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All Book Reviews

The Belles
Clayton, Dhonielle
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Camellia is a Belle - a person in the fantastical world of Orleans who has magical powers that allow her to change the appearance of others. These powers, and the way she uses them, puts her in high demand, and rich folks clamor to use the Belles' services. There is one Belle, the favorite, who serves royalty. Camellia's dearest ambition is to be the favorite, like her mother. After a few mishaps, she achieves this goal only to discover that the position is not all it's cracked up to be. Royalty is demanding, and Camellia soon finds herself being asked to do morally reprehensible things - things she can refuse only at her own peril. She must decide what means more: fame and beauty, or doing what is right.

To call the worldbuilding in this book "lush" or "complex" would be a disservice. The author invents a unique new world and mythology that, for me, were the strongest point of the book. If you've seen a Baz Luhrman movie, this world is set in that kind of magnificent, wondrous, almost over-the-top opulence that delight's one's imagination. The luxuriant worldbuilding does lead to something of a slow start, but if you are like me, you'll be so immersed in the marvelous new world that you won't care the the story takes a minute to get going. Once the story does get going, several quandaries and mysteries and introduced, and I found myself racing towards the conclusion. Camellia is a likable character that I think a ton of young women will relate to as she's very much a sixteen year old trying to make her place in a big scary world. She's a bit naive, but has deep seated convictions and is constantly rebelling against rules and regulations to show case her creativity and do her absolute best.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations based on a number of positive reviews from Goodreads, professional journals and the like, and I think those expectations may have hampered my enjoyment of the read, at least somewhat. Not to say this isn't an enjoyable read - it absolutely is. I had to physically stop myself from devouring it all in one go. It just felt more like a guilty pleasure read instead of a read of substance. The book should have been really creepy. When the Belles change a person, they change everything. We're talking like body shape/size, shaving off bones, eyeballs out of sockets, and other sorts really gross stuff that should have been horrific. For whatever reason, the creepiness factor never connected with me, but if it had, I think I would've loved this one. There's a female friendship in here that also didn't really land - we're told more than shown that the girls are close. It never felt believable. There are a few plot points that are introduced that are seemingly abandoned or never fully realized though I imagine they'll factor into future installments. I saw where the romance was going immediately, and also figured out the mystery of the sick princess early on in the story. On the whole, I found the book to be rather predictable.

I did enjoy this one, and I'll definitely be coming back for the sequel. I hope it provides a bit more substance, but either way, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'd recommend this to readers who liked The Selection, Caraval or The Red Queen (although let me be clear: this book is better written and conceived than any of those), and I'll be adding it to several reading lists as well as booktalking it. 3 stars - I liked it!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Double Indemnity
Cain, James M.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This classic piece of noir does what some might consider impossible: making an insurance salesman interesting. Of course, planning to commit insurance fraud makes the scenario much more interesting, even if it follows some of the basic tropes of the genre. Because the story is so short, only lasting just over three hours of audiobook reading, I feel the movie adaptation was able to include everything that made this story so engaging. I do think the ending was improved in the film, though, as the story’s ending felt a little disjointed from the narrative.

What made Double Indemnity so enjoyable was how the main characters were so sure they’d get away with the crime they were about to commit. The details of the fraud were so thorough that the reader is almost convinced that nothing could go wrong. When the aftermath starts to unravel, that’s when the story began to get interesting. Suddenly, all the little things you’d never think of started to rear their ugly heads and tear the crime apart. If anything, Double Indemnity proves that, no matter how well you plan a crime, there is always something that is bound to go wrong. There are no perfect crimes.

While I enjoyed the revelation of the family’s backstory after the crime was committed, the one element that was a little uncomfortable was how the main character altered his amorous intentions from the mother to the daughter. It felt kind of creepy how he was justifying a 15-year age difference, even if she was a year past the age of consent. Maybe that was part of the point, though: prove that none of the characters were above reproach. They each had flaws that made them unlikeable in some fashion.

A short and tightly-written noir classic, I give Double Indemnity 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Enigma Strain
Thacker, Nick
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The basic formula for a thriller is as follows: one loner, one love-interest, and lots of running. The Enigma Strain is your cookie-cutter thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The premise is somewhat entertaining, if not downright ridiculous and unrealistic. The pacing is certainly fast enough to keep the characters moving and racing against the clock of destruction (at times even literally). In the end, there were no surprises as the day is saved and the loner opens up enough to attract the love interest. The fact that the ending was predictable just meant that it delivered on the thriller formula.

