All Book Reviews by Genre: Fiction

The Graduate
Webb, Charles
2 stars = Meh

If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie.

Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit the third act, there’s just a series of random actions that aren’t grounded in reality. This is also not to mention that the characters around him, especially the primary love interest, also make illogical decisions that aren’t founded in any sort of reality. At least this book is short enough that you’re not going to waste much time reading it.

Maybe I’m just missing the point of this book. Perhaps it’s an examination of the consequences and realizations that come from living a life that seems to have no meaning. I mean, I get the counter-play between the newly-disillusioned Benjamin and the almost permanently-disillusioned Mrs. Robinson; butwhenthe entire thing is filled with awkward and nervous dialogue that constantly repeats itself, I can’t help but think that there isn’t anything significant there. Even the ending was so abrupt and unfulfilling that I had to thank the movie version for its subtleness in revealing the characters’ realization of what they’ve done.

A truly sub-par story that was made into an above average movie, I give The Graduate 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Winter of the Witch
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

In everyone’s reading adventures they find that there are those books they come across that they like, some they love, and then there are those books that resonate so deeply, that you say to yourself and all who will listen “this is why I read.” Its not just the stunning world building, the lyrical prose, or the deep character development, but something more, that speaks to your soul, about who you truly are or what the world around you is really like. Something that can’t always be expressed through spoken word or any other means, expect through story. This is what Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch has done for me.

Picking up right where The Girl in the Tower had left off with Rus in shambles and the people needing to blame someone for what happened to their city they naturally turn to Vasya. I am not going to try to explain the rest of the plot because so much happens. But suffice it to say that in this one there is so much more wintery magic, more of the winter king, everyone’s favorite hero, and so much more action and adventure I could barely keep up.

This book flows seamlessly from the 2nd to the third one without taking a single breath. And the blending of the historical and fantastical is so complete it totally had me believing that 13th century Rus existed side by side with this wintery magical world called midnight and had me longing to time travel so I can visit it. With mysterious and magical midnight roads, it’s chiriti and spirits of all types, its magical house, and a lake on the edge of worlds, it’s flying horses, its river monsters and so many other fairy tale elements this book appealed to me on so many levels. It really awakened that inner child in me, that I think is in all of us that loves fairy tales and magic, wants to be accepted and loved but also wants to have purpose and feel needed. Their was just so much about this fable and Vasya as a character that spoke to my soul that it’s hard to express it all in one measily review.

Vasya also grows so much into her power in this tale. She really discovers her identity and the book delves not only into more of who she and is becoming but also who her family is and their magical legacy. I really grew to love Vasya as a character and her determination to never give up even in the most difficult of circumstances, her love of her city and people, her strength, and how she doesn’t just accept her circumstances but fights for better things and saves herself and those around her.

Can we also talk about Vasya and Morozko relationship for a second. I love their relationship and think it is a great representation of what love in real life is often like. I love how they grow into their relationship, and that she loves him but doesn’t always love everything about him or the choices he makes. It proves what is often true about love that it is not always magic and sunshine and unicorns but can often be difficult. It often requires sacrifice and one to be selfless enough to make sacrifices. It also requires each partner to live with each other in daily life with all their imperfections no matter how much it annoys and frustrates you. I love the fact that, though Morozoko is this ancient powerful being, his character also has imperfections and issues and his own sorrows that Vasya has to learn to live with. I also love that they save each other in more ways than one, and in the scenes when they do connect it is often tender and beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time.

Beyond the character development, the story itself is filled with lush and atmospheric imagery, beautiful and lyrical prose, and quirky and whimsical details that speak to my heart childhood heart. I also, being a history major, really appreciate the research done for this series with regards to historical detail. In history we call this establishing historical context, putting the person we are studying in their historical environment within the whole of history. It blended Vasya’s magical world and grounded her in a specific place in history seamlessly.

All this to say I loved this book and this series! Both are a solid 5 stars! And when it comes out next Tuesday Jan 8, run, don’t walk to your local library or book store to get this beautiful fable and complete your collection of one of the best series of all time. Seriously it’s up there with CS Lewis and Tolkien for me ya’ll. Thank you to Edelweiss and Del Ray for my Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Gilded Wolves cover
Chokshi, Roshani
4 stars = Really Good

Severin’s legacy has been stolen. And he wants it back. As the sole heir to the House of Vanth, leading it should be his birthright. But folks from two of the other three houses stopped him from assuming the mantle of head of House Vanth. So when a secret society, the Order of Babel, approaches him and promises him his true inheritance in exchange for an artifact, he agrees to find the artifact along with his crew.

