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Adult Book Reviews

Agresti, Aimee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Every four years, presidential candidates and their staffers travel the country searching for funding and votes. Campaign Widows follows five people who have been left behind by their partners as they work for electoral victory. But don't kid yourself - these "widows" have lives of their own. There is Cady, a newcomer to DC who is producing a show that is sagging in the ratings, Reagan, a speechwriter who is now doing freelance work as the recent mother to two twin girls, Birdie, a media mogul and DC taste-maker, Madison, whose husband Hank is in the running to be president, and Jay, whose partner Sky who got quickly upgraded from the "culture" section of the Queue (think Huffpost) to "politics" due to a staffing shortage. The book covers each of these dynamic characters as they live their own lives and effect the election in their own ways - with or without their partners' support.

This book is the perfect summer beach read, which is to say that its a light, fluffy read that would be great for any vacation (no beach necessary). The premise and setting were unique - I've not read a ton of women's fiction that is politically centered or even set in DC, and that really added to the title's value for me. All of the characters were well drawn and interesting in their own way. Often, when I read a book with multiple POVs, I find myself more invested in certain stories and then race through the chapters I don't much care for, but that was not the case here. Everyone was likable and engaging.

On the downside, I wanted more political satire than I got. While there definitely was some satire (Hank is a Trump stand-in, for example), and some dream scenarios (a three person dead heat race), I wanted more. Everyone's arcs were tied up a little too neatly for my taste, and it also made the book feel a bit less realistic.

Overall, I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys the genre and likes happy and easy reads. It reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians in tone and style, so if you liked that book, give this one a try! I hope it gets made into a TV show or movie, because it'd be excellent in either of those formats if the drama and comedy were both amped up a bit. If you are looking for a light summer read, look no farther. 4 stars - its a stand-out in its genre!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Graydon House through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Campaign Widows became available for purchase on 22 May, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Essex Serpent
Perry, Sarah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY***

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book as profound as The Essex Serpent. Perhaps it’s because they don’t write books like this anymore.
While written in the last few years, the style of The Essex Serpent is distinctly Victorian. It holds callbacks to the greats of gothic literature, including the physiological studies of Frankenstein and the back-and-forth letter writing of Dracula . All the while, the ever-present gloom of the muddy and foggy Essex shoreline hides the eponymous serpent just outside the reader’s view, providing anticipation of its reveal. Is the Essex Serpent real or is it a figment of so much imagination?

Of course, in staying with the Victorian style, the book does suffer somewhat in readability. The vocabulary and description are certainly more voluminous than modern volumes, but my biggest qualm seems to be more along the lines of the seemingly endless talk that occurs in the first half of the book—perhaps trying to mimic one of Jane Austen's romances—that only seems to be present for character exposition. There are also a few sub-plots that sound incredibly important, but don’t end up having much sway on the outcome of the plot.

Still, despite having to get used to the style, the characters and their drama is expertly crafted. In particular, the “friendship” between the widow Cora and the married clergyman Will was positively heart-pounding.
Cora’s son was delightfully peculiar, as was Will’s wife. If The Essex Serpent was more predictable, I’m sure the ending would have been different. I’ll have to settle for the conclusion as written, instead of having to read a more serious version of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters . At least, the plot surrounding the Essex Serpent is exciting and was what kept me reading through the muddy first half.

A modern book expertly written in the Victorian style, I give The Essex Serpent 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Awards:
Book Review: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved
Bowler, Kate
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

It's been a little while since I've read this book. It's about a professor who has written and researched the 'prosperity gospel', is diagnosed with cancer, and struggles to reconcile the two. The best part about the book was the appendix which talks about what and what not to do when interacting with someone going through a trauma. I read this book while a friend of mine was dying of cancer. I wish I had the opportunity to utilize the advice in this book to comfort her.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Hidden America
Laskas, Jeanne Marie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Great book. Hearing about careers that normally aren't in the spotlight was an eye opening experience. Well written and neutral, the author really lets her subjects shine.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Green Mile
King, Stephen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

While most people might not realize Stephen King wrote The Green Mile, I was completely unaware that the original version of this book was released serially—much like Charles Dickens used to do with his books. The novelty of experimenting with this format is somewhat lost now that the volumes are collected together to create a whole narrative. Even so, King is still the master of his craft, even if there’s minimal “horror” contained within the walls of this prison. At least, it’s an expected horror through the system of capital punishment, and not tied to the terror of the unknown.

