Goodreads Choice Award/Nominee

Book Review: The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back
Author: 
Lu, Marie
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The Kingdom of Back is a historical fantasy novel about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister, Maria Anna Mozart. Told from the perspective of Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl), this novel gives readers the untold story of her musical success and childhood fame. As a girl in the eighteenth century, Nannerl knows it will never be socially acceptable for her to compose like her brother, so she makes a wish--which leads her to a mysterious land of faeries and moonlight and castles, and a magical boy who promises to fulfill her wish if she helps him in return.

As the plot unfolds, readers are given a look into the life of the Mozarts and their grand tour around Europe to play for the most esteemed audiences. Both Nannerl and Wolfgang (Woferl) are incredibly impressive child prodigies; though Wolfgang is who comes to mind when we think of the name Mozart, his sister was also a musical genius. This book highlights Nannerl's perspective very well, diving into her insecurities and fears as well as her dreams. The fantasy aspect added an interesting element to Nannerl's story; I enjoyed Lu's vivid descriptions of the Kingdom, and the fantastical side of the plot permeated the historical one in a clever, well-thought-out way. The novel ends with a creative twist, leaving readers to think back over the whole story in a different way.

My only issues with this book were the repetitiveness of descriptions and thoughts, and the fact that the fantasy plot seemed very predictable until I reached the twist. But overall, I loved how well the fantasy and historical fiction elements blended together, and that Lu shed so much light on the power of music. This novel is perfect for anyone who enjoys fantasy, music, and history. Nannerl Mozart's story is one you won't forget.

Reviewer's Name: 
Alexa

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: 
Richardson, Kim Michele
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was a powerful story set in the mountains and hollers of rural eastern Kentucky in the 1930s. Cussy Mary is a strong woman who has dedicated her life to providing books and other reading materials to the isolated impoverished hill folk. Cussy Mary, also called Bluet, is the last of her kind, a Blue woman with blue skin. When the ending came around, I thought I might be disappointed, but it was handled deftly and with a light hand. Very good book!

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus
Author: 
Morgenstern, Erin
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a beautiful, exquisitely written, spellbinding novel of magic, love, and a special circus only open at night.

Celia and Marco are two young magicians, students of respective magical instructors, one of whom is Celia's father. These magicians, fierce rivals for decades, propose a challenge-- an ambiguous feat where the two magicians compete against each other in an expansive setting. At the same time, a theatrical producer, Chandresh Christophe Lefevre, creates his newest masterpiece-- The Night Circus, an expansive theatrical production, where the theatrics are not confined to the stage. Celia and Marco become involved in this circus through the will of their instructors. Celia becomes the illusionist, disguising her magic powers as stage illusions. Marco becomes an assistant to Chandresh, running the circus from the inside, and helping with the coordinated particulars instead of traveling with the circus like Celia.

The competition within the circus begins, Celia and Marco creating new tents in an attempt to outdo each other until one is declared a victor. And slowly, as they begin to realize that the other is their opponent, Celia and Marco fall in love, which sets off a chain of devastating events for the circus and all of the people in it.

Erin Morgenstern is a fantastic writer. Her sumptuous prose is gorgeous, and her level of detail in describing the circus makes it feel as if she had actually visited this place herself instead of creating it in her head. Even the smallest atmospherical details of the circus are mentioned, and such a rich and vivid setting envelopes the reader into the book. The story within the gorgeous setting, that of Celia and Marco, is exquisite. The book takes pace over a vast expanse of years, allowing them to grow and change and mature within their characters as the challenge progresses and they begin to fall in love with each other. Watching Celia and Marco grow throughout the novel from children to finally finding each other was a very satisfying process in the story.

The story does jump, from the main story of Celia and Marco to the story of Bailey, a young boy on a farm in Concord, Massachusetts, who visits the circus and becomes enamored with it, until the time of both stories intersect and Bailey's life crosses with Celia and Marco's.

