Adult Book Reviews

Weapons of Math Destruction
O'Neil, Cathy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show
as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just
as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National
Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what
pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book,
Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s
conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work
silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control
or change them.

I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a
number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust
without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are
messy, so I understand how finding a single aggregating number to represent
an individual is a simple solution. However, I agree with the author’s
outrage that these numbers are putting the disenfranchised into a toxic and
harmful feedback loop. It’s difficult enough to survive out there without
an arbitrary number determining your fate and you having little to no ability
to change it. Of course, this point is pounded home about one or two times
too many in this book.

From personal experience, I have received a brief glimpse behind the curtain
into how these algorithms work. When I got married, I moved from one zip code
to another in the same town. At that point, my car insurance premiums
suddenly went up. Why? Because I was in a zip code filled with people who
were “bad drivers.” Despite nothing about me or my car changing, now I
was suddenly a bad driver. I do think there are some substantial reforms
needed in these algorithmic systems. Still, I don’t necessarily think the
solutions provided by the author are the right answer (they seem mostly based
on the author’s personal opinions and biases).

A repetitive look into the dangers of blindly trusting algorithms, I give
Weapons of Math Destruction 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Genres:
Tongues of Serpents
Novik, Naomi
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Up until now, I had only read one other book by Naomi Novik. I had loved
Spinning Silver and the unique take on a classic fairy tale it presented.
While I understand Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire
series, I found it to be inferior to Spinning Silver in many ways. I will
also grant that I’m not necessarily the target audience for this genre of
historical fantasy when it takes a more nautical tilt (like Far Side of the
World does). Still, there was enough of a standalone element to Tongues of
Serpents that I was able to pull a story out of it and write a review of it.

Some things I had trouble getting used to in this book were the fact that the
dragons all spoke in the same English as the human characters. I had a tough
time identifying which characters were dragons and which were humans, and I
didn’t know why they sounded so similar (I’m sure a previous book
explains this). Additionally, I eventually gained a slight sense of the
overarching goal of the series (I think it’s to get to China), but I
didn’t feel like the characters’ motives were very clear in this book.

I almost gave up reading this book until the end of part one when something
interesting happened, but even that sub-plot felt like it never went anywhere
and was only an excuse to use a lot more words to describe very few actions.
In the end, there was a lot of fluff in this book, and I’ll chalk it up to
the way authors write these historical nautical books. Perhaps if it were
slanted more toward fantasy or more tied to history (like in the Alvin Maker
series), I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, I just kind of skimmed
through it and donated it to the next person who might like to read about
dragons in Australia.

A historical fantasy that was too light in both history and fantasy, I give
Tongues of Serpents 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
First King of Shannara
Brooks, Terry
2 stars = Meh
Review:

While this prequel to the original Shannara trilogy was written well after
completing the first three books, First King of Shannara failed to re-capture
the magic that made me adore Wishsong of Shannara . If anything, this book
seemed unnecessary. It told a story that already had a fixed ending as
described in the exposition of The Sword of Shannara (which itself had a
pretty un-climactic ending if I remember correctly). Sure, there’s a lot
more world-building in this book, but only avid fans of the series will find
any of it interesting.

Perhaps my main gripe with this book is how I failed to care for any of the
characters. Most of their interactions felt cliché and trite, and there was
a smidge too many of them for me to want to take the time to know who they
were. If anything, the characters were flat stereotypes with no personality.
This was also not helped by the plot, which most of the time sounded like a
condensed and bulletized list of events instead of an actual story. Sure, the
writing may have been more polished since The Sword of Shannara , but this
book merely highlighted elements of the series I never really liked to begin
with.

I think some of the navel-gazing that occurs in these high fantasy series is
what turns me off from exploring the huge tomes filled with so many words but
signifying little. Some of the action (including the war at the end) was
exciting, and some of the descriptions of certain events (like the forging of
the sword) was creative and flowery, but these few bright points do little to
distract from the fact that a lot of the book was bloated word count for
inflated word count’s sake.

An unnecessary prequel, I give First King of Shannara 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
Book Review: The Silent Patient book jacket
Michaelides, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Alicia Barenson is a famous painter who shoots her husband in the face five time then stops speaking. A psychotherapist works with her to get her to speak again and becomes obsessed with her.

