Staff Book Reviews

Brain Lab for Kids
Chudler, Eric H.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Are you interested in neuroscience? Try these 52 experiments and activities
to explore neuroscience. You might explore your reflexes, vision, hearing, or
sleep and body rhythms. You might learn about memory. Have some fun and learn
about yourself as you read this book.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Most Magnificent Thing
Spires, Ashley
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

A girl comes up with a magnificent thing and hires a canine assistant to help
create it. No problem! They gather supplies and get to work. Things do NOT go
as plans. They try and try again, but are unable to make the magnificent
thing. Then the girl gets mad and then she hurts herself! Things are not
going well and she want to quit! Her assistant suggest a walk and then off
they go. As they reach the end, the girl realizes how to make her magnificent
thing and she gets to work. With persistence and creativity, they truly are
able to make the most magnificent thing.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
That Is Not a Good Idea!
Willems, Mo
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A very plump goose is met by a hungry fox who invites her to dinner. Will
dinner go as planned? This humorous book by Mo Willems reminds us to listen
to our inner gosling and expect the unexpected. The book involves simple text
and a minimum of words allowing readers to explore the pictures to understand
the story.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Awards:
Math Curse
Scieszka, Jon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Some days you might feel that you are under a math curse where everything has
become a math problem. This is the story of a girl whose life is just like
that. Everything – even things that shouldn’t be math – now involve
math! Work along with her to solve the problems and therefore, solve the math
curse. Read and see if she succeeds.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Cover
Menon, Sandhya
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Sweetie Nair is fat. She doesn’t care, but her mom cares. Like, a lot. A lot a lot. Definitely too much. So much that so when Ashish, a hot local boy from a good (and crazy rich!) Indian family tries to date Sweetie, Sweetie’s mom shuts it down. But Sweetie won’t give up without a fight, and so she, Ashish and Ashish’s parents hatch a plan in which the kids will go on four dates. If it works out, they’ll tell Sweetie’s parents. If not, no harm done. Plus, what can happen in four dates? Turns out, a lot.

If you’ve read any of Menon’s other books, this one is completely on brand. I’ve read her other two books, and this one might be my favorite? It’s up there with Dimple, for sure. It’s a funny romantic comedy with endearing, mostly believable characters from a culture that’s different from mine. In addition to reading an adorable book, I get to learn a little bit about Indian Americans. This one has an added element of pointing out our society’s horrible ways of treating fat people. The way a folks react to Sweetie will have you seeing red – but you know it’s unfortunately totally realistic. Luckily, Sweetie is a self-confident young lady, and it was a joy to see her grow throughout the book. Ashish isn’t too bad himself! He has a very believable journey through the course of the book, and was a male lead you could root for even as he made a few terrible decisions.

TLDR: If you’re looking for a light, funny and very swoony read, this one will do it for you. I know it put a smile on my face.

Sandhya Menon is coming to PPLD to be the keynote speaker for Mountain of Authors! Meet her, listen to her give a talk and get a book signed on 27 April at 21c. More information about the event can be found here: https://research.ppld.org/mountainofauthors

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. There’s Something About Sweetie will be available for purchase on 14 May – don’t forget to put your copy on hold!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Something in the Water
Steadman, Catherine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Great book! I really enjoyed the entire story line. It had me guessing until the big reveal. At times I wanted to yell at Erin "Girl! just walk away from it all and stop being so nosy!" I think Catherine Steadman created well developed characters. I wanted to know more about each of them. Maybe she will borrow from Tana French and some of the characters will get their own books. (Seriously, I am dying to know what the next favor is!). If you like page turners combined with mystery, this one is for you!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Devouring Gray Cover
Herman, Christine Lynn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

After the tragic, premature death of Violet’s older sister Rosie, Violet and her mother move back to her mother’s home town in the sleepy little town of Four Paths, NY. But Four Paths has more going on than originally meets the eye: it’s secretly the prison of a nefarious beast. Captured by the founders of the Four Paths, the beast lives in a shadow world on top of the regular world, called the Gray. As more and more people get pulled into the Gray and are violently, Violet and her new friends are called to use their newfound magical powers to stop the beast at any cost.