One of the weaknesses of The Enigma Strain is the sense of space and time. There was plenty of driving around to different locations, which made them seem like they were quite close together. However, the love-interest kept talking about flying, which made me wonder how far away these places were. If it took a long time to drive between them, there was a lot of time these two characters were in the car together that wasn’t necessarily alluded to. I know I can get irritable after a long time in the car, and the fact these two strangers weren’t at each other’s throats after a collective eight hours (or more) of driving felt strange.

While The Enigma Strain had all the trappings and accouterments of a standard thriller, it also contained many of the “wait, why?” faults that separate a lot of thrillers from actual reality. Some of these questions were answered (like why the main character is a loner), but others were frequently touched upon but never fully explained (like why the main character is afraid of flying). In the end, if you want a fun escape from reality, a good thriller like The Enigma Strain can probably fit that bill.

A standard thriller that follows the thriller formula, I give The Enigma Strain 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Darkest Hour
Hunter, Erin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is one of my favorite books to read, though you should probably start from the beginning of book one to understand what is going on. This book is full of creativity and is wonderful to read. My favorite part in this book, is when one of the characters FIRESTAR goes to the moonstone to receive his nine lives. Erin Hunter describes this amazing event so well that it will draw you in completely!

Reviewer's Name: Lilly A.
Genres:
Thunderhead
Shusterman, Neal
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last book review, so I’m going to talk to you for a minute about Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead. Minor spoilers for Scythe will likely occur throughout, given that this is book #2 in trilogy.

Thunderhead is set in a future world of plenty, where death and poverty and illness and war have been eliminated by the Thunderhead, an artificial intelligence developed from what we currently call “the cloud.” Every human has nanites in their blood that reduce pain from any injury, and slowly repair any damage. And if by some unfortunate accident, you happen to die, a drone will recover your body and take you to the nearest facility where you can be revived (your first one’s free!).

However, in order to curb overpopulation, the Thunderhead allows for the Scythes. Scythes are an order of highly skilled assassins (of sorts) who exist to keep humanity’s numbers in check. They maintain a quota of gleanings, permanent deaths for a chosen few to remind people of the mortality that the entire race once faced. Anyone who is gleaned by a Scythe earns immunity for their family for a year.

Book one in the series, Scythe, follows Rowan and Citra, two young teens who are chosen as apprentices to Scythe Faraday, who intends for one of them to become his successor. Their training leads to the widening of schisms within the Scythedom, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other over the right and wrong ways to go about their duties of gleaning.

Thunderhead picks up several months after the events of Scythe, with Citra now serving as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan operating in the shadows, gleaning other Scythes who he deems to be immoral and corrupt. Dubbed Scythe Lucifer, he lives a life on the run while Anastasia is honored for her rather benevolent take on gleaning (giving her victims a month’s warning, and allowing them to choose the means by which they will die).

This book introduces more perspectives from the Thunderhead itself, giving the reader powerful insight into the all-powerful AI’s thoughts and concerns. We also meet Greyson Tolliver, a young man who has devoted his entire life to serving the Thunderhead, and has his loyalty tested to the extreme. While this can feel like it’s drawing attention away from Rowan and Citra, it contributes to the worldbuilding. And while Scythe had a phenomenal dystopian feeling, there were many questions left unanswered that are picked up in these chapters and monologues.

Now Anastasia and her current mentor, Scythe Curie, have been targeted by a mysterious attacker who seems intent on ending them both permanently, while Rowan grapples with the consequences of his actions as Scythe Lucifer. The Thunderhead muses on the Separation of Scythe and State, lamenting its decision to refrain from interfering with the actions taken by members of the Scythedom, finding clever ways to work around the various safeguards that it has installed in society (and maybe finding out more than it was ever meant to know).

All in all, Thunderhead is a powerful followup to Scythe, a worthy companion and, to my simultaneous joy and rage, the second book in a trilogy. Book three is due in 2019, and I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
The Circle
Eggers, Dave
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When I saw the movie adaptation of this book, I felt like the presentation of this somewhat interesting idea was already dated by about five years. This made me curious if the book was any better. As is probably no surprise to anyone, the book was much better. Sure, the movie cut a few things from the book that I thought were a bit too unnecessary (all the “sex,” that is) or underutilized (the “Calvin” character), but the book really hits at the intensity of the internet-addicted generation. I would even go so far as to say The Circle is the modern version of 1984 .