I cannot say enough good things about The Night Circus. The story, the setting, the writing, and the characters are all wonderful. This book is such a gem, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy, romance, or just a good story. The Night Circus, with it's gorgeous setting and wonderful prose, is the kind of book every reader longs to read-- the kind of book that envelopes the reader into the world created in the story, one that readers will not want to leave long after the last page finished.

Reviewer's Name: 
Allie

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: 
Honeyman, Gail
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was a very interesting book that made me feel different every page. The book takes quite a long time to get interesting and once it does it still has weird boring spots. While the book wasn't always very interesting I was hooked because I had to know what the hints at the beginning of the book would lead to. I really liked the end of the book and how the character grows throughout the story though. I would recommend this book to a more mature reader because of some of the topics covered in the book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Jana

Book Review: The Answer Is....Reflections on My Life

The Answer Is....Reflections on My Life
Author: 
Trebek, Alex
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The Answer Is by Alex Trebek is a well crafted autobiography and masterpiece. Alex Trebek is the beloved television host of Jeopardy and he reflects on his life in this book. Trebek goes into further details about his personal life which he has rarely discussed with anyone. Trebek also mentions his tough battle with stage four pancreatic cancer. I choose this book because I have always been a huge jeopardy fan since I was 5 and I wanted to learn more about this great man. I really liked this book because of all the great moments that were highlighted. I also really liked the very truthful and honest reflections that Trebek gives about his own life. My hope is that more people will read 'The Answer Is' because it is excellent read and it's about a legendary figure that we tragically lost this past year due to cancer.

Reviewer's Name: 
Ananth

Book Review: The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door
Author: 
Lapena, Shari
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is a suspense thriller that kept me wanting to read more until the end! Anne and Marco go to a dinner party and come home late on one fine evening, only to find out that their beautiful 6 month old infant is missing. It was soon discovered that this is horrifying incident was the result of a kidnapping. Will Marco and Anne be able to find and rescue their daughter before its too late? And even if they find their daughter, will she be found alive? There are just too many unknown questions to be answered. Family secrets are exposed and this book will grasp your attention until the very end! I really liked the way that the author was able to craft suspenseful moments. I also really liked how the different characters' personality traits and secrets were revealed. The Couple Next Door is filled with plot twists. The Couple Next Door is a must read and I would highly recommend it!

Reviewer's Name: 
Ananth S.

Book Review: Cinder

Cinder
Author: 
Meyer, Marissa
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

For years, I had heard of The Lunar Chronicles and thought people were referring to the two Sega Saturn video games, Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. However, seeing as most people haven’t heard of these video games, I eventually figured out that they referred to the Young Adult series of books. While 2012 was definitely around the height of the re-imagined fairy tale craze, I do have to admit that this science-fiction take on these classic stories is a fresh new way of adapting the plots that we all grew up with through Disney movies.

The first book in the series, Cinder, takes Cinderella's down-and-out heroine and updates her to a cyborg unaware of her royal origins. What made this story engaging was figuring out how the standard trappings of the Cinderella story would be adapted to this futuristic setting. Granted, this made some of the plot points more than obvious well before they happened, but I usually ended up smiling at the bits of homage that Cinder paid to its origins—such as a “pumpkin” of a car and the leaving behind of certain footwear.

While the plot was mostly predictable, I appreciated the awkward “teenager” dialogue of the titular protagonist but only to a point. I’ll admit that YA books have a kind of frenetic style that matches their main characters' emotional turbulence, and Cinder certainly reads like a teenage girl replete with the insecurities, slang, and missed steps that a full-grown adult wouldn’t necessarily have as character quirks. The problem is that having to follow such a snarky young individual for so long through the story makes it eventually grate on my nerves, especially when the path she needs to take in her life is so obvious. Then again, perhaps I’m just a crotchety old man who isn’t in-tune with the youth anymore.

