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Staff Book Reviews

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
Jacques, Brian
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to finish this book. It was hovering around a 2 (Meh) when all of a sudden the author gave it a left turn and I found myself in a good old fashion treasure hunt story. Like the 'Gold Bug' by Poe, it's full of great and cryptic clues to unravel. Fantastic!! The author gives us a taste of the 'Flying Dutchman' legend and then joins us with a young boy and his dog who are traveling a strange road through life. There's three books in this series so if you like the adventure - enjoy.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce
The Trespasser
French, Tana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In the early hours of the morning, a man places a phone call to the local police station reporting that a woman has fallen down and hit her head in her living room. He asks for an ambulance to be sent but hangs up before the officer receiving the call can ask any more questions. When the first responders arrive at the scene, they find a young woman lying against the fireplace, dead. Junior Detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran are assigned to the case, but as they dig into the facts they start to suspect that there’s more to it than a simple domestic dispute. Try as they might, though, every new lead seems to dry up when they look into it. And it isn’t just the case that’s causing problems; everything seems to be going wrong in Conway’s life. She’s being relentlessly hazed by the other detectives on the squad; her relationship with her friends is deteriorating between the long hours and her own depression; and no matter how high their clearance rate is, neither she nor Steve are having any decent cases thrown their way. Conway is tough as nails and dedicated to her job, but the animosity of the rest of the squad and the constant scut work are starting to make her doubt her career path. This case seems like their best chance to get back on track and finally win some respect -- provided they can prove that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

This is the most recent entry in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. If you're not familiar with the series, I'll say that, while each book can be read as a stand-alone without issue, there are some recurring characters that make it rewarding to read them in order. The lead in this book, Antoinette Conway, was first introduced in the preceding book, The Secret Place, and her partner, Steve, started out as a minor character in Broken Harbor. All of French’s books are excellent character portraits, so it’s rewarding to get to see the same individuals first from an outside perspective and then from within their own head, but you won’t miss anything plot-wise by skipping them. The Trespasser centers around the idea of fantasy: the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, the stories we tell to other people to make them act the way we want them to, and the devastating effects it can have when those fantasies finally collapse. That applies as much to the detectives as it does to the victim, and so we get a nice mix of personal drama with our protagonists and the more straightforward investigation of the murder. I loved Conway as a character in The Secret Place, so I enjoyed getting to see things from her own perspective in this book. What I like about French’s books is that they have more going on than just the ‘whodunnit’. The mystery is always interesting to me, but what really shines is her portrayal of the characters and the setting: Dublin really comes alive for you in her books, and the characters feel like they could walk off the page.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
The Memory of Light
Stork, Francisco X.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I've read many teen fiction books, but this book was by far the most honest about dealing with mental issues. There are no easy answers and it is a hard process to fight through. The main character Vicki really wants to be normal, but she is having a hard time dealing with school and her parents. She decides to commit suicide. She is discovered and rescued. She commits herself to a local mental institute to see if she can find a way to deal with her depression. Once there she meets other teens that are also dealing with difficult mental issues. Having dealt with depression in my own life it is nice to see that books are being published about mental health issues, especially books that target teens. The descriptions of how depression affect Vicky were really well done. I will say that there are some moments of teen angst, but overall the book was excellent.

Reviewer's Name: Jean
Genres:
Heartless
Meyer, Marissa
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In Marissa Meyer's (The Lunar Chronicles) new standalone novel, she explores the Queen of Heart's origin story. Lady Catherine Pinkerton wants nothing more than to open her own bakery with her maid, Mary Ann. But as the Kingdom of Hearts operates in a style similar to that of Victorian England, Catherine finds herself without the money or permission to do so. Worse yet, she's being courted by the king, a silly man that she has little interest in marrying, though she is under constant pressure from her mother to accept his advances. And then, at a royal ball, a hot new court jester with murky motivations appears alongside a Jabberwock and Catherine's life and the Kingdom of Hearts will never be the same.

