Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Adventure

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
Ayesha: The Return of She
Haggard, H. Rider
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Coming from the author of "King Solomon's Mines" and creator of Allan Quartermain, you can expect a terrific turn of the century, adventure story. Written as the sequel to "She", "Ayesha: The Return of She" stands on its own, and I find it even more enjoyable than the original story (but "She" does make for a good prequel - as I read them out of sequence). Our hero Leo, sets out with his friend to seek out his long lost love. This leads them to the most remote of areas, across vast deserts, and over treacherous mountains. When they reach the empire of Kaloon, the Khania Atene swears that she is the woman Leo is searching for, but he is unsure, and wishes to consult with the mysterious Hesea, an ancient priestess of the mountain, who has sent for him. Atene will risk everything, even war with the people of the mountain, to keep Leo by her side, even though he wishes to see the Hesea. Is Atene the woman Leo is seeking? Who is the cryptic Hesea? What dangers await Leo and his friend, both in Kaloon, and on the mountain?

This story was originally published in a serialized form in 1904-1905, with gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations. If you can find it, I highly recommend reading a reprint that includes the original illustrations. One of my favorite books of all time!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Twain, Mark
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Tom Sawyer is not the most likable of characters, but he is clever. This book seems to be an honest depiction of a young boy growing up in the 1840s. I like that Tom, Huck, and the rest of his friends go on adventures big and small. Our children can't do that today, which is a shame. This is a fun book to listen to on audio.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Cover Image
Kagawa, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every 10,000 years, an ancient dragon rises to give one mortal a wish (in exchange for their soul) and the world changes. Two characters, a kitsune-hybrid and a ninja, find themselves trying to keep the path to the dragon out of the hands of several interested and nefarious parties. Shadow of the Fox follows our heroes as they travel to and from different monasteries dodging monsters in their quest to protect ancient scrolls.

Shadow of the Fox was a ton of fun! It gave me Percy Jackson vibes, but was definitely for a slightly older audience and the mythology in this book was Japanese, which I found to be very cool. I liked both of the characters – the kitsune must hide her fox nature from her ninja travelling companion as he is a monster killer, and kitsune are a type of…if not monster, then non-human trickster. The ninja is trying to resist becoming possessed by the evil demon that occupies his sword. Their relationship is thus a bit fraught, but adds a really interesting dynamic. Their other travelling companion (a disgraced Samurai who spends most of the book amusingly drunk) provided some levity. Some of the mythology was completely new to me, which made for a engaging reading experience. I liked it enough that I read one of Kagawa’s other books, The Iron King, as well. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll likely like this – I found the formats to be similar, though I personally found the Japanese mythology more interesting than the fairies.

TLDR: This is a really entertaining and action packed fantasy for fans of Percy Jackson and Kagawa’s other books. I loved it, and am excited to get my own copy! 5 stars.

Thanks to Harlequin Teen and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Shadow of the Fox is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Black Wings Beating Cover Image
London, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In a world where dominion over birds of prey equals power, twins Brysen and Kylee have a love/hate relationship with falconry. Brysen longs to be good at the sport, but lacks the patience and ability. Kylee is a natural, and even has powers that allow her to speak with the birds, but she just wants to pay back their family’s debts and then leave their village forever. When Brysen compounds their debt and then agrees to hunt the ghost eagle – the very same eagle who killed their father – Kylee knows that she has to help, or lose her brother to the birds as well.

The world building in this book is phenomenal. London creates a rich world with opposing religions about to go to war, and creates an entirely new mythology built around falconry. Now, I know there are other fantasies based around falconry, but as I’ve not read them, this was all totally new and fascinating to me. Kylee and Brysen take turns narrating, and their perspectives were realistic and different enough that you had a great feel for them as characters quite early on in the book. They were so authentic as not to be entirely likable – Brysen in particular makes quite a few stupid and/or impulsive decisions and I found him to be a bit hard to root for. I really enjoyed Kylee, though, and I loved how the world was presented with equality in terms of sexuality and race. Several of our characters are people of color and/or LGBTQ+, and they don’t seem to be oppressed or seen any differently because of it, which was refreshing to read.

For this reader, the plot left something to be desired. The book starts off with a bang, but then quickly devolves into an adventure story in the woods as Kylee and Brysen search for the ghost eagle. The aforementioned “opposing religions about to go to war” parts show the most promise, but were unfortunately relegated to the background. That will likely change in the sequel, but it made this book a slow read for me. I actually put it down in the middle and read an entirely different book as it wasn’t really holding my interest. I felt like the book might have worked really well as a prequel novella, but as a full length novel, there was a lot of filler as Kylee and Brysen navigate the woods with only one important seeming development.