The book is being marketed as “Stranger Things” meets “The Raven Boys”, and I would say that is a pretty spot on comparison. The Gray is not unlike The Upside Down or Cabeswater. The difference, really, is that this book is lacking in a few areas where Stranger Things and The Raven Boys succeed: detailed characterization, nuanced worldbuilding, and extremely good writing. The characters in this one were one dimensional; Violet and Harper, two of our four main characters, were fairly interchangeable to me. The book fluctuates between following the children of the four main founders, and as a result, we only get to know a few of them really well. They are still interesting – they all have to deal with quite a bit of pressure from their parents and the town, but I wish they had each been developed more.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding at first, but then a few details were introduced that clearly just served as plot devices. For example, if the children of the founders date each other, they will lose any magical abilities they may have inherited – there’s no need for this aside from generating romantic tension that could have been generated in a number of other ways. There were a few other plot points (like the rituals) that were never explained in a satisfying way. That said, I raced through the book. As I got closer to the end and realized there would be a sequel, I got a little less interested (this did not need to be a duology).


TLDR: While it’s not quite as good, folks who enjoyed Stranger Things or The Raven Boys will find a lot to like here too. Despite its many problems, it was a creative, compelling read, and I did end up enjoying it! 3 stars. I liked it. I’d read another book by this author.


Thanks to Titan Books and Netgalley for the advance electronic copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Devouring Gray will be available for purchase on 02 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Wicked Saints Cover
Duncan, Emily
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Nadya might be her country's last hope. She is one of the last clerics - folks who can talk to the gods . And while most clerics only can talk to one god, Nadya can speak with all of them. While honing her skills and powers at a monastery, the monastery is unexpectedly attacked by a neighboring country, and Nadya must go on the run. Not long after fleeing the palace, she meets up with a rag-tag group of rebels, who only want to stop the war. Nadya joins them as their plot starts with murdering the neighboring country's king.

Clearly, Emily Duncan has read and enjoyed some Leigh Bardugo. As a fellow Leigh Bardugo fan, I was not mad about how much this series was obviously inspired by the Grishaverse. Its got the same Russian inspired atmosphere, and its more than a little evil. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I didn't even mind the love interest, even though it was instalove, predictable and often angsty. I raced through this to get to the conclusion, and really loved how bloody it was. The bits where Nadya was talking to the gods and struggling with her religion were fun to read and thought-provoking at times. That said, this book is pretty clearly a debut. The writing gets a bit purple at time, twists are telegraphed early, and you read all that stuff I just said about the romance, right? Nonetheless, the book is fast paced, and while I skimmed parts, I ultimately enjoyed it.

If you are looking for a fun, if occasionally cliche YA fantasy, you'll devour this one. Otherwise, give this one to teens who can't get enough of Leigh Bardugo. They'll immediately want the sequel. 3.5 stars - I liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Wednesday books for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Wicked Saints will be available for purchase on 02 April, or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Cover
He, Joan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Hesina’s father, the King of Yan, was found dead. Murdered. And Hesina, now the queen, wants answers. After talking with a sooth, a person with magic who can see the future, Hesina knows how to get answers. She needs a trial, and a prisoner from the dungeon must be released to act as her legal representative. But in Yan society, sooths are executed when discovered, and so even talking to one has put Hesina’s own life in jeopardy. But she doesn’t care, because the truth is out there. And no matter what it takes, she’ll find it.

That description might not make a ton of sense because there are so many things happening in this book that it’s hard to focus on just one of the plotlines. There were three main plotlines: solving the murder, getting justice for the sooths and a brewing rebellion with a nearby kingdom. The last seemed completely unnecessary to me until it wasn’t, but there were several subplots happening as well, and I would occasionally get pulled out of the story by trying to remember who was involved in what. It was a little much. With that said, though, this is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read so far this year.

This book felt really unique to me. It stands out from a very crowded YA fantasy field in that it really hones in on political/court intrigue. Is the oppressed-magical-peoples plotline a bit hackneyed? Sure, but what the author does with it is really cool. Hesina doesn’t automatically do what she thinks is right (save the magical peoples), she actually considers what is best for her kingdom, and what her people need and want. This is a very thoughtful book – our main character spends a lot of time considering her options and hatching plots. Because of this, she’s a really likable character. The book spends a decent amount of time at various trials, and legal settings in fantasy, at least for me, are a bit of a rarity that I really enjoyed. It’s also very twisty. While I figured out who the villain was, I was way off on the murderer. And action lovers, don’t despair – there are fights aplenty here for you and there’s even a touch of romance as well.

