Staff Book Reviews

Once Upon a River
Setterfield, Diane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I know by now there isn’t much that hasn’t been said about Diane Setterfield’s latest offering, Once Upon a River, but I want to add my two sense. There is a reason why Setterfield’s beautiful haunting stories have touched millions since she first came out with The Thirteenth Tale, several years ago. The simple reason is, her books use the art of story as a medium to express to the heart, truths that words alone have not always been able to accomplish. Stories have a way of creeping up on you and taking root in the heart of the reader by the author being able to take everyday experiences and ideas, such as love, loss, and beauty and bring them to an emotional level, making them more real. And sometimes, a story, to fully germinate, takes time and patience; and knowing not only the characters, but its environment and history intimately. And that’s ok, it makes reading them, when they are finally available, that much more satisfying.

That is why I am such a fan of Setterfield’s works! She has a way of enveloping her characters in the power of story, and produces such a strong relationship between the characters in her stories and their environment! And Once Upon a River is no different. It uses the medium of story to forge a relationship between the environment of the Thames river and the community living on its banks, to weave a tale that strongly evokes the searing pain of loss, the beauty of love, and the hope of reunion.

The premise is simple. One wintery night a man, stumbles into a local tavern of a small English town on the river Thames, with a mute girl, who at first appears dead. What follows from that incident is a wild, haunting story that is weaved day in and day out, and changes and flows like the Thames river it is set upon. As the girl, appears mute, the mystery as to where she came from deepens, as several villagers claim her as their own missing daughter, or sister. The characters include every villager and every villager is included in this story. As the tale develops, it is clear how her arrival builds up hope in some, and compounds the searing loss for others, but the truth, later revealed, is not so simple.

Filled with haunting prose, drawing upon local and international folklore, strong character development, from the most minor character to the most central, and a beautiful story of love, loss, and reunion; Once Upon a River is a great feat in modern storytelling. Part mystery, part fairytale, and part legend. If you love any or all of these elements, you need to pick up this beautiful tale today! Thank you to the publishers and #netgalley for my DRC for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Awards:
Echo North
Meyer, Joanna Ruth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Would you all like to know what kept me up, new years eve, until 1 am? It was not the obvious fact that it was new year’s eve, and staying up until 12am was what we are all supposed to do, right? No! It was the simple reason, that I was spellbound and entranced, by this beautiful fairy tale of a book, and could not get away until I knew what happened. This tale captivated me and wouldn’t let go. This fable is a brilliant and magical retelling of a Norwegian tale called East of the Sun West of the Moon with references to other fairytales smattered throughout including Tam Lin and Psyche.

It’s basic premise is that one day after her father leaves town and mysteriously disappears, Echo Alkaev goes to look for him. She finds him on the brink of death. In order to save him she is sucked into a deal, by the same talking white wolf which disfigured her face and whom, she saved years before. A deal that will define and change the rest of her life. Live with me for a year in my enchanted house under the mountain, and I will save your father. There is only one rule, you cannot look upon me at night. Desperate and scared, and propelled by the mystery surrounding him, she does as she is asked.

She is soon launched into a magical world she never knew existed. With an enchanted house; in each room a different magical wonder, woven together like a tapestry; a magical library, with books explored through mirrors that one could travel into and experience, the four winds, a witch, a goddess and, a dreadful curse; Echo finds this world, on the edge of magic itself, dark, mysterious, lonely, full of peril, and wonder, and fantastical beyond belief. But more importantly, she finds a resiliency and strength in herself she never knew she possessed, the capacity to love beyond belief, and the courage to do what’s right even in the most dangerous of circumstances.

This book is filled with so many layers, it’s impossible to describe them all here, but suffice it to say, that if you let it, this story will weave itself into an incredible tapestry around you. It’s filled with so many different worlds that I just wanted to dive into and stay there forever. It’s filled with likable and relateablecharacters that felt like friends. Hal, the love interest, the tortured and lonely white wolf, Echo, the heroine, and so many lovable side characters, I can’t choose. It’s filled with vivid prose and world building and just so much goodness, and magic, and love, I just can’t even….

