Adult Book Reviews

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Stieg, Larsson
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Despite some of its weaknesses, some of which were due to my reading it via audiobook, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great book. In its sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, some of these weaknesses were addressed, but others manifested in their place. Again, these faults might be attributed to the audiobook format, but are fairly minor when considering how fantastic the story is as a whole. In fact, I probably like The Girl Who Played with Fire more than its predecessor. Of course, part of this was how events in the first book carried over to influence the plot of the second.

In the first book of the Millennium series, I didn’t realize just how much sex was in it. This was mostly because of the rape scene that made everything else seem tame in comparison. In this book, the sex is still there, but there’s so much of it at the beginning that it starts to become distracting. At least when book one included it, it was generally through the guise of a budding friendship. This time, it felt more like the author was trying to hammer home the point that the two main characters were sexually liberated. Other than that, it was also a little challenging to keep track of the timeline, since it jumped around a bit when it followed different characters. This is perhaps a limitation of the audiobook format.

Overall, though, the plot of The Girl Who Played with Fire is superb. Uncovering the past of our favorite, titular character was a great way to continue a series that started with such an engaging and enigmatic figure. With less mystery present in this volume, the twists are still believable and entertaining while also focusing more on the action that centers on Lisbeth Salander’s desire to remain as disconnected as possible.

A fantastic follow-up to a great book, I give The Girl Who Played with Fire 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Great Alone
Hannah, Kristin
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I loved The Nightingale and was hoping this would be another great story by Hannah, but I wasn't impressed. The story takes place in Alaska, but the story has to do with marital abuse and I just couldn't get into the story. It was horrible, but I can't recommend.

Reviewer's Name: Anonymous
Genres:
Book Review: Unmarriageable
Kamal, Soniah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Unmarriageable is a very charming Pakistani retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice. If you aren’t familiar with the original, all you really need to know is that it’s a period romance with a lot of social commentary around sexism and classism. Unmarriageable is a very faithful adaptation set in Pakistan in the early aughts, so I think if you like the original, you’ll also enjoy this one.

The best part of Unmarriageable, to me, was the social commentary. Not only does Kamal approach the sexism and classism from a more modern Pakistani lens, but she addresses racism and colonialism as well. Pakistani culture in the early 2000s apparently had some attitudes towards women’s place in the home and sex and sexuality that somewhat mirror that of Georgian England. It was (is?) frowned upon to have sex or most types of sexual contact before marriage. Women were expected to tend to the home. Light skinned folks were seen as being more attractive than darker skinned folks. Kamal addresses all of this and much more quite deftly without compromising the swoony romance.

Speaking of romance, if you like Pride and Prejudice for the romance, Unmarriabeable will make you quite happy. Alys Binat and Mr. Darsee are just as likable as their original counterparts (so, in Darsee’s case, it may take a minute to warm up to him). Their chemistry and enimistry is almost palpable. The book definitely swings hard towards being cheesy at times, but that didn’t really compromise my enjoyment of the book.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this book was the Sherry (Charlotte) character. I always thought Lizzie was kind of horrible towards Charlotte, and Sherry and her relationship with Alys get a lot more time and consideration in this version of the classic.

Clearly, I really enjoyed this one. If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice, you should definitely check this out. It’s perhaps a bit too close to the original, but as an Austen fan, I wasn’t much fussed by that. 4 stars.

Thanks to Ballentine Books and Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Unmarriageable is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
Lukeman, Noah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

As a writer who is looking to submit to agents soon, I was hoping The First Five Pages would give me some insight into the hook that could lead to the acceptance of my book. Additionally, as an individual who also creates and publishes short story anthologies, I hoped this book would give some useful advice for writers to keep their stories out of the rejection pile. Unfortunately, while this book is almost 20 years old, much has changed since its initial publication. Everyone has computers. Word processors and other tools are in abundance. Nobody prints out manuscripts anymore.

Split into three sections and a total of 19 topics, this book doesn’t so much tell an author how to avoid rejection from agents and publishers as much as how to write. I will say from personal experience that the one topic on formatting is the most important topic to pay attention to, especially since
I’ve rejected tons of submissions that don’t follow the guidelines—albeit for additional reasons besides the formatting ignorance. There might be some tidbits in this book that will help an author create a manuscript worth accepting, but they’re buried in so much basic advice that most beginning authors will probably miss them.

