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Staff Book Reviews

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Sanchez, Erika L.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Julia was happy that her older sister Olga fulfilled the role of "perfect Mexican daughter." Prim and proper, Olga always did what she was told and followed the rules. During Julia's junior year in high school, Olga was run over by a semi-truck and killed. After Olga's death, Julia is surprised when she finds some scandalous items in Olga's off-limits room. As Julia tries to learn more about her dead sister, she finds herself learning more about her family, friends, and ultimately, herself.

YA contemporary fiction is not really my thing - I went on a reading spree of this genre recently as I was reviewing my Goodreads "read" list from 2018 and realized that I have read zero books in this genre. Because I need to read it for work, I decided to go with award winning books and/or authors from a different background than myself. This book, a National Book Award finalist about the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in the US, met that metric and appealed to me on the diversity front. I gave it a go, and was quite pleasantly surprised.

Julia is an extremely sympathetic character, and not just because she does fairly well in the face of a lot of adversity. Her voice is at times raw and honest and at other times snarky and hilarious, which really worked for me. Even though we don't have a lot in common, I was able to connect with Julia and I really cared about her and her story.

There's a lot of character development as Julia slowly learns more about her family members and their pasts, and there's just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning.

In addition to being a good coming of age story, this book covers some really important topics. Obviously, there's a lot about grief and how we grieve differently. Julia is suffering from depression, and the book is not shy about discussing her mental illness. The end of the book is followed by a section entitled "Mental Health Resources." Moreover, I learned a bit about some aspects of Mexican culture, and I got to take a peak into the lives of folks who had recently immigrated into the US from Mexico.

Considering this wasn't really my thing in the first place, I quite enjoyed it! Readers of contemporary YA will like this one - its got a touch of romance, a likable protagonist, and loads of substance. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Underground Railroad
Whitehead, Colson
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I listened to this book on audio, so I'm sure I missed bits and pieces. Cora's life as a slave in Georgia and through her journey on the underground railroad was fascinating. The depiction of the underground railroad as actually being an underground railroad was odd to me, but I'm sure there's some symbolism or other literary device that escapes me. Probably the most interesting part of this book was the section that took place in North Carolina. It was so indicative of the Third Reich that it was chilling. I found the ending to be abrupt, but still overall an interesting read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Luster of Lost Things
Keller, Sophie Chen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dreamlike magical realism which combines beautiful prose and thoughtful insight into a young boy's life with a motor speech disorder and the shadows cast by the disappearance of his father. An enchanting read for fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
Genres:
Ash Princess
Sebastian, Laura
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Theodosia was just a child, she witnessed the murder of her mother, the Queen of Astrea, at invaders’ hands. Those invaders took her country and killed or enslaved all of her people. For the next ten years, Theo was the Kaiser’s puppet – trotted out at banquets wearing a crown made of ash or enduring cruel beatings to represent the oppression and obliteration of her people. But her time with the Kaiser in her old palace was not totally idle.

The whole time, Theo collected information about her enemies. So when a friend from her Astrean past shows up, Theo finds herself embroiled in the machinations of revolutionaries as she has to decide how much and who she is willing to sacrifice to save her people and recover her kingdom.

While this has a fairly typical YA fantasy premise, the execution was a bit different. Usually this sort of fantasy would go what I’m going to call the Throne of Glass route – lady warrior kicks a bunch of butt and saves the day against all odds. This was not that. Theo was more of a politician or a spy. She’s willing to do what she has to save her people, yes, but this book is all intrigue and plotting. The reader is kept on a knife’s edge as Theo and the people around her are constantly close to what is sure
to be terrible death. The book manages to somehow be compulsively readable
but also hard to read at the same time. I found it to be really intense in
the best way possible – I really cared about and for Theo and wanted the best for her and her people. The book ends on an intriguing note (though I found the epilogue to be weak and unnecessary and I hope it got axed before the book was published) which ensured that I’ll be back for the next installment.

I was expecting an enjoyable but generic YA fantasy, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s being marketed to readers of The Red Queen and/or An Ember in the Ashes, but in this reader’s opinion, this book is far superior to either of those. Ash Princess, if not completely original, is a brutal, intense book that I’ll be recommending to teen and adults who enjoy fantasy novels and spy thrillers. If you like your fantasy to be vicious with a healthy side of political intrigue, check this one out. 4 stars – I really liked it.

