Staff Book Reviews

Stepsister
Donnelly, Jennifer
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I love well-done fairy-tale retellings and there has been a brash of good ones coming out lately. This one is wildly imaginative mash up of the fairy tale Cinderella. I loved this lush atmospheric feminine take on this classic story.

Beginning at the end of the tale we all know; Ella has just gone off with her prince to become the queen of France and start her beautiful life. And Isabelle and her sister Tavi are left behind with their harsh, overbearing mother. Having done the unthinkable and mutilated themselves for a chance at fortune and a good marriage, both Isabelle and her sister are all but shunned from the town they live in. Shortly after, a mysterious fire brings down their home and they are all left destitute. As a last resort the sisters turn to a difficult neighbor whom they barter with to allow them to stay in exchange for working on their farm. They lead a harsh life and though Isabelle wants to better herself, she soon loses all confidence in herself.

Called ugly by everyone around them Isabelle starts to believe it, until she meets a curious character who gives her the chance to change her story. Unbeknownst to her, two other forces, are also fighting for her fate, one for it the other against. Who will win? Only Isabelle can determine that.

This cleverly retold fairy tale brings a fresh take to a very old myth. It is a story of one girl’s journey of self-discovery but also a strong statement on one’s ability to determine their own course instead of following the path that society has laid out for them. Once she discovers she can control her own path, Isabelle’s intense desire to change and find redemption, coupled with her strong will, and feisty attitude develops her character in such a meaningful and real way. We all fight against stereotypes “she’s too fat” “he’s got a disability” “she’s ugly” etc.” If you’re not beautiful and perfect and an idealized version of what the world deems attractive or good, or beautiful, in other words if your different, the world will push back and fight against you. This beautiful tale reminds us that when the world pushes against you, you have the strength and the ability and the write to push back and fight against it.

Set against a backdrop of a classic story. With strong heroines, the added change of Fate and Chance as characters which I think is a awesome detail, beautiful worldbuilding and lush prose! This is feminism at its finest! Thank you to the publisher Scholastic Press and Edelweiss for my ARC for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Best Family Ever
Kingsbury, Karen and Russell, Tyler
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Well-known author, Karen Kingsbury, has partnered with her son, Tyler Russell to write the first book in a children’s series about the Baxter children. While millions of adult readers have read the stories of the Baxter family, this chapter book tells the stories of the children’s growing up years. There is Brooke - the perfect oldest child, Kari – an amazing soccer player, Ashley – an aspiring artist who is free and uninhibited, Erin, and Luke. This is the story of their strong Christian faith and their family loyalty.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
My Journey to the Stars
Kelly, Scott
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This Biography Reader tells us the story of Scott Kelly, one of the two brothers that have flown in space for NASA. He tells stories of growing up and how problems and experiences in his youth prepared him for his travels into space. He tells us about his year at the International Space Station including how he lived and the work he did. Be prepared to be inspired to reach for your own dreams!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Hive Book Cover
Lyga, Barry
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the near future, an app called BLINQ tracks all social media usage and amalgamates posts from a number of platforms. On BLINQ, you can vote to condemn a person for their social media output – if a person’s condemns to likes ratio gets out of balance, they’ll find themself condemned in real life. For example, a person who ignominiously dumps their partner on Facebook might find themself getting physically dumped in the trash. The punishment is designed to fit the crime. Called the Hive, its something our lead Cassie loved to participate in – until all of a sudden, it wasn’t. After a racy tweet, Cassie finds herself the target of the Hive, but her punishment is more severe than all that have come before it: death.

This was a fast paced, enjoyable dystopia which was a good change of pace from my normal fare of fantasy. I think teens are going to love it. Aside from a few horrendous decisions, our lead Cassie is likable, smart (ostensibly, anyway) and her experiences navigating a new high school will resonate with teens. As Cassie spends most of the book running for her life, it will definitely appeal to thriller fans or those that need their books to be very plot based. I read the book in a day or two even though I had a good idea of how it was going to play out. Little attention is given to the supporting characters, though the book did also present a few chapters from Cassie’s mom’s perspective, which I loved. The authors did a great job portraying a somewhat fraught mother-daughter relationship. There’s though-provoking, if heavy handed, social commentary to be found as well, and I think this book will stick with some readers long after they've turned the last page.

Ultimately, though, the book had what I’m going to call the “Scythe” problem: the premise just wasn’t believable. The Hive was certainly believable – its basically a physical manifestation of the shame that we’re willing to dole out to strangers online (if you’d like a great non-fiction read on the topic, try So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson ). Did I for one second think that the first person to get the death penalty would be a teenage girl who tweeted something offensive? I did not. I had trouble getting over that.

TLDR: If you liked The Maze Runner, Divergent or yes, Scythe, you should definitely check out this thrilling dystopia.
Lots of teens will love this one, but it didn’t do it for me – 2 stars. It was ok.

