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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Realistic

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:
Book Review: Where the Red Fern Grows
Rawls, Wilson
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is so well written that it didn't matter that I had nothing in common with the narrator and no interest in hunting. In fact, I felt sorry for the coons. This is a story of love and devotion that had me enthralled, especially in the second half. The ending, while a bit contrived, was still beautiful.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ward, Jesmyn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Jo Jo and his mother Leonie have been living on a farm in rural Missisippi for their entire lives. Jo Jo's father, Michael, has been in jail for drug related crimes, and thus most of Jo Jo and his sister Kayla's upbringing has been done by their grandparents: the gruff but ultimately loving Pop and the cancer-ridden matriarch, Mam. Everyone's world is about to be upended, though, as time grows near for Michael to get out of prison.

Writing any sort of synopsis for this book was particularly challenging, as there's not much in the way of plot. I don't mean that in a bad way. I sometimes love books that focus solely character development, and that is absolutely what this is. The writing is insanely gorgeous and it's obvious from the gruesome beginning scene as to why this won the National Book Award.

Ward manages to make almost all of the characters relatable or lovable even as they do and say and think terrible things. She absolutely captures some of the wonderfully horrible aspects of the human condition, and here is a lot to love in this book.

That being said, I did not much care for certain aspects of the audiobook. First, by the time I got the book, I had forgotten what it was actually about. I did not remember that ghosts were a part of the story and was really confused for the first part of the book (are these flashbacks? how is that character here? I thought he was dead?), but I eventually figured it out. For me, the ghosts detracted from the story and I could have done without that element, even though magical realism is often my jam. The biggest problem for me, however, was Rutina Wesley's performance (which, hilariously enough, is why I went for this in audiobook format - I liked her in the few seasons I watched of True Blood). It was over enunciated especially given that Leonie is from Mississippi, and I found her parts to be melodramatic as there were a lot of weird pauses and words said breathlessly. It just didn't work for me, and I wanted to skip all of Leonie's parts.

If you would like to read a gorgeously written character study/family drama with a compelling setting, then this is a great bet. Just read it, don't listen to it. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Small Great Things
Picoult, Jodi
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Here's the problem I have with Jodi Picoult. She always does some left field plot twist at the end of her books. I find it very annoying. This book is no exception. Something completely weird happens toward the end. Otherwise I enjoyed this book. Especially the Turk chapters. Fascinating and disturbing. Some of the book was heavy handed, but it's hard for a white woman to write about race, so she has my sympathy.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Handle With Care
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors, as her stories always involve a complex moral dilemma her well-developed characters are grappling with. This story in particular tugs at the heart strings of mothers who would do anything to protect their suffering child. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the deeper, melancholy moments of life.

Reviewer's Name: Bethany P.
Three Pennies
Crowder, Melanie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Marin was abandoned at 4 years of age by her mother. On her journey through the foster care system she keeps her ambition to find her biological mother alive as she encounters disappointment, loneliness, turmoil about her abandonment, and finally the perplexing new feelings of real family love. Three Pennies, by Melanie Crowder, is a lovingly written and thoughtful book for ages 9 - 14.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Sweetbitter
Danler, Stephanie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Some really beautiful thoughts and quotes stuck in between such vulgar language. Too many drug and sex scenes that were unnecessary.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Genres:
Little House in the Big Woods
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lovely book. It moves slowly and gently and paints a dream-like portrait of life in the woods in the 1870s. Nothing really exciting happens, but that's the beauty of it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Book Review: Save Me a Seat
Weeks, Sarah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a really good quick read about two 5th grade boys that are bullied and the beginning of a friendship. It's told from the perspective of each boy, Joe and Ravi. Ravi is from India, Joe has special needs. Smart and engaging, this book gets 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
Book Review: Between Shades of Gray
Sepetys, Ruta
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is an amazing book. So stark and unforgiving, written exactly like Siberia and the arctic circle. This isn't an autobiography but it sounds like it could be. I have no doubt that Lina's circumstances happened to thousands during Stalin's reign. The writing was so realistic I could feel the wind and the cold and every terrible thing that came with it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Ghost
Reynolds, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jason Reynolds (author) + Guy Lockhard* (narrator) = Magic

Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has been running from things his whole life: his violent father, the consequences of altercations at school with a bully, and most of all, the anger that's been building up inside him. So Ghost has a ton of natural talent, which he puts to use when he inadvertently impresses the coach of a local track team. After the coach begs him to join, and Ghost reluctantly agrees, he begins to see that he might be happier if he runs towards something instead of away from everything.

I listened to this audiobook, and it was excellent. I really struggle with middle grade fiction, as I oftentimes have trouble identifying with the characters (I mean, middle school was a loooooooong time ago), but Reynolds took me right back to the thick of it. In a good way. The day-making/ruining things your classmates would say, interactions with adults in positions of authority, and not really being sure about who you are and what you want in life - Reynolds nails it all. Moreover, Ghost is just a straight up likable character, even as he makes poor decision after poor decision. We really get to see him grow over the course of the novel, and even as he does the wrong thing, his heart is usually in the right place. I loved his relationship with his mother, and later, with Coach. There aren't always positive adult relationships in fiction for young people, and so it was nice that Ghost had so many adults that he could turn to. The secondary characters were just as dynamic, and also had very serious problems of their own to deal with. I'd read a book about any of them. Shoot, I wanted to adopt most of them. As a runner myself (although I'm not competitive and do longer distances), I really liked that the book was about track as it's not a sport we read or hear a lot about. There's a bit about fartleks that was pretty hilarious, and I think runners (Land Sharks, anyone?) will find a lot to love here.

If you are looking for a book to listen to or read with your kids, this is a great one. There are loads of teachable moments, and it is ultimately a heartwarming tale of self-discovery. I couldn't get enough of it - 5 stars.

*Shout out to Guy Lockhard - he narrated the other Jason Reynolds book that I've listened to (All American Boys), and he is a fantastic narrator. It seems like Reynolds thinks so as well, because it looks like Lockhard will be narrating Reynolds' recently released book about Spiderman Miles Morales. I may have just put that on hold...

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: After You
Moyes, Jojo
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

See, here's the problem: I wasn't that enamored with the first book in this series (Me Before You). It just didn't wow me. So with that book as a jumping-off point, this book didn't stand a chance at getting above 3 stars. Still, it was pretty good. The ending was super cheesy, though, which tempts me to give it 2 stars. But hey, I'm feeling generous, so 3 stars it is.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Cleary, Beverly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a sweet book. It's not so mind-blowing as to warrant an in-depth review, so I'll just leave it at that.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Save Me a Seat
Weeks, Sarah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Even though Save Me A Seat is a Children's book, I ABSOLUTELY loved it. A really wonderful story told by Joe and Ravi. Both boys are "different". Joe has a sensitivity to noise (auditory processing disorder), while Ravi is the new kid in school as his family has moved from India. Both Joe and Ravi have challenges in the classroom, with their classmates, and even at home. But they both work at facing their challenges and in the end become friends. A really great story and read, no matter what age you are!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa Mitchell
Awards:
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The best way I can describe Raymie Nightingale is to say that it is a book you can fall into. Kate DiCamillo is a master of characters and story, and Raymie Nightengale is no exception. This author weaves magic through words. We enter Raymie’s life mid-stream; she is ten years old and floundering a little. Through some new, strong friendships, she discovers strength in numbers – and in herself. The subject matter might be a bit much for some. Raymie’s dad has “run off” with a dental hygienist. But DiCamillo is never heavy-handed with the details and navigates the discomfort with aplomb.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Luna's Red Hat: An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope With Loss and Suicide
Smid, Emmi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Luna’s Red Hat is a children’s book to help with loss and suicide. Though these are topics from which we wish we could always shield children, the reality is that there are times that you might need such a book.

