entertaining, but also made me want to raid the nonfiction section to study ancient history after I finished the book. The book hops between timelines and story-lines, so can sometimes be a bit difficult to keep track of, but the different perspectives are relevant and add depth to the story. The subject matter appeals to our deepest curiosities of what it means to be human and its portrayal of the beginning of the human/dog relationship is relatable to anyone who has formed a bond with a dog.
Harry Potter made a return to the forefront of pop culture at the end of July with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a screenplay of the new stage play that takes us back to the magical wizarding world. It’s a bold new direction for the story, taking place nineteen years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (please note that this review will assume that you have read or, at the very least, watched the final entry in the series), and the world is a very different place for Harry and his friends.
Almost two decades have passed since the Battle of Hogwarts. Since Voldemort’s defeat, our original heroes have attempted to move on with their lives. Harry is a Ministry of Magic official now, head of the Office of Magical Law Enforcement. He’s happily married to Ginny, and father of three children. Hermione is Minister of Magic, and married to Ron, who has taken over operation of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. At the outset of the play, Harry and Ginny’s second child, Albus, is bound for his first year at Hogwarts. While on the train, he meets his fellow first year, Scorpius Malfoy, and despite their fathers’ history, they become fast friends. In short order, the boys arrive at school and are both sorted into Slytherin, much to Albus’s surprise.
The following years pass quickly (we are only shown hints of events during the first three years that Albus and Scorpius are in school), showing the lack of real communication between Albus and his father. Being the son of The Boy Who Lived, it turns out, is not easy. Albus has Scorpius as a friend, but neither of them seem to be the children their fathers hoped they would be. You see, a rumor has been flying about the wizarding world that Draco Malfoy isn’t actually Scorpius’s dad. Gossip is that Malfoy wasn’t able to have a child, and so he illegally used a Time Turner in order for his wife to conceive a son with Lord Voldemort. This rumor is given more credence when the Ministry of Magic confiscates what is believed to be the last Time Turner in existence, one that doesn’t appear to have the one-hour-back limit of previous ones. But if someone could go back more than one hour in time, what would they seek to do with that power?
In their fourth year, Albus and Scorpius learn about the existence of the Time Turner and ask themselves that question. When Amos Diggory arrives at the Ministry to implore Harry to go back and save his son, Cedric from Voldemort, Harry refuses, for fear of what disrupting the past might do. When given the opportunity, though, Albus and Scorpius leap at a chance to change the world in the hopes of finding their place within it. However, the threat of Lord Voldemort doesn’t only linger in the past.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn’t a Harry Potter novel. It’s a play based on a story by J.K. Rowling, but the heavy lifting of the writing was done by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. It’s a vastly different sort of read because of that, and we don’t get anywhere near the level of insight into each character. It doesn’t move in quite the same way, but it is no less magical. Cursed Child is to the Harry Potter series what The Force Awakens was to Star Wars: a return to a beloved world that retreads some familiar moments while still laying the groundwork for a younger generation. New perspectives on classic moments left me feeling more connected to the characters than I had since first finishing Deathly Hallows.
Having read through the entirety of the screenplay, I only want one more thing from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I want to see it on stage.
(Note: This review orignally appeared here: https://swordsoftheancients.com/2016/08/10/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-c... )
This final book of the Bill Hodges Trilogy finds retired police detective, Bill Hodges, investigating a string of suicides involving survivors of the Mercedes Massacre. Along with his private investigation agency, Finders Keepers, and his partner, Holly Gibney, Bill must figure out why survivors who have spent the past five years rebuilding their lives suddenly decide to commit suicide. The only item that seems to connect the individuals is that they have all received a free handheld video game called a “Zappit”. Are the video games consoles really hypnotizing users and telling them to do something they would not normally do? Why does it only affect certain users? With the help of Holly, the tech wizard of the duo, Bill races to find answers before a suicide epidemic ensues. In classic Stephen King style, this crime thriller pits good versus evil and includes an element of supernatural suspense that makes the story even more engaging.
Once again, King takes current events and imagines a “what if” scenario that plays on some of our worst fears. King’s character development and storytelling style quickly pulls readers into the book and carries them through to the last page. Don’t let the pink and blue fish on the cover fool you. This book has some twisted, creepy characters and gore filled scenes that may be unnerving to some readers. As a life-long King fan, I found it hard to put it down. To get maximum enjoyment of the book, I suggest starting at the beginning of the trilogy with Mr. Mercedes and continuing on into Finders Keepers before diving into End of Watch.