Thanks to Netgalley and Kids Can Press for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Hive will be released on 03 September but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Cozy Life
Edberg, Pia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It's so easy to get caught up in daily life and, in my case, neuroses. The Danish concept of hygge offers a way to enjoy the simple things by making an change to coziness. It's a conscious change and can be applied to all walks of life. Now I find myself asking if something is hygge throughout the day. I plan to use some of the suggestions, such as keeping a clean, cozy house, thinking more positive, and restarting my gratitude journal. Good book.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: A Woman Is No Man
Rum, Etaf
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Wow. This book blew my mind! So gripping and powerful, a glimpse into a culture I would otherwise never be privy to. Isra and Deya were both so brave. One doomed and the other prevailing. I learned a lot from them and from this book.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Sleepover at the Museum
LeFrak, Karen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Mason and his 2 best friends are celebrating his birthday with a sleepover at the museum of natural history. They begin with a scavenger hunt through the museum. While they figure out the clues, they are also figuring out the best place to sleep for the night. You can help solve the clues and learn facts about various exhibits while you explore with them. Would you choose the same place to sleep as they do?

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Sorting
Pluckrose, Henry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Learn about sorting as you read this book. You’ll learn simple ways to sort of pile of things and how to further sort a group. You’ll get some sorting practice and see some sorted groups. You’ll learn about different sets and what they might include. This book is a fun introduction to sorting a variety of things.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Cookiesaurus Rex
Dominy, Amy Fellner and Evans, Nate
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Cookiesaurus Rex comes out of the oven with a huge attitude! He starts out happy with his green frosting until he realizes that other cookies are getting sprinkles and more. Is he happy with his new look? See the different ways he’s decorated and find out what happens to him in the end. This is a fun book with colorful illustrations that help tell the story.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Awards:
Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Scarry, Richard
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The pig family is going on a picnic. Join them on this interactive journey and learn about all sorts of vehicles – some real and some made up. In addition, you can find that tricky Goldbug on each page. You’ll learn a bit about transportation, hunt for Goldbug, learn new vocabulary, and see some funny things. You’ll see new things each time you read this book. It’s destined to become a family favorite!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Cover
Lutz, Lisa
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Alexandra Witt doesn’t take a position as an English teacher at the not-that-illustrious- boarding school Stonebridge with the aim to turn the institution on its head, but that’s exactly what she does. After witnessing some distressing interactions between the boys and the girls at school, Witt encourages the women to stand up for themselves. The boys, of course, aren’t having that, and before they all know it,an all-out gender war is taking place at Stonebridge and all involved are hurtling toward an unhappy ending.

This was so much fun! First, the gender politics were spot on. This is definitely a book for the “Me Too” era. I went to a public school, but I can totally see a scaled down version of this sort of thing happening there, or, unfortunately, anywhere. Lutz handles some very sensitive topics pretty deftly, and creates engaging and authentic characters. Foreshadowing early in the book makes it pretty clear that things will end badly, and I found myself racing through the book to find out what happened. The end was pretty weak: the story, while not exactly grounded, felt believable until suddenly it felt like an episode of Riverdale or Gossip Girl or…pick any teen show on the CW, I guess.

TLDR: If you are looking for a suspenseful read with some feminist flavorings, you won’t go wrong here. Older teens will find a lot to like here as well. 4 stars – I really enjoyed it.

Thanks to Ballantine Books and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Swallows will be released on 13 August, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Hart, Rob
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Imagine a world where Amazon controls pretty much everything (its really not hard to do, right?). They are the only large employer, and they have managed to put just about every other retail company out of business. Most folks who need employment have to head to their nearest Cloud center (Amazon = Cloud), apply, and hope against hope they are accepted. This is the fate of our two main protagonists, Zinnia and Paxton. Paxton wants more than anything to keep his head down until he can get patent money for his invention, a business that was going well until Cloud forced him out of business. Zinnia’s reasons for working at Cloud are a bit more inspired (it would depend on your perspective) as she’s been hired to try to take Cloud down from the inside. As Paxton and Zinnia are thrown together, both will come to realize that the Cloud was more insidious than they thought and they’ll have to sacrifice more than they’re comfortable with the bring it down.

I read this book right after watching John Oliver’s sendup of this sort of corporate culture and dang, Rob Hart did his research. His version of Amazon matches quite closely with what Oliver presents as the actual version of Amazon. I mean, it’s not great. Its really fascinating to read this near-future take on what Amazon and their ilk could mean for our country and economy as, like I said, this is a future that is really easy to imagine.

The book takes turn between Zinnia, Paxton and Gibson Wells’ (think Jeff Bezos) narratives. The characters are believable and likable enough (save Wells, but that’s obviously intentional) that I was not overly fond of one perspective over the other and never found myself racing through one perspective to get to a different one. Nonetheless, the book ends up being a quick read. It was sort of John Grisham meets Brave New World, and I was not mad about it. It’d make a fantastic movie, and clearly someone agrees with me as the author thanks Ron Howard and Bryan Glazer in his afterword.

If you are looking for a quick summer read that’ll make you think (but not too hard), this dystopian thriller will suit your needs. 4 stars – I really liked it!

