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All Book Reviews

Beyond the Checkup
Voytas, Luke
3 stars = Pretty Good


While I do not have children yet, I am doing my best to prepare my knowledge for when they do become a part of my life. Consequently, books like Beyond the Checkup seem to be a perfect resource for parents, as it is written by a pediatrician. That being said, I think I'm probably a little biased in wanting an older, more grandfatherly pediatrician writing books like this. After all, a lifetime of experience seems to speak more than just 15-years-worth of it.

Regarding the book's content, Luk Voytas does a reasonably good job of presenting the big problems that might come up in a child's first four years. While he does use scientific studies to back up his suggestions, there are some instances where it's unclear whether or not there is any science behind his opinion, or if it's his own personal thoughts. I did appreciate the "case studies" in the back of the book, as I could see each of the ailments contained therein being something I'd want to reference in case it would happen with my child.

My only other qualms with this book have to do with the "asides" and the gender of the baby being referenced. Occasionally, Voytas will have a box with a little bit of extra information about a topic, but these boxes will often break the flow of a paragraph and seem to be more in the way than they should be. I also didn't particularly like how Voytas switched between male and female pronouns to describe the generic "baby" that the reader should have. I'd either say be consistently male or consistently female or at the very least use gender-neutral pronouns to describe the reader's baby.

An OK reference for parents with or expecting babies, I give Beyond the Checkup 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
García Márquez, Gabriel
3 stars = Pretty Good

I’ll admit: I didn’t really “get” this book. I had seen a TED-Ed YouTube video that told me how great it was, and I decided to give it a try. While there were parts that were entertaining, most of this book went over my head. I suppose if I understood Columbian history and the culture of Central and South America, I might have had a better grasp of what was going on. As it was, I felt lost most of the time and kind of wonder what makes it so highly-recommended.

Perhaps my biggest qualm with this book is how its narrative structure is laid out. There’s practically no dialogue, and it’s basically told in the form of a parable or fairy tale. There are a lot of characters, but their names were so similar that I had trouble keeping track of them all. I get they’re all part of the same family, but having to remember so many individuals and the familial connections to each other was a struggle. I also felt a little lost because there wasn’t a strong narrative thread tying everything together other than the fact that it all took place in the same small town.

This is not to say One Hundred Years of Solitude has no merit, though. Some of the elements of “magical realism” were interesting and could have been the solid base of their own stories instead of being jammed together in this book. The pacing of this book was also pretty peppy, as it didn’t seem to linger too long with one character, realizing that it had many generations to cover. Even though it’s considered a classic (much like Ulysses ), I’m not sure if I agree, and I am certainly welcome to my opinion as you are welcome to yours.

A much better book for those who are “in the know,” I give One Hundred Years of Solitude 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Pickett, Rex
3 stars = Pretty Good

When I got into this book, the only things I knew about it were that it was about wine and it was made into a movie of the same name by Alexander Payne. Unfortunately, unlike a good wine, this book doesn’t seem to have aged well. Maybe people were able to put up with buddy comedy sex romps back in the early2000’s, but the social climate has changed considerably since then. I doubt a book like this would be written today, at least without some outcry from people who find the women in it to be inherently objectified.

Most of my issue with this book comes down to the characters. I’ll give the author credit for creating individuals that made me react to them so vehemently. The problem is that I hated these characters. I hated Jack for being so sex-crazed that he felt obligated to satiate his urges mere days before his wedding. Ihated Miles for being the stereotypical alcoholic failing author. If you wanted a template for poor life decisions, I think these two characters would fit the bill. There wasn’t much (if any) redemption in either of their story arcs, and both of them just seemed to enable their worse selves.

In the end, this book is supposed to be a comedy. At least, it’s a comedy in the sense that it ended with a wedding (as most comedic plays and musicals usually do). Sure, it’s filled with witty banter and some good stretches of natural dialogue, but there was hardly any vulnerability of the characters to give them any grounding. One moment near the end briefly pulled away to let Miles reminisce, but I would have liked some more consequences that would have forced both men to change for the better. And maybe that’s the point: real life doesn’t work that way, and I hate that there are real men out there who have these very same faults.

Terrible people in somewhat amusing situations, I give Sideways 2.5 stars out
of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Meyer, Marissa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

The first book in the series from the author of the popular Cinder series. Renegade takes place in a futuristic world where some humans have gained superpowers. The story takes as on a journey through two different perspectives. Nova is known as a villain to other people, but to Nova the only bad guys are the heroes. Adrian lives in the shadow of his hero fathers and believes villains must be put in their place. The two meet both using secrete identity's and both heir worlds are changed forever.