This was a pretty hotly anticipated read for me, as I adored the Lunar Chronicles. And a lot of the best things about the Lunar Chronicles were present here too: Wonderland and its delightful, sinister, and delightfully sinister characters are definitely a part of the story without overwhelming the character development or seeming trite. It was brilliantly executed. The romance, for me, was just a bit overbearing, and I had a hard time investing in Jest, the love interest. He was introduced as a magician, and then all I could envision whenever he was around was GOB Bluth dancing around to Final Countdown. Decidedly not sexy. We also didn't really learn enough about him for me to ever really care about his fate. I really enjoyed the other parts, though - Catherine's struggles to do right by her parents while preserving her dreams of opening a bakery were realistic and relatable, and her transition from hero to villain was pretty believable in the context of everything that happened. Warning: the food is well described - this book will make you eat any and all baked goods in your house. Oh, and the last 100 pages, the end game, was fantastic. It's a lot of fast paced action laced with emotion, and it's marvelous.

While there was a bit too much romance in this one for my taste, I think those that enjoy a bit more romance in their fantasy reads, or those that love a well-written, somehow inventive fairy tale retelling will love this one. I liked it - 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Slaughterhouse-Five
Vonnegut, Kurt
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"So it goes..."

You may be thinking that based on the title it is the fifth book in a series of horror novels, but I assure you that it is not. Slaughterhouse-Five is a very thought provoking and poignant anti-war novel that has elements of science fiction, including 4th dimensional time travel and aliens. It’s a nonlinear story that follows a man named Billy Pilgrim as he travels throughout different moments in his life, weaving back and forth through differing time periods. He travels from his time as a chaplain’s assistant in World War II to his normal life with his wife and children to being an exhibit in an alien zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.

By becoming “unstuck in time”, as Billy puts it, he is able to relive these moments in his life and reflect upon them more deeply. This book is one of the best representations of 4th dimensional time travel that I've come across, and if you ever struggle to grasp the concept of time as the 4th dimension, as I do from time to time, then this book will certainly help create a better understanding of it. The book centers around Billy Pilgrim’s experiences during the war and all of the atrocities that he has seen, culminating at the end with the Bombing of Dresden, a moment which influences the rest of his life.

By being told out of chronological order, the structure of the book drives the importance and impact of the moment rather than just describing what happens next and it creates a sort of puzzle that the reader must put together. It is full of satire, wit, and black humor that is vintage Vonnegut and is one of the strangest meditations on war and humanity. If you want an extremely thoughtful book that challenges your perspective, then I highly recommend Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Reviewer's Name: Kelsey L.
The Perfect Egg
Fisher, Teri Lyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

We are looking at ways to eat less meat and have more meatless meals. Eggs are kind of middle ground, since they are an animal product, but in our home, we'd consider an egg meal to be meatless. My other reason? We have a few laying hens, and sometimes I feel like the eggs on hand vastly out-number the ideas I have to use them. My hope with this book was to find some new ideas that would help me use our farm-fresh eggs in different, tasty ways.

The book is beautifully photographed. Each recipe (with the exception of a few technique tips in the first chapter about things like boiling eggs) has a corresponding photo. Even though beautiful photography can be a setup for a 'Pinterest fail', I do appreciate the attention to detail and the gorgeousness of all the final products. The photographs help me decide which recipes might most appeal to my family.

This book does include detailed recipes, but the authors also encourage you to make substitutions and adjustments here and there. This is how I cook all. the. time., so that resonates well with me. If you prefer to follow recipes exactly, you can, but I appreciate the....permission?....to take a recipe and make it my own.

One thing I'm happy to tell you is that this book is not full of breakfast dishes...or strictly egg dishes. Sure, it has both, but it also has recipes that will work throughout the day. Some of the recipes are for breads, soups, and even some spreads - from mayonnaise to an egg butter. I found many recipes that are different from anything I've ever made or eaten, so I am happy with the scope. I like to try foods from various cultures, and this book offers many options in that regard as well.

If you like to cook, if you like eggs in general, and if you're looking for new ideas and inspiration, then I think The Perfect Egg is the perfect place to get a little inspiration!

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden
Newcomb, Karen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I have gardened for a very long time. I grew up around gardens, and since I became a (supposed) grownup, I've almost always had one. These days, I find myself in a rather silly situation - five acres of land, but the deer have gotten so comfortable that I can't garden here...well, I can, but the deer eat all the food we grow.

The only success I have these days is in enclosed spaces, but enclosing a space can get expensive. With some materials we had on hand, we have enclosed a small, 15x30 enclosure for gardening.

