All Book Reviews

To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Han, Jenny
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Over the summer, I, like many teens, watched and loved the Netflix original movie, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. After watching the movie, I knew I had to read Jenny Han’s book which the movie was based upon. Although I discovered this book because of the movie, I will try and focus on the book alone for this review.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a teen romance novel about young Lara Jean, a high school daydreamer who writes love letters to the boys she has crushes on. She never sends out the letters though, they’re just for her to write so she can let out her feelings and move on from her crush. Lara Jean writes 5 letters and the story begins when they mysteriously get sent out to each of the boys. Lara Jean then has to deal with the stress and drama of it all.

The book was a fun read. It was very easy to get through, and the story was fun and not the most predictable. Lara Jean is a great character and you can’t help but love her. In fact, all of the characters are great and they really do bring the book together. However, if cheesy romantic books are not for you, then neither is this book. Although the book is not your classic love story, it is still pretty mushy, for lack of a better word. Also, it is pretty unrealistic. If you want a love story you can relate to, I doubt this one will do. Another aspect is that the book is not deep or though-provoking in the slightest. This book is only for those who want an easy, light read that they don’t have to think much about; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Overall, the characters were great and the story was enjoyable.

It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t much more than an entertaining story.

Reviewer's Name: Ashlyn P
Genres:
Pop

Pop

Korman, Gordon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Pop is about a boy named Marcus. In his second year of high school, he moves to a new city and a new school. In his old town, he was a Junior Varsity football player and he wants to try out for varsity this year. After he trains all summer, he shows up to tryouts to discover that he is unwanted on the team. The last season, they went 11-0 and won the championship, so they don’t want to risk losing another perfect season. He barely makes the cut but knows he will be sitting on the bench a lot.

One day while he is practicing, a strange middle aged man appears. Besides being able to catch, throw, and hit like a truck, he has an impeccable sense of balance. While Marcus is getting better at football, he wonders who the mysterious guy he practices with is and his oddities. Meanwhile, the team is headed for its second perfect season and, with Marcus’s monster blocking, they are unstoppable. Marcus finds out that the guy who has been helping him is really a ex-NFL player, but doesn’t remember because he has Alzheimer’s Disease. The family is hard at work keeping the disease a secret but it is getting Marcus in trouble. Will Marcus be able to get himself and Charlie out of trouble without spilling the big secret?

I loved this book! While I enjoy Gordon Korman’s books, I don’t usually enjoy books about sports, but this one was really great. It touched me how Alzheimer’s Disease affects not just people’s everyday lives, but how it affects the person themselves. I don’t know how you keep living when the truth is revealed to you and you are so confused.

Reviewer's Name: Ben D.
Awards:
Fire & Heist
Durst, Sarah Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Sky’s mother has disappeared. Assuming that their mother is dead, Sky, her three brothers, and their father feel unmoored. Especially because their mother disappeared in the midst of a heist she was committing – heists are fairly normal for wyverns as they are always trying to increase their horde, but this heist was a direct attack on Sky’s boyfriend’s family. As Sky learns more about the failed heist, she realizes that her squeaky-clean-now- ex-boyfriend’s family might be hiding something. And Sky’s going to find out what it is, and save her mother…or suffer her mother’s fate.

I wanted to read this book as I’ve read Durst’s adult fantasy series the Queens of Renthia, and I really enjoyed it! When I was approved for Fire & Heist on Netgalley, I was pretty excited. And I liked the book – it’s a solid YA standalone fantasy. The worldbuilding and plot are cool, though the characters are a little one dimensional. My biggest complaint was that the book straddled two worlds and tones, and I think it would’ve been a bit better had it leaned into one a little more. The book was part quirky middle grade fiction, part dark YA fantasy. Had it gone full bore in either direction, it would’ve been a higher quality book. As it is, it’s a fun heist fantasy with some dragon flavorings which makes for a fast, amusing read.

This one would be a great read for younger teens and mature tweens who aren’t quite yet ready for Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Hartman’s Seraphina. I liked it! 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an unbiased review. Fire & Heist is available to put on hold now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Serpent King
Zentner, Jeff
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dillard Early is the son of a snake handling preacher that is in prison for child pornography. He and his two best friends, Travis and Lydia, struggle to survive in small town Tennessee, where they clearly don't belong.