Reviewer's Name: Amelia W.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Rowling, J.K.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

If you are a fan of Harry Potter, you probably always wondered what happened to Harry, Ron and Hermione after they left Hogwarts. This book answers those questions. It is written in play form, so it is a little awkward at first, but once you get into the story, you barely even realize the different style.
It was a great story and made you feel like you were still part of Harry and his friends lives. This is a must read story for any Harry Potter fan.

Reviewer's Name: Brenna C.
Gwendy's Music Box
King, Stephen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

While most people think of Stephen King's book as being scary, this book was more suspenseful than scary. It is the story of Gwendy, a 12 year old girl who decided to run the suicide stairs in her neighborhood to lose weight before school starts. She meets a man wearing a black hat at the top of the stairs. This man calls her over by name and gives her a specialw box that will give her chocolate and silver dollars. The box has buttons on top and Gwendy can control what may happen by pushing one of the buttons. Once she takes the box, good things start happening in Gwendy's life. Gwendy becomes obsessed with the box and keeps it with her until after college, when she comes home one day to see a familiar black hat in her apartment. The story moves quickly and keeps you interested throughout the phases of Gwendy's life. If you are interested in Stephen King books but don't want to read anything too scary, this is a great book to start with.

Reviewer's Name: Brenna C.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Albertalli, Becky
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Have you ever felt out of place? Felt that you were hiding who you really were, or a big part of you? Incorporated with themes of self acceptance as well as humor, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is for you. This book tells the story of Simon, a junior growing up in a small, conservative town. He is gay, and has not shared it with anyone and is not ready to yet. Keeping up a relationship via email with a boy with the pen name Blue, he accidentally leaves his email logged on in the school they both go to. When a boy named Martin finds this email, he blackmails him. Help Martin win over his crush (one of Simon's closest friends), or get revealed on one of the most personal things a human can have, their identity and sexuality. Keeping up this correspondence with his crush, turning more flirtatious daily, while hiding from a close group of friends, is sure to cause all kinds of trouble.

I love this book, because it is full of heavy topics, along with humor and adorable romance. This is recommended to anyone learning about such controversial themes, and to a lower reading level audience, because it is a very easy read. However, the more mature the better, because many cuss words and descriptions of romance are used in this book along with imagery on underage drinking and more. If you have ever felt like you don't fit the description of the normal human being, check out simon vs the homo sapiens agenda today.

Reviewer's Name: Anna C.
Zebra Forest
Gewirtz, Adina Rishe
1 star = Yuck!

The book Zebra Forest, by Adrina Gewirtz, tells a story of four lives that are held captive by their father and... the book is essentially just that. The plot is incredibly dull and basic, the characters have no real life to them, the book just seems ramble on and on, and here, everything that can be wrong with a book is present. The title doesn't even have any real importance in the book! I get how maybe a few people might like this book, but from a writing perspective, this book lacks in everything. The book tries so hard to address a somewhat difficult-to-cover topic but forgets that it's meant for older audiences and fails at both. Overall, I would only recommend this book only to the most desperate of readers, or a younger kid.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L.
The Clockmaker's Daughter
Morton, Kate
2 stars = Meh

This story centers around an impassioned artist and his dreams, a mysterious murder, an enchanting English manor and all that went on their throughout its many years, a ghost that stands outside of time witness to it all, a vanished girl, an archivist and her discovery of a priceless artifacts, and how what went on there all those years ago effects who she is today.

In the past, the 1860’s to be exact, this story begins with a talented artist Edward Radcliffe and a group of artists that spend a summer at the house of his dreams Birchwood Manor. But shortly after arriving a mysterious murder is committed, a priceless artifact disappears and one of the women vanishes. A hundred years later in the present an archivist, named Elodie, finds a satchel which contains an unrelated photograph and a sketchbook that contains a drawing of Birchwood Manor. As she digs deeper into the mystery she is pulled into a story that has her questioning her past and who she truly is. This beautiful atmospheric mystery spans the length of time, and is told by the many voices and people all living within and around the Manor’s walls.

Before I go any further, first, let me say this. Kate Morton is the master of atmospheric beautiful Gothic mysteries and I am a big fan of hers and have loved every one of her past books. Her intricate and deeply rooted stories her beautiful prose, and her enchanting settings are the reasons why she is simply one of the best in her genre. That being said, this work, was a bit of a disappointment. While all the elements of what I love about Kate Morton’s books were there; an intricate story steeped in history, an old vast English manor with a secret or two to hide within its walls, old families with long pedigrees, a family mystery, an enchanting setting, this book fell short for me mainly because of its intricacy and complexity. I also believe the ending was a bit weak. I really wanted to love it, I just couldn’t.

Morton, I believe, really attempted to tell a challenging story, but simply had to many voices trying to tell it. While I like a good dual timeline novel, this one, with at least four voices and timelines was simply too much. There were times that, because of how she bounced around among the numerous timelines, when I got completely lost in which timeline I was following. This combined with how many characters and voices there were throughout the novel, made the story overall a whole lot less enjoyable. I’ll admit, this story took me a good while to get through and I do recommend, if reading this, keeping a list of who everyone is and which timeline goes where. It’s definitely a book you have to think through. That being said the story itself was beautiful and it makes me wonder, if it wouldn’t be better as an audio book where each of the voices are sounded out. Overall a 2.5-3 star read for me. However, if you are a Kate Morton fan and if you love atmospheric Gothic mysteries, I couldn’t count this one out, I would still give this one a go, just maybe as an audio book. Place your copy on hold today!

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria books, and Simon and Schuster for a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Cover Image
Kagawa, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Every 10,000 years, an ancient dragon rises to give one mortal a wish (in exchange for their soul) and the world changes. Two characters, a kitsune-hybrid and a ninja, find themselves trying to keep the path to the dragon out of the hands of several interested and nefarious parties. Shadow of the Fox follows our heroes as they travel to and from different monasteries dodging monsters in their quest to protect ancient scrolls.

Shadow of the Fox was a ton of fun! It gave me Percy Jackson vibes, but was definitely for a slightly older audience and the mythology in this book was Japanese, which I found to be very cool. I liked both of the characters – the kitsune must hide her fox nature from her ninja travelling companion as he is a monster killer, and kitsune are a type of…if not monster, then non-human trickster. The ninja is trying to resist becoming possessed by the evil demon that occupies his sword. Their relationship is thus a bit fraught, but adds a really interesting dynamic. Their other travelling companion (a disgraced Samurai who spends most of the book amusingly drunk) provided some levity. Some of the mythology was completely new to me, which made for a engaging reading experience. I liked it enough that I read one of Kagawa’s other books, The Iron King, as well. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll likely like this – I found the formats to be similar, though I personally found the Japanese mythology more interesting than the fairies.

TLDR: This is a really entertaining and action packed fantasy for fans of Percy Jackson and Kagawa’s other books. I loved it, and am excited to get my own copy! 5 stars.

Thanks to Harlequin Teen and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Shadow of the Fox is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Misadventures of Max Crumbly Middle School Mayhem
Russell, Rachel
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

It's about a teenage boy who deals with bullies and he ends up in the ventilation systems of his school on the weekend and he found burglars trying to steal the schools new computers.

Reviewer's Name: Delaney
I Am a Cat
Bernstein, Galia
4 stars = Really Good

Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger say that Simon isn’t a cat. After all, cats have certain characteristics. Can he convince them that he’s really a cat? Read along to find out.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Have You Seen Elephant?
Barrow, David
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

You can play hide-and-seek with elephant, but beware, he’s very good. This beautifully illustratrated, interactive book has children looking for elephant in a variety of places. Will you be able to find him?

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Nothing But Trouble
Davies, Jacqueline
4 stars = Really Good

In the small town of Odawahaka, nothing ever happens. Maggie, however, likes to make things happen. Read along as Maggie, and town newcomer, Lena, make mischief all over town. A great book for girls who like cleverness and determination.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Ms. Bixby's Last Day
Anderson, John
4 stars = Really Good

Ms. Bixby is a special teacher. She makes a difference in the lives of her students including Topher, Steve, and Brand. As each boy narrates the story, we realize what she means to each of them and we understand the lengths they go to to tell her this.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Squirrel in the House
Vande Velde, Vivian
4 stars = Really Good

Twitch, the school-yard squirrel and Cuddles, the dog next door, don’t get along. Twitch narrates the book and explains why squirrels have such a better life – they have no rules. During the holiday celebrations, Twitch heads inside Cuddles’ house and mayhem ensues. The day turns serious when a young human gets into trouble. Can Twitch & Cuddles work together to save the boy? Read & find out.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Finished this book at 2 a.m. (thanks a lot Mr. Turton!). Freaking amazing! I don't even quite know how to classify it - and I don't want to give anything away so I won't even try. Let's just say that it is like reading a REALLY good murder mystery through a kaleidoscope, shifting perspectives constantly to allow everything to eventually come together. I would suggest just letting the first half of the book just wash over you without trying too much to figure it out - otherwise it would get frustrating. And keep track of the characters - that is very important (and there are a lot of them!). Wow, just wow.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Ajax Penumbra 1969
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good

As I said in my review of Sourdough , I absolutely adored Robin Sloan's debut work, Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore. Since Sourdough didn't necessarily sate my appetite, I found Ajax Penumbra 1969 to be a light snack that brought me back into the world created by Sloan. Acting as a bit of a short story/novella prequel to the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 still maintains the themes common in Sloan's work: mainly, the combination and juxtaposition of analog and digital technology. In this case, the reader just happens to come across this dichotomy in 1969.

