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Staff Book Reviews

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:
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.

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