Staff Reviews of Award Books: Goodreads Choice Award/Nominee

Book Review: Chomp
Hiaasen, Carl
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Mickey Cray and his son Wahoo are hired to wrangle various creatures for a survival tv show. Throw in a bat *bleep* crazy leading man along with various and sundry everglades characters and hilarity ensues. Such a fun read! Well, I actually listened to it, but I was still highly entertained.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Taking place in Florida in 1972, Raymie Clarke is trying to win the Little Miss Florida Tire competition in hopes of getting her father, who has left town with another woman, to see her picture in the paper and return home. Along the way, she meets two girls who are also entering the contest, and falls into an unlikely friendship.
I loved this book. It was superbly written and Raymie's voice was so believable as to think she was a real girl. It's a bittersweet book, so beautiful and filled with longing, determination, and a bit of magic. I've read other books by Kate DiCamillo but this one is my favorite. I'd love to see this as a movie. 5 stars!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Crenshaw
Applegate, Katherine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Anyone who’s loved the movie, Harvey, will be instantly hooked by Crenshaw. Crenshaw is a giant cat who shows up in Jackson’s life just when he can use a good friend. Jackson doesn’t always appreciate Crenshaw’s presence and tries to grapple with Crenshaw’s appearance with logic. But with the writer’s eye for detail and empathy, Katherine Applegate creates a believable world where the unbelievable happens and where magic dovetails into reality.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The best way I can describe Raymie Nightingale is to say that it is a book you can fall into. Kate DiCamillo is a master of characters and story, and Raymie Nightengale is no exception. This author weaves magic through words. We enter Raymie’s life mid-stream; she is ten years old and floundering a little. Through some new, strong friendships, she discovers strength in numbers – and in herself. The subject matter might be a bit much for some. Raymie’s dad has “run off” with a dental hygienist. But DiCamillo is never heavy-handed with the details and navigates the discomfort with aplomb.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Valente, Catherynne M.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I've yet to read something by Catherynne M. Valente that isn't absolutely gorgeous -- admittedly I may be a little bit biased, as I definitely think folkloric stories are the best, and folkloric stories with lovely playful twists are the BEST best... But when it comes to evocative and clever prose, as far as I'm concerned Valente is on a level all her own. At the moment, I happen to be reading her "Fairyland" series, and so... Behold, the first book -- "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making!" It's just as whimsical as it sounds.

So there's this little girl named September, living in a lonely house and washing a bunch of lonely teacups all the time and feeling very trapped. A quirky and talkative Green Wind -- apparently a defiant and spirited sort of wind -- riding a leopard shows up to spirit her away to Fairyland if she likes. This book is very much like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for the modern age: September has loads more authority over herself and her destiny, for one, and she grows dramatically as a human being over the course of the series. Fairyland helps that along of course, despite being a wild and alien place, complete with folkloric and/or mythological figures both eternal and re-imagined, petulant tyrants with very impressive hats, and interesting twists and turns aplenty that I can say I definitely didn't see coming. Valente's world is simultaneously familiar and wonderfully fresh, like she's composed words to go along to the tune of a well-beloved song, shifting its meaning in unexpected ways while still keeping true to the soul of something timeless.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
The Hidden Oracle
Riordan, Rick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Oh my goodness, Apollo, you strange and beautiful basket case. I was laughing all through this book, marking pages to shove at my friends... You know the drill. The Greek-mythology-centric Percy Jackson series as a whole helped me through some dark times when I was younger, and this first book of Rick Riordan's new "Trials of Apollo" series is delightful, just as I remember "The Lightning Thief" to have been back when I really, really needed it. (It's only missing Mr. D -- I've always especially liked Mr. D. Maybe he'll show up in the next one?)

Anyway. You know how in Greek folklore, Apollo gets stripped of his powers sometimes when he gets his king/dad, Zeus, angry? That's happened again in this series, only now it's all happening in modern day New York... Where the rules to everything are way different than what Apollo's used to... Annnnd he's not used to acne or helplessness, either, both of which he has to deal with as an awkward teen apparently named "Lester." It's the sparkly god of the sun/music/so many things's turn to go on actual quests again instead of waving demigods off on them... And he's very, very sad about it.

Some familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series have appeared so far in "The Hidden Oracle," but I would say it's definitely its own series with unique sources of pathos. Something I always loved about the Percy Jackson books is their empathy, the way people can redeem themselves, the way characters can still be heroic despite/because of their flaws... And that is STILL HERE, operating now through the protagonist, given the centuries worth of mistakes a now-human Apollo has to grapple with. I definitely liked "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer" -- the Riordan book that came out a bit before this one -- but it didn't click with me in nearly the same way as Apollo's shenanigans. "The Hidden Oracle" felt like a fresh and self-aware remix of old ideas and settings from Percy Jackson, all told through a recently fallen god's wonderful, WONDERFUL narration. Yes, if you want something completely different than Percy Jackson this might not be the best place to look. But if you want to see the Percy Jackson universe through refreshingly new and oh-so-Olympus-y eyes, this may be perfect for you!

