Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: Fawkes
Brandes, Nadine
2 stars = Meh
Review:

If you aren’t familiar with Guy Fawkes Day, every year in England on 05 November, citizens burn Fawkes’ effigy to celebrate his failed attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. Fawkes tells the story of Thomas Fawkes, Guy’s son, with a fantasy twist. In this world, folks have powers based on colors. Some folks can manipulate some colors, others all colors, which leads to different magical schools of thought and serves as a stand in for the Catholic-Protestant tensions of the time.

If you know anything about my reading preferences (I read mostly fantasy), this next thought is a bit shocking: the fantasy elements really ruin this book. Unfortunately, the worldbuilding is really shallow. You’ll be left with loads of questions about color power like: What if something is more than one color? Paint? How does that work? Why can’t someone who can control Green also control Blue and Yellow? Or vice versa? And so on.

I really wish the book had been written as straight historical fiction. A point about religious persecution could have been made (that was perhaps attempted, but for me it didn’t land). The story might not have dragged for the first three quarters of the book. Add to the weird pacing and lackluster worldbuilding the fact the main character manages both to be extremely judgmental and lack any convictions for most of the book, and you’ve got a book that really isn’t fun to read. I found myself skimming just to get through it.

With that being said, I did enjoy the last quarter of the book. The pacing picks up, Thomas develops a backbone, we get to spend some time with my favorite character (Emma!), and Guy Fawkes gets a tiny bit of development.

This wasn’t for me, but perhaps some folks will be swept away by the romance and intrigue. For fans of historical fiction that can look past the weak fantasy elements. 2 stars. Meh.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson, HarperCollins Christian Publishing and Netgalley for the free eARC, which I received for review consideration. Fawkes will be available for purchase on 10 July, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Glow: Animals With Their Own Night-Lights
Beck, W. H.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Bioluminescence, the ability to glow, is an adaptation that some animals have. They are animals that make their own light. You may be familiar with fireflies that glow in the air. Other animals glow on land and many others in the water. Learn about some different animals that glow and how and why they do it.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon
Krosoczka, Jarrett J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Things don’t always go your way. Sometimes you lose your balloon or your ice cream melts. What can you do when things don’t go right? This book helps you figure out how to look on the bright side of things and turn challenges into opportunities.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Going Where It’s Dark
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Buck Anderson is a spelunker. He used to go caving with his friend, David, but now David has moved away. Caving is the one way that Buck escapes from his worries. He stutters and the kids at school make fun of him for it. He’s bullied a lot. This coming-of-age adventure will inspire and encourage young readers.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
An Eagle's Feather: Based on a Story by the Philippine Eagle Foundation
Ho, Minfong
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book tells the story of Kalayaan, a young Philippine eagle and his experiences in the forest of Tambala. Throughout Kalayaan’s journey, we learn about conservation and the impact that people can have on animals and the environment. Kalayaan’s story reminds us that we are all neighbors in the world and that caring for our neighbors and our home is important. This is a great pick for young readers who want to learn more about eagles and the environment.

Reviewer's Name: Jordana
Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I enjoyed listening to this book. The narrator was fantastic. I found I had to look up plot summaries to really get what was going on (thank you, wikipedia). The nicknames alone were confusing. I suppose that's to be expected with a novel this complicated. It seemed like every character in the book save Alyosha were selfish, immoral, and in a few instances downright depraved. This made it somewhat of a chore to listen to in some parts of the book as I couldn't root for anyone. But I enjoyed the epilogue, which ended on a positive note.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Map of Salt and Stars
Joukhadar, Jennifer Zeynab
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

You know you have come across an extraordinary book when you find yourself thinking about its beautiful story and characters several months after you have first read it. I first read this beautiful novel back in February when I received an ARC of it from the publisher, and today I still think of the book and its beautiful characters of Nour and her family as they flee their homeland, Syria in 2011, and become refugees venturing across several middle eastern countries as the situation becomes more and more unstable and the violence ever more brutal. Shifting between past and present, in a second duel story-line that takes places more than 800 years earlier in Medieval Syria, Jennifer Zeynab also tells a harrowing tale of a girl named Rawiya, her desire to see the world, her very real clash with supernatural myth, and her adventures with a famous cartographer.

