Staff Book Reviews

Fire & Heist
Durst, Sarah Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Sky’s mother has disappeared. Assuming that their mother is dead, Sky, her three brothers, and their father feel unmoored. Especially because their mother disappeared in the midst of a heist she was committing – heists are fairly normal for wyverns as they are always trying to increase their horde, but this heist was a direct attack on Sky’s boyfriend’s family. As Sky learns more about the failed heist, she realizes that her squeaky-clean-now- ex-boyfriend’s family might be hiding something. And Sky’s going to find out what it is, and save her mother…or suffer her mother’s fate.

I wanted to read this book as I’ve read Durst’s adult fantasy series the Queens of Renthia, and I really enjoyed it! When I was approved for Fire & Heist on Netgalley, I was pretty excited. And I liked the book – it’s a solid YA standalone fantasy. The worldbuilding and plot are cool, though the characters are a little one dimensional. My biggest complaint was that the book straddled two worlds and tones, and I think it would’ve been a bit better had it leaned into one a little more. The book was part quirky middle grade fiction, part dark YA fantasy. Had it gone full bore in either direction, it would’ve been a higher quality book. As it is, it’s a fun heist fantasy with some dragon flavorings which makes for a fast, amusing read.

This one would be a great read for younger teens and mature tweens who aren’t quite yet ready for Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Hartman’s Seraphina. I liked it! 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an unbiased review. Fire & Heist is available to put on hold now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Serpent King
Zentner, Jeff
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dillard Early is the son of a snake handling preacher that is in prison for child pornography. He and his two best friends, Travis and Lydia, struggle to survive in small town Tennessee, where they clearly don't belong.

This is not your typical young adult book. The story defies the genre by containing minimal (although some) naval gazing and overt attempts at being angsty and hip. The story is real and the subject matter interesting. Who doesn't want to hear about snake handlers in the deep south? The twist in the middle was surprising, but I was a bit disappointed by how it occurred. Overall, darn good for young adult fiction. I listened to it on audio and it was fantastically well done.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: The Awakening
Chopin, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is about Mrs. Pontieller, a woman in turn of the 20th century New Orleans. She falls in love and finds herself awakened to a natural state, one that doesn't conform to her life as a wife, mother, and socialite. I liked when Mademoiselle Reitz encouraged her to be a strong bird that defies the laws of gravity and soars above the ground below, not to be weak and come crashing to earth. At the end, Mrs. Pontieller sees a wounded bird fall from the sky and cements her fate likewise.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird
Pearce, A.J.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book was pretty good. It was an easy and fun read. Very formulaic chick lit. The only real problem I had with it is it seemed the author was trying too hard to make the dialog match with the time period. The slang was heavy handed and made me feel as if it had been made by Mad Libs. I would recommend this book if you are looking for something easy and fun to read that takes place in WWII.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Graveyard Book
Gaiman, Neil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) grows up in an ancient cemetery, raised by the spirits who reside there. As he becomes older, along with his school lessons and the special abilities given to him with the “freedom of the graveyard”, Bod must discover the secrets behind the death of his birth family, and the "Jacks of All Trades” (a dangerous secret society). Along the way Bod learns from various night creatures in addition to his extended family of ghosts, including ghouls, a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire. He must use all the knowledge that he acquires to fulfill his pivotal role in defeating the Jacks.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening lines say it all. I do enjoy Dickens, but this is by far, my favorite novel of his. This book follows the effects and far-reaching ramifications of the arrogant cruelty of the French aristocracy before their Revolution. A man is saved from an unfair imprisonment, but must regain himself through his devoted daughter and friends. They build a new life in England, where we get to know an array of complex characters – each with their own foibles and narratives. Meanwhile the fervor of the people of France veers towards the inevitable overthrow of the tyrannical aristocracy, and as often happens, the oppressed become the new oppressors. Destiny drives our main characters into the French turmoil where they find chaos, danger, and ultimately redemption.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every year one girl from the lowest caste in each of the 8 provinces is selected to be a Paper Girl - a concubine to the king. Usually, the girls choose to put themselves forth for the selection. But this year, there will be nine girls. Lei, the ninth, was ripped from her home by a General trying to curry favor with the King. And unlike the other paper girls, this was in no way a choice for her. As she learns more about her fellow Paper Girls and life in the palace, she becomes further disgusted with the caste systems and the concept of Paper Girls. And she'll do everything in her limited power to defy the king - even if it costs her her life.