TLDR: While perhaps a bit overstuffed, The Descendant of the Crane is an exceptional YA fantasy that is not to be missed. Readers who like their books with a healthy dose of mystery and court/political intrigue will really enjoy this one. For fans of Game of Thrones and Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince. 4 stars – I really liked it.

Thanks to the Albert Whitman Company and Netgalley for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Descendant of the Crane will be available for purchase on 09 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Racing to the Finish: My Story Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Ryan McGee
Earnhardt Jr., Dale
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Many know the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. but you don’t need be a fan of his or even a race fan to enjoy (or listening to, as I did) this book. It’s an eye opening perspective of cause, effect, and recovery from concussions of a driver who suffered many in his career. Athletes of all ages and every contact sport and our military are suffering concussions every day and are struggling with the symptoms. Mr. Earnhardt frankly discusses his stubbornness over admitting he had an issue and the inner struggle between his career, family, fans and team. He brings up the advances in concussion recovery over a time and the advances in the therapies to aid in the recovery.

Reviewer's Name: Robin H.
Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi
Menon, Sandhya
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Sweet book, but the main character was annoying. Calling coding a passion like art is not something I can get behind. I code for a living and it definitely is not a passion. But that's my perspective. Maybe it is for others though, I don't know. The love story was sweet and the glimpses into Indian culture were very interesting.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Secrets and Scones: A Secret Recipe Book
Remington, Laurel
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Scarlett’s mom is writing a blog and Scarlett seems to be the star – or perhaps victim. All of her embarrassing moments are being shared with the readers and it’s uncomfortable to go to school knowing that her classmates know all of her secrets. Scarlett’s answer is to become boring, but boring is – well – boring. When Scarlett discovers a spectacular kitchen in the house next door, she gives in to temptation and tries it out. In the process, she makes a new friend and discovers the secret ingredient in family and friendships. A fun read that encourages reaching out to others, making friends, and cooking.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Night Sky: A Frozen Discovery Book
Ditcher, Paul
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Learn about the night sky with your friends Anna, Elsa, and Olaf from Disney’s Frozen. Each topic is explored and connected to part of the Frozen story. You can learn about Northern Lights, Seasons, Stars, the planets, Eclipses, and more. If you are a fan of Frozen, this book is a great resource to learn more the science of our night sky.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Easy Origami Woodland Animals
Montroll, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

John Montroll teaches us how to make a forest full of woodland animals witheasy origami. The step-by-step instructions will help you create animals such as squirrels, skunks, bear, and ducks. Have fun creating!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
What Is Water?
Nelson, Robin
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Are you curious about water and its properties? This book can help. You’ll learn about the different states that water can occupy – solid, liquid, and gas. You’ll learn water facts and about rainbows. A great starter book!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Girl, Wash Your Face
Hollis, Rachel
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book wasn't bad. I finished it. I even got two takeaways: Don't compare yourself to others, and don't worry about weight so much as being in shape (paraphrased). However, I did not agree with her assessment of people using prescribed drugs for anxiety, depression, and sleep as being unnecessary. She said it twice in the book. Also, she holds herself up as the standard to which we should all aspire, not on purpose, it was just a side effect of the book. It was okay for a rah rah book, but I wouldn't recommend it to my friends.

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

Daisy Jones & the Six is a telling of the eponymous band's tumultuous story, by the band and in interview format. Its kind of: Almost Famous -The Fleetwood Mac Story. There's drugs, sex (some consensual), drugs, rock & roll and drugs! There are a lot of drugs. But mostly, there's an intensely readable character study about a bunch of talented young people who couldn't get out of their own way.