Jennifer Joukhadar through the fictional characters of Nour and her family, discusses a relevant and timely topic of the experience of many refugees that flee persecution and violence. She also does it in a way, that is, for the most part, unbiased choosing to focus instead on the everyday human experience of a family, instead of political ideology, which is very refreshing in today’s global climate.

The atmospheric and beautiful prose are a delight to read as we get to experience the world the way Nour and Rawiya saw it through beauty, sorrow, color and light. The character development of Nour, as her personal identity and her idea of what home is shifts as her journey progresses through time and years, is especially strong as she reflects on all she has lost and gained. Though the character development of Rawiya, shows a progression and change as her journeys around the world challenges and changes her perspective on life, I do not think it was as strong as the story of Nour and her family. And though Rawiya’s story-line was beautiful and entertaining, I felt it sometimes took away, from what I think of, as the central story-line of Nour and her family’s refugee experience.

That issue aside, this novel which is rich with historical and mythical detail, was in my opinion, several steps above the rest as it tackled a relevant, continuous, and difficult issue with beauty, grace and a truly memorable story. This novel, it has been said, does for Syrian Refugees what the Kite Runner did for Afghan refugees and in my opinion, it is a fair and correct comparison.

Thank you to the publisher Touchstone Books for an ARC of this beautiful novel for review! If you have not yet, please put this book on your holds list, it is so beautiful!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Dive In!  A Topsy-Turvy-Say-It-Out-Loud Underwater Adventure
Recess Monkey
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of fun and laughter we had with this book. I expected it to be lame, but it was a fun read-aloud. It's an interactive book where you end up sounding like you're an undersea explorer, holding you breath as you dive in, and participating in silly shenanigans. We had a great time with it.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine
Pla, Sally J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Stanley is a whiz at comics trivia. Comics provide him with comfort when life becomes overwhelming and lately that's been all of the time! The principal at Peavey Middle School is obsessed with school safety and preparedness and this stresses Stanley out. He's able to escape from the school drills by spending them in a "safe room" where he creates a safety superhero, John Lockdown.

Stanley's best friend, Joon, wants to win VIP passes to Comic Fest by entering a Trivia Quest treasure hunt. While they begin as partners, Joon soon ditches him. Stanley decides to enter anyway to prove he can tackle his worries. As he faces the overwhelming and challenging day, he thinks, "What would John Lockdown do?"

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding
Liukas, Linda
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Ruby has a huge imagination. She can do anything she puts her mind to and hates to be told what to do. She struggles when the instructions aren't clear. Join Ruby on her adventure as she completes a challenge that her dad leaves when he's away and put your imagination to work. Hello Ruby:
Adventures in Coding is half storybook, half activity book. It teaches the basic concepts like breaking problems into smaller ones, thinking outside the box, and finding patterns that are useful in coding through storytelling and activities.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
Get Out of My Bath!
Teckentrup, Britta
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this interactive book, Ellie the Elephant is taking a bath.
She’s having a great time until other animals come to join in the fun.
Help her out as she tries to get the bath to herself again.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth
Robinson, Michelle
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Michelle Robinson has created a step by step guide to help you wash a woolly mammoth. There are some tricky parts to beware of such as the fact that woolly mammoths have terribly tickly tummies. The illustrations are wonderful and help you imagine the perils of washing a mammoth. Great fun for young readers!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Night Owl
Yuly, Toni
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Night Owl loves staying up late. As he says goodbye to the daytime, he realizes that he can’t see Mommy Owl. He listens closely and hears different things, but not Mommy Owl. Finally, he hears the nicest sound of all – Mommy Owl. Using onomatopoeia and simple pictures, this delightful picture book encourages language and listening skills.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Digby Takes Charge
Church, Caroline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Digby is the new sheepdog and he's having trouble getting the sheep to do what he asks. He tries different ways until his farmyard friends teach him the value of one little word - please. It's a great reminder of the power of please (and thank you).

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Awards:
You Can Fill a Swimming Pool With Your Spit!  The Fact or Fiction Behind Human Bodies
Mason, Paul
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Each of us is living in a human body, but just how well do we understand how it works. The body is complicated and there are so many so-called facts about it. This book examines the fact or fiction behind some of the craziest myths. For example:
Are toilet seats really cleaner than computer keyboards?
Is it possible to be scared to death?
Are 1/4 of your bones really in your feet?
So while many of these facts may not be useful, they are interesting and, at times, revolting. You may learn something new about the human body.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
Devos, Kelly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Cookie Vonn is fat. And while she doesn’t want her weight to rule her life, she’s interested in fashion design. And in fashion, size is everything. Her dreams of getting out of Scottsdale, attending Parsons, an elite fashion design school, and becoming a fashion designer for women of all sizes might not work out if she can’t lose the weight.

Fast forward two years. Thanks to insane self-control, and the power of NutriMin (a stand in for Weight Watchers) Cookie has lost the weight. And the opportunities do start to roll in. She’s offered the chance to meet her idol and cover his fashion show for NutriMin. Better yet, after a breakfast meeting with him, she gets an offer to design a special plus size line that will be released as a preview for his upcoming Winter/Spring Collection. But even as Cookie’s life seems to be exactly what she wanted, she finds being skinny isn’t a panacea, and that somewhere along the way, she might have lost not only the weight, but herself.

This is a great new adult coming of age novel that I ate right up. It’s not my normal fare – I typically don’t read YA romances unless the protagonist is a person of color. While Cookie is white, she is fat, and that is definitely an underrepresented group of people in most modern literature, so I decided to take a chance on this one, and I’m really glad I did. I think some overweight readers will balk at the idea of this being a Cinderella story, but that’s not what this is – a lot of the book really centers on Cookie realizing that while her weight might be part of her identity, its not what makes her Cookie, and that realization is what makes this a strong coming of age tale.

The book switches back and forth between past and present Cookie (fat and skinny), a literary device that worked well here. We know Cookie gets skinny, but we learn why and how in the “fat” chapters, and we get to learn how she reaps the fruits of her labor in the “skinny” chapters. I wanted to know what happened to both versions of Cookies, and I found myself staying up way too late one night reading this. Cookie herself is a smart, resourceful young woman, and while she makes some seriously stupid decisions, they all seem in character and are the sort of decisions an inexperienced young woman might make – especially when the adults around her were sometimes giving her awful advice. I hated both of her relationships, but they seemed pretty realistic, and hopefully young women can learn from Cookie’s mistakes. I wish she had cut both guys out of her life as they were both toxic (one of them gets off way too easily), but that is my really my only major complaint.

I really liked this one, and I think new adults and older teens who enjoy contemporary reads will as well. If you like Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella or Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, this book is definitely for you. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Teen for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Fat Girl on a Plane is available for purchase now, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Book of M
Peng, Shepard
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Book of M is a beautiful dystopian novel about the power and beauty of memories and the pain that comes from losing them.

One day in a market in India, a man loses his shadow for no apparent reason anyone can explain. Shortly after, the man begins forgetting everything he ever knew, but in its place receives a strange and new power. This phenomenon of the lost shadow, soon becoming known as The Forgetting, spreads throughout the world and transform it into a strange dystopian world that is hardly recognizable.

The two main characters, Ory and Max, have escaped The Forgetting so far until one day, Max loses her shadow. Fearing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, she flees across a dark transformed world. All the while holding a tape recorder, on which she records her thoughts and feelings of the journey, and her experience of forgetting. Meanwhile Ory, not wanting to give up the little time they have left, follows her, embarking on a strange journey of his own.