Girls of Paper and Fire was awesome. I've been burned by heavily hyped diverse YA fantasy lately (Children of Blood and Bone, Mirage), but luckily for me, this one did not disappoint. The premise sounded fairly...gross for lack of a better word - a girl stripped from her home against her will to become a concubine to the king. You know there's going to be some unconsensual sex happening. And there was, but it was handled really well by the author. She takes a very sensitive issue and does not sensationalize it. In fact, its presented in such a way that women who have had similar experiences might find some solace in the book, which, if you read the Afterword, was clearly the author's intention.

Unlike some YA fantasy, this was a slowly paced book that was mostly about developing our main character. Lei really grew as a woman and a person throughout the course of the book. She stands up for her beliefs, herself, her body, even though it almost gets her killed. There's also romance, and its a slowly developed, realistic story of love in the worst of times. The worldbuilding was stunning - the setting was Malaysia inspired, and the formation of the three different castes and their traditions was well thought out and presented in such as way as to be simultaneously creepy and gorgeous. My two complaints are fairly minor: there were a few very predictable plot elements, and the writing occasionally leaned into too flowery territory. Otherwise, though, I loved it.

If you are looking for a feminist fantasy read with excellent worldbuilding and character development, you won't go wrong with Girls of Paper and Fire. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Family Plot
Priest, Cherie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book provides a unique twist on the classic haunted house story. A salvage crew combs through an ancient house to save its architectural treasures before the house is demolished. The crew’s presence disturbs more than dust though, as a vicious spirit starts to attack the crew, who had made the unfortunate decision to sleep in the house to save on their budget. If they abandon the job, it could mean the end of the family business, but staying gets increasingly unbearable. I think I read this book entirely over the course of a few nights – I didn’t want to put it down! Hollywood has been notorious for sequels and prequels of established “brands”. I highly suggest that they snap up the movie rights for The Family Plot, and give their audience something rich and original.

Reviewer's Name: Chris
Genres:
There's a Dragon in Your Book
Fletcher, Tom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you’re a fan of interactive books, you should check this one out. It
starts with an egg which hatches into a dragon. That baby dragon sneezes and
sets the book on fire. Use your imagination (and follow the instructions) to
help save the day!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin
Mosca, Julia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Do you ever feel different from the people around you? Are you struggling
with figuring out how you fit in? If so, read the story of Temple Grandin.
Although struggling with autism, her unique way of thinking allowed her to
become an amazing scientist who invented farm improvements used around the
world. This biography, set it rhyme, encourages all to STAND TALL.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
I Spy on the Farm
Gibbs, Edward
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is a great introduction to the game of I Spy. Follow the clues to
guess which farm animal is visible through the eyehole. The animal’s sound
is given as a clue. You can then take the book to the next level by playing
the game wherever you are.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Meeow and the Big Box
Braun, Sebastien
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Meeow likes making things. See what he can do with a box and his imagination. Be inspired to make things of you own.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters
Connolly, Sean
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

History tells us of many engineering disasters from the Colossus of Rhodes to the “Unsinkable” Titanic and more. While some of these engineering disasters are merely embarrassing, others had deadly consequences. Learn about what happened in these events and then try out the hands-on experiments demonstrating why the event happened. Learn not just the “what”, but also “why” and have some fun doing it.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Bird Box
Malerman, Josh
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Imagine, you are a mom who has had to raise her two kids in a world where going outside was a major undertaking. No! This world is not filled with the usual “monstrous suspects” you come to expect in horror novels, vampires, werewolves etc.. this evil is unseen and unknown. It can’t be known, for you see, the moment any person glimpses it, this “evil” drives them to unspeakable violence and shortly after, their own death. The world didn’t used to be like this, it used to be normal but since “the evil” infested our world, things have never been the same. This evil leaves no survivors, and no one can stop it because no one can see it. It simply is unbeatable.