Maybe mystery/thrillers aren't my cup of tea? It started out very good, pulling in the reader with a fascinating story about Alicia. However, the way it played out in the end was convoluted and disappointing. I wasn't like "Oh wow! What an ending!" Instead, I was like "Huh? What the...?" If you can get over the ending, the book is a good read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Take it as a Compliment book cover
Stoian, Maria
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A graphic novel featuring true reports of sexual harassment and assault in its many forms. A really powerful, quick read. My only problem with it is I wish it was longer. I read it in about 30 minutes. I did like the format of graphic novel. It made it seem more lighthearted than it actually is, which further illustrates the darkness of the subject matter.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
The Bell Jar
Plath, Sylvia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Sylvia Plath creates vivid,realistic and gripping narrative in The Bell Jar in order to depict the harsh treatment of both women and the mentally ill.
The story follows Esther Greenwood, who is a young and successful woman, slowly descending into madness. It chronicles her interactions with men, other young women, and her mother, and how those things had contributed to her becoming mentally ill.
This book is easily one of my favorites. Throughout the entire story, the readers are in Esther’s mind. We see first hand how she becomes insane.
Sylvia Plath has such an intense and realistic writing style that Esther’s actions almost seem rational. It makes us question our own sanity. This book definitely had the best portrayal of mental illness I have seen so far. It also deals with other intense themes such as the treatment of women in society. Despite these themes being severe and somewhat terrifying, the book remains eloquent and lyrical. The Bell Jar is provocative and heart wrenching at the same time, and I believe it is one of the best books ever written.

Reviewer's Name: Sophie L
Genres:
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. Harper Lee writes a beautiful and provocative narrative in To Kill a Mockingbird in order to create a conversation about relevant themes that affect our world. The story follows Scout and her brother Jem as their father, Atticus, defends an African American man named Tom Robinson in court for raping a young white woman.
Meanwhile, the children meet a new boy named Dill, and are curious about their neighbor, “Boo” Radley. The book deals with intense themes such as racial injustice, class, and growing up.
When I first read this book in 9th grade, I didn’t care too much for it. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t think it was something that I could read again.
But I was wrong. While re-reading this book, I discovered why it is a classic. The book deals with serious issues while still remaining eloquent and poetic. I adored Scout’s character and her development seen through her interactions with Boo Radley. I thoroughly enjoyed Harper’s writing style and her ability to create distinct and well rounded personalities for each of her characters. I believe that this book should be read both in schools and outside of them because of its powerful and controversial narrative.

Reviewer's Name: Sophie L
1984
Orwell, George
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

George Orwell depicts a horrific and terrifying alternate reality of 1984.
After years of war and conflict, the world is governed by three totalitarian regimes. The one that our main character, Winston Smith, resides under is ruled by the “party” and its leader “Big Brother”. The narrative follows Winston as he meets a mysterious woman named Julia, and the two begin to secretly rebel.
When I first started reading this book, I was a little bit disappointed. I had such high expectations (I think that was the problem) ,and it just didn’t live up to them. In the beginning, I thought Winston’s character was somewhat flat, and I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for what he was living through. I thought Julia was unrealistic and a bit obnoxious. But in the second half of the book, my opinions had changed. The book becomes quite disturbing, and it makes you question what is actually real and what is just a fabrication of the party. It’s terrifying to say the least. Despite the fact that I enjoyed parts of this book, I have to rate it 3 stars because I wasn’t engaged in the first half of the narrative.

Reviewer's Name: Sophie L
Awards:
Tuesdays with Morrie book cover
Albom, Mitch
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Tuesdays with Morrie is the most moving and sentimental novel I have ever read. The first person narrative told by the author Mitch Albom, walks through Albom’s life changing journey with his old college professor, Morrie. Albom spends a series of Tuesdays learning from Morrie, who had been diagnosed with ALS and has a very limited time to live. In this true story Morrie Schwartz speaks valuable truth and offers insight into what is important in life and why he wasn’t scared to die. My favorite quote from the novel is “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Tuesdays with Morrie teaches all its readers how important everyday truly is, and how to not take life for granted.

Reviewer Grade:12

Reviewer's Name: Madison S
Awards:
Plague book cover
Grant, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The thrilling Gone series continues with this fourth book, and Grant does not disappoint. This series has been one of my favorites and Plague is no exception. As a highly contagious, fatal illness spreads at an alarming rate and predatory insects terrorize Perdido Beach, morale continues to drop.
However, Sam, Astrid, and even Caine are determined to find a way to survive.
Everyone must make difficult decisions when it comes to saving themselves and those they love. Grant has written another phenomenal dystopian horror with suspense around every corner. I highly recommend this book to all high school aged readers.

Reviewer's Name: John B
The Secret Life of Bees
Kidd, Sue Monk
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Phenomenal. That is one of the best words I can use to describe this book. The secret life of bees is an amazing story about a girl who leaves her abusive home with her housekeeper (1950s-60s era) and finds herself living with three sisters who make honey. A story bursting with vivid description and creative storytelling, the secret life of bees draws you in and keeps you there until you are suddenly done with the book. Truly an amazing story that shows that the family you're born with isn't always the family you end up with.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K
Genres:
The Problem with Socialism book cover
DiLorenzo, Thomas
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this seemingly uninteresting yet brightly covered book lies an abundance of information. In just 192 pages, DiLorenzo is able to highlight what looks to be every possible problem with socialism. He does not just point out what he thinks to be problems, however. He then goes on to back up every argument made in this book with true, real life evidence or facts with credible sources, such as in the 1970s when Chile adopted socialism and destroyed it's own economy. To keep the sinking ship that was the economy going, Chile printed massive amounts of money and kept it's destroyed economy going (barely). At times this book can get a bit technical, but that can be expected of most nonfiction novels. Overall, this book was an very informational read and an eye opener on the problems with socialism and the people who support it.

Reviewer's Name: Kyle Y
Genres:
Murder Among the Pines
Reynolds, John
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This mystery novel tells the story of a police chief who is responsible for investigating the death of a young woman. She slowly tries to piece together the pieces of the puzzle in order to clear the name of her innocent ex-husband. This story is told in a very fluid manner. At no point does anything move too fast to understand, but nothing is unexpected either making the story a tad less interesting than some other mystery books.
Overall, it is still a really good book if you're looking for a non-horror mystery novel.

Reviewer's Name: Kyle Y
Genres:
The Bridges of Madison County
Waller, Robert James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Bridges of Madison county is a tear jerking love story. It tells of a middle aged photographer who is sent to photograph some of the bridges of Madison County, Iowa. On his lonely journey, he meets an old house wife whose children and husband had gone on a trip. The story tells of a love with a burning passion that happened too late. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a beautiful romance story detailing a beautiful relationship that could never be. Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Kyle Y
Awards:
The Caller
Krzyzkowski, Dan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This thriller is one of the best page turners ever made. It had me on the edge of my seat in fear and excitement. A phone operator who works for a call-a-friend program made for lonely children finds herself in charge of protecting a young boy's life after he called, reporting hearing men in his house. Though I have read few, this is one of the BEST thriller book I have ever read. The intensity of some situations will have you glued to the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a interesting thriller that won't be longer than a 3 day read.

Reviewer's Name: Kyle Y
Becoming
Obama, Michelle
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fantastic memoir about the life and times of Michelle Obama, from her early upbringing in South Side Chicago to her time as First Lady. I loved the descriptive quality of her experiences and was amused by the meeting and falling in love with Barack. The anecdotes of life in the White House were particularly interesting. I would recommend listening to this book instead of reading it, if possible, as she is the narrator.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Daisy Jones & The Six
Reid, Taylor Jenkins
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A Fun book about 70s rock and roll. It made me wish I could hear the songs they wrote. The author did a good job of describing the music and the volatile relationship between the two main characters. I would love for this to be a movie if it isn't already. Oh, I see it's being turned into a TV series. Cool.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
Gates, Melinda
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Wow. This book was so much better than I expected. I normally don't like this type of nonfiction, but it was powerful and the premise that societies are improved when women are lifted up was a sound one. I hadn't thought about the importance family planning plays regarding the health of women, families, and societies. So interesting. Gates tells the story of a village in Africa where the women walked 10 miles one way to get water, and then had to raise a large family on top of it. One of the women asked her husband to get the water instead and he did. Then he got a bicycle to get there faster, and then the men in the village invested in a well in their village. Talk about change when women are helped up instead of trampled down. Thumbs up!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Nine Perfect Strangers
Moriarty, Liane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

** spoiler alert ** Well that's what I get for not reading the summary before reading this book. I really expected it to be more like 'Big Little Lies' but instead it took a turn for the disturbing. Nine people sign up for a ten day program at a health resort. Looking to improve their lives, their experiences take a turn for the worse as it's revealed that the director of the resort is a madwoman. A very good page-turner. I think I missed the very end, as my eBook expired, which is a bummer.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Scent of Death
Taylor, Andrew
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The scene is New York, 1778-1780, during the American War of Independence. The story is billed as a mystery. Richard Savill arrives from London to hear the claims of Loyalists who have lost property to the rebels. British Manhattan is a conglomeration of soldiers, refugees, and maybe double agents. As the death toll mounts, Mr. Savill can no longer be content in his roll as an observer. He even ventures out into the Debatable Ground with a pass from Gov. Franklin (Benjamin's son), which may or may not protect him. It is a mystery, but I was fascinated by the historical detail. Well worth your time!

Reviewer's Name: Vickie S.
Awards:

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