This is the crux of the problem with this book: it’s not meant for authors who are ready to submit. There’s no nuance in the examples contained in this book, which doesn’t help anything when the topics are so rudimentary as to make me wonder why anyone who still has these problems with their manuscript is submitting to agents and publishers in the first place. If these writers hadn’t already heard the advice to “show, don’t tell,” then there’s no way they’re far enough in their writing career to be able to create a submittable manuscript.

Basic writing advice for authors who probably aren’t ready to submit to agents or publishers anyway, I give The First Five Pages 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Larsson, Stieg
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

For many years, I was hesitant to read this book, mostly due to a few intense sequences that I saw in the David Fincher film adaptation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be subjected to them in book form any more than I had been already. Fortunately, these scenes were quite a bit more tolerable in the book, mostly because the descriptions weren’t nearly as visceral as watching them on the big screen. I’m only now kicking myself for waiting this long to read such a fantastic book. While the book and the movie diverge in a few spots, I can see the reasoning behind the differences.

When it comes right down to it, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a showcase for its titular character. Lisbeth Salander is tough, smart, and an overall entertaining individual to follow. While it takes quite a while for her to become involved in the main plot, at least the Mikael Blomkvist sections are still interesting enough to carry themselves until that point where the two characters join forces. I did find the distinction between these two characters’ plotlines a little hard to follow early on, but that’s likely an artifact of listening to the audiobook version.

I did find it a little odd that the book essentially starts with the introduction of Mikael’s investigation, only to take almost half the book to start it. Granted, this allowed plenty of room for both Mikael and Lisbeth to be developed as characters, but it felt a little like a sudden realization that the primary focus of the plot wasn’t addressed up until that point. Additionally, I did like the framing of the book around Mikael’s Millennium problems, especially with the much more thorough ending that tied everything up with a nice little bow.

A great book with fantastic characters, I give The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Escaping Reality
Jones, Lisa Renee
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The series The Secret Life of Amy Bensen has my three favorite elements: characters I care about, a believable action plot, and scorching hot sex. I noticed few grammatical errors, common in ebooks. My only criticism is of the misplaced clauses in especially long sentences -- they require re-reading to understand. I know I'm picky but someone needs to be, since the editors at Simon & Schuster aren't.

Reviewer's Name: Cindy
Awards:
Once Upon a River
Setterfield, Diane
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I know by now there isn’t much that hasn’t been said about Diane Setterfield’s latest offering, Once Upon a River, but I want to add my two sense. There is a reason why Setterfield’s beautiful haunting stories have touched millions since she first came out with The Thirteenth Tale, several years ago. The simple reason is, her books use the art of story as a medium to express to the heart, truths that words alone have not always been able to accomplish. Stories have a way of creeping up on you and taking root in the heart of the reader by the author being able to take everyday experiences and ideas, such as love, loss, and beauty and bring them to an emotional level, making them more real. And sometimes, a story, to fully germinate, takes time and patience; and knowing not only the characters, but its environment and history intimately. And that’s ok, it makes reading them, when they are finally available, that much more satisfying.

That is why I am such a fan of Setterfield’s works! She has a way of enveloping her characters in the power of story, and produces such a strong relationship between the characters in her stories and their environment! And Once Upon a River is no different. It uses the medium of story to forge a relationship between the environment of the Thames river and the community living on its banks, to weave a tale that strongly evokes the searing pain of loss, the beauty of love, and the hope of reunion.

The premise is simple. One wintery night a man, stumbles into a local tavern of a small English town on the river Thames, with a mute girl, who at first appears dead. What follows from that incident is a wild, haunting story that is weaved day in and day out, and changes and flows like the Thames river it is set upon. As the girl, appears mute, the mystery as to where she came from deepens, as several villagers claim her as their own missing daughter, or sister. The characters include every villager and every villager is included in this story. As the tale develops, it is clear how her arrival builds up hope in some, and compounds the searing loss for others, but the truth, later revealed, is not so simple.

Filled with haunting prose, drawing upon local and international folklore, strong character development, from the most minor character to the most central, and a beautiful story of love, loss, and reunion; Once Upon a River is a great feat in modern storytelling. Part mystery, part fairytale, and part legend. If you love any or all of these elements, you need to pick up this beautiful tale today! Thank you to the publishers and #netgalley for my DRC for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Awards:
The Warded Man
Brett, Peter
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER***

For anyone who thinks that fantasy is a childish genre, The Warded Man shows that it can have very adult themes. While this adds an element of realism by including sex and violence, it also means that the intended audience for this book should be mature enough to be able to pay attention. Unfortunately, this
book takes a repetitive approach with its character arcs, almost as if writing for children who need the point constantly driven home. In the end, I’m mostly just disappointed at what this book could have been instead of what it was.