All I can say is pick up this book when it comes out. If you love fairy tales, and magic and heart felt story telling that will get you lost in worlds you don’t want to leave, and heart wrenching secrets that will make you happy and sad all at the same time. Than do yourself a favor and pick up this wonderful, fable! Total5 star read for me all the way! Thank you to Netgalley and Page Street Publishing for a Digital Review Copy for review. This comes out January 15 but you can pre order it, or put it on hold at your local library today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Covered in Water
Lawrence, Ellen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you’re looking for a good introduction to the study of water, this may
be the book for you. You’ll learn about the water on earth – salt &
fresh. You’ll learn where our water comes from and why it’s limited, how
rivers are formed, and frozen water. You’ll also learn about the water
cycle. Try the experiment at the end of the book and resolve to use water
wisely.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Over on the Farm
Berkes, Marianne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Over on the Farm can be sung to the traditional tune “Over in the
Meadow.” Through it, children can learn language, counting, and movement.
The activities at the end of the book help children interact with the farm
in a variety of ways. Information provided teaches about the various animals
mentioned.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing
Witek, Jo
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

There are so many different ways to give. This interactive book - with flaps
to open on each page - explores many of them. It also talks about sharing,
sibling rivalry, and collaboration. Learn about the importance of giving and
receiving gifts from the heart!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Unofficial Guide to Learning with LEGO
Buckley, Danielle
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Does your child love LEGO? This book offers a variety of ways to
build on their interest to inspire learning. From simple math activities and
reading readiness to complicated STEM challenges, this book has something for
learners of all ages!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
The Winter of the Witch
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In everyone’s reading adventures they find that there are those books they come across that they like, some they love, and then there are those books that resonate so deeply, that you say to yourself and all who will listen “this is why I read.” Its not just the stunning world building, the lyrical prose, or the deep character development, but something more, that speaks to your soul, about who you truly are or what the world around you is really like. Something that can’t always be expressed through spoken word or any other means, expect through story. This is what Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch has done for me.

Picking up right where The Girl in the Tower had left off with Rus in shambles and the people needing to blame someone for what happened to their city they naturally turn to Vasya. I am not going to try to explain the rest of the plot because so much happens. But suffice it to say that in this one there is so much more wintery magic, more of the winter king, everyone’s favorite hero, and so much more action and adventure I could barely keep up.

This book flows seamlessly from the 2nd to the third one without taking a single breath. And the blending of the historical and fantastical is so complete it totally had me believing that 13th century Rus existed side by side with this wintery magical world called midnight and had me longing to time travel so I can visit it. With mysterious and magical midnight roads, it’s chiriti and spirits of all types, its magical house, and a lake on the edge of worlds, it’s flying horses, its river monsters and so many other fairy tale elements this book appealed to me on so many levels. It really awakened that inner child in me, that I think is in all of us that loves fairy tales and magic, wants to be accepted and loved but also wants to have purpose and feel needed. Their was just so much about this fable and Vasya as a character that spoke to my soul that it’s hard to express it all in one measily review.

Vasya also grows so much into her power in this tale. She really discovers her identity and the book delves not only into more of who she and is becoming but also who her family is and their magical legacy. I really grew to love Vasya as a character and her determination to never give up even in the most difficult of circumstances, her love of her city and people, her strength, and how she doesn’t just accept her circumstances but fights for better things and saves herself and those around her.

Can we also talk about Vasya and Morozko relationship for a second. I love their relationship and think it is a great representation of what love in real life is often like. I love how they grow into their relationship, and that she loves him but doesn’t always love everything about him or the choices he makes. It proves what is often true about love that it is not always magic and sunshine and unicorns but can often be difficult. It often requires sacrifice and one to be selfless enough to make sacrifices. It also requires each partner to live with each other in daily life with all their imperfections no matter how much it annoys and frustrates you. I love the fact that, though Morozoko is this ancient powerful being, his character also has imperfections and issues and his own sorrows that Vasya has to learn to live with. I also love that they save each other in more ways than one, and in the scenes when they do connect it is often tender and beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time.

Beyond the character development, the story itself is filled with lush and atmospheric imagery, beautiful and lyrical prose, and quirky and whimsical details that speak to my heart childhood heart. I also, being a history major, really appreciate the research done for this series with regards to historical detail. In history we call this establishing historical context, putting the person we are studying in their historical environment within the whole of history. It blended Vasya’s magical world and grounded her in a specific place in history seamlessly.

All this to say I loved this book and this series! Both are a solid 5 stars! And when it comes out next Tuesday Jan 8, run, don’t walk to your local library or book store to get this beautiful fable and complete your collection of one of the best series of all time. Seriously it’s up there with CS Lewis and Tolkien for me ya’ll. Thank you to Edelweiss and Del Ray for my Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Gilded Wolves cover
Chokshi, Roshani
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Severin’s legacy has been stolen. And he wants it back. As the sole heir to the House of Vanth, leading it should be his birthright. But folks from two of the other three houses stopped him from assuming the mantle of head of House Vanth. So when a secret society, the Order of Babel, approaches him and promises him his true inheritance in exchange for an artifact, he agrees to find the artifact along with his crew.

I enjoyed this one, though it isn’t without its flaws. Normally I end a review with my complaints, but in this case my main issue is also a positive so we’ll just start there! This book is quite similar to Six of Crows. Arguably a bit too similar. I mean, there are character analogs (Severin is fairly close to Kaz, Laila is like a Inej/Nina hybrid), and aspects of the plot are pretty similar as well. It felt like I was reading really incredible fanfiction on occasion. The thing is, though, I loved Six of Crows, so I really ended up enjoying this book too. Where Six of Crows is gorgeously bleak, The Gilded Wolves is exuberantly lavish. Set in late 19th century Paris, the trappings of this book are dazzling. Each scene is more lush than the last, and our characters’ surroundings are brought to life in the most whimsical of ways. Magical extravagance abounds, and I had the best time imagining the various rooms, secret chambers and tunnels. The world building was cool, although it occasionally felt convoluted. Overall, though, the author manages to blend religion and science and math, which is really no easy feat. The other thing that I really liked about this book is that the cast is very diverse in race, ethnicity and sexuality and that the author makes commentary about important, relevant issues such as colonialism, racism, and immigration.

I’ve read a few other books by this author, one that I hated (Star Touched Queen) and one that I enjoyed (Aru Shah). This one was much closer to an Aru read for me, although I do find that the rich prose reads as purple on occasion. There will obviously be a sequel, and I’ll definitely give that a go when it comes out in something like two years. I think a this book may also improve upon a reread. Some of the characters were a bit hard to keep track of - when the villain was ultimately revealed, I was like…who was that again? The end also felt super rushed and disjointed, and I think several of the plot points and character developments introduced might have made more sense at the top of the next book.

TLDR: A lavish heist and adventure fantasy for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think most readers of YA fantasy will like this one – I did! 3.5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Gilded Wolves will be available for purchase on 15 January 2019, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: She's Come Undone
Lamb, Wally
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Goodreads synopsis for this book says the main character is the "most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years." That's a bunch of crap. The main character is flawed but not funny, just sad and hard to root for. Some parts of the book I loved, other parts I didn't. But overall the good parts won out.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, 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.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orczy, Baroness
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ever since I saw the inimitable Richard E. Grant in the "The Scarlet Pimpernel" TV series, I have been enamored by these tales from Baroness Orczy. As the cliche goes though, the book is far superior to any adaptation I've seen thus far. After the French Revolution, the new government of France established the "Reign of Terror", where the citizens of France took out their anger and vengeance on any of the old aristocracy that they could find - whether they were guilty of oppressing the people, or not. Enter The Scarlet Pimpernel(!), an elusive daredevil, whose secret league of Englishmen risk their lives to save the aristocratic victims of the people of France. When the government of France charges their agent, Citizen Chauvelin, with discovering the identity of their mysterious enemy, he blackmails Lady Blakeney, a pinnacle of London society, into aiding him in his treacherous task. Who will she turn to, to help save her only brother - her insipidly foppish husband, Sir Percy Blakeney? He may be rich, and the leader of fashion in London's high society, but he's certainly not a "man of action" for something so perilous and vital. Lady Blakeney must face her inner struggles to try to find the hero who she admires so much, only to betray him. Meanwhile, the infamous guillotine awaits her next victims...

Published in 1905, "The Scarlet Pimpernel" established many of the hero tropes that are familiar today, such as having a secret identity, and using disguises and intelligence to outwit one's enemies. This is truly one of my favorite series. If you like this book, there are follow-up chapters, such as "I Will Repay", and "The Elusive Pimpernel", that are worth your attention as well!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Tomorrow I'll Be Brave
Hische, Jessica
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This beautifully hand-lettered book encourages kids to be adventurous,
strong, smart, curious, creative, confident, and brave. It also persuades
them to keep trying and not to worry if they haven’t been able to
accomplish all of those things today. They can realize that they don’t
have to be all of those things, but they can try their best.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Water Hole
Base, Graeme
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Animals come to drink at the water hole and find it drying up. This
beautifully illustrated book is partially counting book, but it’s also a
puzzle and a story. Learn about Earth’s continents, the variety of animals
living on each continent, and the impact water has on them.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Awards:
Loretta's Gift
Miller, Pat
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Aunt Esme & Uncle Jax are expecting a baby and the whole family is helping
celebrate. Loretta searches for a gift to give, but hasn’t found one by
the time he was born. Even as he grows and his birthday approaches, she
can’t find the perfect gift. Will she ever find the gift or will she
realize that the best gift doesn’t necessarily come in a package. A great
book for those anticipating the arrival of a new baby whether it be cousin,
sibling, or friend.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
My Farm Friends
Minor, Wendell
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Learn facts about favorite farm animals in this rhyming book. Learn about
why pigs roll in the mud, the amount of water that cows drink, how horses
sleep, and more. Extra farm facts are provided at the end of the book.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
This Is the Van That Dad Cleaned
Ernst, Lisa Campbell
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Dad has cleaned the van. It’s all sparkly and shiny. This cumulative,
rhyming story chronicles what happens next. It’s a fun narrative that many
children and their parents can relate to.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Fire & Heist
Durst, Sarah Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Sky’s mother has disappeared. Assuming that their mother is dead, Sky, her three brothers, and their father feel unmoored. Especially because their mother disappeared in the midst of a heist she was committing – heists are fairly normal for wyverns as they are always trying to increase their horde, but this heist was a direct attack on Sky’s boyfriend’s family. As Sky learns more about the failed heist, she realizes that her squeaky-clean-now- ex-boyfriend’s family might be hiding something. And Sky’s going to find out what it is, and save her mother…or suffer her mother’s fate.

I wanted to read this book as I’ve read Durst’s adult fantasy series the Queens of Renthia, and I really enjoyed it! When I was approved for Fire & Heist on Netgalley, I was pretty excited. And I liked the book – it’s a solid YA standalone fantasy. The worldbuilding and plot are cool, though the characters are a little one dimensional. My biggest complaint was that the book straddled two worlds and tones, and I think it would’ve been a bit better had it leaned into one a little more. The book was part quirky middle grade fiction, part dark YA fantasy. Had it gone full bore in either direction, it would’ve been a higher quality book. As it is, it’s a fun heist fantasy with some dragon flavorings which makes for a fast, amusing read.

This one would be a great read for younger teens and mature tweens who aren’t quite yet ready for Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Hartman’s Seraphina. I liked it! 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an unbiased review. Fire & Heist is available to put on hold now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Serpent King
Zentner, Jeff
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dillard Early is the son of a snake handling preacher that is in prison for child pornography. He and his two best friends, Travis and Lydia, struggle to survive in small town Tennessee, where they clearly don't belong.

This is not your typical young adult book. The story defies the genre by containing minimal (although some) naval gazing and overt attempts at being angsty and hip. The story is real and the subject matter interesting. Who doesn't want to hear about snake handlers in the deep south? The twist in the middle was surprising, but I was a bit disappointed by how it occurred. Overall, darn good for young adult fiction. I listened to it on audio and it was fantastically well done.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: The Awakening
Chopin, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is about Mrs. Pontieller, a woman in turn of the 20th century New Orleans. She falls in love and finds herself awakened to a natural state, one that doesn't conform to her life as a wife, mother, and socialite. I liked when Mademoiselle Reitz encouraged her to be a strong bird that defies the laws of gravity and soars above the ground below, not to be weak and come crashing to earth. At the end, Mrs. Pontieller sees a wounded bird fall from the sky and cements her fate likewise.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:

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