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Staff Book Reviews

Gentle Discipline : Using Emotional Connection-Not Punishment-to Raise Confident, Capable Kids
Ockwell-Smith, Sarah
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Gentle Discipline seeks to provide an alternative approach to the mainstream philosophy regarding the disciplining of children. I appreciated many of the tips and suggestions found in this book. It is very helpful to remember how immature a child's brain is, and just because they can understand adult language, does not mean a child has adult responses or even the ability to think like an adult. It is also helpful to remember that to discipline is to teach, not to punish. Disciplining children gently is not an instant fix, but is a long-term approach to changing kids' behavior as well as our own. We can start wherever we are with our kids and we don't have to be perfect, because NO ONE is.The narrator is nauseatingly calm and peaceful, so much so, that I almost didn't listen to the book.

Reviewer's Name: Robin
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:
Book Review: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston, Zora Neale
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book started off a bit slow and the vernacular was initially somewhat challenging to read, but once Janie meets Tea Cake the book explodes into a vivid account of life in the "muck." There were parts of the book that I couldn't put down. Hurston's prose is nothing short of voluptuous and the final paragraph was a triumph of the soul.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur BFF Vol. 1
Montclare, Brandon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lunella Lafayette is smart. Really really smart -- so much so that her parents and middle school classmates struggle to understand her. And as a latent Inhuman exposed to the terragen mists she should start expressing some kind of superpowers any day now. Nothing that being telepathically linked to a giant red Tyrannosaurus won't fix, right? This all ages comic works as the author has genuine respect for the voice and age of its protagonist. While the circumstances of this pairing are a little fantastic, the friendship is very real. This book is a great introduction to the wonder of comics for younger readers, and a great reminder for older ones.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca O.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe!
North, Ryan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

If you have not been following the all-ages meta-fiction joy that is the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, this stand-alone is a great place to start.
Armed with her trademark pluck, empathy, and more references to the Marvel Comics Universe history than you can shake a stick at, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl faces her most formidable challenge yet: herself! (Well, sort
of.) Great fun from start to finish.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca O.
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:
Invictus
Graudin, Ryan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Faraway McCarthy was born to be a time traveler. Literally. His mother, Empra McCarthy, had him in the midst of a time traveling journey of her own and he was born outside of time. Currently, he's the #1 cadet at the time traveling training school and is looking forward to a career as illustrious as his mother's. But then his final exam is sabotaged, and he's unceremoniously kicked out of school. When a black market smuggler approaches him with the opportunity to recruit his own crew and travel to the past to steal ancient artifacts, Far takes the offer.

This was pure fun - I love heists and time travel shenanigans, and this had both. While it is a longer book, the fast pacing and well drawn characters make this a relatively quick read. Each member of the crew has at least one chapter written from their perspective, and I really enjoyed getting to know them all, particularly Imogen (Far's snarky but kind cousin). They are a somewhat diverse, fun group, and their strong friendships and healthy relationships were a joy to read about. Are any of the concepts or plot points particularly novel? Nope, but it didn't matter, because the cast and the story are just that fun.

In addition to the crew committing heists, there are other mysterious elements in the form of another time traveler who appears out of nowhere on a job (on the Titanic!) as well as in the mystery of where (when?) Empra is - she went out on a mission when Far was quite young and never came back. The reveals of both mysteries are pretty great, and I honestly didn't see either coming.

Also, and this cannot be stressed enough, but the crew of the Invictus has a pet and it is a RED PANDA (!!!) named Saffron. So much cuteness.

As it's not exactly a novel concept, I think this books screams for comparison (Doctor Who seems inevitable), but I would almost think of this more like an entirely human time traveling version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. I read it when I was suffering from reading fatigue, and it was a total refresher. I really liked it! 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
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:
I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories From the Stacks
Sheridan, Gina
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Of course I loved this book since I too work in a public library. Most of the stories, I have experienced from time to time. And could probably add a few! But I am so glad, that no one has ever taken off their shoe and asked me if their foot was inflamed or infected!! LOL! Now that I have said this, it is probably going to happen. But anyway, this is a great book for anyone who wants to know what it is like to work in a public library. Along with the crazy, funny stories, there are some nice ones where someone's life was changed for the better because of the library. That makes the job at the Reference Desk worth it!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Genres:
Beasts Made of Night
Onyebuchi, Tochi
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Taj is an aki - a sin eater. Aki are shunned by regular folk, except for when the regular folk need a sin removed from their body. Sins take the shape of smoky somewhat corporeal animals (they can do harm), and are eaten by the aki, which then causes the aki to get extremely sick and leaves a semi-permanent or permanent tattoo on their body. Taj, as a very powerful aki, is recruited by the palace to eat the sins of royalty. While there, he discovers the royals are more corrupt than he could've dreamed, and he decides to do what he can to stop their nefarious plans.

