Adult Book Reviews

A Gentleman in Moscow
Towles, Amor
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A Bolshevik tribunal puts Count Alexander Rostov under lifelong house arrest at The Hotel Metropol, a real luxury establishment located near the Kremlin, at the start of the Soviet Union. This man, who has never worked a day in his life, uses his considerable charm to carve out an existence while bearing witness to some very tumultuous decades. The people he meets, loves and opposes over the next 30 years help the nobleman determine a purpose in life under reduced circumstances. His evolution over the decades and his charm make the Count, who could have been insufferable in a different situation, someone many would befriend. This beautifully written second novel by the author of The Rules of Civility provides an interesting perspective on Soviet history, what it means to be a family and the reasons why to keep on living, even in a gilded prison.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Jonasson, Jonas
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This charmer was a runaway international bestseller and it is easy to see why. The main character, Allan Karlsson, is memorable even as his stories from his wanderings around the world get more and more far-fetched. Karlsson has always done what he wanted and skipping his 100th birthday party at the start is the least surprising thing when looking back upon this Swedish novel. I read this for a book group (book club set available through PPLD) and one participant described Karlsson as Forest Gump with a dangerous affinity for vodka and explosives. This "intelligent, very stupid novel" as the author described it, is enjoyable if a tad long.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Women Who Run With the Wolves
Estés, Clarissa Pinkola
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Centered around the "Wild Woman Archetype," Dr. Estes examines what it means to be a "Wild Woman," the expectations placed upon women in society and the consequences of ignoring the wild feminine nature within. The book certainly has a different approach to imparting knowledge and experience, but her tales of ancient myths and stories will make you feel as if you are sitting around a cozy campfire with an old friend. If you want to better understand the Wild Woman Archetype, an empowered and liberated side of women, I would recommend giving this classic New York Times bestseller a read.

Reviewer's Name: Alyssa
Awards:
 How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
Kepnes, Matt
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is jam-packed with helpful tips and tricks for making travel affordable and more accessible to individuals living on a budget. Whether you travel seldom or regularly, this book will get you excited about the various ways to save big money on trips that may have previously seemed financially out of reach. Want to plan a trip to India? Skip to the chapter specific to the country or region where you want to go for highly specified money-saving advice. I found myself jotting down a long list of notes to refer back to when planning for my next trip. Give it a read if you enjoy traveling and saving money while you do it!

Reviewer's Name: Alyssa
Genres:
Book Review: The Flatshare
O'Leary, Beth
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I don't usually rate chick lit higher than 3 stars as it's my guilty pleasure, but this book was very well written, had an engaging plot, likable characters, and addressed a serious topic without seeming heavy handed. I recommend it as a quick and satisfying read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Rocket Boys
Hickam, Homer
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

(Very immersive story) Rocket Boys is a book that shows the struggles of boys trying to break the tradition of a stereotypical miner town, dubbed Coalwood. I love how the descriptions bring light to the conditions of mining, and the towns surrounding the mine. It also brings light to the uproar that the Space Race caused, especially Sputnik. As the boys slowly figured out the basics of rocketry, it got more and more into the detail on how hard it was to create rockets when you live in a small town like that. As a footer, I just want to say that the boy’s determination to create those rockets was well shown.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan
My Hero Academia, Vol. 1
Horikoshi, Kohei
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book takes place in a world of super-humans where people are born with unique abilities called quirks. The main protagonist in this story is Midorya Izuku, a teenage boy who looks up to a superhero named All Might. Midorya’s dream is to become a strong hero like All-Might, but he becomes discouraged when he is told it is impossible because he was born with no quirk.