I’m not sure if there’s a minimum page count/word count for fantasy books, but The Warded Man seems to be an interesting novella, padded out with tons of unnecessary backstory—or at least backstory that could be covered in a relevant line or paragraph when needed. I did like the concept and the magical system in this book. Heck, I thought the naming scheme for the minor characters was also quite brilliant. I just can’t bring myself to suggest that people slog through over 450 pages of story that could have easily been covered in 150.

If you are interested in a somewhat original fantasy story, you can literally pick up the book at the beginning of Part 3 and read to the end, and you won’t miss much (if anything, you won't get some establishing details). This was also exacerbated by the fact that at least one of these characters didn’t have an interesting story until Part 3, so it was a bit annoying to have to jump over to his story when I’d much rather read about the other two characters. As it’s written right now, many of the characters’ motivations are repeatedly brought up in similar situations, so all the first part of the book does is delay these three characters’ inevitable meeting.

A great concept for a novella with a ton of backstory tacked on the front, I give The Warded Man 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Genres:
Killing the SS
O'Reilly, Bill, Dugard, Martin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard are known for writing some fantastic historical novels, and Killing the SS upholds that idea. It is the latest installment in O'Reilly and Dugard's Killing series. This novel tells the story of the global postwar hunt for Nazi war criminals and how they were brought to justice, or how they escaped altogether. The big four written about were Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, who was the physician at Auschwitz and performed horrific medical experiments on the prisoners; Adolf Eichmann, charged with managing the mass deportation of millions of Jews to death camps; Martin Bormann, who was in charge of legislation and domestic matters regarding Nazi Germany; and Klaus Barbie, who was known as the Butcher of Lyon due to the fact that he personally tortured and killed thousands of Gestapo prisoners in Lyon, France. The book itself is a fantastic read, as it is suspenseful, engaging, and is the history buff's dream. I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves history, or anyone who is a fan of the Killing series.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Genres:
The Stranger
Camus, Albert
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Albert Camus was a French philosopher and author who gave rise to the idea known as absurdism, the idea that humans live in a meaningless, chaotic universe. His novel, The Stranger, reflects this idea quite well. The novel is about a man named Mersault who, after his mother's death, murders an Arabic man on a beach and is sentenced to death.

Throughout the novel, Mersault is quite passive to the things around him; to his mother's death, to him shooting the Arab, and to his death sentence. This suggests the idea of absurdism: why should he protest to what is happening when he will one day die? While I like the message and the ideas the book puts forward, the writing can be a big lackluster. For example, the first half of the the novel is quite boring and moves at a snail's pace, which made it hard for me to remain interested. Thankfully, the book is quite short so it's not that big of an issue. I would recommend this novel to fans of philosophy or like novels about existentialism.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:
The Hero of Ages
Sanderson, Brandon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Brandon Sanderson has done it again. The first two novels in this series were already amazing in their own right, but the finale novel of the trilogy is by far the best. The story has once again been improved, with Vin and the crew battling against a literal god, Ruin, who hears and sees everything they do or say. If they do not conquer over him, he will destroy the world. Aside from the main, overarching plot, there are also several smaller side plots that are all intriguing and exciting. Along the way there are several plot twists and epic moments that keep the reader guessing and hungry for more.

The ending of the novel is quite sad, but provides a satisfying conclusion to one of the best fantasy trilogies ever. I would recommend this to anyone who has read the first two novels.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:
Genres:
Well of Ascension
Sanderson, Brandon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Where Mistborn told a tale of political intrigue, revolution and overthrowing a dictator, the second novel in the Mistborn series, The Well of Ascension, builds upon an already enthralling first book. This novel supplies the reader with a bigger, more intriguing, more grandiose story, more suspense, and more action than before. Brandon Sanderson has done an incredible job with fleshing out each character in a unique way, and creating an amazing story. The story itself follows Vin, Elend, and the rest of their crew as they attempt to find the Well of Ascension, which is said holds the power required to stop the world from being destroyed. The ending this book builds up to is truly unexpected, and was a brilliant plot twist by Sanderson. I would highly recommend this book if you have read Mistborn.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:
Genres:
At the Mountains of Madness
Lovecraft, H. P.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