This is not your typical young adult book. The story defies the genre by containing minimal (although some) naval gazing and overt attempts at being angsty and hip. The story is real and the subject matter interesting. Who doesn't want to hear about snake handlers in the deep south? The twist in the middle was surprising, but I was a bit disappointed by how it occurred. Overall, darn good for young adult fiction. I listened to it on audio and it was fantastically well done.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: The Awakening
Chopin, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is about Mrs. Pontieller, a woman in turn of the 20th century New Orleans. She falls in love and finds herself awakened to a natural state, one that doesn't conform to her life as a wife, mother, and socialite. I liked when Mademoiselle Reitz encouraged her to be a strong bird that defies the laws of gravity and soars above the ground below, not to be weak and come crashing to earth. At the end, Mrs. Pontieller sees a wounded bird fall from the sky and cements her fate likewise.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones
Sanderson, Brandon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here.

Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the flow of the action. Similarly, while the randomness introduced in Versus the Evil Librarians did seem to have some purpose, it seemed to have less of a purpose in this book. It felt like it was randomness for randomness sake, even if some of it did eventually come into play.

Despite the things that made the first book endearing becoming a little more grating in this book, I did enjoy the magic system, and more in-depth explanations of the lore were explored in this sequel. Things like why the main character is named Alcatraz and a better explanation of the “powers” of his family members helped round out the questions that weren’t necessarily obvious in the first book but still needed to be answered at some point anyway. The action was fantastic (if not against all laws of physics), and I wouldn’t mind seeing how the relationship between Alcatraz and Bastille develops in later books.

An amusing and well-rounded “silly fantasy,” I give Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
The Black Star of Kingston
Smith, S.D.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Immediately after I finished reading The Green Ember, I picked up this short story/prequel and read through it in one sitting. I had become pretty well invested in the world created in The Green Ember and wanted more of it before diving into the sequel, Ember Falls. While The Green Ember mentioned a story of The Black Star of Kingston in its main plot, I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I would have hoped. Sure, all the things that made The Green Ember great were mostly present in The Black Star of Kingston, but it felt a little…underdeveloped.

Once again, the strength of the plot and characters helped provide entertainment as I read this story. However, without a more comprehensive understanding of the lore of this series, I wasn’t quite sure where this story fits in with the rest of the canon. I knew it was a prequel because characters mentioned it in the first book, but did these events happen in tangent to the main backstory, or well before the fall of King Jupiter? If they happened before, how far back? It also would have been nice to have at least one setting feel familiar to the ones presented in The Green Ember.

I did also appreciate how this book—much like The Green Ember—used characters who were tradesmen first, and soldiers/sailors second. This was an element of realism that I feel is often missing in these kinds of fantasy stories. After all, people with a profession will have certain skills in battle or at sea that can come in handy. If anything, it helps to teach children that we shouldn’t always focus on war. If war happens, we should step up and fight, but we shouldn’t focus on professions of war as our primary purpose of being.

A pretty good side story that was mentioned in The Green Ember, I give The Black Star of Kingston 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
The Green Ember
Smith, S.D.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down , we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits.

I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force in opposition to the rabbits helped to define who the good guys and bad guys were, while also leaving room for traitorous rabbits—which itself feels a little odd, considering the predator/prey relationship between the two sides.

Despite some of these weaker points, The Green Ember is a fantastic story. There might be a few too many characters at points, all with slightly different names for the same individual, but the complexity of the plot is solid enough that children should be able to follow along and parents will likely also be surprised by the few twists and turns it takes. Clearly the first part in a series, The Green Ember does an excellent job of wrapping up most of the activities and subplots it started, while also presenting a somewhat clear direction for where it will go in the future.

A fantasy adventure perfect for kids and adults, I give The Green Ember 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
The Red Badge of Courage
Crane, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

War is an ugly thing full of death and destruction. While most books written today bemoan this fact and complain that wars should never start in the first place, what do the individual soldiers handle a war that they didn’t even start? Set in the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage is perhaps the best representation of the growth of a soldier from a deserter to a courageous fighter. Our intrinsic fear of death is what motivates so many of us to do the things we do to survive. Overcoming that fear and charging headlong into battle does take a measure of courage usually not present in most people.

