Staff Book Reviews

Book Review: My Fair Lazy
Lancaster, Jen
2 stars = Meh

Borderline 1 star. Jen Lancaster really annoys me. It could be because she writes super clever banter between herself and everyone else. Puhleeze. It's like she has a big sign on her back that says, 'Gee, aren't I witty? Don't you wish you were friends with me?'. Not really. Oh God, and the footnotes! Lame way to try to be clever. She just tries too hard. But I did finish it, but no more Jen Lancaster for me.

vfranklyn
Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Alexie, Sherman
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Life on the Spokane Indian Reservation is tough for Junior. Not only is he small and easy to pick on, but he "was born with water on the brain" and has developed differently because of it. After Junior decides to transfer to a school off the reservation to try and find hope (which is completely unheard of), his life on the reservation becomes even harder. Illustrated with Junior’s witty cartoon sketches, this book is a quick read that makes you laugh in the midst of pain and brings to life the hardships of others.

Tori
Book Review: Free Will
Harris, Sam
3 stars = Pretty Good

For a small book, it was definitely intense. Sam Harris is a great American intellectual and advocate for reason. In "Free Will", he really brings up an issue that really makes you reconsider everything you ever thought about what drives us as human beings. It leaves you to chew on what you just read and think more about why we do what we do. He inserts in some of his sense of humor too, which helps break up the pace. I only wish he could've expanded a little bit more, and gave more insight into opposing viewpoints.

Cassie
Book Review: Sweeping Up Glass
Wall, Carolyn
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

This book was incredible. The voice of the protagonist was so engaging I was sucked right in and had a hard time putting it down. There were some instances in the book that were so intense I kept thinking to myself, 'Oh God, make it stop!', but in a good way. It left me with some questions about Ida's motivations and the extent of what she knew about the secret. Beautiful and hauntingly written, I can't recommend this book enough!

vfranklyn
Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling
Galbraith, Robert
4 stars = Really Good

Galbraith (er, I mean, Rowling) constructs a very interesting protagonist, Private Detective Cormoran Strike, a British veteran who lost part of his left leg in Afghanistan. The book is a bit slow at times, but still incredibly captivating as you follow the investigation of a prominent model's apparent suicide. It's a great whodunnit for anyone, even those who aren't into murder mysteries. This was a straight trough read for me, and I only paused while I cooked dinner. I dearly hope to read more adventures of Cormoran Strike!

Casey
Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo
Galloway, Steven
3 stars = Pretty Good

This book didn't grip me like I expected it to. It was a good book, but because it was fiction I had a hard time really believing that that could have happened in real life. It made me want to know more about the siege of Sarajevo. I'm still not sure why it happened.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
Taylor, Mildred D.
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Wow. This book was amazing. It was so well-written that I felt like I was there experiencing everything with Cassie. I wonder if I could be as brave as the Logans when faced with bodily harm. The courage of all civil rights activists blows my mind. My mother's family lived in Mississippi in the 1930s and were white. I hope they were sympathetic to the plight of African Americans, and not racists. But in reality, they were likely racists like most other whites during that time. What would I have been like if I was born during that time period? I like to think I'd be sympathetic and would stand up for what's right, but if you're raised with inequality as your reality how do you overcome it? I guess with education and experience and a knowledge of right and wrong, justice and injustice. But still, would I have had the bravery to stand up for what's right if it means physical harm? I hope so. Brilliant book. Perhaps my favorite children's novel of all time.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Into the Whirlwind
Camden, Elizabeth
4 stars = Really Good

Reviewed for Bethany House as a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Mollie Knox never imagined her precise, orderly world would ever shatter, but shatter it did, on a dry day at the beginning of October in 1871 when fire ignited all of the Chicago skyline. Running her father's watch business might have never been something she would have chosen for herself, but she excels at the fine craftsmanship and, better yet, the accounting aspect of the 57th Illinois Watch Company, named after her father's time during the Civil War.
That night, as the fire blazes, Mollie finds herself fleeing for her life with Zack Kazmarek, the attorney for Hartman's, Inc. who purchased the majority of her watches for resale. Yet, despite the upheaval of losing almost everything, Mollie determines to start her life afresh, refusing to wallow in self-pity, she determines to rebuild her father's company, although now she has a little matter of Zack's unexpected adoration for her to contend with.