Malorie and her two children live in this world where evil can ravage anyone if you were just to step outside. To protect her and her children she raises them and teaches herself, to live life almost completely blind with a blindfold on most of the time. They do the best they can, holed up in their home trying to survive. One day through their meager means of communication Mallorie hears of this place 20 miles downriver where her and her family might be safe. But only if they can get there. Malorie and her kids, soon after, set out on a harrowing and terrifying journey downriver, all while wearing blindfolds, that will test them in ways they couldn’t have imagine.

Mallerman creates a horrifying and terrifying experience for readers that will leave them continually guessing. The strength of this story is also what makes it the best kind of horror. It’s unknowable and theirs a mystery around every corner. It could be something that could turn out to be a monster or something that could help the hero’s on their journey. The tense and creepy atmosphere Mallerman creates from the character’s surroundings also adds to the overall terrifying and mysterious aura of the story. Add to this that the evil so talked about throughout the book, is never actually revealed. Mallerman does a brilliant job of revealing some things but not everything leaving the readers imagination to make up the rest. And that is the strength of this book really, it turns the readers mind against them. Highly original and so creepy this book is a solid five stars. Pick up this intense terrifying psychological horror story today. And check out the movie coming to Netflix this December. I promise you, you won’t regret it!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Twain, Mark
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Tom Sawyer is not the most likable of characters, but he is clever. This book seems to be an honest depiction of a young boy growing up in the 1840s. I like that Tom, Huck, and the rest of his friends go on adventures big and small. Our children can't do that today, which is a shame. This is a fun book to listen to on audio.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Brilliant Death
Capetta, Amy Rose
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Teodora DiSangro is the daughter of one of the heads of the five families. And, while most people wouldn’t expect this of a woman, she’s the heavy. That’s because she’s got a secret: she a streghe, a witch. She can turn people into inanimate objects. So, when her father is poisoned by the Capo, she heads to the capital. Not just to represent her family as the new head of the family: her ultimate goal is revenge. NO ONE crosses the DiSangros. No one.

I really enjoyed this one! YA fantasy is one of my preferred genres, but after a while, much of it can seem pat or a bit too similar, so it feels so refreshing when something new comes along. This was something new, at least to me. A mob story that features gender queer protagonists who also happen to be a witches? I loved everything about that, and the book delivered on the plot and character development as well. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters are likable with understandable and clear motivations, and there are a few twists and turns that will keep most readers guessing. I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned, but the book was tied up nicely with enough loose threads to justify a sequel should the author choose to write one. I know I’d read it.

TLDR: Looking for a mob based fantasy with a strong, engaging gender queer protag? Not to worry – The Brilliant Death has you covered. For fans of The Godfather and/or The Brooklyn Brujas, or really for anyone who likes inventive and inclusive YA fantasy. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking Books for Young Readers for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Brilliant Death will be available for purchase on 30 October 2018, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Clockmaker's Daughter
Morton, Kate
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This story centers around an impassioned artist and his dreams, a mysterious murder, an enchanting English manor and all that went on their throughout its many years, a ghost that stands outside of time witness to it all, a vanished girl, an archivist and her discovery of a priceless artifacts, and how what went on there all those years ago effects who she is today.

