Staff Book Reviews

Squirrel in the House
Vande Velde, Vivian
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Twitch, the school-yard squirrel and Cuddles, the dog next door, don’t get along. Twitch narrates the book and explains why squirrels have such a better life – they have no rules. During the holiday celebrations, Twitch heads inside Cuddles’ house and mayhem ensues. The day turns serious when a young human gets into trouble. Can Twitch & Cuddles work together to save the boy? Read & find out.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Finished this book at 2 a.m. (thanks a lot Mr. Turton!). Freaking amazing! I don't even quite know how to classify it - and I don't want to give anything away so I won't even try. Let's just say that it is like reading a REALLY good murder mystery through a kaleidoscope, shifting perspectives constantly to allow everything to eventually come together. I would suggest just letting the first half of the book just wash over you without trying too much to figure it out - otherwise it would get frustrating. And keep track of the characters - that is very important (and there are a lot of them!). Wow, just wow.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
The Loney
Hurley, Andrew Michael
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The raw intense power of this book is simply incredible. Gothic horror literary fiction at it’s best!

The Loney follows the story of 2 brothers Smith and his cognitively disable brother Hanny, known as the boy who does not speak, their family and their religious community as they take a pilgrimage to a religious shrine at the Loney, a bleak desolate part of the English coastline, in hopes of finding healing for him. This book takes place in the 1970’s and centers around a family and a tight knit religious community. It explores family dynamics, the tight knit relationship between the brothers, which I absolutely loved and felt was so strong, and between the brothers and their parents. Particularly their mom a religious overbearing figure who is definitely seen as not only the leader of her family but a very strong leader within the religious community as well often imposing her will on everyone. It also explores relationships between the religious community. Both among members and between the new more modern/ forward thinking priest and the parishioners as well as between the priest and the two brothers. The relationship study in this book, from a sociological and psychological standpoint is alone worth five stars.

But the Loney is more than just a sociological study, the Loney is also a desolate raw place riddled with secrets, rugged beauty and loneliness, a place time left behind. This is evoked perfectly in this quote describing the Loney.

“A sudden mist a mumble of thunder over the sea the wind scurrying along the beach with it's crop of old bones and litter was sometimes all it took to make you feel as though something was about to happen. Though quite what I didn't know. I often thought their was too much time there. That the place was sick with it. Haunted by it. Time didn't leak away as it should. There was nowhere for it to go and no modernity to hurry it along. It collected as the black water did on the marshes and remained and stagnated in the same way."

Eerie and creepy right! The sense of place and atmosphere that Hurley portrays here is so strong, that it’s like a a whole other character in the book. It slowly gathers itself around you like a invisible blanket and doesn’t let go. Add to that the tight writing, the slow burn of the story, the eerie terrifying conclusion, and the gothic dreary English coastline setting and you have the perfect fall read. Don’t expect a fast moving gore horror but if you like gothic creepy horror that slowly builds and creeps up on you, you will love this book! I highly recommend reading this beautiful piece of fiction! I cannot say enough about Andrew Hurley! No wonder Stephen King said this is a “great piece of fiction.” Hurley is definitely one to watch! You can put your copy of this atmospheric psychological suspenseful horror on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Muse of Nightmares
Taylor, Laini
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This follow up to the beautiful best seller Strange the Dreamer picks up right where the first one left off. This book is just as intense, dark, raw, magical, entrancing, dreamy, atmospheric, and amazing as the first one. I can not sing the praises of Laini Taylor enough. She is a force in YA fiction that infuses her characters with such deep emotions, that the reader cannot help but to be pulled in to the tide of emotion that the character is feeling. This is definitely a very emotional book that transcends the story itself, to explore the power of the human spirit.

When we left Lanzlo and the others in Strange the Dreamer, the citadel had nearly fallen, Lazlo had just discovered his true identity, that he was more than just farangii junior librarian who liked to dream, but a god blessed with the very god like power that caused so much pain and anger all those years ago when the godspawn first came to Weep. Sarai his lover also was no longer a goddess but a ghost. She goes to join the ranks of other ghosts all held together and controlled by her sister Minya who is still intent on the revenge of Weep, and holds both of them hostage using Sarai’s soul as a bargaining chip. We also have the addition of two new characters Kora and Nova, and their stories intertwine to meld with the main narrative in both beautiful, surprising and painfully sad ways. As these various characters go through the grief and trauma, and pain that resulted from the citadel’s near fall, they also discover all they are truly capable of.