Thanks to Delacourte Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the eARC which
I received for review consideration. Ash Princess will be available for
purchase on 24 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Metro Girl
Evanovich, Janet
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I can honestly say, this is the worst book I have read in 2018. I couldn't believe it was written by Janet Evanovich. It lacked her usual wit and laugh out loud moments. I actually thought I would love it since I enjoyed the graphic novel. But no. I didn't care about any of the characters.
I thought the story line plodded along and at the end, I just didn't care. I was hoping a canister of nerve gas would just destroy every copy of this book so no one else who's thinking of reading will suffer.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Every Note Played
Genova, Lisa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

As with all of this authors' novels, this book was beautifully written. I honestly didn't like either of the main characters in the beginning, but as they came to accept the changes in their lives and atone for wrongs they committed to each other I felt more and more empathy for what they went through. This disease is absolutely awful and it is painful to read about its progression, but I'm glad Ms. Genova continues to shed light on illnesses such as this in a way that is accessible. Highly recommended (unless you are feeling blue, then you might want to try something a little lighter!).

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
The Belles
Clayton, Dhonielle
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Camellia is a Belle - a person in the fantastical world of Orleans who has magical powers that allow her to change the appearance of others. These powers, and the way she uses them, puts her in high demand, and rich folks clamor to use the Belles' services. There is one Belle, the favorite, who serves royalty. Camellia's dearest ambition is to be the favorite, like her mother. After a few mishaps, she achieves this goal only to discover that the position is not all it's cracked up to be. Royalty is demanding, and Camellia soon finds herself being asked to do morally reprehensible things - things she can refuse only at her own peril. She must decide what means more: fame and beauty, or doing what is right.

To call the worldbuilding in this book "lush" or "complex" would be a disservice. The author invents a unique new world and mythology that, for me, were the strongest point of the book. If you've seen a Baz Luhrman movie, this world is set in that kind of magnificent, wondrous, almost over-the-top opulence that delight's one's imagination. The luxuriant worldbuilding does lead to something of a slow start, but if you are like me, you'll be so immersed in the marvelous new world that you won't care the the story takes a minute to get going. Once the story does get going, several quandaries and mysteries and introduced, and I found myself racing towards the conclusion. Camellia is a likable character that I think a ton of young women will relate to as she's very much a sixteen year old trying to make her place in a big scary world. She's a bit naive, but has deep seated convictions and is constantly rebelling against rules and regulations to show case her creativity and do her absolute best.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations based on a number of positive reviews from Goodreads, professional journals and the like, and I think those expectations may have hampered my enjoyment of the read, at least somewhat. Not to say this isn't an enjoyable read - it absolutely is. I had to physically stop myself from devouring it all in one go. It just felt more like a guilty pleasure read instead of a read of substance. The book should have been really creepy. When the Belles change a person, they change everything. We're talking like body shape/size, shaving off bones, eyeballs out of sockets, and other sorts really gross stuff that should have been horrific. For whatever reason, the creepiness factor never connected with me, but if it had, I think I would've loved this one. There's a female friendship in here that also didn't really land - we're told more than shown that the girls are close. It never felt believable. There are a few plot points that are introduced that are seemingly abandoned or never fully realized though I imagine they'll factor into future installments. I saw where the romance was going immediately, and also figured out the mystery of the sick princess early on in the story. On the whole, I found the book to be rather predictable.

I did enjoy this one, and I'll definitely be coming back for the sequel. I hope it provides a bit more substance, but either way, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'd recommend this to readers who liked The Selection, Caraval or The Red Queen (although let me be clear: this book is better written and conceived than any of those), and I'll be adding it to several reading lists as well as booktalking it. 3 stars - I liked it!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Thunderhead
Shusterman, Neal
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last book review, so I’m going to talk to you for a minute about Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead. Minor spoilers for Scythe will likely occur throughout, given that this is book #2 in trilogy.

Thunderhead is set in a future world of plenty, where death and poverty and illness and war have been eliminated by the Thunderhead, an artificial intelligence developed from what we currently call “the cloud.” Every human has nanites in their blood that reduce pain from any injury, and slowly repair any damage. And if by some unfortunate accident, you happen to die, a drone will recover your body and take you to the nearest facility where you can be revived (your first one’s free!).

