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All Book Reviews by Genre: Other Fiction

The Man He Never Was
Rubart, James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

James Rubart has been one of my favorite Christian authors for a long time, and his latest, The Man He Never Was, does not disappoint. This is not just “a modern re imagining of Jekyll and Hyde,” it is a story of one man’s radical journey to discover what true love really looks like and the freedom we find through redemption.

Torren Daniels is a regular guy pursuing the career of his dreams. A football star with a loving family and everything to lose. He lives for the game, taking out his anger and frustration like most guys on the football field, through the game. But one day when he goes to far, his perfect life and career fall apart and he is left with nothing but his anger, frustration and rage at himself and his family.

Fast forward eight months, Torren has disappeared and everyone, including his wife and family, believe he is dead. Until one day he shows up in a hotel room with nothing but his wallet, the clothes on his back, and no memory of his life for the past eight months. But one thing he does know, he has come back different. More different than he has ever been before. The anger and frustration he has dealt with all of his life, seems to be gone. Instead being replaced with love, patience, and kindness, but are these changes truly real or are they simply an illusion?

What follows in the preceding days, is not only a physical journey to discover what happened to him, but a spiritual one that reveals the struggle of good and evil we all face inside ourselves and the redemptive freedom we can experience when Christ’s true love is set free within us.

Rubart’s storytelling gets down to the issues in a fast-paced way that does not dwell on flourishes and world building, as much as it does on character development. Torren is not a likeable character especially at the beginning of the book, but as the book progresses, and he goes on this journey, we see how the other relationships in his life, shape how his character responds. The other character’s in the book likewise are shaped by, and changed by, how his character responds to them, especially Torren’s wife.

Rubart’s story is highly complex, and as the story unfolds and the layers are peeled back, we see the struggle that is really going on inside Torren. Rubart approaches issues such as broken relationships, anger, loss, forgiveness, and abandonment in a way that is both realistic and extremely relatable. These issues and how they shape his character’s lives, also help shape the timber and tone of the overall story and come to a head in the conclusion of the story in an important and life changing way.

Rubart’s stories have always been complex and interesting. But one of the things I have always loved about him as an author and continue to love about him, evident in this book and the others I have read, is the way he has a way of presenting spiritual truths in a highly complex and original way but within the real world and in a way that is not overbearing, and is extremely relatable. The Man He Never Was, does not just present an updated version of the story of Jekyll and Hyde but takes the story and makes it real in a way that I never considered or imagined. Rubart takes the characters of Jekyll and Hyde and presents them as allegories as he explores the battle of good versus evil that is constantly going on inside each one of us.

Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction for an E-Arc of this book for review. This book is out February 20 but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Watership Down
Adams, Richard
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In an ever-increasing list of books I failed to read as a child, I finally managed to get to Watership Down. While I am aware that many people speculate the true meaning of the book to be an allegory for Nazis or Communism, or whatever, the prologue provided by the author in this edition stated that it was merely a bedtime story for his children. With this in mind, I’m sure many subconscious influences led to some of the themes in Watership Down.
Either way, the story seemed to be a rambling series of events that didn’t have much of a point or purpose.

Let’s be clear: I like rabbits. I think they’re cute, and I even own two of them. Therefore, I appreciate the little details of lagomorph mannerisms sprinkled throughout. And yet, there were a few confusing choices made in this book, like giving a somewhat-confusing “rabbit language” that rarely had context, and was mostly abandoned by the end of the book. I also couldn’t buy into the idea of a “rabbit army” since most of the rabbits I’ve seen in the wild have been mostly solitary animals, and hardly in the numbers described in Watership Down.

When it comes right down to it, the thing that perhaps disturbed me the most about this book was the anthropomorphism of the rabbits. Sure, the “side stories” about El-Ahrairah were distracting and often unnecessary, and I couldn’t honestly tell you the character traits or attributes of any of the numerous rabbits, but the fact that they could talk to each other made them seem somewhat human. Consequently, this then introduces ideas like war and sex trafficking via the “innocent” covering of rabbits. I feel these tend to be mostly human traits, so it pulled me from the story when I had to remind myself, “Wait, these are rabbits.”