To sort of sum things up: I think this is a great kids' book, engaging and fast-paced and written with a light and goofy sense of humor, just like those original Percy Jackson books. (Sometimes the humor does get VERY goofy, so go in warned, but other times it's clever and tongue-in-cheek. Funny guy, that Apollo. Versatile.) Beyond that, though, I...a grown adult...am 100% buying the next book for myself just as soon as it comes out. I know that doesn't necessarily mean EVERY mythology-loving adult equipped with a suitably goofy sense of humor would also enjoy this book, but I know for a fact plenty of others have the same plan.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
Serafina and the Black Cloak
Beatty, Robert
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Serafina is the Chief Rat Catcher at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. She and her Pa secretly live in the basement, where he is basically the electrical engineer of the place. Serafina's presence in the house is a secret so she mostly traverses the estate through tunnels and doesn't go outside. One night, she witnesses a man in a black coat magically abducting a child, which changes everything.

I listened to this book, and the narrator didn't really do it any favors. Her Southern accent was pretty terrible, but thankfully, she kept forgetting to use it. Narration aside though, this book had some problems. The author took a cool premise and an even cooler setting and then wrote a really boring book. There were kind of two main things going on that should have been really interesting, but weren't. The first thing was the identity of the man in the black coat, which was painfully obvious from the start. Had Beatty done a kiddo type version of an Agatha Christie novel (these are the people at the Biltmore estate...and one of them is guilty of MURDER MOST FOUL), I'd probably be typing a really different review right now. Alternatively, he could've played up Serafina's secret a bit more, and that might have made things more interesting. As it was, even though there was a lot going on, nothing of importance ever seemed to really happen.

I also found myself getting annoyed by a fictional Vanderbilt named Braedan (weird name for a kid of Dutch origins in 1899, dontcha think?) who is a bit of a love interest. Every part featuring him was pretty painful as Serafina basically becomes a useless quivering mess when he's around. Blegh. Oh, and at one point, a character says something along the lines of "you don't call girls heroes, you call them heroines" which, just, are you trying to say that girls can't be heroes? Because if so, gross. I'm paraphrasing, but that's what I took away from the statement.

But on the other hand... look at that cover! Gorgeous.

If 1.5 stars was an option, that's what we'd be doing here. I liked the beginning, the premise and the setting, but wish the author had done more with the latter two elements.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Sword of Summer
Riordan, Rick
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Popular mythology author Rick Riordan strikes again! He has series delving into Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and now NORSE mythology. This series follows Magnus Chase, son of a Norse god. Which god, you ask? Read the book and find out!

Riordan’s writing style is very distinct, playing to his youthful audience. The chapter titles were humorous and made no sense until I reached those parts of the book. (I read through them initially and thought, “What the…?!”)

Magnus Chase was vaguely--well, maybe more like strongly--reminiscent of Percy Jackson for me. Although Magnus has had a much rougher life so far, his voice is very similar to that of Percy. Magnus Chase is barely 16 years old, but he has been living on the streets for the past 2 years since his mother’s death. After an...interesting encounter with a fire giant, he finds himself gracing the halls of Valhalla with other Norse warriors killed in battle. Along with his valkyrie, a dwarf, and an elf, he goes on a quest to retrieve the Sword of Summer and stop the wolf Fenrir from escaping his bindings.

A interesting read for those die-hard Riordan fans or anyone who loves mythology interpretations. I was very entertained by the story, as I always am with Riordan’s mythologies, but despite the gods changing, the stories are starting to run together. The overlap of stories definitely doesn’t help the blurring of the lines. (Oh, hi Annabeth!) Crossing over from the Percy Jackson series, Annabeth, last name Chase--I guess we could have seen this one coming--has a couple nice little cameos in this book, foreshadowing a larger role later in the series. I’ll be interested to see where this goes.

Reviewer's Name: Nicole
Book Review: Wonder
Palacio, R.J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This review contains spoilers.

This is the second time I've read this book. I got more out of it this time. It helped to google Auggie's condition to see what he would have looked like. There were a few chapters about friendship, betrayal, and bullying, that were so powerful I got misty-eyed. I liked that the school ultimately accepted him and loved him. I also liked Via's friend's storyline. Perhaps my favorite part was at the end when he got the award and said that they saw something exceptional, but he just saw himself as a normal kid. But hey, he'd take the award if they wanted to give it to him. :-)

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson, Jacqueline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This autobiography written in free verse by Jacqueline Woodson is an excellent insight into growing up as an African American girl in the 1960's.
It is a very moving portrayal of the role of family (grandparents, parents, uncles & aunts and siblings) in a life of a child. The author also gives the reader a definite sense of place, whether it is Ohio, South Carolina or Brooklyn, NY. Highly recommended.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Book Review: George
Gino, Alex
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book made me cry. I read it in one sitting. It took me about 3 hours. I just kept turning the pages as fast as possible. It was beautifully written. I just felt for George and wanted to protect her from all her pain. I'm not transgendered and I don't know how it feels to be so, but I imagine that this is exactly right. Wonderful.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: George
Gino, Alex
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

George is a well-written book about the confusion of a boy who knows that deep down that she is really a girl. Writing from George's point of view, the author expresses George's frustration as a transgender child who unfortunately experiences bullying from the other kids. Luckily, George does have a best friend who understands and supports her. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa