Adult Book Reviews

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman
Lee, Harper
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book was okay. It follows the brilliant "To Kill a Mockingbird". Maybe the shoes were just too big to fill. It's telling that rumor has it Lee didn't want Watchman to be published. The main problem that I had with the book is there is a lot of tedious soliloquizing by Scout. Also, there's a part in the beginning of the book that is straight out of Mockingbird, which isn't surprising as Watchman was written before and became the basis for Mockingbird.

Meh.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Wright Brothers
McCullough, David
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Wilbur and Orville Wright changed history in 1903 when they successfully built the first heavier-than-air powered machine that could fly and carry a pilot. Many people are familiar with the Wright brothers, but few know the full story of their quest to build the first flying machine and prove to the world that they were not far-fetched fanatical dreamers. Writtenusing Wilbur and Orville Wright's letters, diaries, technical data books, documents, proposals, and private family papers, this book gives great insight into the curiosity, intellectual ability, diligence, and determination of the brothers. This book is well-written, readable, and exciting, yet still incredibly factual. I highly recommend this book for anyone fascinated with aviation, engineering, or the quintessential American spirit.

Reviewer's Name: John
Things Fall Apart
Achebe, Chinua
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Things Fall Apart is about a Nigerian man, Okonkwo, who watches as his village is destroyed by European missionaries. Once a feared and respected man in his village of Umuofia, Okonkwo is reduced to eventually taking the orders of white men. Okonkwo is a hard and emotionless man who believes that anything that is not masculine is weak and therefore unworthy. When missionaries come to Umuofia, Okonkwo urges his fellow villagers to resist the attempts to diminish their culture and replace their government, but he's met with little support. Eventually, Okonkwo is banned, and when he returns, his village has completely changed.

I liked Things Fall Apart because it's a great book that challenged the idea of African savagery and portrays African culture, specifically Nigerian culture, as complex and intricate, and not the 'uncivilized' society many people view Africans as today. Okonkwo is an interesting character because his unwillingness to adapt to the new change represents an internal struggle many pre-colonized Africans faced in the wake of colonization. The ending is symbolic because it represents the ultimate death of culture as a result of European exploration.

Overall, the novel provides a beautiful insight into another culture often ignored in mainstream media.

Reviewer's Name: Nneoma
No Longer at Ease
Achebe, Chinua
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

No Longer at Ease is the second installment in the African trilogy series. It is preceded by Things Fall Apart and follows the life of Obi, Okonkwo's grandson. Obi leaves his village in Nigeria to pursue an education in Britain where he meets Clara and falls in love with her. He returns to Nigeria and gets a job in civil service with the help of the board of elders. Obi is conflicted between his African culture and Western lifestyle, and heavy in debt, he takes a bribe.

Just like his grandfather, Obi is strong-minded and stubborn. He intends on marrying Clara although she is an osu, and begins taking bribes when he cannot pay his debts. He questions Nigerian traditions, and often compares Africa to Britain, ultimately positioning him in a place where he finds it nearly impossible to balance both cultures. However stubborn and sometimes reckless Obi is, he's a symbol of generational growth: unlike his grandfather and father, Obi ultimately understood that one culture was not better than the other, and change was imminent. Okonkwo, Nwoye, and Obi symbolize the different industrial stages of Nigeria and the social turmoil that followed, and they show the theme of western versus eastern culture clashes.

Reviewer's Name: Nneoma
Lord of the Flies
Golding, William
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I liked Lord of the Flies for its realism and its detail. The concept of boys stranded on an island was interesting to read, while the realism of the boys’ reactions kept it alive. The detail was fabulous, the interactions well thought out, and the diversity was well done. I loved this book, not just for reading for my writing class, but outside of school as well.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan
Genres:
Mexican Gothic
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“Mexican Gothic” follows Noemí Taboada’s mission to uncover the dark secrets of the High Place. Her journey begins when she receives a mysterious letter from her cousin with talk of poison and ghosts. Upon arriving, the Doyle household proves to be untrustworthy with the exception of the family’s youngest son. The Doyle family hid prying eyes behind the walls of the High Palace but Noemí’s sleuthing unlocks a wave of violence and madness.

I enjoyed this book and was hooked from the beginning. I recommend this book for people who enjoy reading about mysteries and paranormal activity. There is a hint of romance but the plot does not revolve around that.