Enter the book, The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, by Karen Newcomb. It is written specifically for those gardening in tight spaces, including containers, flower boxes and small garden plots. I thought this book did a good and thorough job of explaining the process, yet I never felt bogged down by 'too much information'. I liked the information at the beginning of the book that provided some history about different forms of intensive gardening, and I like the way the book is organized through the seasons - preparation of site and soil, adding amendments and planting patterns that help you get the most from a small space, such as companion planting and inter-planting earlier and later crops. Ms. Newcomb even provides specific plant variety recommendations to increase the chances of success, as well as sources for the varieties she recommends.

To me, the overall message of the book is that there are a few different ways to succeed. There are guidelines and suggestions, but no rigidity. If you can't get one soil amendment in your area, there are suggestions of others that will have similar effect. If you want to start your own seedlings, the information is there, but there are also some tips for purchasing ready-to-plant seedlings. There are multiple layout ideas - none of which I would use precisely as shown, but all of which help illustrate the author's suggestions that you plant taller plants to the north (so they don't shade shorter plants), etc.

I like this book, and I appreciate the flexibility it embraces. Having gardened a long time, I have used different methods in different locations with varying results, and I think the author did a good job of presenting small-scale, intensive gardening in a broad and informative way.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
The Snow Child
Ivey, Eowyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
The Return of Sir Percival
O'Keefe, S. Alexander
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This Arthurian tale is about noble knights, impossible quests and miracles. Camelot has fallen. King Arthur Pendragon and his Round Table of invincible knights have been destroyed. For tens years now the land has spiraled into chaos and destruction. Ruled by the evil Morgana and her hired barbarians, the people have no hope - all is lost. Guinevere, the Queen of the Britons, is hidden away in a far away abbey, safe from the assassins of Morgana - or is she? And where is Merlin the Wise, Arthur's trusted adviser? That old wizard was at the Battle of Camlann when the King fell, but has disappeared. Morgana's spies are searching the land for him and has vowed to take his head. A merchant ship approaches the shores of Albion hoping to avoid the Saxon Sea Wolves that hunt these waters now. But they're spotted, boarded and the butchering begins. Then two passengers emerge from the ship's hold. Like banshees from hell they move in deadly unison, destroying everyone in sight. Sir Percival, the last Knight of the Table, has returned.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce E.
113 Minutes
Patterson, James
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I was very curious to try one of James Patterson's Bookshots. He called them a pulse pounding thriller from beginning to end. I will say it lived up to the billing! I was immediately into the story and kept wondering what was going to happen next. 113 Minutes started off with a teenage boy dying from an overdose from crystal meth. Then there is a bank robbery, a heist of over a million dollars at a country club, and then a shootout with the Feds! Whew!!! I really enjoyed this one and can't wait to read more Bookshots!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I started off in love with this book. However, as it progressed I lost a little bit of interest in it. I guess Miggory Sow and Roscuru didn't appeal to me as much. But it finished strong. Great narrative voice and well paced. Well done overall.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: A Dream of Freedom
McWhorter, Diane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book recounts the tumultuous Civil Rights Era. It covers everything from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Rides, Sit-ins, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and much more. It's well organized, engaging, and powerfully written. I learned so much! This book is classified as juvenile nonfiction, but only upper elementary would likely benefit from it. It's better suited for teen nonfiction and of course for adults like me.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Amateurs
Shepard, Sara
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Seneca's life revolves around solving cold cases and unsolved murders. As soon as she found the Case Not Closed website online, she becomes obsessed to the point where she stops paying attention in classes and risks expulsion from her university. But when the sister of Helena Kelly, a murder victim who disappeared mysteriously in a sleepy Connecticut town, reaches out through through the website, Seneca knows all bets are off. Along with some friends from the site, she finds herself in Connecticut for spring break trying to solve the mystery of Helena Kelly's disappearance.

I recently read a book that was billed as "Twin Peaks" meets "Gossip Girl" and it sucked. I figured this one might fill that now existent hole in my life. While it was a bit more "Gossip Girl" than "Twin Peaks", the book was exactly what I wanted it to be: brainless but entertaining with a good mystery. It dragged a little in the middle, but otherwise, the pacing was pretty fast especially as the clues start to come together. The dialog is breezy and light, the mystery and background of the characters is, for the most part, pretty dark and the cast is diverse but underdeveloped. Shepard totally fooled me with the killer - I thought I knew who it was, but I had no idea.