Even though I enjoyed this story for its characters and plot, one element stuck out like a sore thumb: the framing via the retirement home. Sure, there’s a neat twist involved near the end, but so often the narrative would pull away from the time period in the prison to show some parallels to retirement living in a distracting way. I don’t think this added much to the story and it seemed to be more of a diversion than a benefit to the plot as a whole. Either way, these moments are few and far between, which helps move the action along.

Overall, King’s descriptive writing brought much of the book to vivid life. His imaginative ideas and foreshadowing give the reader just enough information to figure out the real culprit of the crimes mere pages before the characters themselves were able to. Each of the characters is unique and has their own qualities that causes you to either love or hate them—depending on who they are. Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s other works, I highly suggest you read The Green Mile, regardless.

A fantastic non-horror Stephen King novel, I give The Green Mile 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Genres:
The Pearl
Steinbeck, John
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Perhaps one of the lesser-known of Steinbeck’s works, The Pearl still exhibits his concise and emotionally-powerful storytelling. More along the length of Of Mice And Men than The Grapes of Wrath , Steinbeck doesn’t waste much time arriving at the central conflict of The Pearl, using realistic characters and settings to weave his story. Some might find the characters in this story to be mere stereotypes, but I would almost argue that they’re the archetypes that have aided good storytelling for centuries. The fact that people today could easily find themselves in similar situations merely speaks to the timeless nature of the story itself.

Somewhat of a deviation from the depression-era settings of some of his previous works, Steinbeck uses the natural beauty of the island setting to contrast the ugliness present in the hearts of its inhabitants. Granted, the antagonists of the story are the inherently-greedy colonialists who are trying to take advantage of the indigenous population, but even a treasure as highly valued as the eponymous pearl can turn an islander’s mind to thoughts of evil. The Pearl is undoubtedly a story about the evils of materialism and wealth, even if a significant amount of money could make a poor person’s problems disappear.

There is palpable tension in the plot of The Pearl, especially as the story progresses toward its heartbreaking ending. The fact that Steinbeck can do so much with so few words merely speaks to his genius that has stood the test of time. If you were forced to read any of Steinbeck’s works for school and were turned off by having to analyze his prose to death, I would suggest you give his writing another try with this story. Even if you don’t like The Pearl, at least you didn’t spend much time reading it.

A tight and expertly-written Steinbeck story, I give The Pearl 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Genres:
On Stranger Tides
Powers, Tim
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Since I knew the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie was based on this book, I decided to give it a read to see if it was any better than the so-so extension of the Pirates franchise. Let's just say that this book was a loose inspiration for the film. About the only elements that survived the transition were Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth. Of course, even the movie version vastly improved the Fountain. In fact, I think I prefer the Pirates movie of the same name, even if the two don't share much in common.

I will say that On Stranger Tides does excel in its action sequences. The fights and battles are choreographed and described in such a way that is entertaining to read and comprehensible to understand. Unfortunately, a book full of fight sequences does not a good story make. Events in this book just seemed to happen, almost at random, and with no foreshadowing of what was to come. This made it difficult to follow, especially as the story seemed to jump from character to character, so I had to remember what was happening in each of the plotlines all at once.

I got the sense that this book didn't know what it wanted to be, mostly because it had so many main characters that it never had enough time to devote to any of them. Some of these characters never had clear motivations,
or if they did have goals and ambitions, they weren't revealed until much later in the book. The magic system could have been a little better fleshed out, as there didn't seem to be any consistent rules or reasoning behind the effects the magic created. Overall, I was mostly disappointed with what this book could have been.