Thanks to Crown and Netgalley for the free eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Warehouse will be release on 20 August, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Right This Very Minute
Detlefsen, Lisl H.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Do you know where your food comes from? Each meal (or snack) you eat comes to you compliments of a farmer. This simple book details the stories of the varied food that children are eating. You’ll learn about the breakfast of pancakes, orange juice, and maple syrup and the trail mix snack. You’ll also learn about the lunch, dinner, and dessert and where they come from. This book doesn’t stop there. It encourages you to think like a farmer and begin to grow your own food.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Fantastic Fingerprint Art: Pets and Farm Animals
Bailey, Susannah and Daubney, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Using some paint, pens, and your fingers, you can make amazing fingerprint art! This title in the series concentrates on animals – both pets and farm animals. You can experiment with making lizards, fish, and birds or create a variety of bunnies and chinchillas. There are many animals to choose from. Which ones will be your favorites?

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
Weather Words and What They Mean
Gibbons, Gail
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Gail Gibbons has another winning book with her updated Weather Words and What They Mean. She uses simple language to explain weather terminology and meteorology. You can learn about temperature, air pressure, moisture, and wind. Our weather is always changing. Learn about what causes the changes and how they might affect us. Also, learn some interesting weather facts. Remember to heed storm warnings and be careful in serious weather.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Give Bees a Chance
Barton, Bethany
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Many of us don’t appreciate the amazing things that bees do for our world – we’re much too afraid of being stung! This book is for bee-phobics. In an interactive way, Give Bees a Chance tells about different kinds of bees, types of honeybees, bee anatomy, and honey. You’ll also learn why bees sting and the impact that bees have on our food chain. Please, please, please Give Bees a Chance!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
Spin the Dawn Cover
Lim, Elizabeth
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I picked up this book as it was being sold as “Project Runway meets Mulan” which sounded really intriguing, especially to this reader who loves both Project Runway and Mulan. And that description really does fit the first third of the book or so – our main character, Maia, poses as a boy to take her father’s place in a royal tailor competition. However, the potential of this part of the book is really under realized. There was a lot of room for plots within plots and court intrigue, but the whole thing is pretty quickly abandoned so that Maia could go on a quest for three objects with a cute boy who is very much off limits. If you are thinking to yourself, “isn’t that the plotline of like, half of all YA fantasies” then you, dear reader, are correct. With that said, though, I think many teens, especially those new to the genre, will really enjoy it. For me, an interesting and unique premise quickly gave way to a fairly pat YA fantasy. 1 star – I didn’t like it.


Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Children's Knopf Books for Young Readers for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Spin the Dawn is available now.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Wedding Date
Stoneley, Zara
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Ugh. But I finished it. The writing was terrible and the plot was contrived. Such an annoying book. But, like I said, I finished it. The problem could be that this was more of a romance novel then chick lit. I don't like romances but I do like check lit. Either way, two thumbs down.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Song for the Unraveling of the World
Evenson, Brian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

At the beginning of this year, one of my reading goals was to try a new genre. The short story genre is the genre I never new I needed until I read this book. The strength of short stories, in my opinion is the ability of the author to do a lot within a small amount of space; creating strong character development, great world building and meaningful messages within each story.

Within a few pages Everson manages to create character driven stories that are terrifying, full of paranoia and delusion and at the same time haunting and beautiful. From a girl without a face, to a therapist who never leaves his patience alone, to a film director willing to do anything to get the perfect final scene, these stories evoke a sense of fear and explores exactly what we will do to fulfill our most inhuman impulses. These stories provide a great introduction to a genre I now love. I can’t wait to see what else Everson does, he is definitely one to watch. Thank you to Eidelweiss and Coffee House press for the Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Wedding Party Cover
Guillory, Jasmine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Maddie and Theo have known and disliked each other for a long time - as long as they've had the same best friend, the newly engaged Alexa Munroe. When they end up hooking up after Alexa's engagement party, it was unexpected for both of them to say the least. They both end up in the wedding party, and they know they will be thrown together more often. When they find themselves unable to resist a second hook-up, they put some rules into place, the chief one being that they'd only hook up until the wedding and then they'd go their separate ways forever.

If you read that synopsis and thought that you knew exactly where this book is headed, then you are correct! This is a very straightforward romance. What you see is what you get. I was expecting a little more. I thought it would be a comedy or maybe there would be some political commentary since our leads are both people of color but neither of those things were present. That said, I actually found the straight-up nature of this read to be surprisingly refreshing. I knew exactly what I was going to get and I got it. I didn’t learn anything new, and some aspects of the story were frustrating (for example, they don’t hate each other so much as tolerate each other with mild annoyance) , but all was resolved by the end. It was a good palate cleanser, and next time I don’t know what I’m in the mood for, I may pick up a Guillory book.

To be completely honest, I don’t read a ton of romance (which is how I would classify this book, perhaps mistakenly). If you like contemporary romance, I see no reason that you wouldn’t like this one – its a sexy read with believable characters and scenarios. 3 stars. Despite myself, I ended up kind of liking it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley publishing for the advance copy which I got in exchange for an unbiased review. The Wedding Party will be available on 16 July, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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