That synopsis was nearly impossible to write because this book was short on plot, but more on that in a minute.
I went into this book really wanting to like it - the setting (alternate-Nigeria) is fairly unique in YA, and I was really excited to read a fantasy loosely set in an African country. I thought the premise of sin-eaters was super cool, and I was eager to learn more about it.

Unfortunately, the premise was the best thing about the book. The book has a lot of promise (and I was reading an advanced reading copy, so some of these issues could've been rectified), but doesn't deliver on much. The first 35% of the book is worldbuilding, but a lot of the worldbuilding could've been incorporated into the plot instead of being presented as what more or less amounted to an info dump. Even worse, the worldbuilding doesn't necessarily make a ton of sense. For example, the "sins" are determined by lawmakers, which, just...how? And then...the magic follows the lawmakers wishes? Is it even magic? I'm not really sure. More will likely be revealed in the next installment as this book ends on a massive cliffhanger, but unless it gets amazing reviews, I probably won't be there to check it out.

Another issue for me was the lack of character development. We learn a lot about Taj, but little about anyone else, and so when side characters died, I found myself feeling pretty apathetic. There was also immense potential for development of the villains, but all was unrealized. A lot of plotting and scheming had to be happening behind the scenes, but as Taj was neither privy to nor interested in it, we don't get to see the villains' machinations, which could have been really interesting. Part of this, I think, was to hide a twist at the end, but as that twist could be seen from about a mile away, I don't think the decision to keep the villains' motivation a secret was worth the payout.

There's not a lack of action in this book, so I can see a certain reader really enjoying it. For me, there was too much wasted potential - the action and the cool worldbuilding didn't make up for the absence of plot and character development. This book could've been great, and I wish that it had undergone a few more drafts in the writing process. As it was, it was just ok. 2 stars.

I received an electronic advanced reading copy from Netgalley and Razorbill for review consideration. This in no way impacted my opinion or the content of my review. Beasts Made of Night will be available on 31 October. Put your copy on hold today!

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Warcross
Lu, Marie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ever since her father died, Emika Chen has had trouble keeping her head above water. Her job as a bounty hunter barely pays the bills, and she's on the brink of getting evicted when she strikes proverbial gold. In Emika's world, an alternate near future, everyone is obsessed with the virtual reality game Warcross. During the Warcross International Championships opening ceremony, Emika hacks her way into the game, and gains instant international notoriety. She is recruited by Warcross creator, Hideo Tanaka, to use her bounty hunting skills to find another hacker who is threatening to destroy the Warcross championships.

This was a lot of fun. By far the best parts were Warcross descriptions. Imagine Quidditch meets the battle sims from Ender's Game in a completely virtual setting where the landscape changed in every game. The Warcross descriptions were epic, and quite frankly, I wish there had been more of them. Emika is likable enough, though she makes some really irritating decisions (I hate it when problems could be easily solved with communication and the lead just opts to keep everything to themself). I actually liked some of the side characters more than Emika - I would read a book starring pretty much anyone on her Warcross team. I hated Hideo with a passion though, I never could figure out why the world, and our lead, thought he was awesome (I mean, aside from the smart/rich/powerful thing, but those things do not a personality make). Any part featuring him had my eyes rolling back in my head. That being said, the cast is really diverse, which is refreshing, and for the most part, I liked 'em. There are also a few fun gaming references, and I'm sure I missed many more.

But, for all that it's a fun read, there were a few things hampering my enjoyment. The book had a few premise problems. Emika would utilize a solution/hack, and it's one where you're like - wouldn't this have easily solved your 5 earlier problems? People's motivations don't always make sense, but this could be fleshed out in the sequel. Oh, and there is a romance and it's awful and instalove adjacent.

Premise and romance issues aside, this read was a lot of fun. It's not a wholly original book, but the Warcross descriptions and twists at the end ensure that I'll be there for the next installment, which I suspect will be a
much better book. This was somewhere in between a 3-4 star read for me, so I'm rounding up because PPLD doesn't use half stars. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Johnston, E. K.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the near future, if Queen Victoria’s reign and the general principles of the time had been perpetuated, crown princess Victoria-Margaret is travelling to Toronto to masquerade as a commoner so that she can have a proper debut season. Regardless of who she meets, however, she will be required to marry a strong genetic match to ensure the strength of Queen Victoria I’s line. At the same time, non-socialite Helena and her beau August are heading to Toronto for Helena’s debut, and introduction into high society. The three will meet, and the events of the summer will change their lives forever.