Black Wings Beating was an interesting dive into the world of falconry that sets up a sequel with a lot of promise. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes adventure stories with a touch of the fantastical. 3 stars – I liked it!
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Black Wings Beating will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Kill the Farm Boy
Hearne, Kevin and Dawson, Delilah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Normally, I’d start off my review with a synopsis, but plot wasn’t exactly the point of this book, so I’m going to skip it. What you need to know is this: Kill the Farm boy is a satirical fantasy novel that skewers the “chosen one” white male narrative. Tonally, it’s as if Deadpool were your dungeon master and he had recently swallowed a thesaurus. If that appeals to you, you will love this book. If not, pass on it.

I had fairly mixed feelings – humor is subjective, and while I sometimes found it funny, I also found it grating at times. For example, there was a chapter about trolls that had me in stitches. But there was also an entire chapter about the group entering the Morningwood that had me rolling my eyes. A certain type of audience will absolutely love this one. I was not that audience, but I still, for the most part, appreciated it for what it was as I generally found the writing quality to be very high. There’s little character development, and the plot is just a vehicle for jokes, but again, those things aren’t the point.

This is definitely one of those books that will be very hit-or-miss for people, and while it was mostly a miss for me, it’s one that I think I’ll be recommending to a lot of patrons, particularly teens. If you like Mel Brooks or Monty Python, you’ll probably like this too (it would make a pretty funny movie).

Thanks to Del Rey and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Kill the Farm Boy will be released on 24 July, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Going Where It’s Dark
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Buck Anderson is a spelunker. He used to go caving with his friend, David, but now David has moved away. Caving is the one way that Buck escapes from his worries. He stutters and the kids at school make fun of him for it. He’s bullied a lot. This coming-of-age adventure will inspire and encourage young readers.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Book of Lost Things
Voigt, Cynthia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Max's parents have dashed off on an unexpected adventure and left their 12 year old son Max behind, alone...well, his grandmother is around to watch over him, but she is busy being a librarian. Max has to fend for himself and picks up a part time job as a solutioneer (sounds like engineer, but much more mysterious). His first task is to find a lost pet and this snowballs into many intricately involved adventures that will keep readers turning pages with anticipation to find out what this determined young man will do next. The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt, is sure to please children 9 - 13 who enjoy a good mystery.

Reviewer's Name: Barb
The Girl in the Tower
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Katherine Arden's The Girl In The Tower is just as good, if not better, than the first book, The Bear and The Nightingale. Filled with more Russian Fairy tales, atmospheric literary prose, rich and strong characters, and the same enchanting setting of Medieval Russia, this book picks up right where the first one left off. It follows the story of Vasya, now a grown up woman she, instead of conforming to the role woman in her day usually play, of marriage or life in a convent, chooses instead a life of adventure. Leaving her home and traveling the vast Russian Wilderness while dressed as a boy, she soon is called upon to defend the city of Moscow and finds the threat greater and more deadly than she imagined. While fighting this threat, only she can stop, she is also forced to protect her secret as she comes upon her brother and attracts the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow.

Part of what drew me to this book is the fairy tales, yes, but also the historical setting of Medieval Russia. Katherine Arden does a masterful job of weaving fantasy elements with real life historical details only a great historian would discover. Blurring the line between history, fantasy, and reality this book and, more importantly this series, is contemporary historical fantasy at its best. It is a sketch not only of real life in Medieval Russia, but also displays the power of story and demonstrates the importance of fairy tales and the lessons they can teach us.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:
The Song From Somewhere Else
Harrold, A.F.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

He was bigger than anyone else in Francesca's class. He was funny looking and he smelled weird. Why, oh why did he have to be nice to her and get her bag for her that the bullies had thrown into the stinging nettles? When the bullies chased them both to Nick's house, why hadn't she run somewhere else? Ugh, she would never live this down at school. A.F. Harrold's novel, The Song From Somewhere Else, will enchant readers age 9 - 12 with a story of another world, just waiting to be discovered.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Lee, Mackenzi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Scurvy Goonda
McCoy, Chris
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Scurvy Goonda is a pirate ab-com who is ruining Ted’s life (an “ab-com” is an abstract companion). What other self-respecting 14-year-old still has an imaginary companion?! Soon it becomes clear that great evil is afoot, when all the world’s ab-coms disappear – along with Scurvy and Ted! Chris McCoy’s first bacon-filled novel is rife with invention, fun and whimsy, a page-turner that will keep you up all night.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
Jacques, Brian
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to finish this book. It was hovering around a 2 (Meh) when all of a sudden the author gave it a left turn and I found myself in a good old fashion treasure hunt story. Like the 'Gold Bug' by Poe, it's full of great and cryptic clues to unravel. Fantastic!! The author gives us a taste of the 'Flying Dutchman' legend and then joins us with a young boy and his dog who are traveling a strange road through life. There's three books in this series so if you like the adventure - enjoy.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I started off in love with this book. However, as it progressed I lost a little bit of interest in it. I guess Miggory Sow and Roscuru didn't appeal to me as much. But it finished strong. Great narrative voice and well paced. Well done overall.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Hidden Oracle
Riordan, Rick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Oh my goodness, Apollo, you strange and beautiful basket case. I was laughing all through this book, marking pages to shove at my friends... You know the drill. The Greek-mythology-centric Percy Jackson series as a whole helped me through some dark times when I was younger, and this first book of Rick Riordan's new "Trials of Apollo" series is delightful, just as I remember "The Lightning Thief" to have been back when I really, really needed it. (It's only missing Mr. D -- I've always especially liked Mr. D. Maybe he'll show up in the next one?)

Anyway. You know how in Greek folklore, Apollo gets stripped of his powers sometimes when he gets his king/dad, Zeus, angry? That's happened again in this series, only now it's all happening in modern day New York... Where the rules to everything are way different than what Apollo's used to... Annnnd he's not used to acne or helplessness, either, both of which he has to deal with as an awkward teen apparently named "Lester." It's the sparkly god of the sun/music/so many things's turn to go on actual quests again instead of waving demigods off on them... And he's very, very sad about it.

Some familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series have appeared so far in "The Hidden Oracle," but I would say it's definitely its own series with unique sources of pathos. Something I always loved about the Percy Jackson books is their empathy, the way people can redeem themselves, the way characters can still be heroic despite/because of their flaws... And that is STILL HERE, operating now through the protagonist, given the centuries worth of mistakes a now-human Apollo has to grapple with. I definitely liked "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer" -- the Riordan book that came out a bit before this one -- but it didn't click with me in nearly the same way as Apollo's shenanigans. "The Hidden Oracle" felt like a fresh and self-aware remix of old ideas and settings from Percy Jackson, all told through a recently fallen god's wonderful, WONDERFUL narration. Yes, if you want something completely different than Percy Jackson this might not be the best place to look. But if you want to see the Percy Jackson universe through refreshingly new and oh-so-Olympus-y eyes, this may be perfect for you!

To sort of sum things up: I think this is a great kids' book, engaging and fast-paced and written with a light and goofy sense of humor, just like those original Percy Jackson books. (Sometimes the humor does get VERY goofy, so go in warned, but other times it's clever and tongue-in-cheek. Funny guy, that Apollo. Versatile.) Beyond that, though, I...a grown adult...am 100% buying the next book for myself just as soon as it comes out. I know that doesn't necessarily mean EVERY mythology-loving adult equipped with a suitably goofy sense of humor would also enjoy this book, but I know for a fact plenty of others have the same plan.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
Nothing Short of Dying
Storey, Erik
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book has recommendations from heavy hitters like Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver that make it sound like the greatest thriller they've ever read. I picked it up based on a good review and the Colorado setting, which I usually enjoy. Disappointing all the way around. Generic tough guy antics and prose that fails to capture the feel of Colorado's high country do not add up to the second coming of Elmore Leonard. And this guy's a native, so we can't blame it on the out of state writer doing it by the numbers. For a much better written crime story with a Colorado setting, read The Painter by Peter Heller.

Reviewer's Name: Alan
The Nameless City
Hicks, Faith Erin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kaidu is new to the Nameless City. This is a city so frequently conquered that no name, despite thousands, sticks. He's trying to become a warrior, make friends, and know his father but all three tasks seem unlikely for the shy boy. Then he meets Rat, a street-smart girl who has the ability to think on her feet and run quickly. They form a friendship and manage to save their city from an upcoming threat that could change who runs the city. Fans of Avatar the Last Airbender comics or TV show would adore this series. It's new, it's refreshing, and follows an interesting and still developing story arch. I couldn't put it down as I turned page after page of beautiful illustration and compelling story. There are many cultures at war with one another in the still, albeit temporarily, peaceful city. The first in the series, I look forward to watching the story take shape and tackle complex issues about identity, war, friendship, and trust. It was really enjoyable and I highly recommend it!