I’m somewhat torn when it comes to the message presented here. I understand how trying to stay on top of millions of e-mails, and thousands of social media updates can be utterly overwhelming. I also agree that a lot of ideas that seem to be beneficial to society will have the removal of personal privacy as an adverse side effect. However, the vehemence that people participate in the world does bring up a good point about apathy. Granted, I don’t think we should be nearly as extreme in our “oversharing” on social media, but if the majority of success is just showing up, then why do so many people find themselves too busy to even participate? Do they not want to engage with their fellow humans?

I did appreciate how the transition from utopia to dystopia went almost entirely unchecked. The main character’s journey really helped to show how the addicting nature of online interactions and instant feedback can get out of hand. From documenting our lives to searching for information to even searching for love (of which internet dating wasn’t included in the movie), the internet is a powerful place. If anything The Circle highlights how dangerous a true democracy can really be, particularly if the minority opinions are known at each decision point.

A terrifying look into our digital mirror, I give The Circle 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
The Shining
King, Stephen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

One of the scariest and most tense books ever written, The Shining is a novel that will grab you by the neck and will not let go until you have turned the last page. The book is about Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic who takes a position as the off-season caretaker at a Colorado Hotel. However, he soon goes insane from cabin fever and tries to kill his family. I personally loved this book. The suspense that it is able to build is incredible. The characters are all fleshed out and unique, and the book is truly terrifying. In my opinion, this is one of, if not the best Stephen King book. I would recommend it to Stephen King or horror fans.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Genres:
Jurassic Park
Crichton, Michael
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

One of the most classic science fiction novels ever written, Jurassic Park is a tense, action filled, and groundbreaking book that won't let you go! The novel takes place on a tropical island, where a man has invented a technique to extract dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes, and is then able to breed living dinosaurs. However, something goes terribly wrong, and the characters then have to escape the island with giant dinosaurs after them. The novel is incredible, and it displays the dinosaurs perfectly. The characters are all fleshed out and seem like real people, and the couple sub-plots are exciting and do not seem tedious at all. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an action story, a sci-fi novel, or a good book in general.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Lock and Key
Dessen, Sarah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen tells the story of a high school girl named Ruby. The book starts after her alcoholic mother abandons her and Ruby moves in with her older sister who she hasn't seen for 10 years. Ruby has to go from living with an unstable mother and having to be the parent in family, to a rich, preppy life with people who actually want to be there for her. Ruby won't have it, she plans on staying till her 18th birthday then leaving. Her plans change when she meets Nate, a jock who has an interesting past but is now used to the rich life. Will Ruby and Nate let their walls divide them or break them down and become closer? I would rate this book a 5 out of 5 because it instantly grabbed my attention from the beginning and kept it. The author has a way of bringing her characters to life, like you could see it happening in real life. I would recommend this book to people who like realistic and romantic stories.

Reviewer's Name: Gabrielle F.
Awards:
Boneshaker
Priest, Cherie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I suppose when I chose to read this book, it would have been a little more steampunk than it was. Sure, Boneshaker has some of the trappings of a steampunk story, like the Civil War and inventions comprised of brass; but in the end, it felt more like light window dressing than something important to the plot. Surprisingly enough, this book was more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse novel than a steampunk one. In that sense, I’m disappointed that the cover didn’t completely deliver on its premise and instead decided to rely on the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre.

The characters themselves were somewhat interesting, but their motivations seemed a little flat. The boy who wants to find his father and the mother who chases after him aren’t that compelling. In fact, the journey of both characters could have probably been accomplished via one of them, with supporting characters providing information about the other one. If anything, the plot was only used as a method to explore this semi-steampunk Seattle. This meant that, by the end of the book, there were quite a few more questions I had than answers. I guess that’s why there are two more books in this series.

I think my main problem with this book is that it isn’t more thoroughly tied to real history and real locations. Sure, there were a few mentions of the Civil War, but if you removed those few links to history, the story stands on its own pretty well. In fact, you could probably set this anywhere, even in its own, unique world, and it should still work. Because it doesn’t rely on our knowledge of history and familiar places, it doesn’t feel like the “alternate history” that steampunk can provide. In the end, this was a pretty good idea, but it’s misleading in its marketing.

