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Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: Shiloh
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Shiloh is a sweet story about a boy's love for his dog. Well, Shiloh isn't actually his but is owned by an abusive neighbor. Marty's devotion and determination to save Shiloh is touching. The narration is spot on. Well done!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Tell Me Three Things
Buxbaum, Julie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I think this book would have been better if I had read it instead of listening to it. The person who voiced it was highly annoying. Too bad, it may have gotten 4 stars otherwise.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Clockwork Dynasty
Wilson, Daniel H.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When I picked up this book, I have to admit, I was surprised, because sci fy steam punk fantasy stories is not the type of book I usually read, yet it ended up being so much more than I had imagined. The Clockwork Dynasty is not just a book about a race of humanlike mechanical creatures or avtomats that secretly live among us and are fighting a war that has raged for centuries, but it’s a story about life and the constant search for meaning and purpose.

This book waffles back and forth between present day Orgon, Washington and other places, and the 1700’s beginning in Russia and taking the reader on a journey through history and time. And while this may bother some people, the non-linear storytelling I think, adds so much more to the book and allows the author to unfold the story in a deeper more meaningful way.

In present time it follows the story of June someone who has made a career in ancient technology, ever since an encounter she had a child with her grandpa changed her perception of the world and started her fascination with this avtomat technology. A couple years after her grandfather’s death she receives a avtomat artifact that will cause her to team up with an avtomat named Peter, launch her into a great adventure in the secret avtomat
world, and ultimately determine this race’s extinction or survival. In
the 1700’s it follows the story of brother (Peter) and sister (Elena) two humanlike avtomats that were resurrected by a Russian clock maker using something called an anime which serves as the Avtomat’s heart and soul. As they live through the years they spend it hiding their secret, trying to blend into society, and fighting a war that has been raging among their own race for centuries.

This story explores the character’s constant search for meaning in a way that is both at times sad and extremely insightful. In the book each avtomat’s anime is marked with a Pravda or a special word that is their bond and command. As long as they satisfy their Pravda, they are at peace, otherwise they suffer. In Peter’s case this word is justice. As the book progresses we see his idea of justice shift and change as he lives through the years. Through a fascinating inner dialogue, Peter perception shifts from gaining justice simply by serving rulers in war to something far deeper and more moving, as this quote, when he encounters a dying soldier on the enemy’s side in the battlefield, suggests:

“Once Pravda was clear to me. By obeying my emperor all was well. But what was simple is becoming complex. I can see no evil inside this grievously wounded man, only honor. And though no clockwork flutters beneath his throat, I can see the inevitable forces that led him here, through no fault of his own, fating him to die in the shadow of this crumbling wall.”

As the book progresses a new perspective of right and wrong emerges leaving him questioning not only who he is but why he was made.

Another major theme this story also explores is the theme of war. As Peter recounts from his past, countless experiences on various battlefields throughout his life, and in the present, his own thoughts on his own race’s war; the reality of war is pressed heavy on the reader making this book at times very depressing, sad, and dark.

This reality is made even more real by the moving prose and incredible worldbuilding that takes place throughout the book. Another reason I love this book is the incredible character development between Peter and Elena.
How she is treated by him as a little sister at the beginning of the book, and how he sees her changes through the book from a little girl needing his protection to a sophisticated, wise learned, woman who’s one desire is to make her own way in the world is absolutely incredible. Daniel H Wilson does an amazing job of weaving together past and present into an engaging literary story that has something for everyone. Thank you to Doubleday books and Netgalley for an e- ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:
White Chrysanthemum
Bracht, Mary Lynn
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This was a very difficult book to read, but it was so beautifully written. Dual timelines tell the story of sisters separated by war. You will learn Hana's story from 1943 in Korea when she is taken by Japanese soldiers to become a "comfort woman" in Manchuria (the details of which are haunting).

Hana's sacrifice allows her younger sister, Emi, to stay on their island home off the coast of South Korea, but she is also tormented by the effects of World War II and the Korean War. We meet Emi as an older woman in 2011, still trying to find out what happened to her sister. Both stories are compelling and heartbreaking, but showcase the strength of these women to survive. Highly recommended.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:
The Hazel Wood
Albert, Melissa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Alice and her mom, it seems, have always been plagued by bad luck no matter where they go. One day when Alice’s mom disappears she and a friend set out on a journey to find her. This journey, they soon discover, takes them on an adventure to a place called the Hinterland. It's a place which she has only read about in her grandmother’s stories -- a reclusive authoress with a cult following who published a volume of pitch-dark fairy-tales and then quietly disappeared along with most of her books. This place, she soon discovers, is also much more than meets the eye. It’s a place where fairy-tales are real, fantastical and frightening monsters roam freely, and stories are woven into the fabric of its reality.