If a slightly soapy murder mystery sounds like it could be your thing, look no further. I enjoyed this one - 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
Hanh, Thich Nhat
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is the kind of book you need to read more than once and perhaps even take notes. Its take on the sources of fear and how to free yourself from it are spot on. The answer is to realize certain truths about life, be mindful, aware, and meditate. These aren't easy fixes, but it gives me hope that with some work I will be successful.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
Saunders, George
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

“The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip” is a mere 82 pages, and features the witty lyricism of George Saunders, National Book Award finalist, and the whimsical illustrations of Lane Smith. One might call the story an adult fairy-tale, but I believe both young and old will find it humorous and intriguing.

The story introduces the reader to round, baseball-sized creatures called gappers. They are bright orange, not particularly intelligent, and simply love goats. Saunders explains that, “when a gapper gets near a goat it gives off a continual high-pitched happy shriek of pleasure that makes it impossible for the goat to sleep” (2). For the three families that make up the town of Frip, this is bad news. Goats are their livelihood and so the children of these families must brush gappers off their goats eight times a day to keep their goats happily producing milk. The gapper trouble increases for Capable and her father when a slightly more intelligent gapper takes charge of the goat-loving critters. He decides that the whole lot should gang up on a single house rather than splitting themselves between the three houses of Frip. The other two families rejoice in their gapper-less good fortune, but poor Capable and her goats are quickly overrun by the united forces of gappers.

This story is funny, very creative, and poignant in its understanding of human nature. It expresses the importance of community and kindness, and in a way that sounds only a little preachy. Overall, “The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip,” is definitely worth a read. It requires a single sitting to finish, and rewards the reader with plenty of laughs and a renewed sense of what it means to be a neighbor.

Reviewer's Name: Becca B.
Awards:
Genres:
Vinegar Girl
Tyler, Anne
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Vinegar Girl is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. In this version, Kate Battista lives a stagnant life - she got part of the way through her college degree, works a job that she hates, and lives with her scientist father and younger sister, Bunny. Kate's father starts to shake things up when he suggest that Kate marry Pyotr, his research assistant at the lab who is in desperate need of a green card.

I was pretty curious about how this book was going to shake out as the very premise is extremely offensive in modern times - it's really unpalatable to think of a strong woman being "tamed" by her husband. And unfortunately, the book does sort of go there. Pyotr did and said a few things that made him Dead To Me, and on the whole, I found most of the characters to be pretty unlikable. Kate herself was interesting and relatable much of the time, though the circumstances of her situation were pretty avoidable. The epilogue was cute, the writing fine, and the narration was great. I just think it could've been better - after all, 10 Things I Hate About You (don't judge) was a pretty successful modern retelling of the story. Sadly, for me, this book was just ok. 2 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Genres:
Book Review: Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Reader beware, this is my favorite book. This is probably the fifth or sixth time I've read it. It's observant, subtle, and cleverly written. I come away with something new every time I read it. This time I felt for Elizabeth upon coming to the realization that her father was greatly to blame for the shortcomings of her three younger sisters. Oh, and Mr. Darcy's subtle devotion to her was more apparent to me this time around. It's easy to imagine the BBC version and characters while reading, but this book - like most books - is more richly constructed than the mini-series.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Meet the Orchestra
Hayes, Ann
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This a great introduction to the orchestra and it's instruments for the lower grades. My 7 year old loved that there were animals playing the instruments. It helped her better absorb the information. She is learning the cello and loved that a koala plays it in the book. Overall, very well presented, fun, and informative.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Scamander, Newt
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Cute cute cute! This is a fun book that is chock full of imagination. I liked that is was inscribed as Harry Potter's copy but Ron Weasley had amusing handwritten notes in it. I think this book may be best enjoyed by devoted Harry Potter fans. If you've seen the Fantastic Beasts movie, you may enjoy trying to pick out the beasts featured in it. Fun!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
Ganeri, Anita
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a very informative book about the orchestra, their instruments, and the music they play. I learned a lot from it. I liked the section about composers probably the best, although the history of orchestras was fascinating as well. This book is classified as juvenile nonfiction but it's equally good for teens and adults.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:

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