A post-apocalyptic zombie book that has hints of steampunk thrown in, I give Boneshaker 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Thornewicke
Bishop, Charity
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Speculative fiction at its most fun and haunting in the Victorian period, with that little hint of Steampunk! Seventeen year old Evangeline is off to stay with her Aunt Henoria in the old house of Dragonspire, located in the northern wood and filled with things that like Evangeline herself...are not quite what they seem. Her life teeming with questions about these new mysteries, and her newfound powers, she tries to pry the questions out of her estranged aunt. And who are the Musgroves, why is the house so strange, and what is going on with the northern wood? This quick read is unique and comes from a local author, has the flair of Gothic Horror with a speculative fiction/steampunk twist in a Christian genre. Say that fast ten times. Basically, this is something fresh and new and I appreciate Ms. Bishop's humor and understanding of the Victorian era and what it takes to write good speculative fiction.

Reviewer's Name: C. Marie
The Innocent Man
Grisham, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A harrowing story of murder, deception, lies, and the struggle of a broken man to gain his life back, The Innocent Man is an incredible novel.
It's exemplary qualities are highlighted because everything in the book happens to be true. The story follows the tale of Ron Williamson, a baseball prodigy who, after his life begins to fall apart after he loses a career with the Yankees, is wrongly accused of a murder. It then describes his experiences in prison and the things he had to do to prove his innocence.
John Grisham's attention to detail and research is impeccable and top-notch, and the book is riveting for it. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes nonfiction novels, or anyone who likes murder mysteries.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Blood Water Paint
McCullough, Joy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Let me show you
what a woman can do."

Artemisia Gentileschi is a painter. But because she's a painter in Rome in the early 1600s, she cannot take credit for her work. All of the credit goes to her father, who is a painter himself, though not a good one. When her father solicits the help of fellow painter Agostino Tassi to develop Artemisia's perspective, she thinks that finally her work might get taken seriously. But after Tassi brutally rapes her, Artemisia must decide whether she wants her life to continue as close to "normal" as possible, or if she wants to speak her truth and risk her painting career or worse: death.

Unbeknownst to me until about halfway through the book, this story is actually based on a true one, which makes what is already a beautifully written gut-wrenching book all the more poignant. Artemisia is a woman unhappy with her unfair lot in life, and she uses her art to express that by depicting Biblical women (primarily Susana and Judith) realistically instead of through the male gaze. Judith and Susana's stories as told to Artemisia by her late mother are sprinkled throughout the book, and are the only parts not written in verse.

Blood Water Paint is so timely. It's primarily about a woman's ability to speak her truth, and as we live in the time of the #MeToo movement it all feels so horribly relevant. As terrible things are happening in the book, you can see them mirrored in today's society. But ultimately, even as it's depressing (and it is brutal), the book is empowering and inspirational, and Artemisia is the quintessential example of a strong female character - her strength in the face of insane adversity is even more affecting given that it's based on a real woman.

I can think of no better book to read for National Women's History Month (or really, at any time). I'd strongly recommend this to both teens and adults, and I won't be surprised should it garner several nominations and/or wins when book award season rolls back around. This is one that is not to be missed. 5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Dutton Books for Young Readers for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. Blood Water Paint is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
School's Out - Forever
Patterson, James
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Where the story was left off in volume 1, Max and the flock finally escape the lab. Angel informs them of their parents, and another lab in New York where they can find more information. They work their way there, constantly running into erasers, and struggles along the way. Even when they make it there, they must survive the busy streets as it becomes a scavenger hunt, for the mysteries along the way.

Reviewer's Name: Mona H
Awards:
Crossing Ebenezer Creek
Bolden, Tonya
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Living as a slave her whole life and with it many stories and scars, Mariah and some family and friends are finally saved when the Yankees come and take them along as they march towards the war. The slaves will be dropped off at a free state, but they must endure the troubles. Mariah meets Caleb, someone who assists the soldiers. He ends up falling in love with her, but is too afraid to become attached to someone due to experiences in the past. As Mariah tries to overcome troubles and thoughts, Caleb fights his internal struggle, both hoping for something more.
This book is based around a real event that happened during the civil war at Ebenezer Creek, and the author did a wonderful job illustrating and spreading a story not much have heard. I recommend this story to anyone who is into war history and romance.