Melissa Albert’s tale is filled with dark and vivid writing, and its reliance on the power of stories is something that drew me into this book. It grabbed hold of me and never let me go. A page turner with twist and turns every which way, it has become one of my all-time favorite reads this year. Filled with Original Fairy Tales, a frightening adventure, and one young girl's fantastical journey into the heart of story itself, The Hazel Wood is destined to become a classic in fantasy literature that will leave an impression for generations to come.

Definitely put it on your to read list. It isn't out until January 30, but you can put your copy on hold today! Thank you to Netgalley, Flatiron Books, and Macmillan for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Genres:
Reign of the Fallen
Marsh, Sarah Glenn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Odessa is a rare type of mage: a necromancer. She can resurrect the dead. But not without a price – if any part of the dead’s body is seen by the living, the dead person turns into a Shade (think of an unholy combination between a Demogorgon and Venom, or, if you must, a zombie). When Odessa’s mentor mage turns up brutally murdered by a Shade, and other murders quickly follow, Odessa knows she has to do something before the Shades kill everyone she holds dear.

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. There were things I really liked, and things that didn’t work for me at all. One of my issues was the severe lack of character development – Odessa and two other characters get some level of development, everyone else is more or less a name on a page. So when people started dying, I didn’t really care. Odessa, however, cares a lot and spends a lot of time addicted to pain medication and grieving, which would have been a lot more interesting to read if I knew her at all as a character. For me, this plot line would’ve been better in a future series installment. There’s a lot of romance, and I liked some of it (Simeon and Danial for LIFE), and some of it annoyed me (Odessa and Evander, I’m looking at you). There’s a romance at the end that was excellent, but began a bit too soon for me – I could’ve done with the characters not getting together in this book, especially given their circumstances. I did like the diversity in the ethnicities of the characters as well as in the relationships.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. None of it was particularly new, per say, but it was all sort of assembled in a way that I thought was really rich and creative. I just wish that worldbuilding had been backed up by stronger
characters and plot. Odessa spends a ton of time grieving, which makes sense, but didn’t exactly make for an exciting plot. That, and the deaths and twists were pretty transparently telegraphed. The identity of the proverbial “bad guy” was pretty obvious as soon as they appeared on the scene.

While this book didn’t work for me on a lot of levels, I think most readers will love it. There’s action, romance (LGBT+), diversity, and some seriously cool worldbuilding. I’ll be recommending this one to a lot of teens, even though it wasn’t necessarily my thing. 2.5 stars.

Reign of the Fallen will be released on 23 January, but you can put your copy on hold today! Thanks to Razorbill and Netgalley for providing the eARC for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: Doubting Abbey
Tonge, Samantha
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Very stereotypical chick lit. Not particularly well-written but I finished it so it was okay.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Beneath the Sugar Sky
McGuire, Seanan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This series, the Wayward Children series, has become one of my favorite series this year and Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire’s third installment is no different, it has stolen my heart. This series center’s around a school Eleanor West’s home for Wayward Children. It is a boarding school for children, who have found themselves in magical worlds of all types and then had to come back to “the real world”, to become reintroduced to society. But, to the children, the school is a waiting place, a holding cell, a place to stay until they find their door back into the magical world from which they came. This series explores the curiosity of children, their adventurous spirit, and their willingness to believe in the impossible.

In this story, we join our heroes right after the events that took place in Every Heart a Doorway. Right at the beginning we meet Sumi’s daughter Rinni, who comes from one of these magical lands. In it her mother, Sumi, was foretold to birth a daughter that would save their magical land from great evil, but Sumi died in our world before she could fulfill her destiny. But Rinni is born anyway and comes back to our world to bring her mother back from our world, a world without magic. Our heroes then embark on an adventure through many dangerous, intriguing, and beautiful worlds to bring back Sumi and right the wrong that has been committed.

