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Staff Book Reviews

How to Be a Genius
Woodward, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This incredible book tells you all about how your brain works, how you survive, and how you are the person that you are. Through very accessible graphics and clear descriptions, you learn so much! There are cool games, quizzes, puzzles, brain teasers, and more! Then put what you learn into practice to become a genius! Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Pi-Shu, the Little Panda
Butler, John
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

There is no better way to describe Pi-shu than to say, "It's Pukin' cute!!" Follow a new panda through his day by poring over John Butler's luxurious illustrations. Heartwarming and very dear, you will enjoy reading this one over and over!

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
The Screaming Staircase
Stroud, Jonathan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Fans of Bartimaeus will not be disappointed by Jonathan Stroud’s series, Lockwood & Co. The “Problem” started about 50 years ago in London. Ghosts became true, dangerous, and very real threats to the living. Only young people have the ability to “see” and eradicate these creatures of the night. Enter Lockwood & Co., a company of three who go out nightly to defend the city. Great adventure, ghost story, and humor interweave for perfect storytelling in The Screaming Staircase, the first in the series.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Genres:
Wolves
Gravett, Emily
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

What a fun book! Rabbit checks a book out of the library that's all about wolves. As he becomes lost in the text, he doesn't realize that real wolves are lurking about him. The book ends with a mystery: did Rabbit get eaten? Or is the alternative ending the truth?

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The best way I can describe Raymie Nightingale is to say that it is a book you can fall into. Kate DiCamillo is a master of characters and story, and Raymie Nightengale is no exception. This author weaves magic through words. We enter Raymie’s life mid-stream; she is ten years old and floundering a little. Through some new, strong friendships, she discovers strength in numbers – and in herself. The subject matter might be a bit much for some. Raymie’s dad has “run off” with a dental hygienist. But DiCamillo is never heavy-handed with the details and navigates the discomfort with aplomb.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Scurvy Goonda
McCoy, Chris
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Scurvy Goonda is a pirate ab-com who is ruining Ted’s life (an “ab-com” is an abstract companion). What other self-respecting 14-year-old still has an imaginary companion?! Soon it becomes clear that great evil is afoot, when all the world’s ab-coms disappear – along with Scurvy and Ted! Chris McCoy’s first bacon-filled novel is rife with invention, fun and whimsy, a page-turner that will keep you up all night.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Luna's Red Hat: An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope With Loss and Suicide
Smid, Emmi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Luna’s Red Hat is a children’s book to help with loss and suicide. Though these are topics from which we wish we could always shield children, the reality is that there are times that you might need such a book.

This one is written with knowledge, compassion, and a deep understanding of children. I highly recommend Luna’s Red Hat if you find yourself facing such a difficult time as having to explain to a child the realities of death and suicide.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
When Dimple Met Rishi
Menon, Sandhya
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Dimple Shah is excited to head off to Insomnia Con - a summer camp/contest for coders looking to build a real world app. She's shocked when her traditional Indian parents agree to send her, even though the camp is kind of expensive, and it's not the sort of thing they'd usually let her do. Imagine her surprise when she finds out the reason her parents let her go - unbeknownst to Dimple, her parents have been arranging her marriage (sort of?) with their friends' progeny Rishi. Dimple, as a feminist and career woman, is NOT HAVING IT.

This was ADORABLE. It reminded me of a slightly younger, more diverse Sophie Kinsella book - the characters are well developed and likable (who am I kidding, LOVABLE), it was hilarious and light while still having a lot of heart. I don't know a ton about Indian American culture, so it was interesting to read a little bit more about the struggles of first generation Indian immigrants. The dialog between the characters seemed pretty realistic to me, and while everything is wrapped up pretty neatly...I mean, hey! It's a romcom. And a great one, at that.

If you are looking for an eminently readable romantic comedy to relax with this summer, look no further. This was fantastic. 5 stars - I loved it!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Stuart Little
White, E.B.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I read this book to my daughter at bedtime. It's very odd. I mean, humans give birth to a mouse and no one thinks it's strange? I know, it's part of the story, along with talking animals and the like. Also, Stuart Little takes off on his grand adventure and didn't say goodbye to his parents. As a parent, this thoughtlessness really disturbed me. They must've been so worried!