A meandering story that puts humans in rabbit bodies, I give Watership Down
2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
A Dog's Purpose
Cameron, W. Bruce
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I choose to read this book because of the movie coming out with it. The book is about a Dog's everyday life. This specific dog is trying to find his purpose in life but continues to be reborn until he can figure it out. After finding his best friend, Ethan, he believes his life is over and he has fulfilled his purpose until he is reborn again and more confused than ever. He is now on a journey to figure out life's real meaning. The book is told from a hilarious dog's point of view and is both uplifting and heartbreaking. Throughout his life he encounters many different animals and different kinds of people, both good and bad. The dog never breaks his character and is completely confused by the everyday activities that we would never think about in our daily life. The book gives the reader a new perspective on how their dog thinks and what is going on in their head while they walk around cluelessly. The only part about the story that was disappointed was that it was geared towards a younger audience. While anyone of age can still enjoy the book I bought it thinking it was going to be at a higher reading level than middle school. Though the book was aimed at a younger crowd it was still funny and interesting to read. The movie and book were both good but completely different, if you have watched the movie but not read the book I would recommend it because they are not very similar and both funny. I would recommend this book to anyone around the middle school age or anyone who is in love with dogs and loves a fairytale happy ending.
Reviewer Grade:11

Reviewer's Name: Madison G.
Sourdough
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is.... very hard to categorize. I read it because I LOVED Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which was also kind of quirky. Lois, an engineer at a robotics company, is given a special sourdough starter by the odd owners of a small restaurant which closes unexpectedly and without much explanation. The starter has some unique properties, and Lois ends up becoming quite obsessed with its care and development, joining a very unusual and exclusive farmer's market to sell the bread she makes. An interesting tale of the melding of traditional skills and technology.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
The Sky Between You and Me
Alene, Catherine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

At first, Raesha thinks she is an ordinary girl. She has a sweet, affectionate boyfriend and her best friend Asia. She loves horses, just like her mother did, before she passed away due to cancer. Everything seems normal until one day, a new girl moves into town, accidentally hurts Raesha's dog, flirts with her boyfriend, and steals her best friend! She suddenly fills with hatred and jealousy towards the new girl and the rest of her friends.
Then, having no one to support her, she starts despising herself until she does the unthinkable.
This story is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The characters are very well developed and makes you attached to each and every one of them.
I was definitely able to relate to the main character, and many readers might relate with some situations in the book. I especially enjoyed the poetic style of the author, giving the story a nicer flow. I highly recommend you read this book. You won't regret it.

Reviewer's Name: Olivia Y.
Fish Tails
Tepper, Sheri S.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I decided to choose the book because it looked like it would tell a great story and it did. I liked the book due to its great lessons inside about the imperfections of our minds, but the greatness of them too. The part I enjoyed most was the journey f the main characters and how they didn't change their personalities and stayed focused on the topic. The part I didn't really enjoy was that the story went kinda slow. The book was pretty predictable, but the lessons and thoughts behind you need to think more about to get, so it was still entertaining to read. It was an amazing book to read and I definitely recommend it.
Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Inayah V.
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A Novel
Grossman, David
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Somewhere along the line, I saw that this book won the Man Booker International Prize this year and put it on my “to read” list on Overdrive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than perhaps a little bit of comedy, considering the title is a basic setup for a joke’s punchline. In that sense, the book delivered on that premise by being about a stand-up comedian in a nightclub giving his routine to the audience. I did not expect, however, the deeper subtext about the character and his relation to the narrator. It’s in this subtext where we find the meat of this story.