If Strange the Dreamer was about the question of Identity, Muse of Nightmares is about the question of origins. This book also explores origins from many different perspectives. It explores origins of the citadel and how it came to be in Weep, of Weep the city itself, it explores the circumstances of Lazlo’s true birth and nature, it also explores how the other characters in the book, such as Minya, developed to become the people they are today and how their perspectives shape their future actions. It asks the question What really happened all those years ago? And the various answers to this question once their discovered, are anything but simple. They open up paths to new worlds, characters, and horrors that are both painful and beautiful. Filled with mystery, intrigue, loss, pain, beauty beyond imagining, and so much
more, Muse of Nightmares is a diamond in the rough of YA fiction and needs to read by everyone. Laini Taylor is a truly magical and memorable writer. If you haven’t yet please pick up the first book of this series Strange the Dreamer, these characters are truly memorable characters that everyone needs in their life. This book come out October 2, so now is the time to catch up if you haven’t yet. You can put both on your holds list today! Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
Black Wings Beating Cover Image
London, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In a world where dominion over birds of prey equals power, twins Brysen and Kylee have a love/hate relationship with falconry. Brysen longs to be good at the sport, but lacks the patience and ability. Kylee is a natural, and even has powers that allow her to speak with the birds, but she just wants to pay back their family’s debts and then leave their village forever. When Brysen compounds their debt and then agrees to hunt the ghost eagle – the very same eagle who killed their father – Kylee knows that she has to help, or lose her brother to the birds as well.

The world building in this book is phenomenal. London creates a rich world with opposing religions about to go to war, and creates an entirely new mythology built around falconry. Now, I know there are other fantasies based around falconry, but as I’ve not read them, this was all totally new and fascinating to me. Kylee and Brysen take turns narrating, and their perspectives were realistic and different enough that you had a great feel for them as characters quite early on in the book. They were so authentic as not to be entirely likable – Brysen in particular makes quite a few stupid and/or impulsive decisions and I found him to be a bit hard to root for. I really enjoyed Kylee, though, and I loved how the world was presented with equality in terms of sexuality and race. Several of our characters are people of color and/or LGBTQ+, and they don’t seem to be oppressed or seen any differently because of it, which was refreshing to read.

For this reader, the plot left something to be desired. The book starts off with a bang, but then quickly devolves into an adventure story in the woods as Kylee and Brysen search for the ghost eagle. The aforementioned “opposing religions about to go to war” parts show the most promise, but were unfortunately relegated to the background. That will likely change in the sequel, but it made this book a slow read for me. I actually put it down in the middle and read an entirely different book as it wasn’t really holding my interest. I felt like the book might have worked really well as a prequel novella, but as a full length novel, there was a lot of filler as Kylee and Brysen navigate the woods with only one important seeming development.

Black Wings Beating was an interesting dive into the world of falconry that sets up a sequel with a lot of promise. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes adventure stories with a touch of the fantastical. 3 stars – I liked it!
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Black Wings Beating will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Brave New World
Huxley, Aldous
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

One of the first dystopian novels, Brave New World follows an outsider as he tries to navigate the workings of a society that has been developed into a utopia by using conditioning and genetic modification. Originally excited to visit this 'brave new world', Savage becomes increasingly distraught by the lack of humanity exhibited by its inhabitants.

I liked this book better than 1984, mostly because 1984 had some 'preachy' sections and this one had fewer and had a more interesting plot line to me. While 1984 was violent, Brave New World was promiscuous. Both books eschewed solitude for constant interaction, 1984 being involuntary, Brave New World, voluntary. Both books are worth reading.

One reason Brave New World is fascinating is because of the way they control the birth and childhood of the population by conditioning and genetics. Copulation is as common as a handshake and soma restores all to rights. All this was written in the 30s! Aldous Huxley is the man!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Nowhere But Home
Palmer, Liza
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Chef Queenie Wake can't keep a job because of her abrasive personality. Finally, she has no where to go but back to the small Texas town where her mother's reputation as a thieving, loose woman made life miserable for her and her sister. Queenie takes a job no one wants, cooking the last meal for death row inmates. Her search for making the inmates' last meal the perfect memory of the happiest time of their lives changes Queenie. She learns the importance of forgiveness, family and love. The story will make you cry and perhaps make you think differently about things that you thought were straight forward. It's a lovely book.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Awards:
Genres:
What If?
Seeger, Laura Vaccaro
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Three separate scenarios are show to illustrate what happens when a boy kicks a beach ball into the ocean. This story, told mostly through the pictures, examines the possibilities and encourages imagination and language.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Awards:
Go Sleep in Your Own Bed!
Fleming, Candace
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It’s bedtime on the farm. When pig goes to his sty, he finds cow there and tells him to “Go sleep in your own bed!” This sets off a chain reaction as animals are relocated to their own beds. The simple repetitive text encourages children to “read” along and the pictures are delightful

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Math & Magic in Wonderland
Mohr, Lilac
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Do you like math & logic puzzles? If so, you can solve puzzles along with twins, Lulu and Elizabeth. They’re on a grand math adventure inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poetry. Do you have the ability to solve the puzzles and outwit the Bandersnatch? Check out this book and find out.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Stay! A Top Dog Story
Latimer, Alex
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ben loves his dog, Buster, but has to leave him with Grampa when he goes on vacation. He remembers and writes down all sorts of instructions for Grampa. As he remembers more things, he writes postcards from vacation. Eventually, he remembers what he forgot, but it is too late. Grampa & Buster are already on the way to the post office. Read what happens as Buster learns how to behave – at least most of the time.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Cover Image
Revis, Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Nedra wants nothing more than to become a medical alchemist (think magical doctor). When the opportunity arises for her to spend one year at the best alchemical school in the country, she jumps at it, even though she knows it means leaving her twin sister and her parents – perhaps forever. Nedra quickly jumps to the top of her class, but when a plague breaks out and starts killing commoners, Nedra finds herself out of the classroom and into the hospital. As she studies the plague, she realizes that it might not be entirely natural. Anyone around her could be responsible for its rise, even those that she trusts the most and she turns to a forbidden form of alchemy, necromancy, to try to find the answers.

The book is narrated by two characters, Grey and Nedra. Nedra was an enthralling character. The book follows her as circumstances get progressively more dire and she does what she has to do to survive and keep her twin sister alive. Her inevitable descent into darkness felt earned and real. Grey is Nedra’s classmate and love interest, and I didn’t mention him in the synopsis because he was entirely unnecessary to the book. I think he just served to give an outsider’s perspective on Nedra, but his chapters read as wholly superfluous to me. Perhaps he’ll have more of a role in the sequel?

The alchemy and necromancy themselves were quite cool, aside from the cruelty to rats. The cruelty is addressed and makes sense (one could argue that we use lab mice in a similar fashion), but might be upsetting to animal lovers. The first part of the book, while not fast paced, was still fun to read as we got to hang out with Nedra quite a bit in the hospital and learn about her craft and motivations. As she experiments more with necromancy, the book gets twisty and dark, and I really enjoyed the ending. There are also some fun political machinations and a revolution brewing in the background, all of which add to the immediacy of later plot points.

If you enjoyed a good villain origin story, such as Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter or the TV show Breaking Bad, you should give this book a read. I enjoyed it, and I think I’ll like the sequel even more when it comes out in a year or so. 3 stars.

Thanks to Razorbill and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Give the Dark My Love will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Romantics
Konen, Leah
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Cute book about love, told from the perspective of Love. I liked the idea behind it, having Love narrate the story. I'm not the target audience, but I enjoyed it. Teens that are into rom-coms will enjoy it even more.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every day at 11pm, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at Blackheath, her family’s estate and her childhood home. Aiden Bishop has eight days to solve her murder. Eight of the same days. The day repeats on a loop, but each day for eight days, Aiden occupies a different body. His only escape from the never ending loop is to solve her murder.

Wow. This was a fantastic, kind of trippy thrill ride. The only thing I can really think to compare it to is The Magus by John Fowler, and that’s only in the sense that both you the reader and the main character really have absolutely no clue what is going on. Unlike The Magus, though, (almost) everything is revealed by the end of the book and it comes to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Even if it were just a closed door murder mystery, it would still be good. The mystery itself was twisty enough to keep the reader constantly on their feet. I guessed one thing, but most of the elements of the mystery were a total surprise when they were revealed. It’s deliciously complex. The addition of the eight different perspectives along with the fact that everyone is unreliable really added to the story. Add to that the fact that someone is killing off Aiden’s hosts, and the book becomes nearly impossible to put down. I actually had to stop reading it before bed because I was staying up too late (just one more chapter!). There were a few world building things that were left frustratingly vague, but I think that was by intention, so I can’t complain.

