Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: The Flatshare
O'Leary, Beth
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I don't usually rate chick lit higher than 3 stars as it's my guilty pleasure, but this book was very well written, had an engaging plot, likable characters, and addressed a serious topic without seeming heavy handed. I recommend it as a quick and satisfying read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Housekeeper and the Professor
Ogawa, Yōko
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This beautiful exploration of living in the moment centers on the relationship between a brilliant math professor, his young housekeeper and her 10-year-old son. The professor suffered a traumatic brain injury decades earlier, limiting his
short-term memory to only 80 minutes. She is hired to care for this unique, challenging client. And every morning, the housekeeper and the professor meet anew, creating this strange, yet lovely relationship that blossoms between them. The damaged yet lively mind of the professor allows him discover connections in everyday items like shoe sizes and the universe at large, an eye-opening experience for mother and child as their lives draw closer together. The short novel focuses on those mathematical equations and the emotional connections that create a unique family. The 2009 English translation is available as a PPLD book club set. The novel's bibliography cites The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, on which the professor character is based. The 2003 novel, original title The Professor's Beloved Equation, won the Hon'ya Taisho award. It was a massive bestseller in the prolific, well-regarded Ogawa's native country.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
The Great Alone
Hannah, Kristin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Author Kristin Hannah has told interviewers that she scrapped an early version of The Great Alone that she wrote shortly after her career-making breakout bestseller, The Nightingale. Readers will be happy she started over because what the author delivered in 2017 was a compelling page-turner featuring Leni Albright. The strong-willed young woman was 13 when her father, a former Vietnam War POW struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, moved her and her mother to the remote wilds of 1970s Alaska after years of wandering. Things are good when the weather is warm and sunny but then the long, frigid nights of winter descend on a fractured family not quite ready for those hardships. Leni grows up over the course of the novel, forged by the destructive nature of her parents' relationship, abuse, young love and the coming-of-age struggle to find a place where she belongs. Her resilience will be tested by her family and equally beautiful and dangerous Alaska, which takes its toll on those she loves in this award-winning novel (2018 Goodreads Choice Awards, Best Historical Fiction).

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Genres:
Book Cover
Hardinge, Frances
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Hark is an orphan who forms a bond of brotherhood with Jelt, a fellow orphan. So when Jelt asks Hark for help executing a job for a local gang, Hark reluctantly agrees. And gets caught, natch. He ends up as an indentured servant of a scientist studying the leftover pieces dead sea-monster gods that ruled the island until they all fought each other to death 30 years prior. Hark talks to the former priests who worked with the gods and is largely enjoying himself, until Jelt shows up with a new job that threatens Hark's new life.

There is obviously a lot going on in this book, and the worldbuilding was next level creative. Each sea-monster/god is different, and the descriptions of them were fantastic and a bit creepy. The mysteries of their existence and sudden disappearance unravel throughout the course of the book. That's kind of half of the book, and the other half is the adventures of Hark (they are, of course, intertwined), which I didn't love as much due to his blind devotion to Jelt. But even still, Hark's story goes down a very interesting and unexpected path and I think a lot of young teenage boys will identify with him. The book's message ends up being about your story/legacy and storytelling, which resonated with me as it will with anyone who understands the power and value of good storytelling.

This is a perfect read for tweens and teens graduating from middle grade fiction to YA who love adventure with a touch of horror. If this book finds it's audience, I can see it being really popular. I really enjoyed it! 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and MacMillan for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Deeplight is available now - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
Shin, Kyung-Sook
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The word mom means unconditional love. When I saw the title it seems a little awkward. The mom who had taken care of her family an given endless love was missing; the elderly woman, suffering from dementia vanished in the crowd in the train station. She came to Seoul to celebrate her birthday withmher children. After her disappearance, the story started with a view from each family members. Each of them followed her trace to find her from their memories. While they struggling to find her, they gradually realized that the mom was ignored and had been neglected, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Her name was Park, So-nye; like meaning (So-nye = little
girl) of her name. She was an ordinary girl like all of us who had many dreams for her future. As time passes by her name and her dreams were sacrificed for her to take the role of a mother without her children's knowledge. Through this book, we encounter question and explore true, universal meaning of family.

Reviewer's Name: Hyun Sook Oh
Awards:
Book Cover
Duhigg, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg is a great read if you are interested in changing your habits or changing your company's habits for the better. Duhigg guides the reader through how habits work in life and in business. What makes "The Power of Habit" a good read, though, is Duhigg's remarkable talent for storytelling. The narratives Duhigg presents are both informative and heartfelt. The stories are what make this book a real page turner, but when coupled with Duhigg's insights about habits, the book is both enlightening and informative.

Reviewer's Name: Melina D.
Book Cover
Durst, Sarah Beth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Tamra is desperate. After two of her rider trainees were hurt in practice, she found herself without anyone to teach and no source of revenue. When her patron gives her a measly 200 gold coins to purchase a Kehok (a racer) and find a rider to train, she knows she'll do what it takes to win the annual Becar Races and and the huge purses that come with it. So she finds an untrained and unproven Kehok that no one wants, and a rider whose a clearly a recent runaway. Raia, the runaway rider, is fleeing her parents who would marry her off to a man who murdered his last wife. Both Tamra, Raia and the increasingly strange Kehok must win the races to save themselves and win their freedom.

That was a really tough description to write, because there's a ton going on in the world! Reincarnation is widely accepted and the motivation for a lot of folks actions (Kehoks were monsters in their former lives and cannot reincarnate as anything but a Kehok, for example), there's a religious caste that low-key rules everything, at least BTS, and the not-quite-coronated-yet-because-his-brother-just-died-emperor is fighting off revolution. That last bit leads to a lot of political and court intrigue in the second half of the book. This was a really solid standalone fantasy. As you can tell, the worldbuilding was rich and complex, but it wasn't so complex as to be confusing. I found it to be refreshingly new and inventive, and would recommend the book on the strength of that alone. There's also quite a bit of ethical questioning of one's actions and what folks owe each other (this did occasionally feel a tad heavy handed), which is something that I love.

The worldbuilding is not the only star of the show - Tamra and Raia are easy to relate to, and quite lovable. You'll fall in love with their monstrous, strange kehok as well and you'll think about any horse-related novel that you adored as a kid. In fact, this book would have been catnip for me when I was 12 as I was into all things Tamora Pierce (Tamra is her namesake) and most things horse (I kept thinking about the "Thoroughbreds" series when I read this book, which I reread a bunch of times as a kid). In fact, this book could have easily been marketed as YA, although Tamra is clearly the main character, and she is very much an adult - I don't remember her age, but she's late 30s on the very low end. Since fantasy novels, even those for adults, often star adolescents (and yes, Raia is 17), I found this to be refreshing.

TLDR: With inventive worldbuilding, strong female characters, and major crossover appeal, fantasy readers of all ages will love this book! It's sort of The Scorpio Races meets Tamora Pierce and from me, that's high praise. I wouldn't say it was amazing, but I did love it, so 5 stars!

Thanks to Netgalley and Harper Voyager for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Race the Sands is available now - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Stars Are Fire
Shreve, Anita
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The largest fire in Maine's history is the catalyst of change for Grace Holland, who is left while five months pregnant with her two toddlers as volunteers, including her husband Gene, battle the 1947 blaze. They survive, even if their town does not. But their lives are forever changed. The 24-year-old awaits news of her husband's fate, while homeless, penniless and facing an uncertain future. Grace embraces her new freedom after years of a "sense of something wrong" and strives out on her own to support herself, raise her family and yes, find love. But then her husband returns, a scarred, bitter man. The tense pacing of the fire scenes are well done. But it is the story of a young woman discovering her inner strength while facing oppressive social mores that resonates in this final romantic novel by the author of The Pilot's Wife and The Weight of Water.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Hollow Kingdom
Buxton, Kira Jane
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This debut novel is a refreshing romp through the Apocalypse narrated by a foul-mouthed domesticated crow whose only knowledge of the world is TV. This mash-up of "The Incredible Journey" and "The Walking Dead" has an environmental message, focusing on humankind's increasing disconnect from the natural world. You may want to reconsider all those hours of screen time. But do read this novel, which while a tad long, chronicles the adventures of S.T. (not a library appropriate name) and his heroic steed, the dim-witted dog Dennis. The crow tries to save humankind, learns about himself and the natural world in a frightening new Seattle featuring an emerging predator.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story
Kamb, Steve
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Steve Kamb’s book Level up Your Life is one of those rare self-help books that manages to be a page-turner. As an avid gamer, Kamb’s approach to gamifying goal-setting really resonated with me, and his journey from “shy, risk-averse nerd” to diving with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef inspired me to start my own bucket list.

