Goodreads Choice Award/Nominee

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Author: 
Semple, Maria
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Written creatively through letters, emails, and memos to and from characters, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is the story of a woman struggling with her past. Bernadette Fox is a former architect whose claim to fame was also her downfall. Now vanished from the architecture world, she lives in Seattle with her successful husband and tenacious daughter, Bee, and does all she can to avoid social interaction. While Bernadette is preparing for the family trip to Antarctica that Bee has been anxiously awaiting, a confrontation with another parent sends her spiraling out of control, resulting in Bernadette’s sudden disappearance. This book explores the difficulties of mental illness and how our actions affect one another, told through many different perspectives. Bernadette’s opinionated personality will have readers laughing, and her insights are truly relatable. A rollercoaster ride of emotions, this novel is beautifully and creatively written to portray a woman’s imperfections and a daughter’s determination to find her mother. Teen and adult readers alike will connect with Semple’s characters and appreciate her sense of humor in Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Reviewer's Name: 
Alexa H.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: 
Schwab, V. E.
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one. For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book somewhere else before.

Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story. I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment. Overall, though, I can understand how the first book in a series can be dry just based on the fact that it has so much exposition and world-building to do to lay a foundation for the next books.

And maybe the “generic” feel of this book comes from the logical nature of a magic system closely tied to blood? I like the concept of the parallel Londons, and the action sequences near the end were reasonably exciting, so there is some merit to this book. It’s more that everything felt so flat and uninteresting, even with a compelling topic like blood magic tying everything together. While I wasn’t necessarily impressed with this book, I’ll continue to be my stubborn (or perhaps masochistic) self and continue with the rest of the series to see what all the commotion is about.

A generic YA fantasy with a few shining moments, I give A Darker Shade of Magic 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: The Martian

Book Cover
Author: 
Weir, Andy
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

After a NASA crew member is left behind on planet Mars, he has a huge to-do list. First, come in contact with NASA to prove he is alive, don't starve, don't die, then make it home alive. I'm not a huge fan of any science fiction type book, however, this was indeed an exception. I loved the perspectives the author chose to include, and the humor he shot into his characters gives the story personality. I suggest this book to an eighth grade audience; there is some inappropriate language and all of the science attributes are complex to understand. I strongly suggest to you this book if you want to be left on the edge of your seat with every new chapter, right up until the end.

Reviewer's Name: 
Jaime P.

Book Review: Light

Book Cover
Author: 
Grant, Michael
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Michael Grant has written a thrilling conclusion to his Gone series. Light is the perfect ending to a phenomenal series. Over the past five books, Sam, Astrid, Edilio, and all the others have survived every obstacle the FAYZ has thrown at them. However, will they be able to survive a final epic battle with the Gaiaphage itself? With suspense around every corner, Light brings the same energy and intensity found in all of the other Gone books. I thoroughly enjoyed Light and highly recommend it to any high school aged reader.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: Pandora's Lab

Pandora's Lab book jacket
Author: 
Offit, Paul A.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry.

Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by using science can create worse problems than the ones that were initially there. Scientific rigor is also of utmost importance. Even if many of these horrific discoveries received Nobel prizes, hindsight showed skewed results from the start. Every new and fantastic technology created from scientific research should be scrutinized with a heaping of salt to ensure it can’t be abused.

On the flip side, ignoring sound scientific facts or not considering the full, worldwide implications of a discovery is just as dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, as long as the consequences don’t directly impact you. While we do have the benefit of hindsight, it’s essential to use the lessons presented in this book. We need to examine the science and technology being developed today and do our due diligence to make sure that they don’t inspire genocide or doom all of humanity to an unsustainable new way of life.

A grave lesson about the consequences of bad science, I give Pandora’s Lab 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. W.

Book Review: The Martian

The Martian book jacket
Author: 
Weir, Andy
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

As a crew of astronauts leave from Mars, Mark Watney, an astronaut is left behind as he was presumed dead. Watney is forced to survive on Mars with the limited resources and supplies that he has with him. As he is doing so, NASA on Earth are diligently working to bring him home for a rescue mission.