This one is written with knowledge, compassion, and a deep understanding of children. I highly recommend Luna’s Red Hat if you find yourself facing such a difficult time as having to explain to a child the realities of death and suicide.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
A Man Called Ove
Backman, Frederik
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I absolutely loved this book. On the cover it said you would laugh and cry as you got to know a Man Called Ove. And it was true! Ove is a man with blinding grief after losing his wife and then being forced to retire from his job. He has no purpose and doesn't want to live. But one by one, people (and a cat) come into his life and gives his purpose. Friedrik Backman was able to tackle so many social issues in this book. I was very impressed how he handle things and didn't really have to "hit" you over the head with the issues. This book is a fast read and great for book discussion groups. I can't wait to read more by Fredrik Backman!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Genres:
Beneath Wandering Stars
Cowles, Ashlee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In a lot of ways, Gabriela’s life has felt just like Homer’s Odyssey: one never-ending journey with no place to call home. From birth, she has been learning that “people are the only home the Army issues” as she moves from base to base at the whim of her father’s marching orders. Now that her boyfriend’s back in Texas and her older brother has abandoned her to enlist, Gabi decides that their new post in Germany is her last. She dreams of her escape the minute she graduates from high school in a year's time.

Gabi’s plans are put on hold when her brother, Lucas, gets seriously wounded in action. In one of his last letters, Lucas requests that if anything were to happen to him; Gabi, Gabi’s father, and Lucas’ best friend Seth walk the Camino de Santiago—a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain—for him. This is harder than it sounds since Gabi thinks Seth is the reason Lucas enlisted and Gabi’s dad has responsibilities he can’t abandon to walk the trail. As Gabi starts out on her adventure, she is determined to discover how much Seth really is to blame for her brother’s injuries, and what exactly is keeping her and her father from understanding each other.

While I'm not quite a military brat, I grew up moving back and forth from overseas and I love how Gabi (the main character) expresses some of the struggles she faces moving, moving again, and adapting to new cultures--even on base.

While being age-appropriate for the average teen, this book covers a lot of the tough issues that all of us, and especially military brats, come up against on a regular basis. Cowles allows you to think it all through and has her character come up with some answers, but doesn't force you to decide what you think by the end of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who have ever felt like a wanderer.

Reviewer's Name: Danielle
Genres:
The Memory of Light
Stork, Francisco X.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I've read many teen fiction books, but this book was by far the most honest about dealing with mental issues. There are no easy answers and it is a hard process to fight through. The main character Vicki really wants to be normal, but she is having a hard time dealing with school and her parents. She decides to commit suicide. She is discovered and rescued. She commits herself to a local mental institute to see if she can find a way to deal with her depression. Once there she meets other teens that are also dealing with difficult mental issues. Having dealt with depression in my own life it is nice to see that books are being published about mental health issues, especially books that target teens. The descriptions of how depression affect Vicky were really well done. I will say that there are some moments of teen angst, but overall the book was excellent.

Reviewer's Name: Jean
Genres:
After You
Moyes, Jojo
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It’s been 2 years since Will Traynor’s death. Louisa Clark traveled for a while, but now she is stuck in a bad job and just treading water. Even surviving a fall from the rooftop of her apartment building doesn’t shock Louisa into wanting to experience more of life. Louisa joins a support group to deal with her grief and develops a relationship with the paramedic who saved her. However, it’s the arrival of teenage girl with a link to Louisa’s past that sets her life into a spin and changes it in more ways than she could ever have imagined. After You, Jojo Moyes’ sequel to Me Before You, is a well-written, realistic look at dealing with grief and all the curves life throws at a person. Fans of the first book will feel like they are catching up with an old friend. Be prepared to cry and laugh out loud as you spend more time with this loveable character.

Reviewer's Name: Milissa

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