Stephen Crane does a fantastic job weaving the story of a young man who has to learn what it truly means to earn the titular “red badge of courage.” His prose is almost poetic as he describes the landscapes, battles, and people who were forced to endure this historic war between brothers. There’s realism to the narrative that immerses the reader into the era and the battles that helped to define the war as a whole. In the end, though, this book could almost be set during any period and any war; the themes present within it are that timeless.

While it took me this long to finally sit down and go through this book, I’m glad I finally did. I had started it many years ago but lost interest for some reason. This time around, I was able to appreciate the story based solely on the strength of Crane’s writing. I know this book is usually assigned to elementary school students at some point, but if it has escaped your “read” list as it did for me, then I would urge you to pick it up and give it a read. It won’t take long, and it’s certainly worth the time spent reading it.

A timeless classic that deals with the human side of war, I give The Red Badge of Courage 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease
Moalem, Sharon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Survival of the Sickest, by Dr. Sharon Moalem, is a book that talks about the surprising connections between disease and longevity. The author does a great job of changing the reader's understanding of illness and presenting a new view of our bodies. While some people may find biology and other sciences boring, the book applies to everyone. The information is conveyed well and in a way that isn't just straight facts and boredom.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those who are into biology.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The Never War
MacHale, D.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Never War, by D. J. MacHale, is the third book in the Pendragon series. The series take place in a dystopian universe where multiple "territories" exist. This time, Bobby Pendragon, the main protagonist, is forced to set out to "First Earth" to protect New York City during the year 1937. The book's setting is amazing and cleverly crafted, as always, and the plot is intruiguing as well. The characters are also well developed and their identities start to mature after the first two books. The antagonist Saint Dane is also fascinating as his entire identity is shrouded in mystery.

Overall, the book is a great adventure novel and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in books like the Harry Potter series.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The Book Thief
Zusak, Markus
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"The Book Thief", an intriguing story that focuses on a little girl living in Nazi Germany, is a delicate and emotional piece that will have you turning the pages until it is finished. This story is quick read, though surprising based on the 584 pages, and has you hooked on every word of every sentence of every paragraph. This novel is historical fiction, and is written by the perspective of death. Liesel Meminger, the main character of the story, is a foster child living in the excruciatingly difficult times of Nazi Germany. In the story, she faces so much, many of which happening before she meets her foster parents, only to have more head her way in the face of the war. This book is very raw and emotional, and really puts life as we know it into perspective. If you like historical fiction, real stories, and a happy ending, this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: Siena G
Genres:
Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird
Pearce, A.J.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book was pretty good. It was an easy and fun read. Very formulaic chick lit. The only real problem I had with it is it seemed the author was trying too hard to make the dialog match with the time period. The slang was heavy handed and made me feel as if it had been made by Mad Libs. I would recommend this book if you are looking for something easy and fun to read that takes place in WWII.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Hochschild, Arlie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a must read for those seeking to understand the current political climate in the United States: particularly how those who support Donald Trump and often vote against their own well-being view the world. Hochschild is a sociologist from UC Berkeley who set out to resarch this very circumstance and connundrum. Hochschild gains access to Tea-Party and Trump Supporters in Lake Charles, Louisiana, establishes relationships with several people far from her West Coast and intellectual liberal leanings, and manages to get deep enough into their lives and personal histories to develop and describe empathic understanding of their political views. Hochschild remains objective as she delves deeply into attitudes and feelings of those with whom she disagrees culturally and politically. Her effort to help the reader understand that the most important wall we face is an Empathy Wall is enlightening and highly interesting reading.