Following the titular character from the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 gives the origins of this mysterious character as he searches for answers and eventually ends up in San Francisco at a little 24-hour bookstore. The following mystery and intrigue are what I would expect from such a story, but the inclusion of the budding technological aspects of the late 1960's helped to show that not only was this character finding his way to an eventual life filled with books, but technology's infancy already had much potential at this early stage of development.

It's a little difficult to say much about this short story/novella since it didn't even take a full two hours to listen to. At any rate, it's a fun little side story for those who had picked up Sloan's first work and fell in love with the ideas and characters presented therein. While not necessarily a book that most people would pick up and read without having already read Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, Ajax Penumbra 1969 is required reading for anyone like myself who has become enamored with Sloan's writing style over the last few years.

A fitting prequel to the events of Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, I give Ajax Penumbra 1969 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Interpretation of Dreams
Freud, Sigmund
4 stars = Really Good

Years ago, I tried picking up this book and reading it so I could become
educated about dreams and their interpretations. Back then, I lost interest
within the first hundred pages. This time, as I prepare to write my own
fictional series of books about dreams and the parallel world they inhabit, I
was much more focused and able to finish this daunting book. While many will
say what they will about Freud and his theories, this book was the definitive
and groundbreaking work that helped us all understand a little more of what
influences our dreams.

Written mostly as an academic examination of the influencing factors of
dreams, Freud includes a plentitude of examples from his patients and his own
life to help prove his point. This can be a little tedious at times, as it
feels like he’s banging the reader over the head with multiple examples
that don’t add much to the explanation. Of course, Freud does go on to
reference these examples in later sections of the book, which is why they are
so heavily weighted toward the front of the text.

While this book isn’t meant to be used as a reference to understand the
direct meanings of specific dream elements, it does provide some thoughtful
reasoning behind some of the most common ones like falling, appearing naked
in public, and the “school dream.” That being said, the more I read, the
more I realized we truly know nothing about dreams. Analysts have to rely on
the fallible memory of the dreamer, and Freud often tries to explain away
inconsistencies by “reversing” the dream’s symbolism. I also found
Freud’s penchant to regularly resort to sexual meanings behind dreams seems
to be a case of “if you have a hammer/phallus, every problem is a

A proper examination of the basics of dream interpretation, I give The
Interpretation of Dreams 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Time Traveler's Wife
Niffenegger, Audrey
4 stars = Really Good

I find myself somewhat conflicted between two mediums whenever a book is made
into a movie. On the one hand, I truly enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife
(2009) when I first saw it. While the book the movie was based on has a lot
more material, it became obvious that a lot of this material could easily be
cut for the movie and very little would be lost in the narrative. Despite
this material (which I'll get to in a bit), the book is lavishly and
poetically written and was a joy to read.

With a main character who can time travel, I'm having a tough time
determining if the foreshadowing in this book was brilliant or just a bit too
heavy-handed. I'm also not sure if I even like the main characters themselves
since they're essentially the definition of "white privilege" (with all the
trust funds, alcoholism and casual drug use, and "academic" or "artistic"
professions to boot). What stood out in this book, though, was the enormous
amount of sex. I almost wondered if this was supposed to be erotica. While it
was even shocking at times (I'm looking at you, ending), I can't help but
wonder if it's considered cheating when a husband has sex with his wife at
different times in their relationship.

All this being said, the strength of the writing helped to cover up some of
its weaknesses. Sure, you could make the argument that this is a study in
Stockholm syndrome, but you could also give it credit for creatively handling
the science fiction theme of time travel in an interesting and unique new
fashion. There are a lot of questions that inevitably pop up with the
continuity of a time-traveling character, and I felt that the worldbuilding
done to ground this concept was particularly exceptional. In the end, The
Time Traveler's Wife is a descriptive and heart-warming/wrenching tale that
at least deserves one read-through.

A romantic book wrapped tightly in a single sci-fi element, I give The Time
Traveler’s Wife 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.