The novel swivels back and forth, every other chapter, between his journey and hers. Max’s chapters to me were the most poignant, the most powerful. The recordings of her experiences on her journey, and the emotions she experiences as she fights against this inevitable loss, and slowly forgets everything, made me want to mourn with her for all she was losing. The emotions portrayed by Max’s character came across so real and raw, and anyone dealing with someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s will be able to sympathize with this very real portrayal of what it’s like for them to forget everything about who they are. This novel is a tear jerker for sure!

Meanwhile Ory’s desperate attempt to find the woman he loves, is a testament to his hope in their survival and his belief in renewal, both for his wife, and I think on a deeper level, the world that was ravaged by the Forgetting. However, as his journey progresses, he is confronted with the reality of this new and dangerous world, and as he begins to adapt to this new world, he realizes that nothing will ever be the same again.

Filled with beautiful prose, strong character development, and peppered with details of a classic dystopian novel, this novel is a testament to the dystopian genre. Peng Shepherd does so much more than just tell a classic dystopian story, though. While it has all the classic elements of dystopian story, her portrayal of Max’s character almost made the novel read like a memoir but feel like a psychological thriller. Yet the existence of magic, and the way it shaped much of the spine of the story, took her novel into the realm of magical realism. The portrayal of war and action took her novel into the realm of an adventure story. Yet the stories focus on the female main character of Max, took the story into the realm of woman’s fiction. However, Max’s musing on her loving relationship with Ory, made the story delve into the realm of a romance. Taking her readers across a large geographic space, different cultures, different people, and different genres, she attempts and succeeds in a telling an ambitious and complicated story that seeks to display the power of the human spirit and ask what it is, to be human.

This story is beautiful, poignant, powerful, dark, filled with adventure, romance, and magic. The long story short, it has something for everyone. This book comes out June 5 but you can put it on your holds list today! If you haven't, please do! You won’t regret it!

Thank you to William Morrow a imprint of Harper Collins Publishers for an ARC of this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Agresti, Aimee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Every four years, presidential candidates and their staffers travel the country searching for funding and votes. Campaign Widows follows five people who have been left behind by their partners as they work for electoral victory. But don't kid yourself - these "widows" have lives of their own. There is Cady, a newcomer to DC who is producing a show that is sagging in the ratings, Reagan, a speechwriter who is now doing freelance work as the recent mother to two twin girls, Birdie, a media mogul and DC taste-maker, Madison, whose husband Hank is in the running to be president, and Jay, whose partner Sky who got quickly upgraded from the "culture" section of the Queue (think Huffpost) to "politics" due to a staffing shortage. The book covers each of these dynamic characters as they live their own lives and effect the election in their own ways - with or without their partners' support.

This book is the perfect summer beach read, which is to say that its a light, fluffy read that would be great for any vacation (no beach necessary). The premise and setting were unique - I've not read a ton of women's fiction that is politically centered or even set in DC, and that really added to the title's value for me. All of the characters were well drawn and interesting in their own way. Often, when I read a book with multiple POVs, I find myself more invested in certain stories and then race through the chapters I don't much care for, but that was not the case here. Everyone was likable and engaging.

On the downside, I wanted more political satire than I got. While there definitely was some satire (Hank is a Trump stand-in, for example), and some dream scenarios (a three person dead heat race), I wanted more. Everyone's arcs were tied up a little too neatly for my taste, and it also made the book feel a bit less realistic.

Overall, I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys the genre and likes happy and easy reads. It reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians in tone and style, so if you liked that book, give this one a try! I hope it gets made into a TV show or movie, because it'd be excellent in either of those formats if the drama and comedy were both amped up a bit. If you are looking for a light summer read, look no farther. 4 stars - its a stand-out in its genre!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Graydon House through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Campaign Widows became available for purchase on 22 May, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: Furyborn
Legrand, Claire
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Rielle and Eliana live centuries apart, but they do have one thing in common: the ability to control all elements. Typically, folk can control just one, but Rielle and Eliana could boast mastery of them all – that is, if Eliana was aware she had powers. Rielle’s powers manifested at a young age and led to a great tragedy that her family did everything they could to cover up. However, once Rielle’s magical prowess comes to light, she finds herself at the mercy of the king and his magical trials to determine whether or not she’d use her power for good, or evil. Eliana, on the other hand, is pretty transparently evil. She’s an assassin for the crown in a kill-or-be-killed world. When an atypical assignment sees her switching sides to help the rebels, she ends up on the run. Both women find themselves caught up in a centuries long war, and they are the key to its outcome.