Reviewer's Name: Meagan H.
The City Stained Red
Sykes, Sam
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I’ve been following Sam Sykes on twitter for a while, and given my affinity for both well-crafted fantasy worlds and action-adventure stories, it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy of The City Stained Red, the first book in Sam’s Bring Down Heaven series.

At almost 650 pages, The City Stained Red is a doorstopper of a book, but a fast, fun, vicious read. The book follows Lenk, an adventurer that some readers may recognize from Sykes’ previous series, The Aeon’s Gate Trilogy (though reading that series first is by no means a prerequisite for Bring Down Heaven). Lenk has finally decided that he’s done with killing, and wants to put aside his sword and pick up what he believes will be a normal life in the trade hub city of Cier’Djall. He and his friends, Denaos the thief, young wizard Dreadaeleon, khoshicht (Sykes’ clever take on elves) archer Kataria, healer/priestess Asper, and dragonman Gariath have killed scores of people and monsters. With the money owed to them for their services, they could happily retire from their violent lives. However, the man who owes them is not so easily found.

Cier’Djall is a massive, sprawling city, and the wealthy who rule over it have made their gold by selling silk produced by enormous spiders. However, the beautiful silk-draped spire that towers over the city leaves long shadows. In darker corners of the city, some of the poor are disappearing, and the ruling fashas may be to blame. Two rival churches seek to position their armies within the city, and tensions are running high as negotiations between them loom. Then, there’s the small matter of the local thieves guild and their ongoing conflict with a new but powerful cult that claims to have demons backing them. This is reality in the city where Lenk hopes to find Miron Evenhands, the priest at whose behest they have been doing what they do best. Cier’Djall is a bonfire piled high, drenched in oil, and awaiting a spark, and Lenk and his friends are unwittingly bringing lit torches through the gates.

The City Stained Red takes a page from A Song of Ice and Fire by presenting chapters from the perspectives of each member of Lenk’s band of adventurers. After arriving in Cier’Djall, they split up to try to located Miron, each using their unique skills and connections to make their way through the city. Denaos has connections from his previous life in the thieves guild, the Jackals. Dreadaeleon seeks the assistance of the Venarium, the wizard’s alliance. Asper, a follower of the same church as Miron, travels to the various temples in the city. Kataria finds herself in Shichttown, a slum where the non-humans try to live out of the way of the fiercely racist upper class. Gariath attempts to gather information from another dragonman who works as a bodyguard for one of the fashsas. Lenk is trying to cope with the fact that his pursuit of retirement may lose him the closest thing he’s ever known to a family. None of them are remotely ready for what they find.

After a footwar between the Jackals and the Khovura cult spills from the back alleys into the streets, every faction with an interest in controlling the silk trade comes out of their corners swinging, and Lenk and company can do little more than hope to survive.

I absolutely loved this book. Sykes blends dark humor and trope deconstruction beautifully. I’m already reading the sequel, The Mortal Tally, because I couldn’t wait to see what happens to these folks next. Reading about these characters is like watching my college Dungeons and Dragons group in action. There’s violence and bloodshed, but also fervent emotion. It’s a wonderful thing.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy
Cloonan, Becky
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Olive Silverlock is back at Gotham Academy after a summer off - a summer that she barely remembers. With the help of her ex-boyfriend's little sister "Maps", Olive and crew are trying to oust a mysterious ghost before the ghost makes Gotham Academy uninhabitable for the living.

I wanted to like this title more than I actually ended up liking it. It started out with a bang - I found the first issue to be delightful - and then stumbled a bit after that. Even though I enjoyed the art, premise and
characters, I found the story itself to be wanting. Lots of potential here, and hopefully it will be more fully realized in future volumes.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: James and the Giant Peach
Dahl, Roald
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Roald Dahl specializes in tapping into the feelings of injustice that kids experience. It's frightening when you first find out life isn't fair. But he rights this wrong by imposing justice where oppression once existed.

This is and odd book. There are giant peaches, giant talking bugs, and cloud monsters! But it was endearing and enjoyable.

My 6.5 year old daughter was riveted off and on throughout the story, but I think the target audience is a bit older.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn

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