It has often been said that “Sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep yourself from crying.” A Horse Walks into a Bar epitomizes this statement by blending serious subjects like cancer, death, and the Holocaust with a smattering of jokes, physical comedy, and anecdotal monologues. It’s in this contrast where we find how uncomfortable society is when dealing with the difficult subjects of life. I know I usually use comedy to cope with challenging situations, often in an inappropriate accommodation to the dour mood. In the end, we’d rather not address these facts of life because they don’t bring any joy into the world.

Partly due to a lack of explanation, as well as a somewhat jolting and meandering storytelling method, the plot of this book felt a little light, if not downright confusing. I’m sure if I had paid more attention to the words spoken by the ill comedian (who himself was kind of weird) I would have pulled more out of it and understood it better. Unfortunately, my mind always clings to the jokes, of which there a few good ones, and tends to ignore anything else that might be significant.

A bit uncomfortable, but poignant nonetheless, I give A Horse Walks into a Bar 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Murakami, Haruki
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A coworker of mine suggested this book to me a few months back. The title sounded interesting, so I put it on my Overdrive wish list and waited for it to become available. Both he and I have a somewhat thorough understanding of Japanese culture, so once I got into this book, I found myself imagining it as an anime. Of course, because The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was originally written in Japanese, there are plenty of cultural idiosyncrasies that might be hard to understand from a different cultural viewpoint. At times, the content is a bit weird, the sex awkward, and the violence strangely surgical.

What was quite refreshing with the narrative in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, was its timelessness. Written in the early 1990’s and set in the mid-1980’s, only a few technological items (i.e. a land line, an early computer, etc.) haven’t held up well over time. Everything else about the story is so character-driven that it could probably happen at any time. These characters are odd, to say the least. From psychic sisters named after Mediterranean islands to a wealthy perfectionist mother and her mute son, many of their sub-plots do end up tying together in the not-so-surprising ending.

As a “chronicle,” the book does feel episodic at times, hence why I imagined it as an anime. Because I have seen a lot of anime, the content of this book didn’t surprise me. There’s some weird stuff out there, and Japan seems to create quite a bit of it. While the sex and violence might be off-putting to some, it’s not necessarily erotic or graphic in its presentation; it is merely a fact of life. A strange life, to say the least, but a life nonetheless. Parts “slice of life,” “harem,” and “psychological thriller,” in terms of genre, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is an excellent book for anyone already accustomed to Japanese storytelling.

A prime example of an almost “standard” Japanese plot, I give The Wind-up Bird Chronicle 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Awards:
The Snow Child
Ivey, Eowyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
The Vegetarian
Kang, Han
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this inventive South Korean novel (based on an earlier short story by the author), a woman decides to become a vegetarian after a disturbing, blood-soaked dream leaves her convinced that she needs to purify herself. Yeong-hye remains largely a mystery to us throughout the novel -- we hear about the situation mainly from her husband, brother-in-law, and sister, and they're often more interested in what they want from her (passivity, "normal" behavior, sexual gratification) than in understanding what's happening inside her mind. It's interesting to watch the escalation of behavior that's considered inappropriate; even the most mild changes to her routine provoke violent reactions and eventually lead her family members to cross lines of their own. At first, not eating meat alone is shocking and indicative of disrespect for her husband, then a refusal to wear a bra, then a discomfort with speaking -- and the gap widens more and more between Yeong-hye and the people around her as she withdraws from the world in her obsession with becoming more plant than animal.

Still, despite the oddity of the premise, it reads more like horror than comedy, and there was some real emotional weight to Yeong-hye's problems and to the exploration of the internal lives of her family as they react to her rebellion in increasingly bizarre ways. I liked the first section (dealing with the destruction of Yeong-hye's marriage) more than others, but they were all fascinating, and the sister's perspective helped bring things to a satisfying conclusion. Some parts were a bit too on the nose for my taste, but it was an engrossing read overall. There was a lot of reflection on the position and treatment of women in modern-day South Korea, which may interest some readers, as well as a more general look at the everyday violence around us, people's inner desires, and the pressure to conform. (I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could, but I rounded up because the writing deserved it.)