I'm a romantic in some ways, but not in others. I fear that for me Elizabeth Camden's main mistake was having a hot-headed hero. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes enjoy that type of hero, and I liked Zack very much by the end, but it was a long time in coming. I expected him to be cool and collected, logical, which is the persona he presents to the reader up until we realize he is almost goofy with love over Mollie. Goofiness in the male hero has never entirely been my cup of tea. Especially when halfway through the novel, a second man is introduced, Colonel Lowe, who I liked much more. I didn't buy into the author's storyline for him because it just not seem plausible so a little of the magic for me was lost right there.

However, with that out of the way, apart from the generally overdone romanticism near the first 3rd of the novel, I was quite thoroughly enchanted by Elizabeth Camden's story. She has a charming way with words that really paints a vivid image in the reader's mind of this historic setting and the fire as it destroys Chicago. The imagery is quite breathtaking. I couldn't ask for a better heroine than Mollie, who I respected as a strong woman, and I especially loved the little character of Sophie, the child Mollie and Zack find during the fire and care for until her family finds her. She is such a horrendous brat but only because she has nothing to do, nothing to occupy her time, and I loved Elizabeth Camden's gentle nudge that children need something to occupy them and they must not be too spoiled or it will ruin their character. That's a fantastic message she incorporated and I applaud her for it.

So, overall, a very enjoyable read. I wouldn't mind picking up a few of Camden's other books when I have the time.

Carissa
Book Review: Out Of Control
Connealy, Mary
2 stars = Meh

I HATE this book. Not the storyline because it's actually rather interesting, but the CHARACTERS. As other reviewers have already stated, it's incredible how Mary Connealy managed to highlight all of these characters flaws while completely ignoring any good points they might have. The character development is limited to stubbornness on the part of both the hero and heroine. He thinks she's stubborn, she thinks he's stubborn. She thinks he's stupid, he thinks she's stupid. Well, guess what, they're both right!

I don't mind flawed characters in Christian fiction. What I mind are those supposed spunky heroines who don't have a lick of good sense and run off into danger at the drop of a hat paying no never-mind whatsoever to their sweetheart's words of advice. That's what I hate and that's what describes uppity Miss Julia Gilliland. The thing is, I believe the author intended us to like Julia. Because she's really a sweet person deep down and cares about others and puts them first. No, she's a bossy brat whose first thought over anything else is geology and fossils, even over her family, the man she supposedly loves, and his family. Even over her own safety! There's a word for her that I'm too polite to mention, but I'm sure you know what it is.

And don't get me started on the supposed hero of this mixed-up historic romance, the dashing and moronic Rafe Kincaid. I disliked him already when he started bossing around a woman he had no right to boss around. He's often thinking about how desperate he is to marry her, and my main question is "Why?!" Just because she's pretty and you've never seen a woman other than your mother? Geez! And when he started throwing out thoughts on "wives obey your husbands" and how much fun it was going to be to teach that to Julia, well, my patience with him just snapped. There's a flip-side to that verse, buster, the one that says "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church." This jerk expects her to obey him and offer nothing in return. I don't have enough fingers to count how many times he kissed her to shut her up because he didn't like what she was saying! How the heck is that the action of a romantic hero? She may not be in the right, but neither is he.
They'll be one heck of a married couple once the smoulder cools down and they can't stand each other.