Reviewer's Name: Jay
Genres:
The Graveyard Book
Gaiman, Neil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) grows up in an ancient cemetery, raised by the spirits who reside there. As he becomes older, along with his school lessons and the special abilities given to him with the “freedom of the graveyard”, Bod must discover the secrets behind the death of his birth family, and the "Jacks of All Trades” (a dangerous secret society). Along the way Bod learns from various night creatures in addition to his extended family of ghosts, including ghouls, a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire. He must use all the knowledge that he acquires to fulfill his pivotal role in defeating the Jacks.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening lines say it all. I do enjoy Dickens, but this is by far, my favorite novel of his. This book follows the effects and far-reaching ramifications of the arrogant cruelty of the French aristocracy before their Revolution. A man is saved from an unfair imprisonment, but must regain himself through his devoted daughter and friends. They build a new life in England, where we get to know an array of complex characters – each with their own foibles and narratives. Meanwhile the fervor of the people of France veers towards the inevitable overthrow of the tyrannical aristocracy, and as often happens, the oppressed become the new oppressors. Destiny drives our main characters into the French turmoil where they find chaos, danger, and ultimately redemption.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every year one girl from the lowest caste in each of the 8 provinces is selected to be a Paper Girl - a concubine to the king. Usually, the girls choose to put themselves forth for the selection. But this year, there will be nine girls. Lei, the ninth, was ripped from her home by a General trying to curry favor with the King. And unlike the other paper girls, this was in no way a choice for her. As she learns more about her fellow Paper Girls and life in the palace, she becomes further disgusted with the caste systems and the concept of Paper Girls. And she'll do everything in her limited power to defy the king - even if it costs her her life.

Girls of Paper and Fire was awesome. I've been burned by heavily hyped diverse YA fantasy lately (Children of Blood and Bone, Mirage), but luckily for me, this one did not disappoint. The premise sounded fairly...gross for lack of a better word - a girl stripped from her home against her will to become a concubine to the king. You know there's going to be some unconsensual sex happening. And there was, but it was handled really well by the author. She takes a very sensitive issue and does not sensationalize it. In fact, its presented in such a way that women who have had similar experiences might find some solace in the book, which, if you read the Afterword, was clearly the author's intention.

Unlike some YA fantasy, this was a slowly paced book that was mostly about developing our main character. Lei really grew as a woman and a person throughout the course of the book. She stands up for her beliefs, herself, her body, even though it almost gets her killed. There's also romance, and its a slowly developed, realistic story of love in the worst of times. The worldbuilding was stunning - the setting was Malaysia inspired, and the formation of the three different castes and their traditions was well thought out and presented in such as way as to be simultaneously creepy and gorgeous. My two complaints are fairly minor: there were a few very predictable plot elements, and the writing occasionally leaned into too flowery territory. Otherwise, though, I loved it.

If you are looking for a feminist fantasy read with excellent worldbuilding and character development, you won't go wrong with Girls of Paper and Fire. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Family Plot
Priest, Cherie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book provides a unique twist on the classic haunted house story. A salvage crew combs through an ancient house to save its architectural treasures before the house is demolished. The crew’s presence disturbs more than dust though, as a vicious spirit starts to attack the crew, who had made the unfortunate decision to sleep in the house to save on their budget. If they abandon the job, it could mean the end of the family business, but staying gets increasingly unbearable. I think I read this book entirely over the course of a few nights – I didn’t want to put it down! Hollywood has been notorious for sequels and prequels of established “brands”. I highly suggest that they snap up the movie rights for The Family Plot, and give their audience something rich and original.

Reviewer's Name: Chris
Genres:
Fish in a Tree
Hunt, Lynda
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a well told story of dealing with a disability and the difference that having positive relationships makes in that ongoing struggle. I loved the short chapters and the peaks into each character's life.

Reviewer's Name: Mary
Moby Dick
Melville, Herman
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Moby Dick is a classic piece of literature, an iconic masterpiece. The story, once it pick up, is extremely engaging and interesting. The characters, such as Ishmael and Captain and Ahab, all exude personality and uniqueness. Plus, it has one of the greatest antagonists in all of literature: Moby Dick himself. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from beginning to end. There are some downsides, such as the language of the seamen being somewhat hard to grasp, and the several chapters describing whaling or the anatomy of whales being completely pointless. However, these do not detract too much from the overall experience, and the novel is still an exceptional one. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good novel to read, or anyone who has a passion for the ocean.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Awards:

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