Reviewer's Name: Rayn
The Housekeeper and the Professor
Ogawa, Yōko
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This beautiful exploration of living in the moment centers on the relationship between a brilliant math professor, his young housekeeper and her 10-year-old son. The professor suffered a traumatic brain injury decades earlier, limiting his
short-term memory to only 80 minutes. She is hired to care for this unique, challenging client. And every morning, the housekeeper and the professor meet anew, creating this strange, yet lovely relationship that blossoms between them. The damaged yet lively mind of the professor allows him discover connections in everyday items like shoe sizes and the universe at large, an eye-opening experience for mother and child as their lives draw closer together. The short novel focuses on those mathematical equations and the emotional connections that create a unique family. The 2009 English translation is available as a PPLD book club set. The novel's bibliography cites The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, on which the professor character is based. The 2003 novel, original title The Professor's Beloved Equation, won the Hon'ya Taisho award. It was a massive bestseller in the prolific, well-regarded Ogawa's native country.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
The Great Alone
Hannah, Kristin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Author Kristin Hannah has told interviewers that she scrapped an early version of The Great Alone that she wrote shortly after her career-making breakout bestseller, The Nightingale. Readers will be happy she started over because what the author delivered in 2017 was a compelling page-turner featuring Leni Albright. The strong-willed young woman was 13 when her father, a former Vietnam War POW struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, moved her and her mother to the remote wilds of 1970s Alaska after years of wandering. Things are good when the weather is warm and sunny but then the long, frigid nights of winter descend on a fractured family not quite ready for those hardships. Leni grows up over the course of the novel, forged by the destructive nature of her parents' relationship, abuse, young love and the coming-of-age struggle to find a place where she belongs. Her resilience will be tested by her family and equally beautiful and dangerous Alaska, which takes its toll on those she loves in this award-winning novel (2018 Goodreads Choice Awards, Best Historical Fiction).

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Genres:
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Krakauer, Jon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I read ‘Into the Wild’ by Jon Krakauer in my sophomore year for extra credit in my English class. The book is about a young man that did live a privileged life but saw the world as that you don’t need money or materialistic things to live. I believed that his view on the world was ignorant and innocent because how he was brought up in life with money and never having to worry about anything, there was no struggle. For me what he ended up doing just seem very disrespectful to his parents, up and leaving them without saying anything. Into the Wild is just an amazing book with a very sad and devastating ending. Although it most of it did make me a little upset, I would read it again.

Reviewer's Name: Miguel
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Shin, Kyung-Sook
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The word mom means unconditional love. When I saw the title it seems a little awkward. The mom who had taken care of her family an given endless love was missing; the elderly woman, suffering from dementia vanished in the crowd in the train station. She came to Seoul to celebrate her birthday withmher children. After her disappearance, the story started with a view from each family members. Each of them followed her trace to find her from their memories. While they struggling to find her, they gradually realized that the mom was ignored and had been neglected, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Her name was Park, So-nye; like meaning (So-nye = little
girl) of her name. She was an ordinary girl like all of us who had many dreams for her future. As time passes by her name and her dreams were sacrificed for her to take the role of a mother without her children's knowledge. Through this book, we encounter question and explore true, universal meaning of family.

Reviewer's Name: Hyun Sook Oh
Awards:
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Duhigg, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg is a great read if you are interested in changing your habits or changing your company's habits for the better. Duhigg guides the reader through how habits work in life and in business. What makes "The Power of Habit" a good read, though, is Duhigg's remarkable talent for storytelling. The narratives Duhigg presents are both informative and heartfelt. The stories are what make this book a real page turner, but when coupled with Duhigg's insights about habits, the book is both enlightening and informative.

Reviewer's Name: Melina D.
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Durst, Sarah Beth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Tamra is desperate. After two of her rider trainees were hurt in practice, she found herself without anyone to teach and no source of revenue. When her patron gives her a measly 200 gold coins to purchase a Kehok (a racer) and find a rider to train, she knows she'll do what it takes to win the annual Becar Races and and the huge purses that come with it. So she finds an untrained and unproven Kehok that no one wants, and a rider whose a clearly a recent runaway. Raia, the runaway rider, is fleeing her parents who would marry her off to a man who murdered his last wife. Both Tamra, Raia and the increasingly strange Kehok must win the races to save themselves and win their freedom.