In the past, the 1860’s to be exact, this story begins with a talented artist Edward Radcliffe and a group of artists that spend a summer at the house of his dreams Birchwood Manor. But shortly after arriving a mysterious murder is committed, a priceless artifact disappears and one of the women vanishes. A hundred years later in the present an archivist, named Elodie, finds a satchel which contains an unrelated photograph and a sketchbook that contains a drawing of Birchwood Manor. As she digs deeper into the mystery she is pulled into a story that has her questioning her past and who she truly is. This beautiful atmospheric mystery spans the length of time, and is told by the many voices and people all living within and around the Manor’s walls.

Before I go any further, first, let me say this. Kate Morton is the master of atmospheric beautiful Gothic mysteries and I am a big fan of hers and have loved every one of her past books. Her intricate and deeply rooted stories her beautiful prose, and her enchanting settings are the reasons why she is simply one of the best in her genre. That being said, this work, was a bit of a disappointment. While all the elements of what I love about Kate Morton’s books were there; an intricate story steeped in history, an old vast English manor with a secret or two to hide within its walls, old families with long pedigrees, a family mystery, an enchanting setting, this book fell short for me mainly because of its intricacy and complexity. I also believe the ending was a bit weak. I really wanted to love it, I just couldn’t.

Morton, I believe, really attempted to tell a challenging story, but simply had to many voices trying to tell it. While I like a good dual timeline novel, this one, with at least four voices and timelines was simply too much. There were times that, because of how she bounced around among the numerous timelines, when I got completely lost in which timeline I was following. This combined with how many characters and voices there were throughout the novel, made the story overall a whole lot less enjoyable. I’ll admit, this story took me a good while to get through and I do recommend, if reading this, keeping a list of who everyone is and which timeline goes where. It’s definitely a book you have to think through. That being said the story itself was beautiful and it makes me wonder, if it wouldn’t be better as an audio book where each of the voices are sounded out. Overall a 2.5-3 star read for me. However, if you are a Kate Morton fan and if you love atmospheric Gothic mysteries, I couldn’t count this one out, I would still give this one a go, just maybe as an audio book. Place your copy on hold today!

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria books, and Simon and Schuster for a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Cover Image
Kagawa, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every 10,000 years, an ancient dragon rises to give one mortal a wish (in exchange for their soul) and the world changes. Two characters, a kitsune-hybrid and a ninja, find themselves trying to keep the path to the dragon out of the hands of several interested and nefarious parties. Shadow of the Fox follows our heroes as they travel to and from different monasteries dodging monsters in their quest to protect ancient scrolls.

Shadow of the Fox was a ton of fun! It gave me Percy Jackson vibes, but was definitely for a slightly older audience and the mythology in this book was Japanese, which I found to be very cool. I liked both of the characters – the kitsune must hide her fox nature from her ninja travelling companion as he is a monster killer, and kitsune are a type of…if not monster, then non-human trickster. The ninja is trying to resist becoming possessed by the evil demon that occupies his sword. Their relationship is thus a bit fraught, but adds a really interesting dynamic. Their other travelling companion (a disgraced Samurai who spends most of the book amusingly drunk) provided some levity. Some of the mythology was completely new to me, which made for a engaging reading experience. I liked it enough that I read one of Kagawa’s other books, The Iron King, as well. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll likely like this – I found the formats to be similar, though I personally found the Japanese mythology more interesting than the fairies.

TLDR: This is a really entertaining and action packed fantasy for fans of Percy Jackson and Kagawa’s other books. I loved it, and am excited to get my own copy! 5 stars.

Thanks to Harlequin Teen and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Shadow of the Fox is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
I Am a Cat
Bernstein, Galia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger say that Simon isn’t a cat. After all, cats have certain characteristics. Can he convince them that he’s really a cat? Read along to find out.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Have You Seen Elephant?
Barrow, David
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

You can play hide-and-seek with elephant, but beware, he’s very good. This beautifully illustratrated, interactive book has children looking for elephant in a variety of places. Will you be able to find him?

Reviewer's Name: Carol

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