However, in order to curb overpopulation, the Thunderhead allows for the Scythes. Scythes are an order of highly skilled assassins (of sorts) who exist to keep humanity’s numbers in check. They maintain a quota of gleanings, permanent deaths for a chosen few to remind people of the mortality that the entire race once faced. Anyone who is gleaned by a Scythe earns immunity for their family for a year.

Book one in the series, Scythe, follows Rowan and Citra, two young teens who are chosen as apprentices to Scythe Faraday, who intends for one of them to become his successor. Their training leads to the widening of schisms within the Scythedom, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other over the right and wrong ways to go about their duties of gleaning.

Thunderhead picks up several months after the events of Scythe, with Citra now serving as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan operating in the shadows, gleaning other Scythes who he deems to be immoral and corrupt. Dubbed Scythe Lucifer, he lives a life on the run while Anastasia is honored for her rather benevolent take on gleaning (giving her victims a month’s warning, and allowing them to choose the means by which they will die).

This book introduces more perspectives from the Thunderhead itself, giving the reader powerful insight into the all-powerful AI’s thoughts and concerns. We also meet Greyson Tolliver, a young man who has devoted his entire life to serving the Thunderhead, and has his loyalty tested to the extreme. While this can feel like it’s drawing attention away from Rowan and Citra, it contributes to the worldbuilding. And while Scythe had a phenomenal dystopian feeling, there were many questions left unanswered that are picked up in these chapters and monologues.

Now Anastasia and her current mentor, Scythe Curie, have been targeted by a mysterious attacker who seems intent on ending them both permanently, while Rowan grapples with the consequences of his actions as Scythe Lucifer. The Thunderhead muses on the Separation of Scythe and State, lamenting its decision to refrain from interfering with the actions taken by members of the Scythedom, finding clever ways to work around the various safeguards that it has installed in society (and maybe finding out more than it was ever meant to know).

All in all, Thunderhead is a powerful followup to Scythe, a worthy companion and, to my simultaneous joy and rage, the second book in a trilogy. Book three is due in 2019, and I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Blood Water Paint
McCullough, Joy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Let me show you
what a woman can do."

Artemisia Gentileschi is a painter. But because she's a painter in Rome in the early 1600s, she cannot take credit for her work. All of the credit goes to her father, who is a painter himself, though not a good one. When her father solicits the help of fellow painter Agostino Tassi to develop Artemisia's perspective, she thinks that finally her work might get taken seriously. But after Tassi brutally rapes her, Artemisia must decide whether she wants her life to continue as close to "normal" as possible, or if she wants to speak her truth and risk her painting career or worse: death.

Unbeknownst to me until about halfway through the book, this story is actually based on a true one, which makes what is already a beautifully written gut-wrenching book all the more poignant. Artemisia is a woman unhappy with her unfair lot in life, and she uses her art to express that by depicting Biblical women (primarily Susana and Judith) realistically instead of through the male gaze. Judith and Susana's stories as told to Artemisia by her late mother are sprinkled throughout the book, and are the only parts not written in verse.

Blood Water Paint is so timely. It's primarily about a woman's ability to speak her truth, and as we live in the time of the #MeToo movement it all feels so horribly relevant. As terrible things are happening in the book, you can see them mirrored in today's society. But ultimately, even as it's depressing (and it is brutal), the book is empowering and inspirational, and Artemisia is the quintessential example of a strong female character - her strength in the face of insane adversity is even more affecting given that it's based on a real woman.

I can think of no better book to read for National Women's History Month (or really, at any time). I'd strongly recommend this to both teens and adults, and I won't be surprised should it garner several nominations and/or wins when book award season rolls back around. This is one that is not to be missed. 5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Dutton Books for Young Readers for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. Blood Water Paint is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
To Kill a Kingdom
Christo, Alexandra
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lira steal's princes' hearts. Literally. She lures them into a trance-like state with her siren song, and drags them down to the bottom of ocean where she rips out their hearts. After failing to steal Prince Elian's heart, the pirate prince also known as the "siren killer", Lira's mother, the Sea Queen, turns her into a human in punishment, and commands that she retrieve Elian's heart, or stay a human forever.