Ithaca is an Odyssey retelling, but told from the perspective of Odysseus' son, Telemachus. The first third of the book focuses on Telemachus' experiences on Ithaca up to the present day of the book. Odysseus has been gone for 16 years, and has been missing for eight, and other, strange men have started to live on Ithaca in hopes of becoming its new chief and marrying Penelope, Odysseus' wife. Telemachus eventually decides to take a journey to see Nestor on Pylos in order to find his father, and ends up travelling a little more extensively than he perhaps originally intended. In the next third of the book, we basically get the events of Odysseus' trip home from Troy as explained by Odysseus and a bard. The last third of the book follows Telmachus as he returns from his trip to find Odysseus, and then discovers that the man himself has come home.
The decision to retell the Odyssey from Telemachus' point of view was a great one, and it's those parts of the book that were, to me, the most successful. The book actually ends up being a great coming of age tale set against the backdrop of Greek mythology and culture. It made for an interesting read, and Telemachus' character and his relationship with his parents was flawed in a really genuine way. A+ for character development. However, the second third of the book, the sum up Odysseus' return journey bit, I could've done without. I read The Odyssey ages ago (in high school, like one does), but it's still enough of a pop culture reference (and yeah, I've read the Riordan books too, so that helps) that I knew the story already, and that part felt a little disjointed. I get why it was necessary, but ultimately, it harmed the narrative a bit. You are kind of pulled out of Telemachus' story to read the "best parts" version of Odysseus' journey, and it just felt rushed.
The Odysseus part aside, though, I really liked this book. I find myself liking it more and more the more I think about it. It's one of those books that stays with you for a while. If you are looking for a fantastical, gory, and ultimately very human coming of age tale, then this is for you. 4 stars.
Ever wonder what your grandmother might be up to in heaven? Or maybe why it is that there are some people who just give the best advice? BJ Novak, writer and star of The Office, explores these topics and much more in his refreshingly hilarious One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. Tales run the gamut of the absurd to the seemingly mundane: from a peek inside a blind date with a warlord, to a boy who is not allowed to eat sugary name-brand cereals. Each story is almost like two sides of the same coin, all at once being achingly funny and heartbreakingly human. The collection, while as a whole is mostly always humorous, ebbs and flows with a sincerity that demonstrates Novak’s keen ability to not only write about human emotion, but to make the reader feel it as well. One More Thing shows that Novak’s writing is intelligent, his command of language sharp and his wry humor at its best.
It seems like a typical day on her small, icy planet when Kady breaks up with her boyfriend Ezra. Little does she know, hours later she'll save Ezra's life when a megacorporation attacks their planet. The survivors of the attack are picked up by a passing fleet and Ezra and Kady are separated. As the two teens are trained to fill the staffing gaps on the military fleet, Kady begins to notice that the commanders are hiding a virus on one of the transport vessels which puts the safety of the whole fleet at risk. Soon, Kady finds herself reaching out to Ezra in an attempt to gain more information on the effects of the virus.
Illuminae tells a great story with the right mix of humor, code speak, and action. A unique premise and the authors’ attention to detail lead to a well-developed sci-fi world. The excellent story is enhanced by the inventive format – the novel reads like an investigative report made up of IM conversations, journal entries, and scientific reports.
The interesting format allows for the authors to provide a variety of relatable perspectives. Even though they’re living in a galactic warzone, Ezra and Kady provide a realistic and often humorous picture of a complicated relationship. The authors manage to make their interactions feel realistic despite the fact that Ezra and Kady never inhabit the same physical space at any time in the book. While Ezra and Kady are excellent characters, Kaufman and Kristoff have developed a varied cast of secondary characters which provide humor and empathy to the story.
Illuminae will appeal to a variety of sci-fi fans. It includes elements of intergalactic warfare and intrigue similar to Star Wars, apocalyptic elements along the lines of The Fifth Wave, strong kids and teens as savior figures like Enders Game, and survival instincts and humor along the lines of The Martian. Pick up Illuminae for a funny, fascinating read!