Reviewer's Name: Valeria
Cover of the book Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus
Shelley, Mary
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus is a great gothic read. Like any other gothic novel, it is dark and mysterious, with elements of horror in it. While it had a rocky start for me, I soon got lost in the characters, with their wants and needs. The detail was amazing, while the wording was, em, very 17th century, but that makes the book no worse. All around, this is a riveting book that will capture your attention immediately.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan W.
This Is How You Lose the Time War
El-Mohtar, Amal
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This time-travelling story of love and genocide centers on two rival agents battling to secure the best possible future for their warring factions. It opens with a blood-covered Red, the last woman standing on a battlefield heaped with corpses. She finds a letter that starts with “Burn Before Reading” from Blue, her rival whom she has spent lifetimes trying to thwart. So it starts with a taunt followed by a challenge scratched in a lava flow and a message woven into the DNA of a tree cut down by marauding armies. These spies never meet but these compromising letters – certain death if discovered by their superiors – build upon a mutual understanding that evolves into love. Who better to understand someone weary and confused by merciless, contradictory orders than their rival? Or is this an attempt to turn the other into a double agent? Or lay a deadly trap? This novella deftly avoids the confusion that spoils average time-travel yarns by making each of the chapters into a vignette, told from either Red or Blue’s perspective, until a satisfying, meaningful conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Cover of the book Walt Disney: An American Original
Thomas, Bob
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

An American Original Walt Disney by Bob Thomas is a masterful biography which tells the story of the man who created Mickey Mouse, along with one of the largest entertainment franchises the world has ever seen. It describes how Walt started as a small-town cartoonist, went through bankruptcy, had his work stolen, and even borrowed money on his life insurance to make his ideas become reality. It was fascinating to see how things like Disneyland and Mickey Mouse originated. While some biographies are extremely dull, this one captivated me from the start. It is written in a way that makes it easy to experience what Walt and his company are going through, whether it is success or failure. Entertaining as well as factual, this book is one of my favorite biographies. I would give this book five stars and would recommend it to anyone who would like to read about one of the most interesting men in the world.

Reviewer's Name: Zach M.
A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens, Charles
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is one of the most popular books of all time, with over 200 million copies sold to date. The novel is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution and depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period. The main characters are Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who falls victim to the indiscriminate wrath of the revolution despite his virtuous nature, and Sydney Carton, a British barrister who endeavors to redeem his ill-spent life out of his unrequited love for Darnay's wife, Lucie Manette.

A Tale of Two Cities

One of Charles Dickens's most famous novels, A Tale of Two Cities is also one of his shorter (and better) ones. It begins with an unflattering portrait of an England overrun by highwaymen and courts which are almost as rapacious, and soon shows us a France where things are even worse. Nowhere does Dickens demonstrate his marvelous ability to capture moods and sentiments better than in his depiction of a seething, oppressed populace on the verge of boiling into violence.

And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy—cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want, were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence—nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last. Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker's shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.

After spending eighteen years in the Bastille, a French country physician is released and allowed to emigrate to England, where he is reunited with the daughter he has never met. Lucie Manette, typical of Dickens women, is a pure-hearted angel who is instantly devoted to him despite never having known him. Through various plot twists, Lucie marries Charles Darnay, who turns out to be the expatriate nephew of the Marquis who had Doctor Manette imprisoned, in a backstory eventually revealed to us with an even more improbable plot twist.

Once the Revolution begins, Charles Darnay is lured back to Paris to save the life of one of his former servants. Naturally, he is promptly imprisoned and put on trial. His family, including Lucie and their daughter, as well as pretty much the entire cast of the novel thus far, follows him, and are all put in peril of meeting Lady Guillotine. It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.

Dickens's stories are full of improbable plot twists. Characters who met once will always meet again. The coincidences in A Tale of Two Cities almost defy the reader's suspension of disbelief -- but it's Dickens, and Dickens can be forgiven a lot. He shows the pitiless brutality of the French aristocracy and the suffering of the people until your sympathies are entirely with them, and when the tumbrils begin rolling through the streets you can't but think that the aristos had it coming and then some. But then the Terror is unleashed -- and personified in the form of Madame Defarge -- and the oppressed turn just as brutal and pitiless. This is the only way Dickens could have brought our sympathies back to the main characters, who after all, have lived pretty safe and privileged existences even if they weren't the evil "Monseigneur" who ran children beneath the wheels of his carriage. And let's face it, Charles Darnay really picks up the Idiot Ball when he goes back to Paris.

I doubt there are many people who don't know how the novel ends, but while it's a story of redemption and self-sacrifice, I was not nearly as touched by Sydney Carton's heroism as I was by the Madame Defarge vs. Miss Pross
smackdown, which I think is one of Dickens's best climaxes ever, and which none of the film adaptations (below) did justice:

"You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer," said Miss Pross, in her breathing. "Nevertheless, you shall not get the better of me. I am an Englishwoman."

Madame Defarge looked at her scornfully, but still with something of Miss Pross's own perception that they two were at bay. She saw a tight, hard, wiry woman before her, as Mr. Lorry had seen in the same figure a woman with a strong hand, in the years gone by. She knew full well that Miss Pross was the family's devoted friend; Miss Pross knew full well that Madame Defarge was the family's malevolent enemy.