Really though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book again (I read it when I was young) and, more importantly, so did my daughter.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Lincoln in the Bardo
Saunders, George
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Hans Vollman died shorty before getting to consummate his marriage with his young wife. His spirit, full of regrets, stuck around the graveyard. The same is true for Mr. Blevins, who committed suicide because of his sexuality. No one really knows why the Reverend chose to stay in what amounts to purgatory, but he's there, and he mostly hangs around with Vollman and Blevins. Every night, those ghosts and more come out of their "sick boxes" to congregate. Until one night, a very special ghost arrives, and everything changes. Willie Lincoln arrives in the graveyard, and instead of immediately transferring to the "next place" as most young children do, he sticks around. Lincoln in the Bardo follows the ghosts and their reactions to the younger Lincoln and his very special visitor, his father, the living sitting president, Abraham Lincoln.

First, I listened to this book, and while the audio performances were stunning, it was initially extremely confusing for this listener. I had no idea what was happening for the first disk, and considered quitting the book entirely. However, after reading the synopsis on the back and a few online reviews, I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. Like I said, the audio performances were stunning. Nick Offerman (Vollman) and David Sedaris (Blevins), in particular, deliver masterful performances. Along with exposition from the ghosts, there are interstitial segments that use actual quotes from newspapers and other sources from the time , and it's here that the narration goes into overkill. The audiobook features 160 narrators, and I think that instead of having a different person read each quote, the story would've flowed a little better had our narrator just read the quotes.

The book itself is an interesting paranormal postmodern story that has elements of historical fiction that also takes a long hard look at death, grief, and coming to terms with one's lot in life. There's a lot going on, but after the first sixth of the story, I was hooked, and I really started to care about Blevins and particularly Vollman. This book is short on plot, but that's not the point. This is a character study that also examines life, death, and whatever might lie in-between. As the book is set at the beginning of the civil war, there are some heartrending accounts from the ghosts of slaves, and some maddening accounts from dead confederate soldiers. The book is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but as I like books that make me feel things, that wasn't a problem for me. This book will make most people feel something, be it ire, or sadness, or confusion (it's been a while since I've read a postmodern book, and the format was occasionally jarring).

While this was at first a difficult listen, I ultimately ended up enjoying it. I would recommend reading the book, and then revisiting it as an audiobook to enjoy the fabulous performances. A challenging, but worthy read. 3 stars - I liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Cinder
Meyer, Marissa
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

It's not the book's fault that it got 3 stars. I'm just not the target audience. I think that if I read this as a teenager I would give it 4 or 5 stars. That said, it was a good story. It's a dystopian Cinderella story involving a cyborg with a shrouded past, a young emporer, and an evil queen. Not too shabby.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Our Country's Presidents
Bausum, Ann
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a very interesting book about the presidents. It's well written and concise, but not overly so. This would be a good source for a history report or you can do what I did, which was read it from cover to cover. Two thumbs up!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Island of the Blue Dolphins
O'Dell, Scott
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is about a girl who lives by herself on an island. It's a story of empowerment, as the main character learns to live and thrive alone. She doesn't seem to let her circumstances get the best of her. I'd recommend this novel to young girls in particular as the narrator is a strong and capable girl.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Agent of Chaos
Garcia, Kami
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Fox Mulder was just a kid, his little sister was kidnapped while he was babysitting her. That event has haunted him and his family ever since. So, when children start to go missing and then turn up dead from what appears to be a ritualistic serial killer, Mulder knows that he has to do something.

While I like the X-files, I'm certainly not the world's greatest fan - I've probably seen around 1/2 of the episodes, and I haven't watched the reboot. However, this book jumped out at me as I was perusing the stacks, and I'm glad it did. In fact, if you are just a fan of mysteries and/or the paranormal, this book will totally meet your needs. You can go into this without knowing anything about Mulder and the TV show, and you'll still have a great reading experience. If you are an avid fan of the show, there are several "easter eggs", cameos and cute references throughout the book (the smoking man shows up in the first chapter!). Also, it's got some entertaining historical fiction elements as the book is set in 1979, and that is very much reflected in the music and technology.