At the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I read one of Reid's other books, the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and I adored it. When I was approved for Reid's newest on Netgalley, I was pretty excited and rightly so: this book did not let me down. It truly is a book about complex characters told against the gritty, adrenaline filled background of rock & roll in the 70s. I sometimes felt I was almost at the concert, waiting the wings, electrified. The atmosphere was to die for. But again, the characters are the whole thing. Daisy and Billy, our two main characters, were both interesting to read for their own reasons, but my favorite by far was Karen. I did a fair amount of highlighting in this book, and most of those lines belonged to Karen (the rest, Daisy). This book is just dying to be made into a movie (a google search reveals, that, even better - its been optioned as a tv mini-series on Prime! Dream casting: Jenny Lewis should play Daisy Jones. Digression over.) as the characters practically spring off the page. Really, the only downside for me was that it didn't feel new. I've read versions of this story before. But this is a great version of that story, and if you like a good tortured romance, or have felt moved by music, I think this book will make you feel something. I did. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Ballentine Books for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Daisy Jones & the Six is available on 05 March, but you can put your copy on hold today.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Reviews: The Handmaid's Tale
Atwood, Margaret
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is old school dystopian literature. Atwood nails it. It's likely the best dystopian novel I have ever read.

Offred is a handmaid, a woman set aside for breeding purposes. Her only desire is to survive, but her memories push their way up into her mind. She had a husband and a child and they are gone. What broke my heart were the memories of her beloved child. It's so softly touched upon that it shows itself as a raw wound that she can barely handle.

Well told and powerful, I give this book 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Kingdom of Copper
Chakraborty, S. A.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kingdom of Copper is the sequel to City of Brass, and there are spoilers for that book ahead.

Kingdom of Copper picks up about five years after the events of City of Brass. Nahri is married to Muntadhir and is navigating court politics and learning to use her skills as magical healer. Ali, after getting exiled from Daevabad following the events of City of Brass, has managed to survive several assassination attempts and has made a life for himself in a small village. Forced to return to Daevabad, Ali quickly returns to his post as resident trouble maker/possible emir (which in this case means heir to the throne), and Nahri finds her world rocked once again.

The complex, Middle Eastern inspired world and world-building that were the best part of City of Brass are still present in this book, while they are less of a focal point. Overall, I much preferred Kingdom of Copper to City of Brass. My short review of City of Brass read as something like: "great worldbuilding, annoying characters, promising ending." But because we had that time jump of five years, our characters have separated, matured (at least a bit), and the love triangle that brought down the first book died a satisfying death. The worst part of the first book to me was the romantic angst, and little of that exists in this sequel to the betterment of the book.

TLDR: If you liked the first book, you’ll love this one. If you were on the fence about City of Brass as I was, know that the sequel is much improved.

Kingdom of Copper would appeal young, new and other adults and fantasy readers who like rich world building and a unique setting. 3.5 stars.

Thanks to HarperVoyager for the advance edition, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Kingdom of Copper is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Four Dead Queens
Scholte, Astrid
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book was not for me, but I think a lot of young adults will really love it. The following is essentially a laundry list of my issues. First, the worldbuilding was pretty weak. The fours quadrants are fairly reminiscent of those in Divergent, but they rarely interact and the farming sector basically works on Amish rules while the technological sector has holographs and advanced biosuits and all sorts of stuff. It does not make a ton of sense. And neither does the “queenly law” or really anything to do with the rules the palace or kingdom operates under – it all seemed pretty transparently created to serve the story that was written. Moving along. The characters really left something to be desired. Most were one-dimensional. The main character, Keralie, couldn’t make a good decision if her life depended on it and falls squarely into the snarky and ostensibly clever thief trope. We do get to hear from the queens a bit, but as I knew they’d end up dead and we only spent a little time with each of them, I didn’t find that it added to the story. And, of course, there is instalove between Keralie and our extremely boring male lead, Varin.

Some components of the book are pretty enjoyable. I think the premise is really cool (if executed poorly). The first queen’s murder took me a bit by surprise, and was deliciously gruesome. There were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. I quite liked the last 50 pages or so – the author, a debut, clearly has some really great ideas. Unfortunately, they didn’t come together in this book, though I’d try another book by this author pending favorable reviews.

TLDR: Readers who loved The Red Queen and Divergent will probably enjoy this one as well. I couldn’t get past the weak characters and worldbuilding, but I think a lot of readers will likely devour this one nonetheless. For me, it was just ok. 2 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and G. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Four Dead Queens will be released on 26 February.

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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