"On my way yonder," said Madame Defarge, with a slight movement of her hand towards the fatal spot, "where they reserve my chair and my knitting for me, I am come to make my compliments to her in passing. I wish to see her."

"I know that your intentions are evil," said Miss Pross, "and you may depend upon it, I'll hold my own against them."

Each spoke in her own language; neither understood the other's words; both were very watchful, and intent to deduce from look and manner, what the unintelligible words meant.

Reviewer's Name: Tamanna
Ender's Game
Card, Orson Scott
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ender’s Game is a science-fiction book set in the future of Earth. Humans have battled with the Formics or “Buggers” three times before. Mazer Rackham was the only reason why the Humans won the first two wars, and he can no longer fight. In anticipation of the third war, and in search of the next Mazer Rackham, Humankind has been training their youth to battle by the use of realistic war games, which are sometimes in zero gravity. When Andrew “Ender” Wiggin joins the other boys in the Battle Room, he clearly exceeds them in battle tactics, and leads his team to victory. Ender eventually finds himself being trained by Mazer Rackham himself as the battle draws nearer. This book displayed excellent character development, along with a sensational plot. Ender’s Game was action packed from start to finish. This book is an easy five stars, despite the author’s use of profanity. I would recommend this book to anyone who wanted to read a quality Sci-Fi Novel.

Reviewer's Name: Zach M.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The amount of description in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is
amazing. Like, Sherlock Holmes good. The characters are well mapped out, the
interactions felt thought through, and the relationships are believable. I
personally didn’t get all the detail the first read through, just from
enjoying the characters too much. The history is realistic, considering the
time period and how poorly the blacks were treated. All things considered,
this is an engaging read with some actual history.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan
Star
Mishima, Yukio
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Rikio is a star and he likes the glamor, money and notoriety that comes with that lifestyle. His ears ring with the cheers, screams and exhortations of fans, mostly young women, who would kill for a moment with him. But it also means constant scrutiny, which has the 23-year-old celebrity struggling with his own anxieties and obsessions. What if those fans stop desiring him someday? The self-loathing star would rather be in character on a movie set than be himself.
Written shortly after starring in his first film, the late Yukio Mishima delivers a blunt, rich portrayal of a flawed young man lost between his public persona and private life. The novella, first published in 1961 and translated into English for the first time in 2019, is even more relevant now in today's 24/7 media landscape. Awards: Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
The Murderbot Diaries #1: All Systems Red
Wells, Martha
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

We all struggle to figure out who we are. It’s no different for a robot that’s managed to secretly override its governor unit and develop self-aware independence. The artificial construct, made up of regenerative organic and artificial parts, privately calls itself Murderbot out an emerging sense of guilt it tries to squash by watching hours of mindless TV. But even that distraction cannot keep a socially awkward, self-conscious entity from developing feelings about the humans it serves. That internal conflict is so realistic it is easy for the reader to forget it is an artificial construct narrating. Murderbot’s deadpan humor keeps the 2017 novella from bogging down and raises it well above a familiar action/corporate malfeasance plot. The novella is the first of a five-part series, all available through PPLD, with a full-length novel, Network Effect (May 2020) continuing Murderbot’s journey of self discovery and soap operas. A sixth series entry is scheduled for April 2021.

Honors: 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2018 ALA/YALSA Alex Award, 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, 2017 Philip K. Dick Award finalist.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Cry, the Beloved Country
Paton, Alan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Cry, the beloved country

Reviewer's Name: Mantombi
Awards:
Call Me By Your Name
Aciman, Andre
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Elio is an American-Italian Jewish seventeen-year-old living in 1980s Italy. Every summer, his father hosts an overseas guest to help with his books. And every summer, Elio pays little attention to the guests; until he meets Oliver, a charismatic, charming Jewish-American. During those few, precious weeks, Elio experiences a romance that lifts him above the clouds and anchors him in the sea all at once.

Above all, I loved the setting of the novel. I felt like I was in 1980s Italy with each reference to Italian culture and language. Elio, being an intellectual, describes the love between him and Oliver so profoundly it seems to become the perfect love story. Elio is funny, shy, smart, and romantic, and Oliver is his perfect foil. The book is a relatively short read (when compared to other novels), but there's so much detail in every sentence that it felt like I'd gone through an entire journey that had, ironically, ended too quickly.

The ending wasn't the happiest, but I still liked it. I like the questions left: What happens with Oliver and Elio? What happened to Elio's father? I'm ecstatic to read the sequel and have these questions answered.

Reviewer's Name: Nneoma
Awards:
Genres:
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:

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