Are you getting Little Mermaid vibes from that description? Good, because there is a definitely Little Mermaid inspiration here, though it's definitely more Anderson than Disney (for examples, sirens turn into sea foam a few moments after they are killed). There's also some Greek mythology (I feel like this is the origin of sirens, but I only say that because of the Odyssey), but the influences, while noticeable, are integrated nicely, and the world-building game in this book is super strong. Elian and Lira travel to several different kingdoms, and each kingdom has its own flavor and customs. There's also some cool mythology around sirens vs. mermaids vs. mermen, and I really loved where she went with the mermaids in particular. It was a version of mermaids that I had never read before.

Elian and Lira are both complex but likable characters (if you like your heroes of anti- or bloodthirsty variety, which, I DO). Initially, Lira is a stone-cold killer. She was raised to be one, and the fact that she could be anything but a stone-cold killer after her upbringing is kind of magical. As the book develops, she learns more about humans and begins to *gasp* kind of like them. Her character development and growth are a main theme throughout the book, and Lira's maturation is slow enough to develop seems plausible.

Elian was also fine; he mostly serves as a foil to Lira, and it's fun to see his opinion of her change as he slowly learns more about her. There is a bit of romance between them, but as they are at odds for most of the book, its kind of a forbidden romance which is a trope that I love when done right (needless to say, it was done right here).

Amazing worldbuilding, great characters, no sequel - what's not to love here? If you are into pirates or mermaids or lux worldbuilding, you'll enjoy this book. 4 stars - I really liked it!

Thanks to Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for the eARC for review consideration. To Kill a Kingdom will be released on 06 March, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Holidays on Ice
Sedaris, David
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I listened to this book, most of which was read in a nasally, whiny voice. The initial stories about working as an elf at Christmas-time had tears of laughter pouring out of my eyes, Unfortunately, the book rapidly went downhill. This satire started out funny, but it kept going too long as if the author didn't know when to end the story. There were also some disturbing images that added absolutely nothing. The stories were sarcastic, but the bitterness in them really turned me off. Can't recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Robin
The Train of Lost Things
Paquette, Ammi-Joan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Where to start? This book was poignant, beautiful, lovely and dealt with the subject of loss, through a child’s eyes, in a way that pulled at my heart strings, big time. This beautiful tale follows a young kid named Marty as he deals with the pain and loss that comes when someone close is dying and there is nothing you feel you can do about it. When Marty’s precious possession is lost, his jean jacket scattered with buttons that represent his fondest memories with this person, at first he is devastated, but then he hears the tale of the train of lost things and he goes on a quest to find it and retrieve the precious thing he lost. Along the way he comes across two others, both on similar journeys, and discovers that what matters is not the objects themselves but the memories they represent and the love that he shares with his loved ones.

Paquette’s character Marty, approaches the subject of loss and death with a childlike curiosity. Yet throughout the story, Marty also displays the strong denial that comes with facing loss and death, questioning whether or not what is happening is really true. Marty’s love for his loved one and his need that, retrieving this jacket would make things all better, is what kept his character going. Yet in the end he realizes that life and death are not always that simple. But memories and love have a stronger power over death and loss and sometimes to overcome them you just need to escape reality to really understand that.

I don't usually pick up kids books but I picked up and read this book in one day! That is how good it was! I love this book in every way and I highly recommend it! Even though this book is for kids, I also recommend it for older people, or anyone dealing with loss, as the lessons learned can be applicable for anyone.

Thank you to the publisher Philomel Books for a ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book doesn't come out till March 20 but you can put it on your hold list today!

Reviewer's Name: Anonymous
Book Review: The Higher Power of Lucky
Patron, Susan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very good book. I listened to it on audio and the narrator was fantastic. The climax of the book takes place during a dust storm, which is a classic case of the natural elements reflecting the story line. A bit contrived, yes, but good for young readers. The conclusion was textbook, but also okay for younger readers. If you'd like to read a good story with no surprises, this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Tess of the Road
Hartman, Rachel
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Tess Dombegh is ruined. When she was quite young, she met an ambitious young scholar who took advantage of her and left her in the family way. Since then, her main goal has been to find her twin sister, Jeanne, a husband that will save their family from their dire financial straits. Tess successfully finds Jeanne a husband, and after getting extremely drunk at their wedding and embarrassing herself and their entire family, she decides to run away.

Notice that I got through this description with nary a mention of dragons? There are dragons in this world. But only barely, hence the reason I didn't need to mention them in my synopsis. This is actually, I think, the weakest point of the book, but I'll come back to that later.