I love Seanan Mcguire’s writing style. It is dark, whimsical, and at times serious and sad, with a touch of magic thrown in. She tackles issues such as how families and children relate to each other, and obesity with grace and clarity. I really enjoyed the fact that one of the main characters in this book, Cora, was overweight and portrayed as a hero. While I do agree with others that have read the ARC of this book, that the character of Cora does, I think, dwell too much on her status as “the fat girl”, it seems like every other page; I also think the character’s inner dialogue of the subject is a good portrayal of how many teens who deal with this issue, think about their weight. I also love the world building in this series and in this book, particularly the world of Confection, the world Sumi and Rinni come from. It is particularly atmospheric, alluring and to be honest, a child’s dream. Finally I really enjoy the diversity of characters in this book from a Mexican American to a child with a broken arm, to a bisexual character, it has a character that is relatable in it for just about anyone.

Studded with beautiful worlds, engaging and believable characters, and atmospheric literary prose, Beneath the Sugar Sky is a diamond in the rough of YA fiction.

Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge books and Netgalley for the E Galley of this book for review! This book isn't out till January 9th but you can put a copy on hold today.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
The Darkest Part of the Forest
Black, Holly
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This was my first foray into Holly Black’s books, and I coming away from it not as impressed as I thought I would be. While I generally love fantasy and anything to do with faires, or fairy tales, there was just something about this book that made me not fully connect with the characters.

The general story line, I absolutely love! Of a small town forced to live in between two worlds that of fae and human and all the complications that comes with; Of a sleeping beauty like character waking after centuries of sleep; and of a hero that pledges her life to fighting the monsters in the middle of the forest. I also absolutely love the world building in this book, the description was beautiful, atmospheric, and haunting and made me wish fairy worlds were real. But the character development for me was just not as strong as it could have been, which is why rating this book was so difficult.

I am giving this one a solid 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
The Cottingley Secret
Gaynor, Hazel
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“ I said my story had many beginnings, and the day the camera arrived was one of them. After all, without the camera, there wouldn’t have been any photographs. Without the camera, I wouldn’t have a story to tell...”

The Cottingley Secret is a story about fairies, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and an old bookshop in a Irish harbor town, what is not to love about this book.
This story is a modern retelling of the real historical legend of the Cottingley Fairies. After coming to live with her cousin Elsie Wright in Cottingley England, during the height of the first world war, Frances Griffiths and her cousin both claim to see real live fairies at the bottom of the garden. The cousins soon prove their claims by photographing the fairies in the garden. These real live photos soon catches the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wholeheartedly believes the girls and proceeds to publish several of these photos in a magazine. Soon after, the girls and the fairies became a national sensation and through the country into the grip of fairy fever. This marks the beginning of a time that would define their lives and have them keeping secrets until the day of their deaths.

Meanwhile in modern day Ireland, Olivia Cavanaugh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and soon discovers a manuscript that recounts the story of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. As she reads through the manuscript, written by Frances, she soon discovers she has more in common with her than she ever imagined.

Hazel Gaynor connects past and present in a way that is both modern and extremely touching. I really connected with Olivia in this book. As she, and the reader, reads through Frances and Elsie’s story, she finds strength to face her painful past and let go of a life that has always been planned out for her to pursue a life that connects her to the desires of her heart.

Filled with amazing literary prose, a beautiful atmospheric environment and strong characters, this story is historical literary fantasy at it’s best.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Cruel Prince
Black, Holly
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When Jude and Taryn were seven years old, a man who wasn’t a man came to their door and killed their parents. After murdering their parents, the man who was not a man but a fairy, secreted Jude, Taryn and their sister Viv away to Faerie, where they were raised as if they were fairies themselves (nevermind the inconvenient fact that fairies hate mortals). After ten years of living with fairies, Jude wants nothing so badly as to be as beautiful, powerful and immortal. But Jude is a human, so she’s ugly and weak and mortal and has been bullied by her peers who are not her peers her whole life. So when a chance to gain power comes, Jude grasps it with both hands, not knowing that the opportunity will embroil her in the dangerous machinations of power-hungry mad fairies. But even if she had known, Jude wouldn’t have cared. Because she doesn’t just want to be a fairy. She wants to best them all.

