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Staff Book Reviews

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
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen
Gilmore, Susan
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I could take or leave this book. I finished it at least. It was so slow paced and so obviously Southern that I just found myself annoyed by it. I wish it had been more lighthearted and catchy, as the title implied, but no luck.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
84, Charing Cross Road
Hanff, Helene
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I really loved this book - a book of letters about books! With a little history thrown in about England after World War II. I like books that are composed of letters whether they are fiction or non-fiction. This particular book I enjoyed because just like Helene Hanff, I am a Anglophile and when I went to London, I just had to go to 84, Charing Cross Road. I knew the bookstore wasn't there, but I just had to still see the "spot". While reading this, I realized that there will never be another book like this. Not many people write letters anymore. Plus I don't think two complete strangers would connect like Helene and Frank did through letter writing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
The Girl Before
Delaney, J.P.
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Would you like to read a book about psychopathic men exploiting vulnerable women? Well then, do I have the book for you!

After having a stillborn child, Jane needs a new start. What better way to start over than in a new apartment? One Folgate Street has weird rules to be sure, but the minimalist life style required by the owner actually sounds like the perfect way to reinvent herself. But after she moves in, Jane learns that a previous tenant, Emma Matthews, was murdered in the apartment. As Jane learns more about Emma, she finds that they have much in common - and that she might be the apartment's next victim. The Girl Before goes back and forth between Jane and Emma's stories.

This was...not good. The beginning of the book was intriguing, and until about 1/3 of the way through, I was thinking it'd be a 2-3 star read for me. And then, like a conversation with a stranger or a first date, the book took an unfortunate turn. This was, sadly, to be the first of many unfortunate turns. Ultimately, I finished the book as it truly is an easy read - there was almost no imagery or description, you spend most of the time in the main characters' heads or watching them do incredibly stupid things (have these women never heard of a hotel?). Oh, and as is often the case in these domestic thrillers, the characters were all extremely unlikable.

This genre is pretty hit or miss for me (for example, I liked Gone Girl but HATED Girl on the Train), and The Girl Before was no exception - I found it to be kind of terrible. It's apparently being made into a movie, and I think with some plot/character changes, it may be more successful in that format. Stay away from the book unless you just can't get enough of psychological thrillers. 1 star - I did not like it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Schumer, Amy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very funny memoir. I enjoyed hearing about her childhood and her personal life because she was both forthright and self-effacing. I did, however, learn a bit too much about her lady parts. Also, the stand-up comedy sections didn't interest me as much. What you see is what you get. If you like Amy Schumer, you will like this book. If not, you won't.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Boyne, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I read this book in almost one sitting. It was very good and very sad. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt, but that's my only complaint. I think it would make a good play.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
The Bear and the Nightingale
Arden, Katherine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The Bear and the Nightingale is a Russian fairy tale(s) retelling that follows Vasilisa (Vasya) as she comes of age in the harshly beautiful Russian countryside. After her mother dies in childbirth, Vasya develops a kinship with the house spirits that protect her home, village and the surrounding countryside from any evils that lurk in the woods. All is well until her father decides to remarry. Her new stepmother is deeply religious and sees the house spirits as demons; a newly arrived monk further enforces these believes. The townsfolk become afraid, and stop minding the house spirits. This leads to disaster and death as the evil lurking in the woods begins to creep ever closer. Vasya must work with the spirits to restore balance to her town, lest her town be completely consumed by evil.

As someone who grew up on a steady diet of Disney and fantasy books, I am a sucker for a good fairytale and this one hits the mark. It's very much a fairy tale for adult(ish) readers and the writing was so lovely and hauntingly atmospheric that it sometimes felt like I was the one traipsing through the Russian countryside. Vasya was a very likable character - headstrong and intelligent in a time where women were still viewed as a commodity, Vasya is not ok with her lot in life. She wants more than to just pop out babies for some lord; she wants to live her own life on her own terms. That struggle, set against the wintry backdrop of a magical Russian countryside, made for a very entertaining read.

While the writing and most of the characters were fantastic, I did have a few issues with the book. I loved the beginning and ending, but struggled mightily with the middle. Many side plots that barely had anything to do with the story were introduced and never resolved. This is explained by the fact that this book is the first in a series, but I feel like the story would've been better served to focus on the main plot.

Meandering middle aside, this was a great read. This book demands to be read under blankets or near a fireplace on a cold day. Pick it up and prepare to be transported to the snowy fields of the Russia of yore. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Emissary
Locke, Thomas
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A fantastic world of adventure and legions come alive. Elves and dragons and ethereal powers colliding together in this fast paced journey where EVIL again is trying to 'take over'. It was an easy read and kind of a fun romp. A 'page turner' as they say that left me with a desire to get the next book quickly. It's also another '1st book' so it makes it easy to know what to read the next time. (check out my other "1st books" in the staff reviews. The main character has a noble upright spirit in him and his quest in part is about him becoming all that he can be. Many friends join him along the way and he soon learns that without them he will fail. If you like The Lord of the Rings series; you'll probable like the books that I read.

My curiosity is up about these reviews - so If I could get some feed back (at least 7) - I'll tell you the next "best fantasy saga", I have found, after the Lord of the Rings.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
Faith Vol. 1: Hollywood & Vine
Houser, Jody
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Faith and the Renegades have just saved the world from a supervillain - but that fight didn't come without a price. The Renegades have now split up and are doing their own thing. Faith's ex, for example, is now starring in his very own reality tv show! Faith herself is posing as a Buzzfeed (ok, Zipline) writer by day whilst saving Los Angeles as a hero named Zephyr by night. Can she juggle a job and saving the city all by her lonesome?