That was a really tough description to write, because there's a ton going on in the world! Reincarnation is widely accepted and the motivation for a lot of folks actions (Kehoks were monsters in their former lives and cannot reincarnate as anything but a Kehok, for example), there's a religious caste that low-key rules everything, at least BTS, and the not-quite-coronated-yet-because-his-brother-just-died-emperor is fighting off revolution. That last bit leads to a lot of political and court intrigue in the second half of the book. This was a really solid standalone fantasy. As you can tell, the worldbuilding was rich and complex, but it wasn't so complex as to be confusing. I found it to be refreshingly new and inventive, and would recommend the book on the strength of that alone. There's also quite a bit of ethical questioning of one's actions and what folks owe each other (this did occasionally feel a tad heavy handed), which is something that I love.

The worldbuilding is not the only star of the show - Tamra and Raia are easy to relate to, and quite lovable. You'll fall in love with their monstrous, strange kehok as well and you'll think about any horse-related novel that you adored as a kid. In fact, this book would have been catnip for me when I was 12 as I was into all things Tamora Pierce (Tamra is her namesake) and most things horse (I kept thinking about the "Thoroughbreds" series when I read this book, which I reread a bunch of times as a kid). In fact, this book could have easily been marketed as YA, although Tamra is clearly the main character, and she is very much an adult - I don't remember her age, but she's late 30s on the very low end. Since fantasy novels, even those for adults, often star adolescents (and yes, Raia is 17), I found this to be refreshing.

TLDR: With inventive worldbuilding, strong female characters, and major crossover appeal, fantasy readers of all ages will love this book! It's sort of The Scorpio Races meets Tamora Pierce and from me, that's high praise. I wouldn't say it was amazing, but I did love it, so 5 stars!

Thanks to Netgalley and Harper Voyager for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Race the Sands is available now - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Stars Are Fire
Shreve, Anita
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The largest fire in Maine's history is the catalyst of change for Grace Holland, who is left while five months pregnant with her two toddlers as volunteers, including her husband Gene, battle the 1947 blaze. They survive, even if their town does not. But their lives are forever changed. The 24-year-old awaits news of her husband's fate, while homeless, penniless and facing an uncertain future. Grace embraces her new freedom after years of a "sense of something wrong" and strives out on her own to support herself, raise her family and yes, find love. But then her husband returns, a scarred, bitter man. The tense pacing of the fire scenes are well done. But it is the story of a young woman discovering her inner strength while facing oppressive social mores that resonates in this final romantic novel by the author of The Pilot's Wife and The Weight of Water.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Hollow Kingdom
Buxton, Kira Jane
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This debut novel is a refreshing romp through the Apocalypse narrated by a foul-mouthed domesticated crow whose only knowledge of the world is TV. This mash-up of "The Incredible Journey" and "The Walking Dead" has an environmental message, focusing on humankind's increasing disconnect from the natural world. You may want to reconsider all those hours of screen time. But do read this novel, which while a tad long, chronicles the adventures of S.T. (not a library appropriate name) and his heroic steed, the dim-witted dog Dennis. The crow tries to save humankind, learns about himself and the natural world in a frightening new Seattle featuring an emerging predator.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story
Kamb, Steve
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Steve Kamb’s book Level up Your Life is one of those rare self-help books that manages to be a page-turner. As an avid gamer, Kamb’s approach to gamifying goal-setting really resonated with me, and his journey from “shy, risk-averse nerd” to diving with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef inspired me to start my own bucket list.

One thing to keep in mind before picking up this book is that a substantial portion focuses on achieving fitness-related goals. Kamb is, after all, the founder of a Nerd Fitness, a website geared towards helping gamers and comic book fans have fun getting fit. Although my own reasons for reading Level up your Life weren’t related to fitness, I enjoyed this section all the same. Still, I felt it was worth noting since this book isn’t specifically marketed as a fitness resource.

With that said, the principles Kamb discusses can be applied towards accomplishing any goal, whether it’s learning a language or writing a book. And indeed, Kamb includes stories from members of his own community (the Rebellion) which show them using gamification to do everything from designing apps to traveling around the world.