Some good action sequences drowning in too many subplots, I give On Stranger Tides 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Awards:
The Shadow Rising
Jordan, Robert
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

One would begin to think that, this being the fourth very long book in a series that is known for it's long books, that the books would start to drop off a bit. But no, they seem to just get better! The Shadow Rising is the fourth book in the Wheel of Time series, and it's bigger, longer, and more actionier than ever. The book has two main side-plots within it. The first revolves around Perrin going back to the Two Rivers to help his people fend off the Trollocs and Whitecloaks that are becoming more dangerous, and the second revolves around Rand going into the Waste to unite the Aiel, fulfilling another piece of the prophecy. There are also side-plots with Elayne, Nynaeve, and Egwene and the Black Sisters, and those are equally as good. There is more characters development here that there has been in a book yet, especially around Mat, Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene, and the book is very good for it. The battle sequences are just as good as before, and the magic is top-notch. The book is quite long, though, and it can get quite boring sometimes, so do be warned. All in all though, this is a very, very good addition to the Wheel of Time series. Recommend to: fans of fantasy, WoT lovers.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
The Dragon Reborn
Jordan, Robert
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Wheel of Time is an incredible series with incredible novels within them. The Dragon Reborn, the third book, continues this trend of epicness, and while it sin't as good as the Great Hunt, it is certainly an extremely good book and a great addition to the series. The plot revolves around Rand al'Thor, one of the main protagonists, going to the Stone of Tear to claim Callandor, or the Sword that Cannot be Touched in order to fulfill the next part of the Prophecy of the Dragon that will lead to him ultimately destroying the Dark One. The book has it all: plenty of action, magic, romance, and fantasy to keep you entertained throughout. One thing that I really liked about this book was the further development of Mat Cauthon as a character, and I really began to like him a lot more in this book, and he is a very likable and well rounded character. The third main character, Perrin Aybara, does begin to drop off a bit, but I still find him an enjoyable character. One main issue with this book is the fact that this book didn't really need it's own book; if this book and The Great Hunt were combined into one book, I think that it may have been better like that. Still, I can't really complain since this series is just so good! Recommended for: fantasy lovers, people who like really long, epic series.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
The Great Hunt
Jordan, Robert
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Eye of the World can be considered a masterpiece in it's own right, and was an incredible introduction into this sprawling universe of the Wheel of Time series. The second book, however, the Great Hunt, improves upon the first book in almost every aspect. Gone are the chapters that go nowhere and the filler sections. The action also really begins to ramp up in this second installment, something that was sorely lacking throughout the first book up until the very end. The plot in this book revolves around the search for the Great Hunt of the Horn, something that was mentioned very frequently in the first book (one side note that I would like to add is the amount of foreshadowing in this series--things from book one are mentioned all the way in book 14! It is just incredible). The Horn is aid to be able to bring dead heroes and soldiers back to life. The good guys want it for their own use, and the bad guys want it too. There are also some side-plots that don't pertain to the Hunt itself, but I can't complain about that since they are so engrossing in their own right. Again, I would recommend this series to fantasy lovers of people who like long, epic book series.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
The Eye of the World
Jordan, Robert
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

One of the most celebrated fantasy book series of all time, The Wheel of Time series has been critically acclaimed, and the first book, The Eye of the World, is no exception to the praise. The book itself is about the journey of a small group of villagers that must try to destroy Ba'alzamon, the Dark One, who threatens to rule time itself. Firstly, Jordan's world building is impeccable. His attention to detail is accurate, his characters are unique, the world he creates feels alive, and the magic system he creates is one of the best ever put to paper. While the book is very similar to the Lord of the Rings in it's overall themes, the book brings a multitude of creative ideas to the table and carves out it's own very special and individualistic space in the fantasy genre. I would highly recommend this book, and series, to anyone who is a fan of high fantasy, or for anyone who is simply looking for a great series to keep themselves occupied with.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
We Bought a Zoo
Mee, Benjamin
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

