Adult Book Reviews

The Missing Kennedy: Rosemary Kennedy and the Secret Bonds of Four Women
Koehler-Pentacoff, Elizabeth
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Tragedy ran deep in the Kennedy family--so much so that some people even questioned if the family was cursed. Rosemary Kennedy was born in 1918. At the time of her birth, the hospital was overcrowded with victims of the Spanish flu. The nurse, who though perfectly capable in assisting Mrs. Kennedy to give birth, urged her to wait until the doctor could come. The baby, Rosemary Kennedy, was forced back inside her mother's birth canal for two hours by the nurse during the wait. This irregular birth led to lifetime consequences in Rosemary. She had learning disabilities. Despite this, she was pushed equally as hard by her parents. Rosemary never made it intellectually past the fifth grade level. Her condition affected the Kennedy family because at the time people with disabilities were seen as having a "bad gene" and were not even allowed to receive the sacraments or eucharist at the catholic church. As Rosemary's condition worsened, her parents were desperate to fix her before she "ruined" her brother JFK's political career. This story is unique because it sheds light on a member of the Kennedy family whose tragic story eventually brought positive change in how to deal with the disabled.

Reviewer's Name: Elizabeth
Awards:
Blood of Elves
Sapkowski, Andrzej
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I’ll admit that I had a bit of a head start understanding the Witcher universe when I picked up this book. I’ve played a few hours of The Witcher 3 on my Switch, and I watched the first season of the show on Netflix. Would the lack of this prior knowledge have hurt my chances of understanding this high fantasy? Not likely. Arranged as a series of vignettes, Blood of Elves reveals its characters and setting based on a collection of almost everyday scenarios. While this approach made understanding the overarching goal of the series difficult to discern, it did make the characters quite a bit more realistic and relatable.

When it comes down to it, this book is about its characters. Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer all stood out to me as unique and well-rounded individuals who each had their own stories to tell and plotlines to follow. And while their interactions are all intertwined in some way, their individual journeys allow them to shine in their own way. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed listening to this audiobook: it wasn’t so focused on building the world where these characters lived (like most Tolkein-esque high fantasy). Instead, this book made sure I understood who these characters were and what challenges they have faced and will face in the future.

Two scenes/stories stood out to me in this book that I feel need special praise. First, I have never before read a book that had an entire fight/training sequence performed exclusively in dialogue. There were no character actions other than what was described through what the individuals said to each other. To be able to do this so well is an achievement in writing in and of itself. Secondly, I found the story where Geralt meets a monster “expert” to be incredibly humorous. This bit of levity helped to keep the book from getting too dark and morose, which was welcome considering some of its content.

A fantastic character-based high fantasy, I give Blood of Elves 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Genres:
Ringworld
Niven, Larry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

It can be difficult to judge a book, especially one as critically acclaimed as Ringworld, with 50 years of scientific and societal progress between when it was written and today. On the one hand, there are many scientific concepts explored in this book that we almost take for granted in modern sci-fi. On the other hand, the stink of 1970s misogyny doesn’t age very well, and this book is a prime example. Even today, sci-fi authors are still trying to dig out from the sexist tropes that books like this perpetuated throughout the genre. It’s a complicated, uphill battle, but we’re trying to be better than this.

For 1970, I do have to admit that the science presented here is relatively revolutionary. Unfortunately, the descriptions were occasionally a bit dry and felt more like reading a textbook than a sci-fi adventure. I could appreciate how Niven described the indescribable scale of something as massive as the Ringworld. Additionally, the alien races were well-rounded and had complex physiologies and backstories that made the group dynamic entertaining to read. However, the only thing well-rounded about the women in this book were their bodies.

Aside from the considerable age difference between the two romantic leads being an acceptance of pedophilia, it’s clear that Niven only thought of women as objects. This is disappointing because the story could have been more interesting if the female characters had any agency other than being driven by pleasure or luck. I have to recognize that this book is still a snapshot of its temporal circumstances, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse it in today’s society. Acknowledging that it’s from the 1970s, modern works should be more aware of these flaws when using such a pivotal science fiction book as a base for today’s books.

Some great science with not-so-great misogyny, I give Ringworld 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Full Moon: A Novel of the Dresden Files
Butcher, Jim
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I haven’t read a lot of the urban fantasy genre, but series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is what I’ve come to expect. There’s a certain amount of logic that goes into combining fantasy elements into modern settings, and—if done well—can bring a story to life. Fool Moon (a delicious play on words, if I do say so myself) continues to take the noir twist from Storm Front and applies Harry Dresden’s magical skills against werewolf foes. Perhaps Storm Front wowed me with the concept of a detective magician so much that I thought Fool Moon was slightly weaker in comparison.