I’m a huge sucker for books set in Victorian and Edwardian England, so I was eagerly anticipating this read. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Part of the problem is that the charm of reading about Victorian England is that it is in the past. We certainly don’t accept a lot of those social sexist, racist and classist norms now (or at least, we pretend not to, but that’s a whole different discussion) and I think that’s for the best. It was weird to read a book about the future that’s not meant to be a dystopia where many of those awful norms are still acceptable. The author does acknowledge this in a note at the end, which is why I’m giving this two stars instead of one. There were also quite a few worldbuilding holes, if you will. For example, at one point, Margaret has a question about sexual identity. Bear in mind that this is a near future book in which the characters have access to computers and some form of the internet. So, instead of doing whatever the equivalent of googling the question would be, she e-mails her uncle, the archbishop, which no teen ever would actually do. Little inconsistent things like that popped up relatively often, and I found that it pulled me out of the story.

Speaking of the story, there’s not much in the way of plot here. That’s perfectly fine, if plot is being sacrificed for character development, but the characters here were not particularly compelling. The POV switches between the three main characters, and while all of the characters were nice and likable, they were also fairly bland. I didn’t care about anyone but Margaret until a big reveal about halfway through the story, at which point I started to find Helena interesting as well. I never could make myself care about August. All of that being said, I definitely think that romance readers will respond positively to this novel. I just kept getting bogged down in the worldbuilding or lack thereof, and never could connect with the characters. It wasn’t for me. Thanks to Dutton Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the eARC. 2 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Bright Side of Disaster
Center, Katherine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Typical chick lit. Well written but very formulaic. That's okay, it is what it is. I enjoyed the respite from deeper waters.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
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
A Colony in a Nation
Hayes, Chris
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Chris Hayes, a journalist on MSNBC, wrote this book after his experience reporting in Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014. In the book, he posits that we treat people of color in this country the same way that King George treated the colonists in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War: by enacting a police state that exploits the few for some sort of economic gain. We exist as two entities in this country: the Nation, which is concerned with upholding the law, and the Colony, in which we're more concerned with creating order.

This was a quick, excellent read. I'm usually not a fan of using personal anecdotes to make a point, but Hayes does that effectively here: most noticeably because he then will follow an anecdote with data to back up whatever it is he's saying. The anecdotes, though, make the book particularly interesting, especially because they are often presented as a "what if" thought experiment as to how Hayes' experience might have been different had he been a person of color. Part history lesson, part social justice treatise, A Colony in a Nation is a book that's not to be missed, particularly by those that are concerned with issues within the criminal justice system, and the egregious civil and human rights violations that are enacted upon citizens of color in the United States. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Trees
Lemniscates
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today. -Chinese Proverb

This is a lovely book that quietly conveys what trees are, how they live, and what they do. The illustrations beautifully magnify the simple text in what I would call biblioharmony. Snuggle up with your little one and check out Trees by Lemnisactes.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin B.
Jane, Unlimited
Cashore, Kristin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jane's parents died when she was quite young, but she never felt like an orphan due to the amazing parenting skills of her quirky Aunt Magnolia. When Aunt Magnolia heads off to a photography expedition to Antartica never to return, Jane feels unmoored. She drops out of college and continues her dead end job at the university bookstore. When a surprise visit from an old friend results in an invitation to a mysterious mansion, Tu Reviens, Jane jumps on the chance to experience something new. Not only that, but Aunt Magnolia has told her to NEVER turn down an opportunity to visit the enigmatic island retreat, and Jane is eager to learn more about Magnolia's connection to the place.

That was a hard synopsis to write, as this is a book that somewhat defies description. The book starts off as kind of an Agatha Christie meets Jane Eyre meets John Fowler's the Magus, and then quickly turns into an almost Whitehead inspired choose your own adventure. Jane makes the same choice several times with different consequences each time, and the result is a compilation of strange, horrifying, thrilling and delightful stories and plot twists. Cashore's storytelling abilities are on full display here as she seamlessly weaves together a number of different genres. Character development, while it seems like it would be secondary, is also an integral part of the story. I loved all of the side characters (some of them almost eclipse Jane), and would read an entire book about almost any of them.

Jane, Unlimited is a book that I'll reread in a year or so, because there was a lot of intricate plotting and connections that I'm sure that I missed. I actually don't think I've ever read something quite like this, and that's saying something because I read a lot. The unique format of the book was attractive to me, though I can see it being frustrating for some readers; it's not until Jane makes her second choice that you really start to realize what is happening. If you read this book (and you should), I'd say just relax and enjoy the ride - it's a wonderfully weird one. I can't wait to see the art in the final copy, as I think that the right images before certain stories will add to the peculiar ambiance that permeates the book.

The ending felt both forced and rushed to me, but I think I'll enjoy it more the second time around (as I said earlier, this book practically demands to be reread). I almost loved this one, and now I really can't wait to see what Cashore comes up with next. 4.5 stars.

I received a free copy of this eBook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Genres:
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

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