"We Bought A Zoo", an inspiring story about following your dreams, is an interesting novel. Published in 2008, this book is now a major motion picture. I started reading this book about two months ago, having finished it mid-April. I am in the eighth grade, and found this book a little advanced.
It talked about terminology that is most likely aimed towards an older audience, of that including zoology and business. However, I found this book very informative and inspiring in spite of it's difficulty. This book is a personal narrative from the perspective of Benjamin Mee and his road to zoo owner. The copy I read did include some profanity (cursing), so if that is not something that appeals to you, this book may not be for you. However, if you like an inspiring read and learning new things, this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: Siena G
The Elite
Cass, Kiera
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I love this series! Each book gets better and better as it goes on.
Although this one might not be my favorite out of all the series, it still is an amazing book. I loved every bit of it. If you read the first book you already know that there are some scenes that are more for teens and not kids, but only a few. Overall this book was so much fun to read and go through everything with the characters.

Reviewer's Name: Tierney B
Anthem
Rand, Ayn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I really enjoyed the book Anthem because of the dystopian future theme that was present throughout the book. The book Anthem follows the life of Equality 7-2521, who finds he is set apart from everyone else in his society.
This society that Equality lives in is structured around the opinion of the majority. Equality is intellectually advanced and strong, both are qualities that his society frowns upon since everyone is meant to be considered “equal” there. I strongly recommend that you read this book if you are a fan of similar books, such as The Giver and The Hunger Games, that focus on future societies.
Reviewer Grade= 9

Reviewer's Name: Hanna N.
The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway, Ernest
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I did not enjoy reading The Old Man and the Sea mostly due to the format it was written in. The Old Man and the Sea is a book that focuses on one of an old man’s most memorable fishing trips where he attempts to kill massive a fish larger than his very ship. One of the main reasons why I did not enjoy reading this book is because of the fact that all of the main characters have names that are revealed throughout the story, but they are never used by the narrator figure. For example, throughout the entire book, Santiago is only referred to as “the old man” by the narrator, even though his real name is known early on in the novel. I also found the book to have a dull plot, focusing on descriptive writing rather than events that occur within the story. Even though I did not particularly enjoy reading this book, there is a lot of symbolism and descriptive writing throughout the novel, which some people may enjoy.
Reviwer Grade= 9

Reviewer's Name: Hanna N
Book Review: The Smoke Thieves
Green, Sally
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tash hunts demons for their smoke, which is illegal and highly dangerous. As smoke can be sold on the black market for a pretty penny, Tash does not care.

Catherine is the daughter of a cruel, bloodthirsty king who is soon to leave to marry a prince she’s never met, even though she’s in love with Ambrose, her royal guard. His love for Catherine is dangerous, and he faces losing his head for his infatuation.

March is the servant to yet another prince in another kingdom. His people were destroyed in a war that happened during his childhood, and he wants nothing but revenge.

Edyon is the child of a trader. While his mother’s livelihood depends on her ability to sell her goods, he likes nothing so much as to steal.

Unbeknownst to these five teens, their paths and destinies will cross as they try to save their kingdoms from an evil tyrant.

This is a perfectly good YA fantasy novel, but it was nothing special. The worldbuilding and characters are not at all new; in fact, it really reads like a watered down Game of Thrones for the younger set. Like GoT, the teens start off in separate kingdoms, there’s a lot of politics, and each chapter follows a different person. It’s also fairly bloody – there was a lot more killing than one might expect in a YA novel, and I’ll admit, I kind of liked it. Most of the deaths weren’t impactful, because it’s hard to develop side characters in a book with five mostly separate main characters, but it was refreshing to read a book where characters actually die instead of all of them improbably surviving. The romance between Ambrose and Catherine was tortured and annoyed me and of course, a bit of a love triangle develops, but another romance develops later in the book that I found a lot more promising.