I am more conflicted about this book than I've been about any other book in recent memory. Tess, our main character, is insanely unlikable and unsympathetic, especially at the beginning. However, she's intentionally unlikable and its entirely because of the circumstances of her world are similar to that of Edwardian England in terms of how the ladies are treated. As Tess travels further down the road - often painstakingly slowly, the unnecessary and at times boring digressions in this book are legion - she learns more about who she is, who she wants to be, and how she can make her way in a world that sees her as less than a person because of her gender.

Those parts, the introspective philosophical parts, I liked. Unfortunately, they were few and far between and were including in those aforementioned digressions that had nothing to do with the plot at large. My interest in the book would wax and wane in huge swings. I did finish it, and I even liked the ending, but wow, this was often a slog.

The thing that bothered me the most about the book was almost the complete waste of the worldbuilding. There were dragons and quigutl (sic), which are like the small, less ferocious cousins of dragons, and while a quigutl was a main character, that character could have easily been a jaded staff member, or really anything else. The fantasy world didn't add to the story, and sometimes, it distracted from Tess' character development, which, at the end of the day was the point of the entire novel. I think making this book pure historical fiction (and I loved the worldbuilding and fantasy setting in Seraphina, the companion series) would've made it a more impactful, better book.

Anyway, complaints aside, at times, I found myself really loving this book, mostly on the strength of Hartman's writing and the very important messaging regarding women's rights. Overall, though, the execution left something to be desired, at least for this reader. I won't be coming back for the sequel if there is one (everything was tied up nicely, but there definitely is room for another book), but I would definitely read another book by this author. 2 stars - it was ok.

Thanks to Random House Children's and Netgalley for the eARC that I received for review consideration. Tess of the Road is released on 27 February, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Man He Never Was
Rubart, James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

James Rubart has been one of my favorite Christian authors for a long time, and his latest, The Man He Never Was, does not disappoint. This is not just “a modern re imagining of Jekyll and Hyde,” it is a story of one man’s radical journey to discover what true love really looks like and the freedom we find through redemption.

Torren Daniels is a regular guy pursuing the career of his dreams. A football star with a loving family and everything to lose. He lives for the game, taking out his anger and frustration like most guys on the football field, through the game. But one day when he goes to far, his perfect life and career fall apart and he is left with nothing but his anger, frustration and rage at himself and his family.

Fast forward eight months, Torren has disappeared and everyone, including his wife and family, believe he is dead. Until one day he shows up in a hotel room with nothing but his wallet, the clothes on his back, and no memory of his life for the past eight months. But one thing he does know, he has come back different. More different than he has ever been before. The anger and frustration he has dealt with all of his life, seems to be gone. Instead being replaced with love, patience, and kindness, but are these changes truly real or are they simply an illusion?

What follows in the preceding days, is not only a physical journey to discover what happened to him, but a spiritual one that reveals the struggle of good and evil we all face inside ourselves and the redemptive freedom we can experience when Christ’s true love is set free within us.

Rubart’s storytelling gets down to the issues in a fast-paced way that does not dwell on flourishes and world building, as much as it does on character development. Torren is not a likeable character especially at the beginning of the book, but as the book progresses, and he goes on this journey, we see how the other relationships in his life, shape how his character responds. The other character’s in the book likewise are shaped by, and changed by, how his character responds to them, especially Torren’s wife.

Rubart’s story is highly complex, and as the story unfolds and the layers are peeled back, we see the struggle that is really going on inside Torren. Rubart approaches issues such as broken relationships, anger, loss, forgiveness, and abandonment in a way that is both realistic and extremely relatable. These issues and how they shape his character’s lives, also help shape the timber and tone of the overall story and come to a head in the conclusion of the story in an important and life changing way.

Rubart’s stories have always been complex and interesting. But one of the things I have always loved about him as an author and continue to love about him, evident in this book and the others I have read, is the way he has a way of presenting spiritual truths in a highly complex and original way but within the real world and in a way that is not overbearing, and is extremely relatable. The Man He Never Was, does not just present an updated version of the story of Jekyll and Hyde but takes the story and makes it real in a way that I never considered or imagined. Rubart takes the characters of Jekyll and Hyde and presents them as allegories as he explores the battle of good versus evil that is constantly going on inside each one of us.

Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction for an E-Arc of this book for review. This book is out February 20 but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
The Outcasts of Time
Mortimer, Ian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book follows the story of two brothers John and William in 1340’s Medieval England who are suffering from the Black Death. But as their end draws near, they are given a choice that changes the course of their lives forever. They are told that they have six days left to live, which they can either spend with their loved ones, or search for salvation and redemption for their lives across the centuries; spending each one of their remaining days 99 years after the last. So, each day takes places one century after the last. The brothers choose the latter and are launched into an adventure that spans centuries in the time frame of a few days.

Observers of the world across centuries, John and William hardly recognize the world around them each day they wake up, and as their journey for salvation progresses, questions the world around them in a way that has readers questioning humanities true motives. Rather than focusing on the good things and advancements the world has made through the centuries, the characters, especially John, ponder how these advancements have brought humanity farther and farther away from God. As the years and days progress, the novel asks the question what is true salvation really and examines the idea of what is good verses bad?

When I received an ARC of this book in the mail from the publisher at first, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, but as I read the back, I became excited, because this book deals with a sci-fi like subject of time travel in a way I haven’t seen before. This book took me a while to get through and it also is a book that really makes you think. Warning! If you are looking for only a traditional time travel sci-fi book, this book is probably not for you however, if you like historical fiction this book is probably more for you. This book deals with time travel in a highly conceptual way. It is a time travel book written by a very noted historian and reads very much like a historical novel with all the historical details you would find in a history book. But it is also very philosophical as the main character questions the world and the ideas in it. As this quote from John shows when he is discussing, with the family he is staying with, the bad things done by others around them.

“I myself wish for nothing more than to spend the rest of my days engaged in good deeds,’ I say. But how can I tell what a good deed is in this day and age? What is “good” and “bad” if God’s law is constantly changing? How can we do good if the meaning of “good” and “bad” are dependent on who wins the war? How can a man go through this world in sure knowledge that he is doing the right and proper thing?”

This is just one of many philosophical musings that the author poses through the book that seek to answer difficult questions and these details really make the reader think and ponder the difficult answers to questions like, what is good verses bad. These details I think also give the book a conceptual quality that puts it above the norm and makes it more than just another sci-fi book about time travel.

Ian Mortimer is an excellent historian and the historical detail in this book are incredible! He weaves together history and time travel in a highly original and interesting way that makes readers both question the world and presents readers with a clear picture of England’s evolution from a small underdeveloped town to a large industrial country that leads the world in more ways than one. I highly recommend this book for readers of historical fiction or anyone who likes highly conceptual, philosophical books that question the world and everything in it. I give this book a solid 5 out of 5 stars!

Thank you to the publisher Pegasus Books for an ARC of this book for review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Book Review: A Man Called Ove
Backman, Fredrik
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book starts of slow and then continues a leisurely pace throughout. It was a bit hard for me to get through the first half of the novel as it mainly dealt with the thought process of a suicidal curmudgeon. But as the novel unfolds, Ove is unwrapped to show a man with quiet strength who is mourning the loss of his wife and his job. As the novel continues, we meet people who insert themselves into his life, showing him kindness and giving him purpose. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quiet, leisurely novel about the power of friendship.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
In Other Lands
Brennan, Sarah Rees
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In Other Lands follows young Elliot Schafer as he tumbles through a wall (well, his teacher bribed a weird lady to let him through the wall, but whatever) into another land at age 13. He's given the opportunity to go home or go to magic school, and, like any bright young kid who has ever read, like, any book ever, he decides to go to magic school. There, he befriends golden boy warrior Luke and stoic elf warrior Serene (our fearful nerd Elliot decides to take the council course as he is deathly allergic to exercise and also, killing), and the book follows their exploits throughout the duration of their time in school.

Ok, so, that synopsis does not even begin to do this book justice. I will be forcing this into the hands of any person that walks into the teen center that says that they have even a remote interest in fantasy. Because this was so good. The best thing I've read so far this year for sure (and I've already read like 20 things this year, so that's not nothing). Anyway, on to actual information about the book.

Elliot is kind of a jerk. On purpose. But his jerkiness is mostly hilarious, and a lot of the book is his witty, spot on assessments of himself, the world, and the people around him. Luke and Serene are equally nuanced as characters and are quite lovable despite their flaws. One of my favorite parts of the book was that elf culture has the same messed up gender roles and sexism that we humans do...but the male and female roles are reversed. It makes not just for some of the most hilarious passages that I've ever read, but also serves as probably the most effective argument against said gender roles being a part of any society. It was, quite frankly, brilliant. For example: “Do not have a catfight, boys, even if it is that time of the month,” said Serene, and when she saw them staring at her, she explained: “You know—women shed their dark feelings with their menses every month? But men, robbed of that outlet, have strange moodswings and become hysterical at a certain phase of the moon?”