I enjoyed this one, though it isn’t without its flaws. Normally I end a review with my complaints, but in this case my main issue is also a positive so we’ll just start there! This book is quite similar to Six of Crows. Arguably a bit too similar. I mean, there are character analogs (Severin is fairly close to Kaz, Laila is like a Inej/Nina hybrid), and aspects of the plot are pretty similar as well. It felt like I was reading really incredible fanfiction on occasion. The thing is, though, I loved Six of Crows, so I really ended up enjoying this book too. Where Six of Crows is gorgeously bleak, The Gilded Wolves is exuberantly lavish. Set in late 19th century Paris, the trappings of this book are dazzling. Each scene is more lush than the last, and our characters’ surroundings are brought to life in the most whimsical of ways. Magical extravagance abounds, and I had the best time imagining the various rooms, secret chambers and tunnels. The world building was cool, although it occasionally felt convoluted. Overall, though, the author manages to blend religion and science and math, which is really no easy feat. The other thing that I really liked about this book is that the cast is very diverse in race, ethnicity and sexuality and that the author makes commentary about important, relevant issues such as colonialism, racism, and immigration.

I’ve read a few other books by this author, one that I hated (Star Touched Queen) and one that I enjoyed (Aru Shah). This one was much closer to an Aru read for me, although I do find that the rich prose reads as purple on occasion. There will obviously be a sequel, and I’ll definitely give that a go when it comes out in something like two years. I think a this book may also improve upon a reread. Some of the characters were a bit hard to keep track of - when the villain was ultimately revealed, I was like…who was that again? The end also felt super rushed and disjointed, and I think several of the plot points and character developments introduced might have made more sense at the top of the next book.

TLDR: A lavish heist and adventure fantasy for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think most readers of YA fantasy will like this one – I did! 3.5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Gilded Wolves will be available for purchase on 15 January 2019, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
King of the Wind
Henry, Marguerite McCallum
3 stars = Pretty Good

The book, King of the Wind, is a lovely story about a horse and his master. The connection between Sham, the horse, and Agba, a boy, is focused upon during the book, and the author certainly created something special.

The characters are decently developed, but the connections between characters are much better. The setting of the book is also quite unique and fits well with the story. It's more than just a classic horse story. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone, as it's a pretty quick read and a great book.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
Armstrong, William H.
4 stars = Really Good

The book, Sounder, is a great read. While it is a short read, it packs a powerful punch. The only reason I could really no like the book was that it does get to a be a cliche "dog story" at times. The characters are pretty well developed, and the story does get very dark. The multiple ongoing conflicts also captivate the reader. While its sort-of a children's book, the book also does have some cool underlying themes that the reader can pick out.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone, as its quick and phenomenal read.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The Rules
Holder, Nancy
3 stars = Pretty Good

The Rules, by Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie, is a great thriller but lacks much else. The focus of the book is on the plot, but it's just an average thriller plot. None of the characters are developed over the course of the book, and it doesn't have enough clues to be a mystery. I felt like the author could've expanded for on the theme of rules, but it was a good idea. The book just kinda lacks sustenance, although it does provide a pretty good thriller experience. I would recommend this book to an avid thriller fan, but not really anyone else.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The One and Only Ivan
Applegate, Katherine Castelao
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

"The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate is about a silverback gorilla named Ivan who lives at a mall and video arcade told from his perspective.
Ivan has other animal friends that include an old elephant named Stella who is sick and in pain. He goes through a lot of things with his friends but he still wants to go somewhere with other gorillas because he thinks he is the only gorilla he will ever know. The mall almost closes until a new baby elephant arrives. At the mall the elephants are mistreated and Ivan and Stella don't like that another elephant will be hurt. Time goes on until Stella becomes very sick. The mall downplays her illness until she can no longer do the tricks, so doctors come to help Stella get better. In the end all the animals including Ivan go to a zoo where they are treated better and are with other animals.

I would recommend this book. It is very heartwarming but at the same time sad. I cried multiple times while reading "The One and Only Ivan". I chose to read this book because I read it before in third grade and wanted to read it again. Obviously, I could not relate to the characters who were animals. The ending is surprising and the book isn't predictable.