For starters, I felt there were too many factions to keep track of in this book. Half the time, I was trying to remember if the werewolves in question were the good guys or the bad guys. Granted, the ambiguity of the factions’ intent helped drive the plot, but they all felt so similar that I had difficulty telling them apart from each other. I was also somewhat confused with what was happening in the climactic battle, even if it eventually made sense. Additionally, there was a scene in this book that basically forced Dresden to make some obvious connections without it having to come quite as naturally as I would have liked.

All this being said, I did appreciate how the story integrated most of the common lore surrounding werewolves. Nothing was entirely cliché, but it was comforting to be able to see how certain well-known elements of how werewolves work helped to maintain the fantasy continuity. If specific topics like werewolves were handled this well by Butcher, I cannot wait to see how other fantasy elements are seamlessly integrated into this alternate Chicago.

An excellent fusion of fantasy and modern setting with a few weaknesses, I give Fool Moon 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
Brave New World
Huxley, Aldous
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, is a personal interpretation of society’s attitude towards technology. It takes place in a future, either dystopian or utopian, where technology reigns supreme, and humans are created in a lab. It offers commentary on where humanity’s values are placed, and where they should be placed. The characters have to choose whether or not conformity is the best option, and whether numbing the pain is better than understanding the suffering. Written in the 1930s, Huxley has a surprisingly modern style and understanding, and knowing that he was unsure of the future makes it an even more exciting book.

Reviewer's Name: Malachi
Desert Solitaire
Abbey, Edward
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Desert Solitaire, written by Edward Abbey, is essentially a memoir of his time spent as a ranger outside of Moab, Utah, in the Arches National Park. It includes compelling commentary on the progression of industrial tourism, as well as life changing events and exciting stories. For some, the book may be a frustrating read, either because it lacks a linear plot, as a collection of journal entries and secondary memoirs, or because Abbey’s views are reminiscent of traditions from the 1930s. Abbey is aware of this, and begins the book with a series of disclaimers. For readers who enjoy beautiful writing about life in the West, Desert Solitaire should be a potential read.

Reviewer's Name: Malachi
Phule's Company
Asprin, Robert
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Phule’s Company combines humor and a great amount of detail in a single book. It also contains a good amount of growth mindset. Even though it's a novel, I think anyone could learn Growth Mindset from this. Though the humor is hard to see, it really is funny in a lot of ways. Some of the names are clever versions of household items, such as duct tape. Overall, this is an excellent book for anyone looking for a sci-fi.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan
The Handmaid's Tale
Atwood, Margaret
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This novel followes the life of "Offred" who is part of the first wave of women during the Gilead regime. "Offred", whose real name is never revealed in the book, is a Handmaid whose sole responsiblity is to have children to sustain the rapidly declining Caucasion population. She tries to accept her life as a Handmaid, but is haunted by memories of the time before Gilead when she had a family and was free from the oppressive society she currently lives in.

I really liked how Atwood discloses minimal details about "Offred" which makes it clear that what is happening to her can happen to any woman. The novel is set in a utopian society, and it's very interesting to read the rationale behind the establishment of the Gilead regime and how sexism and anti-feminist retoric is a constantly looming problem in society. The novel is told through "Offred's" perspective, and personally, I felt she was a bland character, but her story itself was interesting. The book hangs off on a cliffhanger, and I'm definitely going to read the sequel and watch the Hulu adaption after!

Reviewer's Name: Nneoma
The Joy Luck Club
Tan, Amy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Joy Luck highlights mother-daughter relationships in the midst of generational conflicts. The Joy Luck daughters, Jing-mei, Waverly, Rose, and Lena, are first generation Chinese-Americans living in San Francisco during the 1980's. They feel their mothers are overbearing and do not understand their desire for independence. Ironically, their mothers feel they are losing their Chinese identity and became Americanized.

I love this book! The book is structured like the traditional Chinese game mahjong, and each of the daughters and mother's stories are complex and thought-provoking. Although it's set back in the 80's, a lot of its themes regarding mother-daughter relationships and intergenerational conflicts are relevant amongst first-generation immigrants and families today. Among the eight main characters, Jing-mei is my favorite, because she's really the only daughter that fully embraces her hyphenated identity.