This ended up being a pretty fun read! The book starts off with a bang as we witness Rielle’s (probable) death. I really liked that storytelling device, as we now know where Rielle ends up but get to find out how she got there. Rielle’s story was definitely my favorite of the two – she’s a flawed but interesting character, there were magic trials involved, and there’s a Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur style romantic dilemma (gender swapped). Romance in YA can be very hit or miss for me (let alone a love triangle), but I really liked this one. But my favorite part was probably the magic trials, we got to witness all of them (many times in books there’s a montage of sorts) and they were creative and sounded horrible but were ultimately really fun to read.

Eliana, unfortunately, was not quite as fun to read. She’s a really unlikable, one-dimensional character who is only looking out for herself and her brother. She consistently makes the worst decisions without talking to anyone about them. She lets people she ostensibly “loves” die with few qualms. Developments at the end (one of which you’ll see coming) make me think that she might be a bit more tolerable in the next book, but I definitely found myself racing through her chapters to spend more time with Rielle.

Normally, I’m not one for angels unless they are evil (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) or silly (Good Omens). I am happy to report that while there are angels in this book, they definitely (mostly) fit in the evil category, so I really enjoyed the rich, complex worldbuilding. There’s also actual cursing in this book, which is something I think we need more of in YA – teenagers curse, y’all. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book is sex-positive!

Furyborn is a pretty inventive YA fantasy with solid worldbuilding that makes good use of a semi-rarely used plot device. I think older teens, especially fans of Sarah J. Maas, will really like it! I know I enjoyed it. 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. Furyborn will become available for purchase on 22 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Smoke Thieves
Green, Sally
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tash hunts demons for their smoke, which is illegal and highly dangerous. As smoke can be sold on the black market for a pretty penny, Tash does not care.

Catherine is the daughter of a cruel, bloodthirsty king who is soon to leave to marry a prince she’s never met, even though she’s in love with Ambrose, her royal guard. His love for Catherine is dangerous, and he faces losing his head for his infatuation.

March is the servant to yet another prince in another kingdom. His people were destroyed in a war that happened during his childhood, and he wants nothing but revenge.

Edyon is the child of a trader. While his mother’s livelihood depends on her ability to sell her goods, he likes nothing so much as to steal.

Unbeknownst to these five teens, their paths and destinies will cross as they try to save their kingdoms from an evil tyrant.

This is a perfectly good YA fantasy novel, but it was nothing special. The worldbuilding and characters are not at all new; in fact, it really reads like a watered down Game of Thrones for the younger set. Like GoT, the teens start off in separate kingdoms, there’s a lot of politics, and each chapter follows a different person. It’s also fairly bloody – there was a lot more killing than one might expect in a YA novel, and I’ll admit, I kind of liked it. Most of the deaths weren’t impactful, because it’s hard to develop side characters in a book with five mostly separate main characters, but it was refreshing to read a book where characters actually die instead of all of them improbably surviving. The romance between Ambrose and Catherine was tortured and annoyed me and of course, a bit of a love triangle develops, but another romance develops later in the book that I found a lot more promising.

Overall, this is a solid YA fantasy. I may check out book two, because I suspect it’ll be better (this book was largely introduction and worldbuilding) but I’ll probably skip it. The Smoke Thieves was somewhere between 2 and 3 stars for me, but I’m going to round up to 3. It was pretty good.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The Smoke Thieves is available now and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:

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