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Staff Book Reviews

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
Book Review: Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
Warren, Andrea
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

There are a crap ton of holocaust books out there. That said, this is a good one. The author interviews a survivor and recounts his horrible tenure in the death camps. The result is riveting. This book is classified as juvenile, but it's best for upper elementary and older, including adults.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin
Griffin, Kathy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kathy Griffin is remarkably well spoken. I enjoyed reading this book because it seemed like she was just talking to me. She dishes on celebrities, which is fun. It will come as no surprise that she's funny, but she's also very smart and loyal to her friends and family. Good memoir!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Anna and the Swallow Man
Savit, Gavriel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In Poland in 1939, seven year old Anna's father went to work one day, never to return. As such, she finds herself learning to survive under the care of a stranger that she knows only as "the swallow man". Together, they escape Russian and German soldiers and travel the Eastern European countryside as they try to survive and make sense of the world that seems to be crumbling around them.

As this won the Odyssey Award (excellence in audio production) last year, I decided to give it a listen and I'm so glad that I did. The narration was excellent, but it would've been great even with a lesser narrator. This is a brilliantly written book that covers so much ground physically, metaphysically and metaphorically. Many things the Swallow man says or that Anna thinks are steeped in rich allegory and open for interpretation. Some of the things said are merely simple truths. Almost all of it feels somehow important and relevant. For example:

“The world as it exists is a very, very dangerous place.”

and

“Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive.”

and

“Normally, her mind was like a busy beach - all day long she would run back and forth, leaving footprints, building small mounds and castles, writing out ideas and diagrams with her fingers in the sand, but when the night tide came in, she would close her eyes and allow each wave of rhythmic breath to wash in and out over her day's accumulation, and before long the beach would be clear and empty, and she would drift off to sleep.”

That, folks, is how you write prose. Insert clapping emoji here.

Plotting takes the background as this book is all about character development and parables and life lessons. It's about the importance of language, and people, and what it takes to stay alive when there's a war on. It's about being human and growing up. It's about family and love and necessity. It's about war. It's brutal and human and tender all at same time. And it's very, very good. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Genres:
The True Tails of Baker & Taylor: The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town and the World
Louch, Jan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Do you love libraries? Who doesn't? So everyone should love this book. Baker and Taylor are two Scottish Fold cats adopted by a small library in Nevada. This library has a mouse problem so Jan Louch, Assistant Librarian, researches good cat breeds for libraries. First Baker is adopted and the fun is doubled when Baker's nephew, Taylor, is added to the staff. Patrons, staff and even a fan club comprised of a 4th grade class add to these heartwarming tales. Adorable pictures complete the delightful mix.

Reviewer's Name: Cele
A Man Called Ove
Backman, Frederik
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I absolutely loved this book. On the cover it said you would laugh and cry as you got to know a Man Called Ove. And it was true! Ove is a man with blinding grief after losing his wife and then being forced to retire from his job. He has no purpose and doesn't want to live. But one by one, people (and a cat) come into his life and gives his purpose. Friedrik Backman was able to tackle so many social issues in this book. I was very impressed how he handle things and didn't really have to "hit" you over the head with the issues. This book is a fast read and great for book discussion groups. I can't wait to read more by Fredrik Backman!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Genres:
Beneath Wandering Stars
Cowles, Ashlee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In a lot of ways, Gabriela’s life has felt just like Homer’s Odyssey: one never-ending journey with no place to call home. From birth, she has been learning that “people are the only home the Army issues” as she moves from base to base at the whim of her father’s marching orders. Now that her boyfriend’s back in Texas and her older brother has abandoned her to enlist, Gabi decides that their new post in Germany is her last. She dreams of her escape the minute she graduates from high school in a year's time.

Gabi’s plans are put on hold when her brother, Lucas, gets seriously wounded in action. In one of his last letters, Lucas requests that if anything were to happen to him; Gabi, Gabi’s father, and Lucas’ best friend Seth walk the Camino de Santiago—a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain—for him. This is harder than it sounds since Gabi thinks Seth is the reason Lucas enlisted and Gabi’s dad has responsibilities he can’t abandon to walk the trail. As Gabi starts out on her adventure, she is determined to discover how much Seth really is to blame for her brother’s injuries, and what exactly is keeping her and her father from understanding each other.

While I'm not quite a military brat, I grew up moving back and forth from overseas and I love how Gabi (the main character) expresses some of the struggles she faces moving, moving again, and adapting to new cultures--even on base.

While being age-appropriate for the average teen, this book covers a lot of the tough issues that all of us, and especially military brats, come up against on a regular basis. Cowles allows you to think it all through and has her character come up with some answers, but doesn't force you to decide what you think by the end of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who have ever felt like a wanderer.

Reviewer's Name: Danielle
Genres:
And Then There Were None
Christie, Agatha
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I often have a hard time with mysteries, but And Then There Were None was classic, suspenseful and just plain enjoyable. The audiobook version was especially entertaining, perhaps because the original story was written as a play under an alternate (and controversial) title. The characters feel like they were the predecessors to the characters found in the game Clue. They are equally sinister and sympathetic. I am particularly intrigued with the connecting reason all of them have been brought to the island and the psychological effects of that reason. To the very end Agatha Christie teases your deductive reasoning skills. You always feel like you are on the cusp of finding out who the killer is, and then you're wrong! I was completely at a loss by the end. Thanks goodness for the epilogue. This is a timeless mystery classic.

Reviewer's Name: Danielle
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Skloot, Rebecca
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book tells three intertwining stories and spans decades, centering on an immortal line of human cells, taken from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks in the 1950’s. She was afflicted with an aggressive form of cervical cancer, and through deception, gave her consent for the doctor to take cell samples. Her cell sample was coded as HeLa, and her real identity was not known. This event starts a fascinating, disturbing tale of medical ethics gone awry, capitalism in medicine, investigative journalism, and the contrasting lives of Lacks descendants.

The discovery of Henrietta’s immortal cancer cells, laid the foundation for most of the scientific discoveries we have made, and created a multi-billion dollar industry where her cells were sold all over the world as an infinite supply of scientific testing material. At the same time companies and hospitals were selling the HeLa cells, the Lacks family were living in extreme poverty, with no medical care. Author Rebecca Skloot bounces back and forth between Henrietta’s final days, and the present day, as she attempts to gain the trust of the Lacks family, discover who HeLa was, and how medical ethics were not always a reality. For a non-fiction book about cellular biology, it is a riveting detective story that also exposes medicines sordid past, and makes the reader question whether advancement of medicine is worth it at any cost.

Reviewer's Name: Michael
100 Skills You'll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It)
Spagna, Ana Maria
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This little book is full of more information than you can imagine. Each section is just enough to get you started, to pique your interest. (But if there is an entry that speaks to you, remember to check the library for a more in-depth book!)

From Bartering to Foraging and even Porch Sitting, each passage is illustrated delightfully. I chuckled every other page. Written playfully, yet with much seriousness - it is easy to quickly get sucked in and keep reading until you think your brain might burst from all that delicious information!

As soon as I got to the Hoarding passage, I sincerely wished Ana were my friend, or at the very least, nearby if and when the world (as we know it) ends.

Reviewer's Name: Morgan
Caraval
Garber, Stephanie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Scarlett Dragna's impending marriage to a total stranger is her only hope. It'll get her away from her abusive father and allow her to save her younger sister. Her one regret is that she'll never have the opportunity to participate in Caraval - a traveling carnival/magic circus that patrons play like a game. She's written annual letters to Legend, the man in charge of Caraval. He's never responded. Until this year, when he replies to her request with a pair of tickets for this year's game. After a series of escalating events, Scarlett finds herself enmeshed in the strange game of Caraval, where nothing and no one are what they seem, and where one's thoughts, senses and "friends" are not to be trusted.

Most of the blurbs I've seen make this book seem similar to The Night Circus, but really all it has in common with that book is a ton of magical imagery and the concept of a travelling circus cloaked in mystery. Caraval is more like an extremely watered down version of The Magus by John Fowles. As I (unpopular opinion time) thought the Night Circus was only just ok, this was actually a plus for me as The Magus is a book that I LOVED. Unfortunately, however, the promise of Caraval's premise was never fully realized as the author got in her own way a lot. First, Scarlett has this weird power to see emotions as colors. I'm not sure why, as this never really went anywhere in terms of the character or plot. It does, however, give the author an opportunity to flex her purple muscles - the prose was not doing this book any favors. I skimmed a ton as the writing was overwrought. The characters were pretty bland - I can tell you that Scarlett loves her sister, is scared of her father, and has been obsessed with the Caraval since she was a child. That's about it. Scarlett falls into instalove, which has never not been annoying. The other major downside for me was that the premise had a ton of unrealized potential. Garber could have done a lot with unreliable narrators (remember, the concept is that once in the game, you can trust no one/nothing), or the mystery and atmosphere of the circus. There's relatively little chicanery. I'm hoping for more of...basically everything in the sequel.

Despite the lackluster characters and questionable writing, I found myself getting swept up in the story. Myriad problems notwithstanding, I liked it! I'll definitely check out the sequel, and I can see a lot of teens really loving this one. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales
Kohn, Sherab Chödzin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A great book for reading on break or at lunch. The tales are interesting and amusing. Some were more obviously lessons while others just seemed to be stories. Thumbs up!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Art of the Pie : A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life
McDermott, Kate
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I don't like pie, but every so often I take a few bites just to see what the fuss is all about. Now that I eat gluten-free, I'm rarely pie curious. When I saw the title of the latest ebook Big Library Read, Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott I wasn't the least bit tempted until I read the subtitle, A practical guide to homemade crusts, fillings and Life. Intrigued by the pie/life connection, I clicked the download button.

Even in electronic form this book is beautiful. The photography is stunning, and let's face it, pies can be pretty. The book is in story format, not page after page of (boring) recipes. It is clear that Kate McDermott has mastered the pie art, and she explains every detail with engaging narrative. I didn't actually commit to the book until McDermott admitted that she was now gluten-free too. Her pie making changed from gluten-full (her term) to gluten-free. That gave me hope gluten-free baking might eventually transcend bitter bean flour, tasteless rice cookies and hard slab pizza crust.

I enjoyed McDermott's stories about her journey as a pie maker, especially her tales of woe about awful school lunches, her red-plaid metal lunch box, and scary lunch ladies. I chose to read Art of the Pie on a whim, and I'm glad I did. It's a gentle read that almost inspired me to learn the art of gluten-free pie making.

Reviewer's Name: Susan

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