I came into this comic without having read anything at all about the Renegades, and that was fine - you definitely didn't need prior knowledge of the Renegades to enjoy this comic. Faith was extremely likable; I think most readers, especially those of the lady-type variety, would see something of themselves in Faith. The real draw here, for me at least, was that Faith was not just a woman superhero, but a fat woman superhero which, needless to say, is something of a rarity. I really liked the way her body size was treated in the book. Faith is comfortable in her own skin and unapologetic about that to the point where her body size wasn't even really a thing. Which, in this reader's opinion, is how it should be.

The story itself was your standard superhero fare. After an initial mission of SAVING PUPPIES, Faith finds herself looking for other, possibly powered children that have been disappearing from the city. The artwork was really good, though I found it to be quite similar to that of other hero focused graphic novels. Faith has these amazing fantasy/dream sequences, and I preferred the art in those sequences to the main art as it was a bit more whimsical and different. I preferred the cover artist (look at that cover - so cute!) to both.

This would be a great intro to the superhero comic world for those that are interested but haven't given it a try. Otherwise, it was nothing special, but if the superhero genre is your thing, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 3 stars - I liked it!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
A Cast of Stones
Carr, Patrick W
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book starts out really slowwwwww, but hang in there 'cause it starts picking up speed about a third of the way through. Errol Stone lives in a barrel of ale most of the time, he's an orphan and the one who was raising him was killed. It's a hard luck story that lifts you up at the end. He discovers he has hidden talents and true friends that help him overcome life. He has to fight through with work and is discovers a great adventure to live. Most of the stories I like are about people that overcome the odds and learn how to live uprightly. This is another '1st book' and I'm looking forward to the next. I read books that are "clean" from bad language and lustful sex. There's plenty of those, no challenge to find them, so I seek out those that are not. A little Romance and a Noble Spirit, mixed into a great Adventure are what I enjoy. The Return of Sir Percival and The Castaways of the Flying Dutchman are other '1st books' I have read, reviewed and enjoyed recently.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
A Life in the Wild
Turner, Pamela
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A Life in the Wild is an engaging and well-written account of the research and expeditions of the great conservationist, George Schaller. Mr. Schaller's extensive research in some of the most remote areas of the world resulted in upwards of 9 nature reserves and national parks worldwide. Some of the creatures he helped protect are mountain gorillas, snow leopards, pandas, tigers, and many more. I enjoyed hearing about his adventurous expeditions, which the author recounts in a manner that makes you feel like you are really there with him.

This book is a juvenile nonfiction and best suited to higher elementary grade levels, but as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Traces of Guilt
Henderson, Dee
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Small town crime is the plot of the novel. Cold cases are reexamined by Evie Blackwell State Police Detective to launch a new state task force. The novel kept my interest to the end because I wanted to know if and how she solved the cases. It seemed unlikely that all these cases would have occurred in a rural town setting and many of them overlapping, but perhaps I am naïve about such things. . It was interesting to follow the thoughts of police work and the background that goes into solving cases. The characters were enjoyable, particularly the Thane brothers. I enjoyed these men of integrity, their caring hearts, and the family they belong to. Evie is tenacious in her thoughts and work. I enjoyed some visiting characters from other Dee Henderson novels that I had read previously. I wouldn't say there is a lot of action suspense, but rather character development more along the lines of regular fiction. There were some touch topics that affected the characters deeply. I would recommend it if you like character driven stories.

Reviewer's Name: Angie
A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age
Levitin, Daniel J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Most adults and teens would greatly benefit from reading this book, especially now that we live in a world where "fake news" is a dire problem. Don't take what you read or hear at face value - really think about it, and decide if what you are reading makes sense. Daniel J. Levitin spells out exactly how (and why) to do that.

For me, some of this was very basic, some of it was review, and some of it was completely new. All of it was useful. It had the added advantage of being easy to read and easy to understand. Almost every segment would start with Levitin presenting a claim and then evaluating the claim for its truthiness. He takes many facets of information dissemination to task - from the various types of information found on the internet to respected news organizations to doctors to scientific journals. It really is something of a field guide as well; I consider myself to be a decent critical thinker, but there were several tips and tricks that I plan to use in the future that I never would've considered had I not read this book. Levitin does a really great job of being non-partisan - he goes out of his way not to come down on one side or another on any issue, he merely evaluates the truth of different assertions (and if he points out the lies on one side of the political aisle, he quickly follows with a lie from the opposing side).

As someone who works at a library, I think information literacy is crucially important. It's even more important today as more and more specious information becomes available through the internet. This book will show you how to sift through the lies and find the truth, an essential skill for everyone. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
The Perfect Horse
Letts, Elizabeth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A book for all horse lovers and WWII buffs. Very well written and researched, it reads like a novel. I couldn't put it down as it kept me on the edge of my seat. Elizabeth Letts tells for the first time the full story of the U.S. Army's rescue of priceless treasures - the Lipizzaner of Austria, the Arabians of Poland, as well as stallions from Hungary and Yugoslavia - just as WWII is drawing to a close in a race against time before the Russians arrive. You will cheer and you will cry as you read the plight of horses caught in the middle of a war, pawns of the Nazis who tried to breed the ultimate war horse, their lives forever changed and the heroic men who risked their lives because of their passion and love of horses. Highly recommended!

Reviewer's Name: Elizabeth
Genres:
Book Review: Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It had be a while since I first read it, but I found this book just as powerful as I did the first time, though perhaps for different reasons. Lenny's psychotic break was lost on me the first time, but now I was so disturbed I found myself reading those passages as fast as possible so I didn't have to linger on his pain and suffering. After all, how else could he react to what he had done? All he could do was punish himself the only way he knew how: Criticism from those important to him. So heart-wrenching. Meanwhile, George did what he had to do, but his spirit is broken as a result. A stark exploration of friendship and loneliness.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:

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