H.P. Lovecraft is commonly known as one of the titans of horror, one of the pioneers of the genre who influenced people such as Stephen King, and has even inspired several video games, such as Bloodborne. At the Mountains of Madness is considered Lovecraft's magnum opus, his best work to date. It is a novella telling the story of a small group of geologists, aviators, and explorers who travel to Antarctica in search of unique rock specimens. While there, however, they encounter several horrors, including unearthing ancient specimens known as Old Ones, a decadent, purely weird city built by the Old Ones themselves, and even giant albino penguins. This novella is truly horrifying, as the suspense Lovecraft is able to build through usage of the setting is gripping. If one is looking to begin reading Lovecraft books, this one is a great entry point, as it introduces the reader to the Old Ones, the Necronomicon, and even Cthulhu himself. I would recommend to anyone who loves horror novels, or anyone who wants to read Lovecraft.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Fangirl
Rowell, Rainbow
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Fangirl" of Rainbow Rowell, a beautiful story of love and finding yourself, shows that often times things are not always as they seem. This book is a page-turner; the way Rowell writes flows easily and you can tell her words hold meaning. This book is told from the perspective of an anxious college freshman, making many readers (like myself) connect due to relating to the feeling of new surroundings and people. However, I not only liked this book because of the instant connection, but the way the plot was so interesting and engaging. This book does include some older topics, so it may be inappropriate for younger audiences. If you like happy endings, "Eleanor and Park" or more by this author, or a well written and attention-grabbing read, then this book is for you!

Reviewer's Name: Siena G
Animal Farm
Orwell, George
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell is about a seemingly normal farm that turns against their farmer. The animals take over the farm with the help of their leaders who are pigs. After all the humans are gone from the farm they continue under the rule of the pigs and create a system of rules to follow as a guideline for their new life. Everything goes well until one of the pigs, Napoleon, uses the dogs he trained to remove the other leader, Snowball, from the animal farm. With Snowball gone Napoleon takes complete control of the farm. He alters the rules made by Snowball, abuses his power, and makes poor decisions that negatively affect the other animals. One of their rules/guidelines was that humans were evil and not to be associated with.

Napoleon breaks that rule many times starting with making a trade of wood with another farm run by a farmer. They get scammed from the exchange with the human, but that doesn't stop Napoleon from dealing with humans. He goes to the extent of not telling the fellow animals the truth and putting all pigs above everyone else. From there things get progressively worse until Napoleon eventually befriends the humans along with the other pigs. They become so much like the humans that it gets to the point that the pigs are basically humans.

I would recommend the book. "Animal Farm" is interesting and in my opinion is in a sense satire, so I really enjoyed it. I read this book because I was planning on reading 1984 by the same author for a BTS theory and wanted to read other books by George Orwell. I kind of could relate to some of the animals because when they disagreed with Napoleon they brought up good points, but no one listened to them. The ending is very surprising and the book isn't predictable.

Reviewer's Name: Oriana O.
Ink and Ashes
Maetani, Valynne E.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I love this book! I am in 7th grade and this book gave me goosebumps and look behind me when I'm turned around in fear of the "evil" characters in this book. (Granted, I get scared very easily). Ink and Ashes tells the story of teenage girl Claire Takata, and her horrifying experience that was brought upon her by her dead father's passing and his sketchy life. This story perfectly blends mystery and Japanese culture, and is one of the most unique mystery books I have ever read. I highly recommend this book for mature middle school readers who don't read much mystery and want to "test the waters". However, all kinds of readers from 6th grade and up would enjoy this book! Don't hesitate to try it out!

Reviewer's Name: Anna C.
Awards:
Little Women
Alcott, Louisa May
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Little Women is a classic piece detailing a few years in the life of the March family. It is a beloved tale and for good reasons. This book shows the true inner workings of a family during the civil war and how love is stronger than even death. I really enjoyed Little Women because it included the historical details of the time that I find interesting, such as: having home servants even when in poverty, the intricacies of the dress, and social commentary. Little Women shows the true heart of sisterhood and friendship, along with the bonds made between parents and children. Through thick and thin, the March sisters are there for each other. Truly a delightful read for anybody.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K.
Awards:
The Nazi Hunters
Bascomb, Neal
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Adolf Eichmann, a notorious Nazi responsible for the deaths of millions of people during the holocaust, disappeared without a trace after the war ended. An Israeli group of spies, known as the Mossad, along with other key allies carefully locate and capture Eichmann in an attempt to bring him to a fair trial in front of the entire world. Several of the members of the mission survived concentration camps and nearly all of them had lost family there. Thus, they were determined to complete their mission, even if it lasted fifteen years and took them to the other side of the world. I highly recommend this non-fiction adventure to anyone interested in the holocaust or looking for great a spy thriller.