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
The Dogs of Christmas
Cameron, W. Bruce
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A must read for dog lovers.

Reviewer's Name: Jeannette
A Dog's Journey
Cameron, W. Bruce
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I could not put this book down. If you believe that either a person who passes might come back as a dog or whatever, in this case this dog keeps on coming back over the course of 70 years. Every time he is put down, he comes back as either a female or male dog and his journey is to take care of one girl.

Reviewer's Name: Jeannette
The Bourbon Thief
Reisz, Tiffany
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The main characters in the story are Paris Christie, Cooper McQueen, Tamara Maddox (the Maddox family is the family who owns the Red Thread Bourbon company), and Levi Shelby.

The Bourbon Thief is a must read! It's simply captivating and different from many other thrillers I have read. The story focuses on the past and ties it with the present. The author did a spectacular job in making sure we were blown away in everything she wrote. It felt original and the plot was mysterious and romantic. It was mysterious because the Maddox family's bourbon company shut down suddenly and no one knows why. Paris wants the bourbon, but why? What does Paris want to hide? I love the third person narrative because I saw each character's view points and the fact that I could read that was already amazing to me.

Reviewer's Name: Jade
Sticks
Bauer, Joan
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Sticks is about a boy named Mickey who's dad is a champion pool player, but his father died when he was young. Mickey decides to follow in his dads foot steps and trains to win the Junior Nine-Ball Championship. Then a stranger comes to town, claiming he is a friend of his father's. This book is a short but interesting read. I'd rate this book a three because it was quick and well written but lacked adventure or excitement. I felt compassion for Mickey when it talks about him wishing his father could have seen him grow up. I read the book because I like the author Joan Bauer though it is not one of her better books. I recommend this book to people who like pool and are missing a loved one.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Gabrielle F.
Hope was Here
Bauer, Joan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Hope Was Here is about a girl named Hope who is a waitress in
training. She and her aunt move from town to town. When they move to a small
town in Wisconsin and work at a local diner that's when the story takes off.
The author has a great way off describing Hopes life. Out of 1(Yuck) -
5(Awesome) I would rate this book a 4 because it got a Newbery Honor award,
but does not have ton of action. I picked this book because I like the author
Joan Bauer, and her previous books.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Gabrielle F.
Every Soul a Star
Mass, Wendy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass is a tale of three kids who become the most unlikely of friends. Ally loves nature, and to be around her home which is out in the forest where the air is clean. Her greatest ambition is to discover a comet. Bree loves nothing more than her clothes, and her dream is to be a model. Jack keeps to himself, and has no friends except his art work. When the three are pushed together they become the best of friends to discover something extraordinary. I rate this book a 4/5- the beginning was a bit slow and bland.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Emily T.
Awards:
Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein
Hemphill, Stephanie
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Hideous Love is a verse novel about the life of Mary Shelley, the woman who wrote the iconic Frankenstein. Mary Shelley ran away with her lover, Percy Shelley and traveled around Europe, getting inspiration from the scenic surroundings for her writing.
Mary Shelley had led a very interesting life full of tragedy and drama and with award-winning Stephanie Hemphill writing it, it'll be great, right?
Ha... no. All I got was disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Reading Hideous Love was a chore. I kept on thinking it would get better, but it didn't happen.
The poems were choppy and I feel like Stephanie Hemphill just tried to make her sentences as short as possible, put them in a pile, and called it poetry.
Horrible Love didn't even scratch the surface of the emotions Mary Shelley must have felt, I couldn't relate to her at all; it was hard not to skim through the poems. I can't help but think that Hemphill didn't even try putting any structure or effort in her novel. A few poems in Hideous Love were written fairly well, but that meager amount can't make up for all of the rest of those tedious and boring poems.The verse novel was mostly about Mary Shelley worrying about the faithfulness of her husband and her actual writing was just tacked on there like an afterthought.
I don't recommend this to anyone, and Hideous Love is possibly the worst book I have ever had the misfortune of reading. The Wikipedia article on Mary Shelley was more interesting and gave more information.
Reviewer's Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Miriam X
Egg & Spoon
Maguire, Gregory
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Elena is a peasant living in Miersk, a village in Russia. Ekaterina is a noble that was passing through Miersk on her way to a ball. Due to an unfortunate accident, Elena and Ekaterina switch places and need to set things right again.
I first took notice of Egg & Spoon because of the aesthetic of the cover. I was about to choose not to read it after seeing the summary, but then I saw that it was written by Gregory Maguire, so I decided against not reading it.
The writing style is truly beautiful, and I can't really find the right words to describe it, which is frustrating, to say the least. To me, the story is slightly reminiscent of having a (very long) conversation with someone; it kind of goes off into tangents, it gets unusually descriptive on small things that don't really matter, and it talks about a little bit about everything. I find that really enjoyable, but for some people, it can seem long and tedious. I had to really concentrate while reading it because I kept on admiring how amazing the writing was instead of actually processing what was happening.
The characters were incredible! Everyone had different and unique personalities and reacted to things differently. I found all of them quite charming in their own ways. They all just had so much character!
The humor had me dying of laughter and really lightened the mood of the whole story.
One thing I didn't like about the novel was its pacing. Everything happened too slowly, and I was always waiting for something to happen to push the story along; Egg & Spoon is definitely not for impatient people, especially since it has almost 500 pages. It was really hard to get through.
Egg & Spoon was based off of Russian folklore and really gave off a fairy tale vibe, which is always a plus.
Egg & Spoon is definitely not for everyone, but, in my opinion, it was phenomenal.
Reviewer's Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Miriam X
The Nest
Oppel, Kenneth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Steve's baby brother is sick. Like, probably going to die soon sick. So, when Steve is visited in his dreams by the wasps living in the nest over his house, and they offer to fix the baby, Steve feels like all of his problems are being solved...until he realizes the solution is perhaps not as perfect as it originally seemed.