A great sci-fi Cinderella retelling, I give Cinder 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Exhalation

Exhalation
Author: 
Chiang, Ted
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

My librarian uncle introduced me to Ted Chiang recently, and I was so intrigued by such an award-winning author who wrote exclusively in short stories that I had to check out one of his books. Exhalation is a collection of these stories, and I can see why Chiang is lauded as a writer. It seems that modern science fiction is too focused on new technologies and how they can lead to utopias or dystopias. In Chiang’s stories, I saw some stark realism that took well-tread topics of the genre and examined them through a lens that was extremely realistic to how society would function with such advancements.

It was refreshing—a sigh of fresh air, or exhalation, if you will—to read stories about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and time travel that didn’t stick to the same tropes that have made science fiction almost boring in comparison. In the end, Chiang is so concise with his language as to create these universes anchored in our reality and uncover all the intricate ways in which new technologies would change it without delving into the fluff of a full-blown novel. And perhaps that’s what makes these short stories work: focusing on how people interact with new technology, instead of just society at large.

These stories' personal nature hits home, mostly because they were pulled from current technologies and extrapolated into the fringe sciences that are on the cutting edge. For instance, we already record much of our days, so how does our memory change if we have a perfect record of the past? Additionally, how many technologies are made widely available as entertainment first, and how many interest groups pop up as fans of these technologies until they are eventually made obsolete? These and many other thoughtful topics are only some of the reasons I would recommend any fan of true sci-fi read this book.

A collection of some of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever read, I give Exhalation 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

Book Review: Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape
Author: 
Hill, Jenna Miscavige
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This book is very informative, albeit slow paced. I learned a lot about Scientology and its disturbing practices. If you're looking for a fast-paced nail biter of a memoir, this isn't it, but if you want to learn about what Scientology really is, then give this book a try.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares
Author: 
Cohn, Rachel & Levithan, David
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, by author team Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a delight of a holiday novel, perfect for anyone who adores Christmastime, New York City, and cute romances based in book stores. I happen to be a fan of all three of those, and found Dash and Lily's Book of Dares to be a super adorable, fluffy, and happy book perfect for the holiday (or any!) season.

Dash is antisocial, moody, prefers to keep to himself and read, and despises the chaos around the holidays, especially with his divorced parents and complicated family life. Lily, on the other hand, adores Christmas with her large family and therefore is disheartened when her parents leave her and her brother alone during the holidays in favor of a trip to Fiji. Lily's brother, Langston, decides that she needs something to occupy the time during the holidays, and gives her the idea to start a scavenger hunt of "dares" in a little red notebook, placed in her favorite bookstore, the Strand. Dash finds the notebook and accepts the dares, and the adventure begins. What follows is a chase around New York City at the holidays, a rapid exchange of dares, dreams, hopes and eventually flirtation between Dash and Lily, both of whom find that corresponding with the other is something that they desperately needed this holiday season.

I loved so much about this book. The descriptions of New York City were detailed and really made me feel like I was in the city with Dash and Lily. The author's note informs readers that Levithan wrote Dash's chapters while Cohn wrote Lily's, and having two authors really gave Dash and Lily their own different and very unique voices. This novel was adorable and sweet, and watching Dash and Lily go from strangers, to friends through the notebook, to a romantic relationship left plenty of room for character arcs and growth in both Dash and Lily. Watching them grow was satisfying and fun. The dares are humorous, and there are touching moments with themes of being brave and getting out of your bubble.

My only issues with Dash and Lily's Book of Dares were the extremely unrealistic scenarios and the characters that sometimes popped up out of nowhere. I started this book fully expecting that it would be unrealistic, and enjoyed it for being so-- to a point. For example, Lily has so many family members in Manhattan that conveniently work at places perfect for dares, who she can call on to aide her in her exploits for Dash, such as a great aunt that works at Madame Tussaud's, a cousin that works at the Strand, and even an uncle who works as a Santa at Macy's, and that seemed way too unrealistic to me. My other issue with this book was that a lot of characters, especially on Dash's side, were not given a proper background as to how they were connected to Dash. Characters seemed to frequently pop up without introduction, and served no point to the plot.

However, those elements did not take away from my enjoyment of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares. It is an adorable holiday romance read that is a perfect read for the holiday season.

Reviewer's Name: 
Allie

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