This book is different because it tells the story of eight women who are so similar yet so different at the same time. I really recommend this to anyone looking for a female dominated novel!

Reviewer's Name: Nneoma
Awards:
Christmas at the Little Wedding Shop
Linfoot, Jane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Don't let the titles of Jane Linfoot's books fool you. These are all very well-written, entertaining books with quirky, yet realistic characters you'd like to have for friends and beautiful settings along the coast of England. The books aren't "cute". Christmas at the Little Wedding Shop is a delightful story of a hippy wild child and her uptight sister and a wedding disaster. You'll love it!

I recommend all of Linfoot's books (except maybe the 50 Shades series that her publisher wanted her to write to get in on the Fifty Shades of Gray craze.). Wonderful characters and plots that really could happen.

Reviewer's Name: Susan G.
The Vintage Cinema Club
Linfoot, Jane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Izzy, Dida and Luce are 3 friends who operate a retro, vintage clothing and furniture shop housed in an old movie theater in a small town in England. They each have personal situations that run into their business operation. Great characters, setting and plot. I don't want to give anything away, but I promise you will enjoy this book, want to shop at this store and be friends with these women.

Reviewer's Name: Susan G.
Vinegar Girl
Tyler, Anne
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This lightweight comedy of manners by Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Tyler is based on William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. The 2016 novel is part of a Hogarth Press series of classic plays retold by modern, popular authors to honor the 400th anniversary (April 1616) of his death.
Set in modern-day Baltimore, Kate Battista is the 29-year-old daughter of eccentric scientist Louis Battista. The witty and sharp-tongued Kate is a socially inept college dropout after being expelled for criticizing a professor's efforts. She then drifted into a part-time preschool assistant job while caring for her detached, workaholic father and younger sister, Bunny.
Dr. Barrista's brilliant lab assistant, Pyotr, must leave the country due to an expiring visa, prompting the self-involved scientist to concoct a sexist plan where his daughter marries Pyotr to allow him to stay and work for him. Kate is appalled. But she warms to the idea after meeting Pyotr, who enjoys and shares her outspokenness, and realizes this arranged marriage may help her create a satisfying future.
Tyler's considerable skill at bringing characters and settings to life with humor and precision are a big help in this tale about finding a partner who appreciates and shares your idiosyncrasies and principles. It's a quick read and a fun one for Tyler fans.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Cover of The Bluest Eye
Morrison, Toni
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Bluest Eye is about a young African-American girl named Pecola living in 1940's Ohio. Pecola lives with her brother and abusive parents who constantly tell her she is ugly because of her dark skin and kinky hair. On top of that, the children at her school bully her for the fact that her father is an alcoholic. All her life, Pecola has wanted blue eyes to feel pretty. Her only friends, Freida and Claudia try to defend her against the colorism in their community, but Pecola is unable to embrace her features and becomes obsessive over her desire for blue eyes.

One of the reasons I read this book is because of Morrison's writing style and her thematic elements. The book is very intellectually stimulating and gave me better insight into colorism and how it is still largely prevalent today in the African-American community. I really liked how Morrison used a young girl as a main character to show how these feelings of low-esteem and poor body image are started at a young age, and how the people around us influence our thoughts and feelings.

There are a lot of complex characters and you get to hear each of their stories about why they're the way they are. Claudia is my favorite character because she represents women and girls who challenge our ideas of beauty. The ending was sad, but it really brought light to how damaging our obsession with beauty is.

Reviewer's Name: Nneoma
Book Cover
Berry, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

After being caught with her lover, Ares, Aphrodite tells the stories of two couples that fell in love during World War 1. James and Hazel met at a party that Hazel was playing piano for. They start to go on dates and they really like each other, but James is shipped of to the battlefield. Hazel decides to join the Red Cross to be closer to James. There she meets Colette, who becomes a fast friend.

This book was amazing! I loved the perspective of the gods on the story. They often make appearances to discuss specific parts of the story relating to the gods' affinities. I also loved seeing the couples be together, even during their struggles. While reading this book I cried multiple times and couldn't be happier about that.

I would also highly recommend the audiobook. There were so many different narrators it truly felt like I was in the story. One of the characters passions is composing music and in the audiobook you can actually hear the music! It is a wonderful experience.

