Staff Book Reviews

All the Impossible Things
Lackey, Lindsay
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a 2020 All Pikes Peak Reads teen selection. This is a very good book. It's fast paced for the subject matter and the characters are engaging. I think the 'impossible' message in this book is inspiring, but may have been dealt out with a heavy hand. But that's okay. I liked the magical realism as well. Overall, I would recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
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:
Red Hood
Arnold, Elana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Acclaimed Young Adult author Elana K. Arnold knows there is realism to be found in dark fairy tales and the award-winning author delivers once again, following up her Printz Award-winning Damsel with Red Hood (Feb. 2020), a retelling of the classic fairy tale geared toward older teens. The story centers on Bisou, a girl in a red hooded sweatshirt, who discovers she has inherited the instincts and supernatural strength -- triggered by menstruation during the full moon -- to stop the boys who turn into werewolves at that time from hurting the young women they prey upon. It's a violent and bloody tale enhanced by layered depictions of strong females, positive male allies and a realistic portrayal of teen life. Arnold effectively blends magical realism, dark fantasy elements and modern prose together into a disturbing but ultimately empowering story that celebrates sisterhood that spans generations while shining a light into the dark shadows of rape culture. The story quickly builds to an ending that does not disappoint.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
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.
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.
Vinegar Girl
Tyler, Anne
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This lightweight comedy of manners by Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Tyler is based on William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. The 2016 novel is part of a Hogarth Press series of classic plays retold by modern, popular authors to honor the 400th anniversary (April 1616) of his death.
Set in modern-day Baltimore, Kate Battista is the 29-year-old daughter of eccentric scientist Louis Battista. The witty and sharp-tongued Kate is a socially inept college dropout after being expelled for criticizing a professor's efforts. She then drifted into a part-time preschool assistant job while caring for her detached, workaholic father and younger sister, Bunny.
Dr. Barrista's brilliant lab assistant, Pyotr, must leave the country due to an expiring visa, prompting the self-involved scientist to concoct a sexist plan where his daughter marries Pyotr to allow him to stay and work for him. Kate is appalled. But she warms to the idea after meeting Pyotr, who enjoys and shares her outspokenness, and realizes this arranged marriage may help her create a satisfying future.
Tyler's considerable skill at bringing characters and settings to life with humor and precision are a big help in this tale about finding a partner who appreciates and shares your idiosyncrasies and principles. It's a quick read and a fun one for Tyler fans.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Book Cover
Zoboi, Ibi & Salaam, Yusef
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Yusef Salaam is one of the "Central Park Five", young men of color who were incorrectly accused of raping and beating a woman jogging in Central Park in the late 80s. After the five had served their sentences of 5-15 years, they were exonerated when the real culprit came forward. This book is clearly heavily inspired by Yusef's story as it tells the story of Amal, a teen in prison for a similar crime that he did not commit. It starts with the conviction and then moves into Amal's experiences in a juvenile detention center.

Every year, there's a book that I promote really heavily in classrooms. This will definitely be that book. It's so good. So sad. So spare in that way that only books in verse can be. It takes a while to read, because sometimes you just kind of have to sit with it for a while to process it. It does such a great job of illustrating just how deeply flawed and racist our "justice" systems are. I dare you not to empathize with Amal. I can't wait to share this important book with everyone I know! Also, like, that cover y'all. So pretty. And it's relevant to the story! Anyway, consider this required reading, especially for all the folks trying to "read woke". 5 stars.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Punching the Air is out 01 September - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Ghost
Reynolds, Jason
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I had taken a break from reviewing books until I read Ghost. This book is really well written. The narrator is believable and the plot illustrates his struggles and growth. Ghost is a troubled kid who stumbles onto a track team and turns his life for the better. I both loved and hated the ending, because it was so good but I didn't want the book to end. Great quick read. I highly recommended giving it a whirl.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
96 Miles
Esplin, J. L.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

John and Stewart’s father is a survivalist. At their home in a remote part of Nevada, they have everything they need to sustain them for six months – water, food, gas, even a generator to keep the refrigerator running. So when the power goes out for half the country, the brothers aren’t too worried, even though their father is away. They’re doing better than a lot of other people who weren’t prepared. But then, a group of men come in pickup trucks and they take everything. They force John and Stewart to kneel on the floor at gunpoint and one man tells John, “I’m sorry, kid, but we need what
you’ve got.”
Now, their only chance for survival is to walk 96 miles in the blazing desert heat to a friend’s ranch. There’s also a time limit. It’s important that they make the trip in three days - no longer than that – and Stewart won’t believe that he’s not going to die.
Then they encounter another set of siblings, Cleverly and her younger brother, Will. Cleverly decides that her best option is to join them, but John is not certain whether having Cleverly and Will tag along will help or hurt his chances to get Stewart to the ranch in time.
Every day is a struggle to find food, drinkable water, and to keep Stewart on his feet. Together, the four of them experience the desperate things that people feel justified to do in times of crisis and the best and worst of human nature, both in themselves and in others they find along the way.

Reviewer's Name: Cynde
How I Became a Spy
Hopkinson, Deborah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

On his very first assignment as a civil defense messenger in World War II London, Bertie Bradshaw finds the diary of a spy lying in the street. He eagerly reads about the young spy’s training and how she parachuted into France to assume her new covert role. Things soon begin to sound dangerous as one by one her fellow agents are captured by the Nazis. Then the diary suddenly changes into code.