Reviewer's Name: Oriana O.
Book Review: She's Come Undone
Lamb, Wally
4 stars = Really Good

The Goodreads synopsis for this book says the main character is the "most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years." That's a bunch of crap. The main character is flawed but not funny, just sad and hard to root for. Some parts of the book I loved, other parts I didn't. But overall the good parts won out.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
A Closed and Common Orbit
Chambers, Becky
4 stars = Really Good

After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet , I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other.

Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common Orbit, but having that previous knowledge certainly helped to bring these alien creatures to life in my mind. Still, the main characters are basically humans, so the interactions with the aliens would be the main reason to know how these creatures communicate.

While this book is only tangentially related to the one that proceeded it in the series, the universe the author has created is solid enough to support a few more additional stories like the ones found here. With fewer characters to focus on in this book, A Closed and Common Orbit was able to dive deep into some pretty heavy topics, including child slavery and artificial intelligence. The writing still retains its casual dialogue style that genuinely helped bring these few characters to life. If anything, the author’s writing is what will keep me coming back to this series.

A mostly unrelated, but still expertly written sequel, I give A Closed and Common Orbit 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Elfstones of Shannara
Brooks, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good

Back in 2016, I saw advertisements for a TV show adaptation of the original Shannara trilogy, likely trying to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. While I never watched the show, I remembered enough from these trailers that I was able to recognize that the plot of the first book in the series, The Sword of Shannara , was not the plot of the series. However, when I started reading the next book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara, suddenly memories of the TV show came to mind. Having finished this book, I can see why the TV show wanted to start here.

I didn’t particularly care for the derivative Sword of Shannara, as it seemed to steal all its ideas from The Lord of the Rings. While The Elfstones of Shannara still appears to take influence from this quintessential epic fantasy, there are enough other fantasy tropes thrown in to make it feel at least somewhat more original. Plus, the strength of the story in this book merely highlighted how unnecessary The Sword of Shannara was, as it basically threw away all the main characters from that book, relegating them to “distant grandfather” status and maintaining the only truly interesting character, the druid, for this book.

The strength of The Elfstones of Shannara comes from its main plotline that finds a boy and girl on a quest to save a magical tree that is dying, thus allowing demons to re-enter the realm. All the other side stories, like the battle/war that was happening, and all the familial and political drama that went with it, I could have done without. Mostly, these minor characters and plots didn’t seem fleshed out enough for me to care. Alternatively, the main story was exciting and had pretty good pacing for a fantasy book that sometimes spends too many words on descriptions and world-building that don’t matter.

A much superior follow-up to The Sword of Shannara, I give The Elfstones of Shannara 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Ayesha: The Return of She
Haggard, H. Rider
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Coming from the author of "King Solomon's Mines" and creator of Allan Quartermain, you can expect a terrific turn of the century, adventure story. Written as the sequel to "She", "Ayesha: The Return of She" stands on its own, and I find it even more enjoyable than the original story (but "She" does make for a good prequel - as I read them out of sequence). Our hero Leo, sets out with his friend to seek out his long lost love. This leads them to the most remote of areas, across vast deserts, and over treacherous mountains. When they reach the empire of Kaloon, the Khania Atene swears that she is the woman Leo is searching for, but he is unsure, and wishes to consult with the mysterious Hesea, an ancient priestess of the mountain, who has sent for him. Atene will risk everything, even war with the people of the mountain, to keep Leo by her side, even though he wishes to see the Hesea. Is Atene the woman Leo is seeking? Who is the cryptic Hesea? What dangers await Leo and his friend, both in Kaloon, and on the mountain?

This story was originally published in a serialized form in 1904-1905, with gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations. If you can find it, I highly recommend reading a reprint that includes the original illustrations. One of my favorite books of all time!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
The Shadow of the Wind
Zafon, Ruiz
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Wonderful mystery reminding me of Umberto Eco. "Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up The Shadow of the Wind." Really amazing depiction of characters and setting in early 20th century Spain. Captures feeling of fear caused by Spain's political environment and war and aftermath when villainous police. Can't put down type of read.