Reviewer's Name: Savannah H.
Night
Wiesel, Elie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Night by Elie Wiesel is a powerfully graphic novel that tells the story of a Hungarian Jew's experiences in various concentration camps within Nazi Germany during World War II. I really enjoyed this book. It was very well written and hard to put down. This book not only tells of Wiesel's experiences in concentration camps, but provides insight into psychological and philosophical ideas that make it even more interesting. Wiesel was just a teen when he and his family were sent away. He and his father were separated from his mother and sister and underwent an immense amount of trauma that was life altering for both of them. I'd recommend this book to those interested in World War II. The book is a quick and easy read with deep, profound content.

Reviewer's Name: Elizabeth
The Call of the Wild
London, Jack
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I was required to read The Call of the Wild for my Literature class. The story is about a lovable St. Bernard dog named Buck. At the start of the story, Buck lives in the cushy and comfy house of Judge Miller, but eventually winds up in the wild North of the Yukon. Serving as a sled dog, Buck passes through many owners, good and bad, and learns to answer the Call of the Wild. Overall, it was a pretty good book, but I would only give it Three Star review for these reasons:
1: As it is a classic, the book was written with an older style of English, which can be a little hard to understand. Older English can also take away some of the gravity in pressing situations.
2: There wasn’t quite as much action as I would have liked.
3: I enjoyed the book, but some of the action scenes may have been ruined by the Older English, although the Older English gives the reader a taste of how people communicated in the past. However, the characters, plot, and setting were developed well, so overall, Call of the Wild is a classic, and a quality work of literature, which still can be enjoyed today.

Reviewer's Name: Zach
Book Cover
Zoboi, Ibi & Salaam, Yusef
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Yusef Salaam is one of the "Central Park Five", young men of color who were incorrectly accused of raping and beating a woman jogging in Central Park in the late 80s. After the five had served their sentences of 5-15 years, they were exonerated when the real culprit came forward. This book is clearly heavily inspired by Yusef's story as it tells the story of Amal, a teen in prison for a similar crime that he did not commit. It starts with the conviction and then moves into Amal's experiences in a juvenile detention center.

Every year, there's a book that I promote really heavily in classrooms. This will definitely be that book. It's so good. So sad. So spare in that way that only books in verse can be. It takes a while to read, because sometimes you just kind of have to sit with it for a while to process it. It does such a great job of illustrating just how deeply flawed and racist our "justice" systems are. I dare you not to empathize with Amal. I can't wait to share this important book with everyone I know! Also, like, that cover y'all. So pretty. And it's relevant to the story! Anyway, consider this required reading, especially for all the folks trying to "read woke". 5 stars.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Punching the Air is out 01 September - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
O'Brien, Tim
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Things They Carried is a memoir by Tim O'Brien about his experiences as an American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War. O'Brien was chosen to be drafted in 1968. This incident was extremely stressful for O'Brien who had taken a stand against the war, yet didn't want to disappoint his community. He pondered running away to Canada, but eventually decided to fight. The Things They Carried is a series of stories that are so well written. The work is a bit hard to understand just because O'Brien wrote it in a way that is not completely nonfiction. In the book, he explains this concept more in depth. Overall, I thought this book was a very well written, interesting, and educational story regarding the horrors of war from O'Brien's perspective in Vietnam.

Reviewer's Name: Elizabeth P.
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story
Tobia, Jacob
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Sissy is complex, introspective piece about gender and sexuality and how society's view can impact self-worth. Jacob Tobia recounts experiences throughout their life that have impacted them in the manner of their gender and sexuality and their self acceptance of themself. They reveal how even as a young child they identified more with femininity than their born masculinity and how that brought out negative feelings in those around them, including their parents. Tobia expresses how the trials they have faced have made them into who they are today but they wish queer identities were more accepted. A rousing autobiography of growing up queer, Sissy inspires the reader to open their mind to what is different and look within themselves and ask the question "Is it really black or white?".

Reviewer's Name: Maddie
The Tao of Pooh
Hoff, Benjamin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The How of Pooh?
5 stars: Explains Tao with little snips of Pooh.

The Tao of Pooh is a well-written book that captures the essence of Tao-ism using little snippets of the adventures of Pooh. I loved this book, because it explains the art of Tao in a simplistic way, which is very fitting, because Tao is the art of simplicity. The precepts of Tao are explained very well in this book. If you want to learn how to not overthink, and how to learn without learning, read this book. A final note, I may not agree with some of the things written in this book, but I still appreciate the Tao, and I hope you do too!

Reviewer's Name: Ethan
Awards:

Pages