Overall, this is a solid YA fantasy. I may check out book two, because I suspect it’ll be better (this book was largely introduction and worldbuilding) but I’ll probably skip it. The Smoke Thieves was somewhere between 2 and 3 stars for me, but I’m going to round up to 3. It was pretty good.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The Smoke Thieves is available now and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Snow Falling on Cedars
Guterson, David
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This was an amazingly written book with a centralized focus on a piece of history that is rarely paid much attention to. Focusing on the false trial of Kabuo Hiyamoto for murder, a Japanese-American man living on San Piedro Island, the book discusses prejudices harbored against Japanese people after WW2 and internment camps and tackles the idea of what is socially acceptable vs. what is morally correct. Guterson's writing style flows well and reads like an easygoing narrative, leaving most of the inferences and questioning to be made about morals to the reader. It questions human nature and the role of justice in vengeance, and leaves us wondering ourselves about humanity, with mixed feelings of both disgust at some of the characters and hope for the future.

Reviewer's Name: Gia D.
Awards:
Genres:
I was Anastasia
Lawhon, Ariel
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This dual-timeline story novel twists and turns until you are racing to the finish line. It tells the story of the Romanov family from the point of view of Anastasia. You travel with her from the revolution in 1917 to the family's assassination in July 1918. At the same time, you meet an elderly Anna Anderson, who is still trying to prove that she is the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia. Anna's story is in reverse so as you are reading, she is moving back through her travels, various sponsors, lawsuits, and incarceration. The two stories meet at the end, solving the mystery as to what exactly happened to Grand Duchess Anastasia. The author is a beautiful writer and you will be transfixed by the story, no matter how well you know history! Another great title from Ariel Lawhon (if you haven't read her previous title, Flight of Dreams which is about the Hindenburg, I highly recommend it!).

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
The Clockwork Dynasty
Wilson, Daniel H.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

f there's anything Daniel H. Wilson is good at, it's writing about robots. In his latest book, The Clockwork Dynasty, he takes a steampunk approach by setting the book, not in the future, but in the present and distant past. Returning to the origins of robots via the automatons created for the entertainment of the wealthy and royal, Wilson has crafted another workable piece of fiction centered on robots. Unfortunately, as is the case with some of this other writing, I didn't like a few of his stylistic choices.

The Clockwork Dynasty jumps back and forth between flashbacks and "present era" actions, which can sometimes be distracting, especially if one of the storylines is particularly interesting at the time. I almost wonder if there could have been a better way to focus on the action in the present and to reveal the details of the past in more of a "show" instead of the "tell" provided via flashbacks. Additionally, I get why some of the violence was present in this book, but it (along with the few moments of obscenity or sex) seemed a little unnecessary.

One of my other qualms with this book was with the audiobook itself. Since the individuals reading each of the sections were different between the past and the present, it did help to know where I was in the story. However, the male voice of the past was a little quieter than the female voice of the present. This meant I turned up the volume each time the story was in a flashback, only to scramble to turn it down when the timeframe switched. Some volume leveling would have made this book a little less difficult to listen to, is all I'm saying.

A steampunk story by the modern master of robot stories, I give The Clockwork Dynasty 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
Awards:
The Carpet People
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Having now read one of Terry Pratchett's books, I thought it might be interesting to go back and read his very first work. Many authors don't manage to become famous with their very first book, and I think Terry Pratchett is no exception here. The Carpet People is an amusing book with his standard British charm, but I think it never goes far enough in its exploration of the idea. After all, I was expecting this book to be more along the lines of The Borrowers instead of just a straight-up fantasy with a few references to the fact that these creatures lived in the carpet.

Part of the problem I seemed to have with this book was the incessant need for fantasy books to create new names for objects and creatures that already (mostly) exist. If you took away the carpet setting, I think this book could be practically indistinguishable from any other fantasy book. This is what disappointed me the most. I believe there are plenty of potential moments to highlight the size disparity between creatures that live in the carpet, and the rest of the world we're familiar with (a la Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)).

Granted, I will give this book some grace considering that Terry Pratchett originally wrote it when he was a teenager. For this reason alone, I do have to say that it should be an inspiration for young writers, just to show that it can be done. Pratchett clearly improved his writing skills over time to become a bestselling author, but it's important to recognize and realize that he didn't start out that way. Ironically enough, though, I almost preferred the serialized version of this story that he originally wrote over the more "standard" version that aligns with his later styles.

An amusing book and impressive first novel for a teenage Terry Pratchett, I give The Carpet People 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
Genres:

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