One thing to keep in mind before picking up this book is that a substantial portion focuses on achieving fitness-related goals. Kamb is, after all, the founder of a Nerd Fitness, a website geared towards helping gamers and comic book fans have fun getting fit. Although my own reasons for reading Level up your Life weren’t related to fitness, I enjoyed this section all the same. Still, I felt it was worth noting since this book isn’t specifically marketed as a fitness resource.

With that said, the principles Kamb discusses can be applied towards accomplishing any goal, whether it’s learning a language or writing a book. And indeed, Kamb includes stories from members of his own community (the Rebellion) which show them using gamification to do everything from designing apps to traveling around the world.

While Kamb’s primary audience is undoubtedly gamers and comic book fans, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in self-improvement.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Dinosaurs The Grand Tour: Everything Worth Knowing About Dinosaurs from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops
Pim, Keiron
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour is a remarkably well-encompassing resource, covering everything from polar dinosaurs (yes, you read that right) to a dinosaur three times taller than a giraffe. The information is presented in such a way that a layperson can follow along without feeling overwhelmed by scientific jargon. The author even included a pronunciation guide for the dinosaurs’ tongue-twisting names.

One of the main selling points of this book is the fact that it’s currently one of the most up-to-date resources on dinosaurs, with a publication date of 2019. Considering how quickly the field of paleontology continues to evolve, resources that were up-to-date ten years ago soon become... well… prehistoric. Notably, it’s also the second edition and has been expanded and updated since the original was published in 2016. Since I didn’t read the first edition, I can’t comment on how the two editions compare, but from what I can tell, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more cutting-edge resource on dinosaurs.

The illustrations are also nicely done, especially the color pieces that encompass two pages. It should be noted that most of the illustrations are not in color, so if you’re looking for a coffee table book, you might be disappointed. Still, the illustrations are beautiful as a whole and complement the text nicely.

Speaking of color, Pim explains how scientists have used fossilized pigment cells to determine both the colors of certain dinosaurs and the physical advantages these colors might have conferred. Considering this topic has been a source of mystery for many years, this section was particularly illuminating.

Finally, the quizzes peppered throughout the book are engaging and help you retain what you’ve learned. The author also includes an answer key at the back of the book, so if you don’t feel like hunting for the answer, you can always cheat.

Overall, I would recommend this resource to anyone interested in dinosaurs and paleontology in general.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Tangerine
Mangan, Christine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tangerine by Christine Mangan portrays a toxic friendship between two former Bennington College roommates who are reunited in Tangier in 1956. One friend, Alice Shipley has been psychologically fragile since the childhood deaths of her parents in a house fire. She is married to John who does something secretive for "the government" in newly-independent Morocco. Lucy Mason, who connected with Alice through their shared orphanhood, has ditched a disappointing job and suddenly shown up at Alice’s door. She hopes to pry Alice from her dissatisfying marriage for a series of globe-trotting adventures they imagined in college. Both characters serve as flawed narrators -- Alice has a loose grip on reality while Lucy actively denies it.
The novel is at its best when Lucy tries to force a wedge between Alice and John, who is having an affair but depends on Alice's family trust to live comfortably. The romantic triangle turns this 2018 novel into a melodrama set against the intrigue of 1950s's North Africa. It's reminiscent of a slightly-hokey Hollywood movie of the same era. The book cover even features a woman of the period who could pass for actress Ingrid Bergman. That's the novel's charm (nostalgia) and its undoing (little original) in this enjoyable read.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Knife
Nesbø, Jo
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Waking up with a fierce hangover and blood (not his own) on his hands and clothes is a bad way to start the day, even for Harry Hole, Oslo's brilliant, flawed and self-destructive homicide detective. Bestselling author Jo Nesbo has penned his grittiest story yet in Knife (2019), the 12th Harry Hole (pronounced HO-Leh in Norwegian) novel in the international bestselling Scandinavian crime series. As always, there's a detailed plot, a grim atmosphere, quick pacing, convincing red herrings, and at the center of it all, the alcoholic Hole trying to hold his career, family and life together. Trying, not succeeding. Fans of this series will not be disappointed as Hole faces down his darkest personal challenge yet in this page-turner.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Cemetery Road
Iles, Greg
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Marshall McEwan, a successful Washington D.C. journalist, returns to his hometown of Bienville, Mississippi to take over his dying father's newspaper business. He encounters his childhood love, Jet Talal, who is married into a powerful family and whose husband rules the town through an exclusive poker club. The poker club has offered salvation to the town through the form of a billion-dollar Chinese paper mill. Along with that power, Marshall discovers, is corruption and how far reaching it is, going generations back. Ilse will keep you on the edge of your seat and you won't want to put this book down!!