I know what you're going to say. To each his own, and obviously some people like this book because it's gotten some positive reviews. However, putting aside my annoyance with the lead characters, Mary Connealy's prose is just bad. I've heard she's an excellent author so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt that this book is merely a weak link in her genius. But all Julia's eyes do are flash when she's angry, joyful, fearful, excited, dangerous, threatening, etc. And her wild red hair. It's better to not describe your character's physical appearance at all than limit the descriptive to flashing eyes and wild red hair. It's the same with another character, always, always described his wild blue eyes glinting in the sun or in the shadow or in the firelight or in the moonlight or off the freakin' cave wall. All his eyes do is glint! The author forgot that she had already had Rafe answer Julia's question about whether he could draw because Julia asks him the same question a few chapters later. She ends one chapter in Julia's voice with thoughts on her being dragged off by a madman and starts the next chapter with Rafe in fear because his love has been "dragged off by a madman." Wow, who knew their minds were so totally in sync.

The only reason, and it's a slim one, that I'm giving this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because I like the secondary characters of Ethan and Audra. Ethan can be a pain, but at least he's not a demanding, overprotective, bossy jerk like his brother. And Audra is gentile and naturally kind, two traits that are glaringly lacking in Julia. Maybe this means the 2nd book will be better since it's about Ethan, but it may take me awhile, months even, to reach the point where I even want to pick up another one of this author's books. And that's a sorry thing for me to say about anyone because I can forgive bad writing most of the time, but not when it's joined with horrible main characters.

Carissa
Book Review: The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
4 stars = Really Good

I gave this book four stars, not because I got a lot out of the book initially, but because the literary criticism opened my eyes to its attributes. Otherwise, I would have given it three stars. Of course, it is a good book, but I found myself underwhelmed a great part of the time reading it. I liked the prose and its reflection of jazz music but I was confused by the overt racism in the book. Then I read the criticism and realized that the racism came from Tom Buchanan and that he was a white supremacist, a quality aimed at making him unlikeable. The fact that Daisy chose him over Gatsby illustrates her lack of character, which makes Gatsby's obsession with her even more misguided. The excess and the emptiness of Gatsby's lifestyle make this book a cautionary tale that applies even today.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
Moore, Christopher
4 stars = Really Good

Great book! Very funny to listen to on eAudio. This book is about Joshua, or Christ, from the point of view of his best friend Levi, who is called Biff. Moore did his homework and it's a fun tongue-in-cheek version of the story of Jesus Christ. My only critique is the parts that take place in modern times with Biff and the angel aren't as interesting as the parts that take place during Joshua's life. Still, it's a very funny and clever book.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Every Boy's Got One
Cabot, Meg
1 star = Yuck!

This book was like a Big Mac. You read it and feeling like hurling afterwards. It was a cheap ripoff of Bridget Jones (which I enjoyed), with the diary entries and the antagonism towards the male lead that eventually turns to love. Which means it's an even worse ripoff of Pride and Prejudice. Let me just say that guys do not in general care what kind of shoes a girl is wearing, unless they have a shoe fetish. Also, Wondercat seems 'Cathy' lame. All said, this is a lame lame lame book. Bleck.

vfranklyn
Book Review: I've Got Your Number
Kinsella, Sophie
4 stars = Really Good

This was a great example of chick lit done well. It was charming and engaging with a relatively believable plotline and likable characters. Nothing deep, just good fun.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Boy Meets Girl
Cabot, Meg
2 stars = Meh

Meh. This book isn't worth reviewing. It's very run of the mill chick lit. But I read it, so it didn't completely suck.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Far Far Away `
McNeal, Tom
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I loved this book from the opening lines! I enjoyed all of the characters, the mystical elements of the green smoke and the legend of the cake, the twists and turns, and especially the voice of Jacob Grimm. Utterly unique, dark, and yet fun.

Krista
Book Review: Truth in Advertising
Kenney, John
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Although there were quite a few laugh-out-loud parts of this book, it was the deeply emotional part that I enjoyed, possibly more than the openly humorous bits. Wonderful book, great inside look at the real world of advertising (oh, how I loved the Snugglies meetings), and an honest look at how grief can affect a family.