This was one of my favorite books of the year. After a crazy fast and brutal start (the book does, in fact, start with a seven year old witnessing the brutal murder of her two parents), the book skips ahead 10 years and seriously slows down to do some worldbuilding. As I’m familiar with the typical rules surrounding the fey, I didn’t find this part to be terribly compelling, but understand why it was necessary. And to be fair, these parts are still at least somewhat interesting – Jude is constantly struggling with love and hate for her adopted father, Madoc, who did kill her parents. Her fairy schoolmates are cruel to the point of not being scared of killing Jude or her sister. There’s a bit of romance (although, as is often the case, it annoyed me). The groundwork for future court intrigue is laid.

Eventually, Jude gets recruited to be a spy for the likely heir to the throne of Faerie and the book goes from pretty good to freakin’ great. The story and character development pick up, and all of sudden it’s all evil machinations, twists, power grabs, allies-turned-enemies and enemies-turned-allies. Jude herself is a very interesting character – she’s not a nice or even necessarily good person, but you will find yourself rooting for despite her willingness to kill or do some seriously shady stuff. Actually, there isn’t one character that you would single out as being “good”, and I have to admit, I loved that. It made an already delightfully twisty read a bit twistier. The second half of the book also brings us some fresh developments on the romance horizon, and I definitely did not hate them. I can’t wait to see where that goes. I can’t wait to see where any of it goes – the ending will definitely leave you waiting for more.

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Black’s other books, you’ll love this one. She’s known as the “Queen of Faerie” and with this book, she’s earned her title. I buy a fairly small percentage of the books I read, but
I’ll be buying this one. It was AWESOME. 5 stars.

The Cruel Prince will be available on 02 January 2018, but you can put your copy on hold today. Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an advance electronic copy for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
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:
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
One Trick Pony
Hale, Nathan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this creative, futuristic graphic novel all technology has been stolen by a species known as the Pipers. When a young girl and two of her friends stumble into a hidden cache of robots, they become the targets of a wild chase. This book is exciting, unique, and includes a battle in outerspace! Recommended for grades 3-6.

Reviewer's Name: Jenny G.
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:
Gone Girl
Flynn, Gillian
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I loved reading this book. I loved everything about how it was written, how diabolical and shrewd the main character, Amy, was. Most of the book had me at the edge of my seat, eagerly lapping up the story as fast as I could. Then I got to the last quarter or so of the book. There came a point where Amy's plans and character changed a little to drastically to be consistent with who she was throughout the majority of the book. And after that, the quality of the writing also noticeably changed, as if a different author with a different writing style picked up where Flynn left off and finished the story from there. And THEN to add further insult to injury, the ending was just terrible, and somewhat unbelievable.

Reviewer's Name: Leah
Though Heaven Fall
Westerson, Jeri
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you like castles, medieval stories and a bit of supernatural I recommend this you!
Set in the 13th century, this novel whisks you back in time. The misadventures of this "cripple" build up from a puddle to a daring rescuing of a wanted madman. While it may seem to drag out sometimes, its worth the wait.

Reviewer's Name: Johana P.
Genres:
The Stolen Marriage
Chamberlain, Diane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

About halfway through this book, I wanted to throttle the main character and give up on the book as I saw it heading in an utterly predictable direction. Tess makes so many bad decisions that it is hard to feel sorry for her being in such a miserable situation. It was also difficult to read the characters' attitudes about racially mixed couples in a time and place when it was not only socially unacceptable, but illegal. However, I'm glad I stuck with it, as about 2/3 of the way through it turned around and ended on a very unexpected note, which I enjoyed!

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:
Sourdough
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is.... very hard to categorize. I read it because I LOVED Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which was also kind of quirky. Lois, an engineer at a robotics company, is given a special sourdough starter by the odd owners of a small restaurant which closes unexpectedly and without much explanation. The starter has some unique properties, and Lois ends up becoming quite obsessed with its care and development, joining a very unusual and exclusive farmer's market to sell the bread she makes. An interesting tale of the melding of traditional skills and technology.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Fall of Giants
Follett, Ken
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fall of Giants is a long but worthwhile book to read. I "read" this via audio-book and enjoyed the narration very much. Ken Follett never fails to write in a historically accurate method and this is no exception. The introduction to the characters takes a bit of time to get through, but it's worth it due to the intricate nature of their lives and how they will intersect later in the book and the following related novels. This book combines elements of politics, revolution, war, love, social injustices and reforms, and insight into daily lives of people living in WWI era Russia, England, Germany, Wales and America.

Reviewer's Name: Merry
Genres:

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