Insanely great egalitarian commentary aside, this was an excellent coming of age novel. The relationship and friendship between our three main characters is complex, but they all love each other and grow so much together throughout the book. And at the end of the day, this book is not really about other lands, it's about the peoples that occupy them. As an added bonus, it demonstrates that communication and shared experiences amongst peoples could almost always lead to peace. In doing that, it also effectively skewers nationalism.

I really liked the romance in the book, but you figure out Elliot's end game partner (yes, Elliot is bisexual!) at about 50% of the way through the book. They don't actually get together until the end and its one of those situations where you want to knock their heads together and yell COMMUNICATE DANG IT at them until they realize they like each other and just make out or whatever. Speaking of which, there is a lot of sex in this one. It's mostly off camera, but the one scene that makes it in is really sweet.

I obviously loved this book. If I were to try to compare it to something, it's most like Carry On by Rainbow Rowell in that it's kind of a love letter to classic fantasy (it's more Tortall to Carry On's Harry Potter) that then transcends the original source material. It's quirky enough that it won't be for everybody, but I think a lot of readers will love it. I just purchased my own copy. Like, without waiting for a Goodreads deal. It's that good. Or, in PPLD parlance, it was Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome! 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: Sounder
Armstrong, William H.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I've been on a children's book about dogs kick lately. I started with Shiloh, went to Where the Red Fern Grows, and ended with Sounder (I may read Old Yeller too). Sounder is the winner of the Newbery Medal, but it was the least powerful book out of the three. I almost feel like I may have read an abridged version of the book. The characters weren't well developed and there wasn't really a sense of desperation and overt class stratification that the book's summary promised. Overall, it was underwhelming. I'm being nice and giving it 3 stars instead of 2.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza
Hutchinson, Shaun David
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Elena is not your average teen. As the only human proven to be birthed as a result of parthenogenesis (you might know this as a “virgin birth”), she’s been hearing voices from signs and inanimate objects. But things are about to go to the next level. One day, at work, the Starbucks Siren tells her to heal her crush, Freddie, who looks fine. But then, a kid they know comes out of nowhere and shoots Freddie. Then he disappears into the sky in a flash of light. And Elena DOES heal Freddie. And then, somehow, things get even crazier as the Siren tells Elena she has to keep healing people (which leads to more disappearances) or start the apocalypse.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of unique, quirky books that are more than a little strange (I call them wonderfully weird), and so this one was right up my alley. Elena is an extremely likable character, and we get to listen to most of her thought processes as she thinks about the mundane (her crush, her relationship with her ne’er do well stepfather) and the existential (why she has the powers, and should she use them?). The supporting cast is also pretty great: Freddie, the popular art student who didn’t even know Elena’s name before she got shot, was probably my favorite character. After getting killed, she really doesn’t care so much about what people think of her, and as a result her commentary was extremely snarky, sometimes hurtful and almost always spot on. Fadil, Elena’s best friend, was a good foil as the devout teen, but he also served to demonstrate a powerful male/female friendship. Because of the philosophical nature of the book, the plot takes a backseat to character development and metaphysical conversations. I probably highlighted more in this book than I have in any other in recent memory. The downside to this, though, is that the plot sags a little in the middle and the ending left me wanting a bit more as a lot of plot lines were left dangling.

Another big selling point of the book for me was that the premise immediately made think of this show called Wonderfalls which is a bit of a cult classic from the early aughts. Later on in the book, it’s pretty clear that the author had likely just binged all of Bryan Fuller’s early shows like Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and yes, Wonderfalls as this book contains elements of each of those shows, and there is a straight up name drop of a location that delighted me to no end. If you are a fan of Bryan Fuller’s properties (including recent hits like American Gods), this is a read you should definitely pick up.

If you like to think about the ethics and the big questions – why are we here, what matters, how can you decide the value of one life over another – then you will love this book. It’s a wonderfully weird thought provoking read, and while it’s not perfect, the diverse, likable cast and philosophical quandaries make it something of a rare gem of a book. 4 stars. I really liked it.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Simon Pulse for the eARC, which I received for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:

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