Krista
Book Review: The River Of No Return
Ridgway, Bee
3 stars = Pretty Good

I REALLY wanted to love this story - it has everything I usually enjoy in a book, and I was hoping it would come close to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. But I couldn't bring myself to care too much about the characters when there was SO much going on. I felt like there wasn't enough of anything to appeal - the love story was somewhat tepid, the time travel portion was not utilized as much as it could have been, the politics were too convoluted.
Not to mention that I was horribly disappointed that the ending was left wide open to presumably include a sequel. I did give it three stars as, even with the above comments, I could not put the thing down. The historical aspects of the book were interesting, and the writing was compelling, in my opinion. I am also very curious what is up with Mr. Mibbs, I think he was one of the most interesting characters in the book.

Krista
Book Review: It's a Magical World
Watterson, Bill
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Ah, Calvin and Hobbes. What's not to love? It's the best comic strip ever written, IMO. Timeless and super clever. Calvin and Hobbes occupies a special place in my heart.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Wedding Night
Kinsella, Sophie
3 stars = Pretty Good

This was textbook chick lit. It was good fluffy fun. Well written, but definitely not deep. But that's okay, sometimes it's good to read a fun book. I could see this being made into a chick flick with JLo or Sandra Bullock. Cute summer read.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Inferno
Brown, Dan
2 stars = Meh

Dan Brown's latest novel is not up to snuff with his previous work, but still has that great mix of culture, art, and history that Brown fans love. Angels & Demons is the highlight of his work for me, and this novel was not developed in the way I would have hoped. Not a big fan of this one, but it was worth a read. Not one for my bookshelf, since with this novel, Langdon's world becomes far more distanced from ours than in previous novels. I don't feel like Brown did a good job in suspending my disbelief, where in his other Langdon novels, I was pulled right in. So, meh. I think Brown is tired of Langdon.

Casey
Book Review: Plain Truth
Picoult, Jodi
2 stars = Meh

Meh. I don't know why I keep reading Jodi Picoult books. The twist endings always annoy me. I liked reading about the Amish, but overall was underwhelmed.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Revolution
Donnelly, Jennifer
4 stars = Really Good

This was an engaging read. The parts about revolutionary France were particularly interesting. The protaganist was only mildly annoying which is good for a teen book. I also liked that it touches on music history and theory, French Revolution, and genetics. Overall, I'd recommend this book.

vfranklyn
Book Review: Inferno
Brown, Dan
4 stars = Really Good

Dan Brown has done it again! In Inferno, he has blended a concoction of cultural history, shadowy power brokers, and cutting-edge apocalyptic science into an intriguing potboiler.

Our hero, Robert Langdon, is tossed headfirst into a violent, shifting conflict between European authorities and a brilliantly mad scientist who is obsessed with Dante's Divine Comedy.

Naturally, said mad scientist is bent on world destruction/domination and the key to stopping him lies in deciphering clues hidden in the medieval masterpiece and the art and architecture of Florence, Italy.

Most readers either love or hate Dan Brown's writing. If you enjoyed his signature style in the Da Vinci Code and his other novels, Inferno will be a great read. If you find a lot of art history and cultural background boring, it might seem like the Seventh Circle of Hell. The addition of some thought-provoking scientific threats that reminded me of Michael Crichton were a definite plus for me.

All in all, a worthwhile addition to the series, even though Langdon fails to save the world! Or does he? Hmmm.

Alan
Book Review: The Bully Book
Gale, Eric Kahn
4 stars = Really Good

This book was really good. It was a fast read and was very engaging. There's even some advice to parents to ask their kids if they are being hurt or made fun of in school. Asking specifically may open the door for a hurting teen to confide. But mostly this is a great mystery for young people about bullying.

vfranklyn
Book Review: The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Dow
McCarthy, Andrew
2 stars = Meh

This book was okay. There was quite a bit of navel-gazing going on. But there was also the occasional interesting bit. Meh.

vfranklyn