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
A Spark of Light
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

One afternoon in a small town in Mississippi, a gunman comes through the doors of a reproductive clinic and shoots several employees and keeps everyone else hostage. Police hostage negotiator, Hugh McElroy, is distraught to discover that his 15 year old daughter, Wren, is one of several people caught inside. The story starts at the end of the day and winds its way backwards, unfolding the backstory of the hostages as well as the gunman.

Picoult once again takes on a tough and controversial subject and demonstrates there are many sides to every story, including a twist ending. A great read to consider, since we had such a situation happen here in Colorado Springs several years ago.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
Small Great Things
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way", were the words of Martin Luther King. Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse with 20 years of experience and she is black. During her shift, when she goes to check the newborn child of white supremacist parents,she is immediately reassigned away from the baby. The next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while she is alone in the nursery. She hesitates before giving CPR and as a result is charged with a serious crime. Sadly, this novel takes place in current times and displays the discrepancy and inequality that still exists in our country. As with many of her other novels, Picoult does an incredible job of telling the story from several characters' point of view and shows us, that nothing is truly black or white.

Reviewer's Name: Susi W.
Awards:
The Family that Couldn't Sleep
Max, D. T.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The Family that Couldn’t Sleep is a bit of a misnomer. Although the underlying thread revolves around a mysterious and terrifying disease called fatal insomnia, multiple chapters are devoted to other diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (better known as mad cow disease) and kuru (a fatal neurodegenerative disorder thought to be caused by cannibalism). All of these conditions are caused by mutations in prions, which are proteins of the central nervous system.

Most of the information on these diseases is fascinating, though some of the more technical information might require several re-reads if you’re a non-specialist (like me). Also, if you picked up this book wanting to learn exclusively about fatal insomnia, you might find yourself wanting to skip some of the other chapters.

Even so, this book provides a fascinating look at the tragic nature of fatal insomnia, especially the Italian family genetically predisposed to it. You’ll find yourself both sympathizing with them and horrified by the unrelenting nature of the disease.

I would recommend The Family that Couldn’t Sleep to anyone who is interested in prion diseases or epidemiology in general.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
What You Left Behind
Hayes, Samantha
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you’re a fan of British detective novels, What You Left Behind is a great read. It follows Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher, who can’t catch a break from fighting crime even when she’s on vacation. While visiting her sister, Lorraine finds herself investigating a cluster of teenage suicides, wondering if there’s more to their deaths than meets the eye. At the same time, Lorraine’s nephew Freddie sinks into a deep depression, and despite her efforts to reach him, his mother worries he’ll be the next victim.

Although this novel has elements of mystery, it’s more of a thriller than a traditional “whodunit.” But there are plenty of surprising reveals to keep you turning the pages, including a twist ending that you won’t see coming.

While the subject matter might be too dark for some, What You Left Behind provides an unflinching look at the damaging effects of bullying and the lengths we’ll go to keep secrets.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring
Preston, Richard
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

You might know Richard Preston from his nonfiction thriller The Hot Zone or Micro, a techno-thriller Michael Crichton started before his untimely death in 2008. Although the subject matter of The Wild Trees is very different from these works, it continues Preston’s trend of combining scientific detail with narrative finesse. Specifically, this book focuses on the California redwoods, but readers will learn as much about the redwoods themselves as they will about the men and women who study them. Steve Sillett, for instance, started climbing redwoods freehand without any equipment to break his fall. Considering some redwoods are nearly 400 feet tall, this feat is as awe-inspiring as it is terrifying.

This book also provides fascinating detail on redwood canopies, which house salamanders, copepods (a type of crustacean), and even other trees! Thanks to Preston’s meticulous research and eye-popping descriptions, readers will feel like they’re exploring the redwoods alongside him.

The Wild Trees is a must-read for anyone who loves the redwoods or nature in general.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
My Best Friend's Exorcism
Hendrix, Grady
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Is your friendship strong enough to defeat a demon? High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen find out after an evening skinny-dipping in 1988 outside Charleston, S.C. goes awry. Gretchen is no longer the same girl who's been
Abby's best friend since fourth grade. She's moody and irritable. Not unusual for a teen, but then odd things begin happening whenever she's around. What's a friend to do?

While this title is considered adult fiction, this hybrid of Beaches and The Exorcist and its themes of teen angst and adolescent drama makes this a novel that can be enjoyed by adults who remember Esprit shirts and big hair or by young adults who identify with being a social outsider.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Genres:

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