While Kamb’s primary audience is undoubtedly gamers and comic book fans, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in self-improvement.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Dinosaurs The Grand Tour: Everything Worth Knowing About Dinosaurs from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops
Pim, Keiron
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour is a remarkably well-encompassing resource, covering everything from polar dinosaurs (yes, you read that right) to a dinosaur three times taller than a giraffe. The information is presented in such a way that a layperson can follow along without feeling overwhelmed by scientific jargon. The author even included a pronunciation guide for the dinosaurs’ tongue-twisting names.

One of the main selling points of this book is the fact that it’s currently one of the most up-to-date resources on dinosaurs, with a publication date of 2019. Considering how quickly the field of paleontology continues to evolve, resources that were up-to-date ten years ago soon become... well… prehistoric. Notably, it’s also the second edition and has been expanded and updated since the original was published in 2016. Since I didn’t read the first edition, I can’t comment on how the two editions compare, but from what I can tell, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more cutting-edge resource on dinosaurs.

The illustrations are also nicely done, especially the color pieces that encompass two pages. It should be noted that most of the illustrations are not in color, so if you’re looking for a coffee table book, you might be disappointed. Still, the illustrations are beautiful as a whole and complement the text nicely.

Speaking of color, Pim explains how scientists have used fossilized pigment cells to determine both the colors of certain dinosaurs and the physical advantages these colors might have conferred. Considering this topic has been a source of mystery for many years, this section was particularly illuminating.

Finally, the quizzes peppered throughout the book are engaging and help you retain what you’ve learned. The author also includes an answer key at the back of the book, so if you don’t feel like hunting for the answer, you can always cheat.

Overall, I would recommend this resource to anyone interested in dinosaurs and paleontology in general.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Oryx and Crake Book Cover
Atwood, Margaret
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Oryx and Crake" follows the character Snowman who is seemingly the last surviving human on Earth as he recounts the events that led up to his dystopian present. In this speculative fiction novel, animals are genetically modified to harvest organs for human transplant and spliced together to create fantastical hybrids like “rakunks” that are part racoon and part skunk. In addition, a new human breed is created to be physically flawless and void of normal human characteristics like envy or jealousy. This incredibly thought-provoking book challenges the reader to think about our present, and the choices we make that may lead us down a similar apocalyptic path. For example, it forces us to question how far are we willing to go with genetic modification. Although Atwood deals with serious topics in this book, she addresses them with such humor and over-the-top situations that the book is remarkably enjoyable. Furthermore, the characters of Oryx and Crake are some of my favorite literary characters.

Reviewer's Name: Caitlyn Z.
His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina
Steel, Danielle
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

It was a tear jerker. Danielle Steele poured her heart into that book. It was about her son. She always has a way with her words with how she writes, that it just draws you in. It doesn't matter if she is writing a true story or not.

Reviewer's Name: Laura
Tangerine
Mangan, Christine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tangerine by Christine Mangan portrays a toxic friendship between two former Bennington College roommates who are reunited in Tangier in 1956. One friend, Alice Shipley has been psychologically fragile since the childhood deaths of her parents in a house fire. She is married to John who does something secretive for "the government" in newly-independent Morocco. Lucy Mason, who connected with Alice through their shared orphanhood, has ditched a disappointing job and suddenly shown up at Alice’s door. She hopes to pry Alice from her dissatisfying marriage for a series of globe-trotting adventures they imagined in college. Both characters serve as flawed narrators -- Alice has a loose grip on reality while Lucy actively denies it.
The novel is at its best when Lucy tries to force a wedge between Alice and John, who is having an affair but depends on Alice's family trust to live comfortably. The romantic triangle turns this 2018 novel into a melodrama set against the intrigue of 1950s's North Africa. It's reminiscent of a slightly-hokey Hollywood movie of the same era. The book cover even features a woman of the period who could pass for actress Ingrid Bergman. That's the novel's charm (nostalgia) and its undoing (little original) in this enjoyable read.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:

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