This is one weird, creepy little novel. I listened to it (and apparently it's illustrated, so I missed the illustrations), and narrator was a little blah at first, but later on in the story I realized that that was probably somewhat intentional. The first disk was a little slow for me, but by the final disk, I was sitting in my driveway listening because I just had to know what was going to happen. Wow. I've never read anything quite like this, and while I won't say that I loved it, I did ultimately enjoy it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Raven Boys
Stiefvater, Maggie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Blue Sargent is not a psychic. Her mom is a psychic. Her aunts are all psychics. But Blue has another skill - she can amplify psychic power. So every year on St. Mark's Eve, she accompanies one of the "real" psychics to
greet the ghosts of the people who will die in the next year. Usually, she sees nothing. But this year, she sees the ghost of a boy: Gansey. Later, Blue and Gansey have a meet-not-cute, and Blue finds herself swept along with Gansey and his friends Noah, Adam and Ronan on an epic quest to find a long lost Welsh king...because Blue thinks that this king might be the only thing that can save Gansey.

First, I love the way Stiefvater writes. She manages to imbue whimsy and/or something otherworldly (and often slightly sinister) into almost every paragraph, and her descriptions are often at once hilarious and spot on. For example:

April was a bad time for the Aglionby boys; as it warmed up, the convertibles appeared bearing boys in shorts so tacky that only the rich would dare to wear them.

or

Ronan kept staring at Whelk. He was good at staring. There was something about his stare that took something from the other person.

Great, unique descriptions. I just love her writing and her ability to make the reader feel like they've known the characters forever.

On top of that, the plot is simply and uniquely marvelous. I had never heard of Glendower (our long lost Welsh king), and this story felt really fresh, even though I was reading it for the third time. A colleague thought it was boring, and I will concede that it gets off to a bit of a slow start to allow
for world-building and character development, but I DARE you to try to read the last 100 pages or so in more than one sitting.

It's just soooooooooooooooo goooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

5 unreserved stars. J'dore.

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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