Bertie decides to trust a gutsy American girl, Eleanor, and his best friend David, who is Jewish, with the secrets in the diary. In a race against time, they must try to decode the final messages and then track down not only the spy who wrote them but also the traitor who is leaking information to the Nazis - information so vital that it will affect the success of the invasion of France and the lives of countless allied agents.

I immediately felt affinity for Bertie because he is a believable thirteen-year-old, forgetting his helmet and his training at first but then gaining courage and confidence as the story progresses. Bertie is also struggling with what seem to be panic attacks, stemming from the bombing of his house and the separation of his family, which makes his determination all the more admirable. I also enjoyed Little Roo, Bertie’s trained rescue dog, who has more to do with the success or failure of the venture than you might think.

Reviewer's Name: Cynde
Images of America: Fountain
Hahn, Angela Thaden
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Living, working or driving by a community, one can take for granted that each location has a history or story to tell. Since I've been working at Fountain Library for the past two months, I decided it was time to learn about its history. Orignially, it was home to tribes of Ute Indians that roamed and lived off the land. Around the time of the Civil War, Rhode Island native, Thomas Owen found some well water acreage in an area aptly named "Fountaine qui Bouille" which translates to "The Fountain that boils." What follows is a pictorial history of how this community developed, from farming to ranching, and train transporation of goods, to the arrival of "Camp Carson" that was built during WWII. Like every other town, Fountain has a rich history and long time residents that are proud of their community, including the author who is a native in the neighboring area. A recommended read if local history is your cup of tea.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
The Liar
Gundar-Goshen, Ayelet
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

"Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive’". This novel covers a life changing event of a 17 year old girl, Nofar, who has lived an average life and is about to enter her senior year of high school. During the summer, she works in an ice cream shop. One afternoon, she has unpleasant encounter with a formerly famous singer, and tells a lie that escalates events in both of their lives. Her life changes in an exciting and scary way, and his for the worse. As things progress, Nofar repeatedly considers the consequences of her words, which have a domino effect as her lie not only impacts her, but many around her as they get pulled into her dishonesty.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
Rita & Ralph's Rotten Day
Deedy, Carmen Agra
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Having a fight with your best friend can really ruin your day. This is exactly what happens in Rita and Ralph's Rotten Day by Carmen Agra Deedy and Pete Oswald. Right in the middle of a crazy fun day an accident happens, someone gets hurt, feelings get hurt and that brings trouble. The ups and downs of friendship are beautifully portrayed in this charmingly illustrated book for kids age 3 - 8.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot!
Bell, Cece
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Enter the wacky world of Chick and Brain. Chick insists on politeness, Brain struggles to understand Chick, and Dog has a chicken dinner in mind in the book Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot by Cece Bell. Kids who are getting the hang of reading will enjoy the comic book style of this early reader as well as the absurd humor. This is a laugh-out-loud read for kids age 5 - 8.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Allies
Gratz, Alan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Alan Gratz has given us a gripping tale in the book Allies. The invasion at Normandy during D-Day is seen from the viewpoint of a number of allies who's stories weave in and out of the fray during that first day of fighting. True to life characters, from soldier to resistance fighters, and and edge-of-the-seat story line will compel readers age 9 -15 to keep turning pages.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Genres:
The Willoughbys
Lowry, Lois
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The four Willoughby kids have a problem. Their parents don't like them and they are planning to go on vacation, permanently, without the kids. Put into play an abandoned baby, a very sad old man and a pretty great Nanny and you have an endearing and entertaining plot by beloved author, Lois Lowry. The Willoughbys can be described as a winning combination of the Penderwicks and Series of Unfortunate Events for kids age 8 - 12.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Awards:
Genres:
The Unmapped Chronicles: Casper Tock and the Everdark Wings
Elphinstone, Abi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Casper hides from the boarding school bullies, he finds himself magically transported to a land of enchantment and is immediately arrested as a criminal by a cranky girl named Utterly Thankless and her little dragon. Thus begins a headlong crash into a quest to save Utterly's kingdom complete with monsters, magicians, witches, trolls, griffins and other unearthly dangers. Kids 8-12 will enjoy the fantasy escapade Casper Tock and the Everdark Wings by Abi Elphinstone.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
The Lions at Night
Boehman, Jessica M.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Two stone lions who guard the entrance of the New York Public Library jump off their pedestals one night and scamper into the subway. I wonder where they will go? Join lions, Patience and Fortitude,as they enjoy a night out. This wordless picture books is an enchanting gem to read and explore over and over again. Ask your child questions about what is happening. Let them tell the story and practice creating sentences and story lines. You'll be surprised at what they come up with. For ages 3 - 9.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Awards:
Universal Love
Weinstein, Alexander
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Universal Love" is 11 short stories set in the near future, showing how people use technology to navigate relationships. In one story, a widower signs up for a program to re-create his deceased wife, only to find out his daughters downloaded a fictitious history from romance novels. Another story has testimonies of why people use on-line dating services. A third story explores the relationship of two robotic children who try to act like human children, even to the point of having real life problems and addictions. An interesting look at technology and how it could be in our not far future of how we relate to each other. One constant remains, and that is our need for human interaction, no matter the media we use to get it.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.

Pages