Garcia does a great job with the character development. Mulder quickly teams up with two other "genuis" types, and this book could've quickly devolved into some variation of "three teen geniuses solve a crime caper" a la a number of middle grade/YA books out there, but Garcia fleshed the characters out to the point that this pitfall was, for the most part, avoided. Mulder is, understandably, obsessed with finding his sister, and his parents are separated. His best friend, Gimble (a D&D name), has a father who is so enmeshed into conspiracy theories that he's been fired from the Air Force (he may or may not be an influence to young Mulder). His other best friend, also a love interest, was not as well developed, she was easily the weakest character, and I could've done without her and the romance. The story itself was a well done serial killer mystery, though the end felt a little abrupt with a ton of loose strings. The mystery is only mostly resolved, so I'm assuming there will be a sequel.

Anyone looking for a decent mystery with good characters, look no further. The X-files stuff is just icing on what is an already pretty tasty cake. I wanted to believe (I couldn't help myself), and this book didn't let me down. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Little House on the Prairie
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Such a classic. You might think that a book about frontier life on the prairie would be boring, but it's not. Well, I did skip a few places that detailed the construction of the cabin etc. Otherwise, it's relaxed in most places and downright exciting in others. The book is told from the perspective of the middle daughter, Laura Ingalls. I love that the author is writing about her family. Thumbs up!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Duffy, Damian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
The Miniaturist
Burton, Jessie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Set in 17th-century Amsterdam, the book follows the life of young bride, Nella Oortma, and her marriage to the wealthy merchant trader, Johannes Brandt. Johannes is kind but distant, leaving Nella feeling alone in his large estate. Nella receives an elaborate wedding gift from Johannes—a cabinet-sized dollhouse replica of the Brandt estate. Nella’s life takes a mysterious turn after she employs a local miniaturist to furnish the tiny house with replicas of the residents of the estate. I enjoyed the book and found it to be a fast read. The author’s rich description of people and places made the Old World setting come alive. Every chapter, the reader is reminded that not everything is what it appears to be.

Reviewer's Name: Katie
Genres:
Dark Matter
Crouch, Blake
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Jason Dessen is a physics professor who lives with his wife and son in Chicago. One night as he is walking home, he is abducted by a man in a geisha mask, made to drive to an abandoned building on the outskirts of town, and drugged. He regains consciousness surrounded by strangers who say they’ve been anxiously awaiting his return.

The title itself is a bit of a spoiler for what it takes Jason the first 100 pages to figure out, which is an unrealistically long time, as he is purportedly a “brilliant experimental physicist.” The narrative is tainted with passive misogyny as well, and the whopping total of two female characters are barely characters at all, and the author makes it quite clear how easily disposable either of them are. Once Jason’s situation becomes clearer, the description of the book's technology is both imaginative and logical (really the only part of the book I enjoyed). Following this plot point, the squishy-brained version of Jason whom we have no option but to see as the protagonist makes stupid decisions as overgenerously as Peter Jackson makes Hobbit films.

The story Crouch attempts to tell has literally limitless potential, yet he explores, well… not very much of it. The strongest characters fail to live up to even their basic outlines, and overall the book falls face-first into disappointment and unintentional humor. It’s a science-fiction story written in the style of a supernatural drama. Crouch should not have strayed so far from Wayward Pines.

Reviewer's Name: Andy
Number the Stars
Lowry, Lois
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a powerful quick read with an engaging story line. Yes, Holocaust books are a dime a dozen, but this one is on top of the heap. The location of the book in Denmark also separates it from the rest. I was struck by the idea that it's easier to be brave when you don't know more than you need to to complete a task. Well done.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Steptoe, Javaka
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a beautiful book. It won the Caldecott Medal, so that's saying something. The artwork is fantastic. The book tells the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat's life in a free form jazz-inspired style. I'm not familiar with Jean-Michel Basquiat's work and now I want to see it for myself. There's a biography in the back. I only read this book once to my daughter. If I had read it more than once, I'd probably give it 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn

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