The Martian is a fictional story that interests those who are interested in either science and/or action. Bringing both of these together, it illustrates a stressful novel that will keep the reader on.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Nam T

Book Review: The Sun Does Shine

Book Review: The Sun Does Shine
Author: 
Hinton, Anthony Ray
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Wow. I didn't think there is still rampant racism in America but boy was I proven wrong. In 1985, Ray Hinton was unjustly incarcerated in Alabama and will held in Death Row for 30 years. The prosecutor, police, jury, and judge were all white and despite his clear alibi he was found guilty. The police officer who arrested him said he believed Hinton was innocent but was still going to arrest him because if it's not him, it's someone 'like him.'
Throughout his heinous unjust incarceration on death row, Hinton never lost hope that he would be exonerated. His spirit helped the most hardened criminals shoulder their last days.
Eventually Hinton was exonerated, but not before the prime of his life had been stolen from him. He dedicates his life now to abolishing the death penalty, calling it a broken system. According to statistics, 1 in 10 inmates on death row are innocent.
This is a powerful memoir about survival, hope, and resilience. I highly recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few
Author: 
Chambers, Becky
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Considering that A Closed and Common Orbit was only loosely related to the first book in the Wayfarers series, I knew that I shouldn’t expect the third book in this series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, to have any significant connection to the previous books. Unfortunately, even the several different storylines in this book were hardly connected, seeming more like a series of short stories that were inter-cut between themselves. While Chambers’ world-building and dialogue are still top-notch, there isn’t anything in this book other than some boring characters living their boring lives.

I understand that any author worth their salt will develop vast amounts of details about the universe they create. However, most authors leave the aspects of the minutia and banal day-to-day lives out of their writing in favor of an actual plot with actual conflict. Instead, this book is filled with the details of world-building and nothing else. If these characters were better connected, or there was a stronger plot driving their stories, it would have maintained my interest. Unfortunately, most of the stories of these characters’ sub-plots are too generic and trope-like for me to care about any of them.

About the only reason I’m giving this book as high a rating as I am is due to the aforementioned writing on the part of the author. The actions and consequences are clearly thought out, and there is a realism to the dialogue that continues from the previous two books (but by this point makes a lot of the characters sound the same). If anything, this book should have been the first in the series. It should have introduced the universe and the stakes that anyone who ventures out into space is sure to face. The fact that it’s (in my opinion) the weakest in the series is probably why more exciting adventures were written for books one and two.

A disappointing and boring record of space, I give Record of a Spaceborn Few 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. W.

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking book jacket
Author: 
Cain, Susan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

While it’s taken me a long time to finally get around to reading this book, most of what Quiet presented was what I had already known by living my life as an introvert. I will applaud this book’s ability to help society realize how ubiquitous the introverts that comprise the population are. Quiet also helps show what our needs are in this world that prizes the traits of extroversion over anything else. Even if there are many times where I have to put on my “extrovert suit,” it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert.

Perhaps my only qualm with this book is how anecdotal the evidence is. Whether it’s stories about famous introverts (which can be inspiring) or younger introverts who are being brought up by parents who don’t quite understand the strengths of the introvert type, Quiet uses a lot of case studies to show how out of place introverts are, especially in the United States. I understand it can be challenging to study a personality type that’s so broad, but a few more references to scientific studies would have been helpful.

What struck me in Quiet was the background it provided on why society evolved to value the extroverts and deem the introverts as “problems.” I still see the effects of this emphasis today. Sure, I put up with being an introvert in an extrovert’s world, and I have made adaptations in my life to survive and thrive in it. I can empathize with the introverts who cannot cope, though, and hopefully, this book can continue to help introverts claim this personality type and own it as I have over the years. Even if we’re different from the perceived norm, we still provide value to a world that insists that louder is better.

A great anthem for those introverts who feel out of place in a gregarious society, I give Quiet 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.
Genres: 

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine book jacket
Author: 
Honeyman, Gail
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

A story of wildly eccentric Eleanor and her battle with discovering her worth.
Eleanor Oliphant lives a normal, planned out life. Vodka and pizza on weekends and work throughout the week. An ordinary job, nothing special.
Ordinary co-workers, sometimes rude and harsh, but normal nonetheless. All seems well until Eleanor sees the love of her life. Johnnie, a musician with sparkling brown eyes and a whiskey aura about him. She plans on creating a relationship with him; one with long walks, cuddles, and warm cups of tea.
All seems well until Eleanor meets Raymond, a junkie with an unshaven beard and a smoker's cough. Raymond shows Eleanor kindness and compassion without expecting anything in return. Eleanor realizes that she's never quite know how that feels, she's spent her whole life being unaware of how good people can be. "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine," is a masterpiece at work, with the challenging lesson of learning that everyone deserves love, and no one should ever feel alone. Loneliness is a dangerous thing and can infect you like a virus, but Eleanor learns to battle that and discover her worth.
With a heart-wrenching twist, you'll never expect, "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine," will leave you completely speechless, so go ahead, and pick it right on up.
(Reviewer Grade: 9)

Reviewer's Name: 
Hanna S

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