This genre bending book will screw with your head in the best way possible. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I really loved the reading experience. I think a lot of people will enjoy it – mystery lovers, those that enjoy high concepts and general fiction readers are going to love this one. I certainly did! 5 stars.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will be available for purchase in the US on 18 September 2018. You can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
How to Be a Lion
Vere, Ed
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Leonard was a gentle lion and all the other lions tried to bully him into being fierce. But Leonard and his duck friend, Marianne, have other plans on how to live their lives. How to be a Lion by Ed Vere is a delightful picture book about being OK with being different. For ages 4 - 8.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Still Stuck
Yoshitake, Shinsuke
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

While getting ready to take a bath, a little person gets stuck in their shirt and then imagines all the things that will happen if they never get out. Kids and adults will love the humor of Still Stuck, by Shinsuke Yoshitake, and it will certainly spark some creativity of their own on how to get unstuck! This is a crowd-pleaser for kids age 2 - 7.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Mortal Engines
Reeve, Philip
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Tom, a lowly museum apprentice, is suddenly and literally thrown out of the elevated, traction city of London into a world of intrigue, mortal danger, conniving pirates and robot-like Stalkers who are programmed to kill him. He has to endure travelling with a cranky, would-be assassin and come to grips with his own doubt about what his city really is. First published in 2001, Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve, is a classic Steam Punk novel that will keep readers 9 - 90 on the edge of their seats turning pages to find out what catastrophy will occur next in poor Tom's life. This is the first book in a series.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Mirage Book Jacket
Daud, Somaiya
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In this Moroccan inspired sci-fi/fantasy read, our protagonist, Amani, is taken away from her family and planet by an oppressive regime right in the middle of her coming of age ceremony. She soon discovers that she’s been taken because she looks exactly like the princess and heir to the throne, Maram. As assassination threats aimed at Maram get more serious, Amani realizes that she’s been taken to be trained as a body double. While at first swept away by the trappings of the court, Amani comes to understand that she faces mortal danger on two fronts: if she doesn’t portray the princess well enough, if she’s discovered, she’ll be killed. If she plays the princess too well, she’s likely to be assassinated.

When I read this premise, I knew I needed to get this book in my hands. I love court intrigue and the chance to learn about a new-to-me culture. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. For almost every element that I considered, there was something that I liked and something that I hated. For example, take the world building. The Moroccan lense through which the world was built led to some rich cultural and fantastical elements as well as some pointed commentary about the negative effects of culture erasure and colonialism. However, the science fiction elements were completely out of place, unnecessary, and jarring. They’d take a spaceship to another planet and I would have totally forgotten they were in space, that’s how extraneous the science fiction elements were. There was a paradoxical wealth and dearth of technology that drove me a little crazy.

Maram was really well developed and was a very interesting character as she's got a bit of moral ambiguity going on. Amani was a little flat and seemed to have almost no agency. She falls into instalove with Maram’s fiancé who was even more flat than Amani, so perhaps they deserve each other? The plot meandered, and I often wondered where the story was going – it did get interesting after Amani realizes she’s in a great place to further resistance efforts but that realization was a long walk to a short drink of water, to use an aphorism from my childhood.

While I liked elements of the book, on the whole, it didn’t work for me. Many other reviewers have loved it, though, so if the premise sounds intriguing, you may consider giving it a try. For readers of Renee Ahdieh and Tomi Adeyemi. I liked half of it, so I’ll give it half of the stars: 2.5.

Thanks to Flatiron Books and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Mirage is available now – put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Romanov Empress : a novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna
Gortner, C.W.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fabulous. If you are at all interested in the Romanovs as a whole (beyond Nicholas and Alexandra), this is a wonderful introduction. This book expands the story of the Romanovs from the point of view of Empress Maria Feodorovna who married the Russian Tsarevich and was the mother of the ill-fated Russian monarch Nicholas II (she was also the sister of Queen Alexandra of the U.K., King Frederick VIII of Denmark, and King George I of Greece - luckily there is a handy family tree in the front of the book for you to refer to!) Beautifully written and engrossing.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Genres:
The First Grave on the Right
Jones, Darynda
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is the first of a 13 book series and it is FANTASTIC!!!!! It is hilarious, the characters are very well developed. The story line is very intriguing as well as entertaining. All around this book is a great mix of romance (beware it seems a little surprising how descriptive it is), supernatural and comedy!!

Reviewer's Name: Meg
Awards:
Genres:

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