Reviewer's Name: John B.
Genres:
The Graduate
Webb, Charles
2 stars = Meh
Review:

If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie.

Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit the third act, there’s just a series of random actions that aren’t grounded in reality. This is also not to mention that the characters around him, especially the primary love interest, also make illogical decisions that aren’t founded in any sort of reality. At least this book is short enough that you’re not going to waste much time reading it.

Maybe I’m just missing the point of this book. Perhaps it’s an examination of the consequences and realizations that come from living a life that seems to have no meaning. I mean, I get the counter-play between the newly-disillusioned Benjamin and the almost permanently-disillusioned Mrs. Robinson; butwhenthe entire thing is filled with awkward and nervous dialogue that constantly repeats itself, I can’t help but think that there isn’t anything significant there. Even the ending was so abrupt and unfulfilling that I had to thank the movie version for its subtleness in revealing the characters’ realization of what they’ve done.

A truly sub-par story that was made into an above average movie, I give The Graduate 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
The Winter of the Witch
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In everyone’s reading adventures they find that there are those books they come across that they like, some they love, and then there are those books that resonate so deeply, that you say to yourself and all who will listen “this is why I read.” Its not just the stunning world building, the lyrical prose, or the deep character development, but something more, that speaks to your soul, about who you truly are or what the world around you is really like. Something that can’t always be expressed through spoken word or any other means, expect through story. This is what Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch has done for me.

Picking up right where The Girl in the Tower had left off with Rus in shambles and the people needing to blame someone for what happened to their city they naturally turn to Vasya. I am not going to try to explain the rest of the plot because so much happens. But suffice it to say that in this one there is so much more wintery magic, more of the winter king, everyone’s favorite hero, and so much more action and adventure I could barely keep up.

This book flows seamlessly from the 2nd to the third one without taking a single breath. And the blending of the historical and fantastical is so complete it totally had me believing that 13th century Rus existed side by side with this wintery magical world called midnight and had me longing to time travel so I can visit it. With mysterious and magical midnight roads, it’s chiriti and spirits of all types, its magical house, and a lake on the edge of worlds, it’s flying horses, its river monsters and so many other fairy tale elements this book appealed to me on so many levels. It really awakened that inner child in me, that I think is in all of us that loves fairy tales and magic, wants to be accepted and loved but also wants to have purpose and feel needed. Their was just so much about this fable and Vasya as a character that spoke to my soul that it’s hard to express it all in one measily review.

Vasya also grows so much into her power in this tale. She really discovers her identity and the book delves not only into more of who she and is becoming but also who her family is and their magical legacy. I really grew to love Vasya as a character and her determination to never give up even in the most difficult of circumstances, her love of her city and people, her strength, and how she doesn’t just accept her circumstances but fights for better things and saves herself and those around her.

Can we also talk about Vasya and Morozko relationship for a second. I love their relationship and think it is a great representation of what love in real life is often like. I love how they grow into their relationship, and that she loves him but doesn’t always love everything about him or the choices he makes. It proves what is often true about love that it is not always magic and sunshine and unicorns but can often be difficult. It often requires sacrifice and one to be selfless enough to make sacrifices. It also requires each partner to live with each other in daily life with all their imperfections no matter how much it annoys and frustrates you. I love the fact that, though Morozoko is this ancient powerful being, his character also has imperfections and issues and his own sorrows that Vasya has to learn to live with. I also love that they save each other in more ways than one, and in the scenes when they do connect it is often tender and beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time.

Beyond the character development, the story itself is filled with lush and atmospheric imagery, beautiful and lyrical prose, and quirky and whimsical details that speak to my heart childhood heart. I also, being a history major, really appreciate the research done for this series with regards to historical detail. In history we call this establishing historical context, putting the person we are studying in their historical environment within the whole of history. It blended Vasya’s magical world and grounded her in a specific place in history seamlessly.

All this to say I loved this book and this series! Both are a solid 5 stars! And when it comes out next Tuesday Jan 8, run, don’t walk to your local library or book store to get this beautiful fable and complete your collection of one of the best series of all time. Seriously it’s up there with CS Lewis and Tolkien for me ya’ll. Thank you to Edelweiss and Del Ray for my Digital Review Copy for review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie

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