Reviewer's Name: Mona H
Awards:
The Gunslinger
King, Stephen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

While Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have had their moments as fantasy epics, I believe that The Gunslinger, and indeed, the whole series, deserves to be placed right next to Tolkien's masterpieces as one of the greatest fantasy books/series of all time. Taking place in a medieval world that is somewhat similar to the Old West, but exists in a parallel time frame to our own, we follow the journey of Roland of Gilead as he travels across this universe in search of the nexus of the universe--The Dark Tower. The novel is filled with adventure, intrigue, suspense, humor, and action that keeps you reading, no matter what. While not a traditional horror novel like King is known for, it is still a worthy addition to the King collection. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a great fantasy book series to read, or any Stephen King fan.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
The Fault in Our Stars
Green, John
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

: I just need to start off by saying that this book is more than Bohemian Rhapsody awesome, and that song is my jam! This book was so beautifully written and it made me bawl my eyes out at some points. John Green does such a good job at making the reader feel like they are a character in the book. It all starts when sixteen year old Hazel Grace reluctantly goes to her cancer support group. She feels the sensation that someone has their eyes on her, so she glances across the room only to see drop dead sexy Augustus Waters. Many days of talking and helplessly falling in love lead up to being Amsterdam as part of a "cancer perk". After a plethora of adventures in either Amsterdam or Indiana, including an encounter with a drunken author, tragedy strikes. With love and lost battles, the truth hits hard and must be accepted. I chose this book because it was gifted and recommended to me by a friend. I'm a rather picky reader, but this exceeded my standards by about a million. I think the part I enjoyed the most about this book is just the fact that every single tiny little detail was thought about. John Green puts so much effort into his books and cares about each and every one of his characters he writes about. With every page flip a new sort of surprise was waiting to be read, and that is also part of what I loved. Believe me, this is one of the best books I have ever read and only took me a couple days, if not a week to read.

Reviewer's Name: Ella S
Genres:
The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

As is usually the case with Russian literature, The Brothers Karamazov is a daunting read. These thick tomes are usually on lists of books you should read, but picking up such a large volume and consuming its contents can be quite intimidating. Even the audiobook version (which I used for this review) clocks in at almost a full work-week of listening to get through it all.

Still, those who manage to take on this herculean task are likely to be rewarded with an engaging story that covers a wide variety of topics to include (but not limited to) religion, marriage, communism, fatherhood, and (of course) brotherhood.

Having already read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I found The Brothers Karamazov to be more along the lines of Law & Order. His former book was a tight and well-paced examination of guilt, even in the face of necessity and wealth distribution. The Brothers Karamazov, however, took a while to set everything up in order to provide an engaging examination of a murder. The first third of this book seemed to be a little bloated with details that never really panned out, but once the real action sets in, get ready for an exciting philosophical ride.

Of course, The Brothers Karamazov is mostly a vehicle for Dostoyevsky to explore some fundamental ideas. These ideas permeate the human condition so thoroughly that he can ask the hard questions in a natural and realistic context. Through conversations with the Devil, as well as arguments in court, Dostoyevsky invites the reader to consider what true fatherhood really is. Furthermore, especially in the context of communism and religion, we are posed with the timeless question: are we our brothers’ keepers? Even today, these questions elicit some challenging answers from society.

An excellent follow-up to Crime and Punishment, I give The Brothers Karamazov 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Genres:
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
Riggs, Ransom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is an adventurous book about a young boy named Jacob who wants more. He had grown up in a normal town with a normal family, feeling different. His grandfather felt the same when he was a kid, and when he dies, Jacob uncovers a huge power that he has. That power helps him find Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children, and they all need to work together to fight evil. This book is part of a trilogy, and gets better with every page. At first it can be hard to get into, but once you start to read, you can not go back. This story is filled with plot twists, cliffhangers, and exciting events to keep the reader engaged. This book is fictitious and takes place in both modern and past times. If you love interesting tales, a little bit of creepiness, and an amazingly well written novel, this book is for you!

Reviewer's Name: Siena G
Salem's Lot
King, Stephen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

One of King's most famous books, Salem's Lot is a story about vampires that doesn't exactly rival King's other books in terms of plot and suspense. However, it's still a great book that is very enjoyable. The book is about a vampire that eventually turns the entire town into vampires themselves, and a small group consisting of a doctor, a priest, a writer, and a little boy all fight back against the outbreak. The book does a good job of building up the villain and the characters, but the horror is not exactly the preliminary theme here. Instead, it is more focused on the drama and action, which is fine, but for an author who is famous for his horror novels, this book was slightly underwhelming. However, I would still recommend it to Stephen King fans or anyone looking for a good book.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:

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