Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: According to a Source
Stern, Abby
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I can't believe I'm even saying this, but I really enjoyed this novel. It's about a tabloid reporter in Hollywood and is as vapid of a novel as you can probably imagine. Nonetheless, I found myself wanting to carve out time to read it. Much like cotton candy, it was empty calories but oh so good. Actually, while it starts out vapid, plot elements like friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships are visited with surprising aplomb. Should I be reading the great American novel instead of this? Perhaps, but sometimes it's necessary to eat junk food to appreciate quality cuisine.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Soul of the Sword cover
Kagawa, Julie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Soul of the Sword picks up directly at the end of the events of the first book in the series, Shadow of the Fox. If you haven’t read Shadow of the Fox, and you like Japanese mythology, what are you waiting for? Pick it up now! Also, skip this review, because spoilers.

If you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too. I did not remember the first book that well as I read it last summer, but Kagawa writes this in such a way that it’s easy for the reader to jump right back in. Most of our characters (save Tatsumi, because he’s mostly a demon now) get further development, and Yumeko in particular really seems to have grown a lot throughout the course of the book. My favorite character, the ronin Okame, has an exceptionally fun development. The worldbuilding, which was fantastic in the first book, continues to be alluring as Kagawa further fleshes out what was already a well-drawn world. The plot, like the first book, is fast-paced and while this is definitely something of a bridge book, it’s a bridge book that is really fun to read.

Readers of Rick Riordan who are looking for something a little more grown-up, or folks who like their fantasy to be steeped in mythology, you won’t go wrong with this series. I’m excited for the next one to come out. 4 stars – I really liked it!

Thanks to Harlequin Teen & Netgalley for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Soul of the Sword will be available for purchase on 18 June or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Be Brave Like Batman!
Hitchcock, Laura
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

There is no need to be afraid of the dark. You have all the tools to be brave like Batman! Just use your gadgets, get help, and use your wits. Don’t let your fear stop you from doing what you need to do. Think like Batman and conquer your fears!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Gittel's Journey: An Ellis Island Story
Newman, Lesléa
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is the story of Gittel. She is supposed to travel with her mother to America. At the last minute, her mother is unable to board the boat because of health concerns and so Gittel must travel alone. Read the story of tis young Jewish girl and her journey to America for a better life. Will she find mama’s cousin when she reaches America? Will her mother be able to join her in the new country? Read this beautifully illustrated picture book to find out. It’s loosely based on stories handed down in the author’s family.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Tinker, Rebecca
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

You may be familiar with the series and game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, but do you understand who she is? This book will give you the background on her. She is always one step ahead of her pursuers. How did she learn her awesome skills? Read this backstory and figure out how she came to
be this infamous and elusive criminal.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Color of Us
Katz, Karen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Karen Katz celebrates diversity in The Colors of Us. Seven-year-old Lena thinks that brown skin is brown skin until she takes a walk with her mother. They admire the different shades of skin on the people they see and compare the colors to foods and other natural things. It’s a colorfully illustrated book that helps kids see that we are all both different and the same.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Peek-a WHO?
Laden, Nina
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This darling rhyming board book allows readers to guess what’s hiding on the next page. Page designs with cut-outs give clues to what might be there. The simple text and colorful pictures help make this a fun book for little ones.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau
Berne, Jennifer
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This biography of Jacques Cousteau uses beautiful pictures to illustrate the text. It introduces us to the tiny baby born in France and names Jacques. It chronicles his love of water and how his passion for the ocean developed. It shows us how he dreamed to becoming a “manfish” with the ability to breathe underwater and explore. He grew to be one of the greatest oceanographers in the world and a champion of the sea. The book is both inspiring and magical.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Awards:
Interrupting Chicken
Stein, David Ezra
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Papa is trying to read little red chicken a story at bedtime, but she keeps interrupting. She can’t help herself! She inserts herself into the story of Hansel & Gretel. She jumps into the story of Little Red Riding Hood. She changes the story of Chicken Little. Will little red chicken ever stop interrupting and go to sleep? Find out when you read this story.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Clue Is in the Poop: And Other Things Too
Seed, Andy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Using the clues they've left behind, you can learn to track and identify animals and this book will help. It will introduce you animal tracking through observing what's left behind whether it is poop, tracks, or more. You'll learn about what animals eat (and therefore, what you might find in their poop). You'll learn fascinating facts about a variety of animals and start on your way to become a wildlife detective.

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

Definitely among my favorite books of the year. Beautifully written in alternating points of view, each woman's story is absolutely compelling, enraging, and heartbreaking. There was a passage toward the end of the novel where I found I actually was holding my breath.

This is the type of book that makes you understand the power of words and stories and how important they are, on so many levels - from Isra reading to escape her suffocating life, to Deya for whom books mean freedom and education and choice, to the reader who is ultimately changed by the experience of their story.

This book is going to stay with me for quite a while - definitely an author to keep on my radar!!!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
We Hunt the Flame Review
Faizal, Hafsah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Zafira has gained respect amongst her community for being the only person brave enough to dare the forest of a the Arz – a rapidly growing magical forest from which most who enter don’t return. She’s known as the Hunter. However, all respect Zafira has gained would be lost if folks were to find out that she was a girl. Nasir has a name of his own: Prince of Death. He assassinates all who cross his autocratic, despotic father, no matter how he feels on the subject. As the Arz grows and resources get more scare, both Zafira and Nasir find themselves on a journey to find a magical relic long buried on a dangerous island long presumed lost.

Another nearly impossible to write description! The worldbuilding in this thing is complex, and its really hard to give a short summary of the plot outside of “awesome” girl and scary-but-hot boy go on a quest for a magical object. While I do love complex worldbuilding, it bogged down the story for the first 40% of the book, and I kept getting confused by which peoples had what characteristics if they weren’t the peoples of our main two protagonists. Speaking of our two main protagonists, they were the least interesting characters in the story. Zafira is your standard strong-but-still-insecure-attracted-to-the-bad-boy YA fantasy protagonist, and Nasir kills people for no reason. The author tries to describe it away (his girlfriend will be brutally tortured), but this guy kills hundreds of people to (maybe) spare the lives of a few. Utilitarian he is not.

Anyway, after a lot of labored worldbuilding, we finally get to the island and team up with some other folks on the same quest. After this, the book is a lot of fun for about 30%. The characters have great chemistry, and the new ones are all dynamic and interesting people (beings) who we learn about slowly through the switching perspectives of our main characters. There’s a heist vibe and some great chemistry between friends and enemies alike . If that section had been the whole book, you would be reading a very different review. However, unfortunately, the book then focuses on a romance between our two leads, and I never found it to be convincing or compelling.

TLDR: This book was so close to being a really fun read, but a forced romance between two largely un-compelling leads overcame my love of the supporting characters, their chemistry, and some really fun worldbuilding elements.

I think folks who liked The Gilded Wolves or the Throne of Glass series will find things to like here. For this reader, it was mostly a miss. 2 stars – it was ok.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. We Hunt the Flame will be available for purchase on 14 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
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:

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