Reviewer's Name: S Andrews
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orczy, Baroness
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Ever since I saw the inimitable Richard E. Grant in the "The Scarlet Pimpernel" TV series, I have been enamored by these tales from Baroness Orczy. As the cliche goes though, the book is far superior to any adaptation I've seen thus far. After the French Revolution, the new government of France established the "Reign of Terror", where the citizens of France took out their anger and vengeance on any of the old aristocracy that they could find - whether they were guilty of oppressing the people, or not. Enter The Scarlet Pimpernel(!), an elusive daredevil, whose secret league of Englishmen risk their lives to save the aristocratic victims of the people of France. When the government of France charges their agent, Citizen Chauvelin, with discovering the identity of their mysterious enemy, he blackmails Lady Blakeney, a pinnacle of London society, into aiding him in his treacherous task. Who will she turn to, to help save her only brother - her insipidly foppish husband, Sir Percy Blakeney? He may be rich, and the leader of fashion in London's high society, but he's certainly not a "man of action" for something so perilous and vital. Lady Blakeney must face her inner struggles to try to find the hero who she admires so much, only to betray him. Meanwhile, the infamous guillotine awaits her next victims...

Published in 1905, "The Scarlet Pimpernel" established many of the hero tropes that are familiar today, such as having a secret identity, and using disguises and intelligence to outwit one's enemies. This is truly one of my favorite series. If you like this book, there are follow-up chapters, such as "I Will Repay", and "The Elusive Pimpernel", that are worth your attention as well!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After
Hockensmith, Steve
4 stars = Really Good

While the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a combination most
people never knew they needed, apparently making it into a trilogy was the
next logical conclusion. Combined with the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls ,
Dreadfully Ever After puts the series to rest with a sequel that seems to
re-hash a lot of similar ideas presented in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,
but with enough connection to the prequel and at least one or two original
ideas that helped to round out the characters. These new ideas were logical
extrapolations from the events that concluded Pride and Prejudice and
Zombies, so they weren’t necessarily shocking, but still entertaining to
pull the thread nonetheless.

I think, overall, I prefer the prequel and sequel to the original
Austen/monster mashup. It probably helped that both were written by the same
author, who was essentially writing fan fiction based on the idea that this
romantic classic could be combined with the undead. Dawn of the Dreadfuls had
the problem of needing to set up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, thereby
negating any dire threats to the main characters since they would need to
appear in the next book. However, Dreadfully Ever After does an excellent job
of adding the complexities of marriage in proper English society in the
zombie apocalypse to the mixture. Thus, this book expanded the universe
instead of just poking around its never quite fully-explained origins.

In fact, one might be able to read the books on either side of Pride and
Prejudice and Zombies and get a coherent and satisfying story out of it. I,
for one, struggled through Austen’s writing, so the more modern style
presented in Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Dreadfully Ever After was a welcome
change. Plus, with the ability to stray from the source material and add
additional characters in both “bookend” books, there is a continuity that
is satisfying to conclude in this book. In the end, though, the two books
that expand the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies universe don’t ever take
themselves that seriously and are a fun and silly read for anyone who had a
passing fancy to get into the topic.

A fitting and silly extrapolation of the idea that Jane Austen’s book
needed more gore and violence, I give Dreadfully Ever After 4.0 stars out of

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Tomorrow I'll Be Brave
Hische, Jessica
4 stars = Really Good

This beautifully hand-lettered book encourages kids to be adventurous,
strong, smart, curious, creative, confident, and brave. It also persuades
them to keep trying and not to worry if they haven’t been able to
accomplish all of those things today. They can realize that they don’t
have to be all of those things, but they can try their best.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Water Hole
Base, Graeme
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Animals come to drink at the water hole and find it drying up. This
beautifully illustrated book is partially counting book, but it’s also a
puzzle and a story. Learn about Earth’s continents, the variety of animals
living on each continent, and the impact water has on them.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Loretta's Gift
Miller, Pat
4 stars = Really Good

Aunt Esme & Uncle Jax are expecting a baby and the whole family is helping
celebrate. Loretta searches for a gift to give, but hasn’t found one by
the time he was born. Even as he grows and his birthday approaches, she
can’t find the perfect gift. Will she ever find the gift or will she
realize that the best gift doesn’t necessarily come in a package. A great
book for those anticipating the arrival of a new baby whether it be cousin,
sibling, or friend.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
My Farm Friends
Minor, Wendell
3 stars = Pretty Good

Learn facts about favorite farm animals in this rhyming book. Learn about
why pigs roll in the mud, the amount of water that cows drink, how horses
sleep, and more. Extra farm facts are provided at the end of the book.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
This Is the Van That Dad Cleaned
Ernst, Lisa Campbell
3 stars = Pretty Good

Dad has cleaned the van. It’s all sparkly and shiny. This cumulative,
rhyming story chronicles what happens next. It’s a fun narrative that many
children and their parents can relate to.

Reviewer's Name: Carol